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21 September 2017 @ 11:01 am

The Empire of the One

Directorate of External Relations

17 Rajab 1405 px is Ebsa and Ra'd report to Directors

Mid-Yusef for the Dino close encounter would be good

Months later the Helios miniverse cruised slowly past the Paleogene World, diverted a few degrees.

Xen eyed Q's dissatisfied expression. "Not enough?"

"It was pretty much what I expected. And it did bend even more toward the Dinosaur World. But probably not enough for me to successfully force a merge with the Dinosaurs. And if it misses . . . it'll deflect toward the Primitive World. It will be close." Q bit her lip.

"We increased the chance it will hit the Dino world. Lessened the chance that it'll close enough for the Helaos to force a merge with the One World. That'll do for now." Xen thumped her shoulder.

"I'll start getting the gates up next week. The Helaos deserve to merge with dinosaurs."

"And if they miss both of the inhabited Worlds, there are plenty of Empty Worlds we can steer them toward . . . And get rid of this menace forever."


Presidential Dirtector Urfa sat in on the meeting at the Exterior's Research Subdirectorate.

Dr. Wrla Withione was the Subdirector of Research. The usual High Oner snob, but a highly intelligent one, and a good manager of his department, from everything he'd heard.

His staff doing the reporting and presenting their projections were all glowing with relief. "After two close and one distant encounter, the course of the Helios multiverse should carry it comfortably out of spontaneous merge distance, and probably out of forced merge range. We're calculating that the percent chance that Helios will come close enough to merge with the One World has dropped down to twenty-four point six-four."

The Subdirector of Intel nodded. "The Helaos are definitely discussing the pros and cons of merging with the Dinosaur World. But they don't seem worried that they might spontaneously merge. So that gives us something to go by, in assessing our own risk."

Wrla nodded. "Oh yes. We're well out of the spontaneous merge range. What we don't know is from how far away they can force a merge. That they've dropped us from consideration is a very good sign."

"The Dinosaur World will be the next close encounter. We will be monitoring constantly to see how it's course changes as they near, and with-or-without Qs work, the miniverse should be deflected further from our world."

Director of External Relations Ajki Withione Black Point spoke for the first time. "If the Helaos do not force a merge with the Dino World. It will deflect toward Primitive World 65480.

The Intel subdirector nodded. "As I reported last winter, we've gotten bugs into some critical areas, and are now monitoring their scientists' results. The Helios scientists' conclusion, that their world will miss the Dino World and hit the sparsely inhabited Primitive World remains unchanged, as of our last intercept of a report to their Archelaos. We are monitoring around the clock."

Urfa, the head of the Presidential Directorate, shifted. "The Helaos know there are enough humans there on the Primitive World to merge with them. The question is, will they be satisfied with the natives or give it a pass.

"Or move. We know they have a working gate. If they can move to another world, no problem, so long as it isn't ours. But we need to also consider worse options. That rather than move to a wilderness, they'll pick a world with an existing civilization they can take over."

Ajki sighed, as, of course, his brilliant and talented nephew leaped to field that one.

"Given their small surviving population, a small colony world of ours or Earth's would be ideal. Powered high tech infrastructure, but a small population they can easily dominate. We need to keep an eye out for that."

A nod from the President. "Have you discussed that with Disco?"

Ajki nodded. "Yes. Q says she can see where powered gates go . . . if it happens when she's watching. And she said she's watching regularly. She said she'd put her understudies to work putting up all the gates to the Dinosaur World. From there, she said she ought to notice their gates even when she's busy. With an unfortunate lack of communication between Intel and Exploration, we've got a science expedition on the Dinosaur World. We'll give them a month, then evacuate them well ahead of any possible merge. We'll let them return after the encounter."


Two days later Urfa's comm buzzed. He snatched it, so few people had this number . . . Ra'd? "He's never called before. No matter what."

"Ra'd? Problem?"

"Yes, sir. While guarding a scientific mission on a Dinosaur World . . . "

Oh shit! That one?

". . . we encountered Helaos. They were holding a dozen kidnapped Oner students for future merging. They. Raided. The. Home World." An edge of fury shown though Ra'd's business-like tones at the last. "Colleges in Caracus and Alcairo. We need to return and get our scientists out of there."

"Where are you now?"

"Embassy. We've dropped off the students."

"Good. I'll get things moving here. Do what you need to do."

"Yes, sir." Click.

Urfa was cursing as he hit Major Eppa's code. "Ep? We may need your fast response group, get'em ready while I talk to Ajki . . . "

And Xen . . . Oops, first call Orde, must let the President know . . .

Chapter Dino

"Is it my imagination? I swear I can feel the attraction between the planets."

Xen was looking also, but to him, at this close range, the crumpled-paper membranes were static—moving so slowly they might as well be frozen. Of course they're only separated in non-spacial dimensions, not, not really physically separated . . . kind of. It's just our weird perception that gives us the illusion of . . . Oh, eff it all, leave the explanations to the physicists.

"What do you think? More gates? Maybe spread them out all around both worlds? The worst that will happen is Helios getting a dinosaur invasion, which. all things considered would be fitting."

Q snorted and pulled her perception out of the inbetween, shrugged off the loose mental link they'd been holding.

Xen did the same. Stretched and stood up. The other six witches and the their guards were looking at them. They all looked happy and eager.

Wsca grinned. "So? What continent do you want to move to?"

Q grinned back. "North America, the West Coast's about opposite here, and we can stay away from the Helios there."


"That's not a pterodactyl."

"Good. Last thing we'd need is another aerial attack . . . " Xen followed Wsca's gaze, zoomed in his vision. "Oh, that's a plane . . . or one of your antigravity aircars with a bit of wing . . . Unmanned surveyor? I'm not feeling anyone . . . oh shit, I think there's Helao in there . . . there's a second one . . . "

He broke off check the witches—oblivious in their triads—and Ohhe diving into the ute and grabbing the radio.

Xen threw an illusion over the entire area. Probably too far away even if it would work on their squirrely brains. I need a physical effect, light warps . . .

"Q, wake up. We've got a problem."

"I'm not asleep . . . oh crap! Did they detect the gates? Ha! I'll bet they think their own people have found them. What shall we do to them?"

Wsca shot a glance her way. "You mean with them?"

"Not really. But I suppose I shouldn't be too nasty."

20 September 2017 @ 05:29 pm

I really hate figuring out timelines, especially when I realize I really need to change dates on stuff already published.

I suspect though, that no one will notice.

20 September 2017 @ 03:48 pm

Xen looked out over the rolling plains, spotted with trees and brushy ravines, and bright spots of open gates. A small herd of something that was trying to be an elephant was paying a lot more attention to them than he was comfortable with. "Nice World. And the witches have picked up Q's technique of getting the gates to attach away from where you're standing."

Wsca edged over. Shrugged. "I suspect they spent last month working on it, so they didn't get shone up again. I don't like animals that big, that close. Although watching those undersized elephants checking them out was interesting."

"Elephants are quite intelligent. Curious. These . . . probably paleomastadons . . . probably don't have enough brain size to, well who knows. Those sort of flightless parrot things cleared out fast when the gates started popping up." Q was leaking a bit more glow than usual. "When they take a break it'll be safe to walk out and take a look."

Making sure Qayg respects her?

Or trying to see of Oner guards are immune to her archetype?

Or hoping? I certainly find one of the Oners irresistible.

He glanced over to where three Oner Princess were sitting cross-legged on the ground. No doubt trying to figure out what the Witches were doing.

One was a voluptuous beauty, one was old and scary, and the third was the most irresistible woman in the Multiverse. Resist, Xen. Professional.

"So, we're in Siberia this time? Not much like our Siberia." Ohhe looked around.

"The glaciers shift the entire global air circulation." Xen blinked as the plains rolled in a very different way than the usual winds . . . The ground shivered. "Earthquake. Could be a coincidence."

Q shook her head. "The X world had them too. I was hoping it was the proximity to Helios causing it. But I think it's the gates. Possibly local, possible because the pull toward the other membrane. If this was an Inhabited World I'd worry about it. Here? No Problem."

She stepped closer to the two triads . . . a moment later the witches dropped hands and shook themselves a little.  

"Take a break, and perhaps we should hike off a couple of miles and spread the gates out more." Q looked around at Ohhe. "Want to take a closer look? I need to see what's going on, on the other side. Maybe your guys could help the witches move?"

Xen hid a smile as they headed for the nearest gate. Oh Q! I hope that man is really open minded, not to mention resistant to archetype effects.

He grinned at Ux and Icks, scurrying about to get the witches drinks and sandwiches. Caught Wsca's speculative glance.

"You might warn your buddies again that witches are not just love'em and leave'em types. They're all Halfmoons, which means that they've given birth. Double powered so they're stronger than hell. They can damage men during sex."

"How about your sister?" Wsca frowned out across the prairie as Ohhe walked into a circle of rock and disappeared.

"Hell quivers in terror of the thought of her landing there. Yes, she's a Halfmoon. Destiny is, umm three now? Something like that."

"Losing track, with these bags, bubbles, whatever, and you slow them down and then speed them up?"

"Yes. I suppose it sounds odd . . . well, even inside our magic community Q's eccentric, and not just for her child rearing practices."

Scar grinned. "Language shift, there. In the Empire eccentric is not a synonym for spooky. Can you just . . . look around and see other worlds?"

"Yes. But I have trouble peeking inside to see what world it is. And lots of trouble finding the same one again. So being able to see them isn't all that special."

By the time they'd moved and Xen had set up the Great Stone Inn, Q and Ohhe had caught back up with them.

"Plenty of Earthquakes on Helios as well. And it's very odd. There's a permanent gate in North America. I've never been here before, and I don't generally leave gates open."

"Hmm, the Smuggler sisters or the Hors de Combat?"

"Could be either . . . but why either of them would want a gate here defeats me. Maybe next year I'll have time to check it out."

"I'll check it next month just to make sure the Helios don't have a permanent gate."

She shook her head. "It goes from here down into the main Earth branch."

I'd better check that it's not the Hors. I don't need to be blind-sided with a major rape and pillage raid in the middle of this crisis!

They spent four more days of increasingly strong earthquakes placing gates, then gated back to the barren world they were using as a staging ground.

Chapter Eldon Party

"We all want to talk to you. So I'll send my car tomorrow night at nine."

Eldon bit his lip, then nodded. His team wasn't playing and Heso could tape the Toronto San Francisco game. He'd made a hell of a lot of money off the old gal's friends. So maybe he ought to go listen to them.

It turned out to be one of those formal cocktail we're-not-talking-business-just-checking-you-out-as-a-possible-partner sort of things.

Except when he laughed at the thought of these conventional businessmen turning into black market potion salesmen they got a bit rude.

One of the formerly bald men leaned in, as if he were trying to be intimidating. "We can make you rich. Do you really like that grubby little shop? We can get you a mansion like this." He waved at the big-enough-for-five-families heap of stone. The squiggly shaped swimming pool with two fake waterfalls and three Jacuzzis jutting out here and there.

Eldon looked around at all the cold calculating eyes. Remembered the laughing college kids calling him to comer and see what they'd done . . .

"Not interested. Thanks awfully for inviting me to your party . . . "

"Eldon, you're a wanted criminal. One phone call away from finding yourself behind bars." So much for the nice old lady . . . not that he'd actually ever considered her nice . . .

He grinned and shook his head. "Police don't worry me." So long as they aren't the Disco variety.

"Eldon, you'd better reconsider."

Eldon loomed. And he was tall enough, muscular enough, and ugly enough to pull it off effortlessly. "Walk away. Enjoy your second youth, your head of hair, your energy. Otherwise I'll be forced to completely humiliate you." He turned to demonstrate how "walk away" worked . . .

"The Feds want you really badly. You'll never see a court of law. You'll just disappear and they'll dissect you."

Eldon warped light and stepped around to the outdoor bar. A bit of wine added to every drink as the blank faced barman poured . . . and his flask refilled four times . . . The noise level was rising, look were being exchanged.

He swiped a bottle of brandy, anointed it and poured it into the pool.

Huh, pretty good self control these old businessmen and women.

An invisible nudge and Mr. Bigshot was stumbling into his old lady and they landed in one of the jacuzis. Tittering from a pack of old ladies . . . who found themselves staggering back into the group of former baldies . . .

The party'd had a lot more women than men so the barman and the catering staff were getting some really hungry looks . . .

Eldon left them to their fast developing orgy and walked out to the silly fountain in the front of the building, and added wine to that too.

Hesitated . . . Damn it, what if one of these idiots drowns?

He turned back and joined the party. Had a bit of wine himself, and started in with the animal transformations, putting them on lightly, so they'd fade in less than an hour. His little black stallion morph was as popular as always. The cat was fun too, until he fell in the poor. Wet cats are just not sexy.

 The neighbors called the cops. The first responders were both good looking men. Lucky to get out alive. Eldon sobered himself up and left about the time the third round of cops arrived. He kept his radio turned off for the drive, and watched the tape of the game over Heso's snores.

The hung over chauffeur showed up at noon for the car. "Madam does not want to ever see you again."

Eldon gave him a quick cure and the keys. "Yeah, hangovers are a pain. I hope no one got arrested."

"You missed the snotty neighbors coming over, and getting pulled into the fountain. I will cherish it, secretly, for all my remaining years."

"Ah, right." Eldon wondered a bit about all of what he'd put in the drinks. Shrugged.

Most likely everything has already worn off.


"There must have been a gas or something." Donahue was as spiffy as always, and his sympathy was well dosed with cynical enjoyment at the downfall of every single possible competitor for the next Captain's slot.

Phil nodded, then shut his eyes in pain. "I tried to get Sergeant Michaels out of the fountain, next thing you know I'm partying like a teenager. Has the lab come up with anything?"

"Nope. All those blood samples register at 1.2; well-lit and better not drive. Not life-of-the-party to falling-down-drunk like you all apparently appeared to be."

Phil gazed blearily across the vice squad's domain. It was amazingly quiet. Thank God. He drank more coke and tried to focus on what was on his desk. "Any luck yesterday with the stake out?"

"Nope. Our friendly neighborhood Whore killer must have been out at your party."

"If anyone there had any sexual hang-ups, they were hiding them very, very well."

Donahue choked on a snicker. "I heard you walked out with a glass of wine, and when Brenard got you home, you split it between him and your wife."

"Was it wine? May have been water from that damned fountain. I hope he had sense not to swallow it."

"So . . . how many of those teenagers did you . . . get friendly with?"

"I was, thank god, a late comer. They were all starting to pass out about the time I got there." Thank god, else I'd be divorced by next week. Even though Jessie said she was going to get me drunk more often, in the future.

He winced as crisp footsteps echoed off the wall. Sergeant Jolly. Ugg. "Lieutenant Farley? The Chief want to speak to you."

"Right." He shoved back from the desk and stood, and followed Jolie out and then up the stairs. Jolly had gained his nickname not for his actual name but for the cheery Santa Clause expression he never seemed to be able to overcome. An expression further from his personality was hard to imagine.

The Chief eyed him and shook his head. "If you hadn't been in sight of the patrol cars' incident cameras the whole time, I'd be reaming your ass. As it is, I'm ignoring a case of the Blue Flu that would bring tears of joy to the eyes of a Union organizer. Lieutenant Donahue is the senior detective that is free of this . . . stain. He is going to be investigating this new intoxicant, and you are going to find the fellow that killed those two pros, assuming the similarities weren't just a coincidence, and we have someone with a bad kind a desire for blue-eyed blondes in red dresses."

Phil nodded. "I doubt the razor work could possibly be two different perps. Thank you sir. Will Brenard be assigned to the murder investigation as well?"

The Chief's eyebrows contracted painfully. "If he's well enough for street duty. His call, but don't let him get too macho."

"Yes, Sir." Phil took the Chief's wave as dismissal. Donahue was at his own desk, keying a report into the computer.

"Hey, Lucky Boy. Guess who gets to interview a bunch of hung over people today. Congratulations. By virtue of your absence last night, you are the only clean handed cop around."

Donahue sat back with a exasperated sigh. "And who, pray tell is going to sit nursing his fading hangover at the most likely pickup spot? I'll shoot everything over to your machine. I don't like to extrapolate between two points, but the two murders were both within a day of the full Moon, thirty days apart. Full Moon is tomorrow, so I was going to be especially alert the next three nights."

"I'm mostly up-to-date on the case. Both women were, umm, independent contractors, picking up men in singles bars, not walking the streets."

"Right. Most of the places could spot them, didn't mind so long as there was nothing obvious about it. I've been circulating, warning women . . . they won't listen, though. They never do." He pulled out a map. "Last definite sighting of the first victim was at the Top Hat, second, leaving the Good Time Charles. There are eight other places about the same in a five block area."

"No wonder you wanted more people. Tonight's going to be iffy, for warm bodies in working order." Phil winced.

"And we're not allowed to go around taking down license plates or photographing men leaving in a blonde woman's company." Donahue flashed his teeth. "But I'll be out there with you, no point in tackling your drinking buddies until tomorrow anyway."

Phil winced and ambled back to his desk, and tried to concentrate on the reports instead of his head. He got out his own map and marked the likely area, the last seen locations, and then he plotted the spots the body was found. No big surprise. A vacant lot and an alley, both in areas that were all business and light industrial, virtually deserted at night. He blocked out several similar areas from memory, roughly the same distance away. He decided to give his head another couple of hours, then he'd drive the area, updating map and memories.

Brenard came in whistling at his usual hour, and shook his head sadly at the Phil. "You should have stuck to that swamp water you forced down me. I feel great."

"Excellent. You can drive. Donahue's on the case of the mystery intoxicant. We're on the pro killer."

Bernard growled. "Ought to be Homicide's case, and we all know it. Lazy bums are just too backed up and will do us the favor of giving us this case. Ha! Two might make a pissed off pimp taking out the competition likely. Especially since they're so close geographically. It's going to take more to convince me we're looking at a serial murderer."

"Me too, and that's no doubt the reason Homicide is leaving it to us. The thing is . . . There's not a hooker hangout in the area. 'Everyone knows' where to go for hookers. These are upscale pickup bars. Who's going to be upset about a few women making money off a few guys, here?"

"No one. It's not like the world depends on it."


Xen stepped through his gate carefully.

I ought to have checked out this gate last month. If it's the smuggler sisters, no problem. The Hors? I need to find out what they're up to.

The other gate, the unknown gate, was moderately near. Pig and Barracuda were looking around for their new friends and looking disappointed.

"Sorry, next week we'll be back to work with the Oners. Until then we're hunting down a gate that's here . . . probably less than a hundred miles. This is as close as I could get without risking landing right on top of it." He popped opened another bubbles as he talked, letting Pyrite out. "So. Lots of dangerous animals around, and possibly the Hors de Combat."

Pyrite nodded and looked around. :: Pretty world. Let's go find the gate. ::

The four of them were apparently scary enough to keep the predators away. But Pyrite had to stop and watch the eohippus proto-horses. :: Can I have one for a pet? ::

:: Like some people keep monkeys? ::

:: Weird little horse-like things are funnier. But I'm kind of busy. :: The horse shook his mane and galloped on.

Xen picked up human mental activity and they slowed. Warped light.

Young. Male and female, camping along a river. Lots of guns and modern camping equipment.

"Wait till Eldon sees this one!" A boy held a spear aloft. The point was metal, and there was a cross piece . . .

:: Eldon. Damn . . . but . . . what the heck are they going to do here? Another way point from which to raid? ::

:: They don't look like bad guys. :: Pyrite snorted and the dog sniffing at his invisible hooves backed off to bristle and circle Pig.

:: No they don't. The gate is mile away up the hill . . . I'll bet it's in that tower. Let's go see if it's got bad guys. ::

It was empty. Except for the gate to another world.

He bubbled the horse and dogs before he slipped through and into a small room full of magic charms. Xen felt a few. Nothing objectionable. Eased out into an alley, down to a moderately busy city street.

He closed his eyes and took a long hard look.

No other gates. But then they probably realize we can see them.

He pulled out a strong unnoticeable spell for a walk around . . . or better yet backing into the alley and waiting for the familiar figure he'd spotted down the street.

Eldon abled down to the magic store and shrugged to find it unlocked. He propped the door open and set out a sign. Sat cross-legged on the floor for meditation. Then moved behind a desk and started some fumbling attempts at mage exercises.

Lots of power, piss poor training.

Xen leaned on the wall and watched for a long moment. "Well, you don't look like you're planning a crime spree."

Eldon froze . . . closed his eyes, opened them. "Still can't see through your spells. Hi, Xen."

Xen snuffed the unnoticeable spell.

"So what are you doing here?"

"Watching football. Then we got bored—me and Heso—so we figured we'd, you know, do something that would keep us from getting dangerously bored."

"What about Rior and Jade?"

"Eh. None of my business. Falchion made a gate for us, then closed it. I . . . should never go back . . . but . . . "

"But the Hors de Combat are all you've got?"

"Pretty much."

"So . . . what about that gate?"

"I made it." Eldon's pride faded into uncertainty as he eyed Xen.

Xen pinched the bridge of his nose. Eldon. Making gates. He eyed the younger man. "Be careful . . . and if you need to close a gate, the best method is to grab another fast spinning cone and ram the joined cones."

He shoved away from the wall and rounded the desk. Eldon shoved back, quivering on the edge of doing something. Xen stepped back through the gate and out of the tower.

Eldon edged after him.

"What about the kids?"

"College students. They think it's a great lark. I've thinned out the local predators, and they've got guns." Defensive tones of voice, worry. But neither guilt nor indifference.

No one killed yet. At least he's doing something to lower the risk.

Xen looked back at him. "The general consensus is that if any of you live honestly and don't force us to take notice . . . we won't."

Eldon winced. "I don't think Rior and Jade can stop. They're . . . twisted."

Xen nodded. "I know. Try to find someplace you can belong, without them."

He let the dogs and Pyrite out. Mounted and rode away.

Eldon. Opening gates. Old Gods, Eldon, you'd better stay honest.

Because I think trying to capture you could be very very dangerous.

19 September 2017 @ 04:22 pm
  I'll trim stuff back as needed, right now I'm putting everything in.

Chapter Mixed Triads

"Those things look pretty dangerous."

Q took her eyes off the large herd of large cattle under the substantial dust cloud. "They look like they're migrating. I fail to understand why. It's the middle of the summer."

Goldfinch eyed the dry clouds. "Maybe the water is drying up in the south? Isn't Northern Europe supposed to be wetter, year round than the south? Of course, I have no idea what climate changes this world has experienced."

Q nodded. "Makes sense. And they're avoiding the hill, for now, but we may need to break off early. Which makes this a good time to switch things around a bit."

Rael walked up raising her eyebrows, the rest of the women trailing.

Oh this is going to be good!

Q hoped she was looking businesslike. "Bunny? Why don't you try working with Demi and Egret. Rael with Goldfinch and Ibis. And I'll make a third triad with Jacana and Lapwing."

Rael grinned. :: Giving the Mean Girls a lesson? ::

:: That's half the fun. You'll be the other half. Not to mention Xen's reaction. ::

But the other looked variously interested. Jacana and Lapwing exchanged glances and started grinning.

They spread out along the hill, the guys keeping an eye on the cattle.


Rael followed Goldfinch and Ibis along the hill and down a bit.

Ibis grinned. "Don't look so apprehensive. We're the nice witches." She held out her hand and Rael reached to meet it.


"Whoa! Hadn't expected that from a Oner!" Ibis scanned her. Shook her head. "You'd fit right into the Farmer girls. Don't you think so, Goldie?"

Goldfinch nodded and held out a hand. Rael grit her teeth and touched it.


Oh one damn it all to hell!

She cleared her throat. "My mother served briefly on Comet Fall . . . and got pregnant. The name Bran Butcher has been mentioned."

Black and Auburn heads nodded.

"Hi Cousin! My mother is your father's younger sister. And Ibis would be your niece. Her mother's is one of Bran's half sisters." Goldfinch's grin widened. "You'll have to come meet the rest of the family sometime. Don't worry, there's only a couple hundred of us . . . last time I counted."

Rael just closed her eyes and held out her hands. I never thought about having family on my unknown father's side. Why me? She shut down that line of thought as the others took her hands and led her off into the sparkling blue to hunt for cones.


Q managed to not laugh . . . until she turned around and spotted Xen. Blank faced, staring at Rael. Ha! You never analyzed your girlfriend's genes? Good. I'd hate to find out you were as analytical as I am.

Jacana and Lapwing held hands and smiled hungrily at Q.

She switched her grin to them and took their hands. Opened her shields to their hostile advances and let them in. Reached for them and swamped them with shear personality as they merged.

:: Let's get to work.::

Eight gates later she released them.

Smiled sunnily. "Good work guys. Thanks!"

Xen parceled out boost with a straight face to the two stunned looking witches. Didn't say a thing. Out loud.

:: Did you out-bad the Bad Witches? Tsk, tsk! ::

:: I might have been a little too dominant. :: Q took a sip and looked the other way. :: I'm a bit surprised that you were surprised. ::

:: I wasn't actually. Except . . . I suddenly realized that it wasn't the meek little assistant that Bran seduced, but rather the leader of that whole appalling action. ::

:: I trust you have sense enough not to hold the sins of the mother against the daughter. ::

He glowered at her. :: No. But it might explain an ability to do horrible things when ordered. I'll be more careful the next time she tries to murder me. ::

Q started laughing and walked over to wake up the other triads. :: Beats being meek. ::

:: Yep. ::

The pheasant in game sauce won, seven to six, with Q abstaining from voting. "The boss needs to stay neutral."

Two days later they packed up and headed home.

We'll know in a month if it did any good.

Chapter Eldon

He eyed the dark pack. "At least you lot are armed. What do you want to bet the pale pack hasn't got a single gun among them all?"

The head of the boy pack eyed him. "What are you, anyway? Mexican? I never heard of a blonde Mexican. You bleach your hair?"

"No. I started out blond. And where I come from, everyone's sorta tannish. I'm maybe darker than average. There aren't many as dark as you, and nobody that horrible fish-belly white like them. I dunno why we keep finding people like that all over the Multiverse."

"Multiverse! Where are you from?" The pale boy, Shane, had walked up behind him.

"Yeah. Lots of parallel universes, except they aren't really parallel. I'm from the one they call Comet Fall."

"What do they call ours?"

"I dunno. I'm not an explorer, I'm a Bad Guy. You know, steal stuff in one Universe, sell it in another. Stuff like that."

The dark leader laughed. "You're one of the Strangers. That's what you are. Lost weight since you were changing into a deer, haven't you?"

Shane backed away and eyed him. "Geeze. Take note, for once in the history of our Universe, Coltrain Newhouse is correct."

A sudden cacophony of yells and running kids drew their attention. What charged out of the woods behind them looked a bit like the things beyond the Gate at the lodge, except this one had more feathers and a huge beak. Eldon loped down the hill, as several guns started firing behind him. He toughened up his back shield, and threw a slice as soon as he was in range. The bird's head dropped and the body ran around a bit pumping blood.


"Mo Fo!"

"Wow, must have a lot of actions co-ordinated off the spinal cord."

Eldon and Coltrain stared at Shane. Coltrain shook his head. "There oughta be a law about smart boys like you. Keep 'em ona leash or neuter them so they can't multiply and blow up the World. Again."

Shane straightened indignantly. "We didn't. It's pretty much accepted that the Kamchatka attack was actually a meteorite. Well, Okay, everyone over reacted. But that was a hundred years ago."

Coltrain spat, and walked over to where the over sized roadrunner had collapsed.

It was pretty gamey, roasted over a camp fire.

Once Eldon had found all the kids and wrestled them through the Gate, he tipped it back over and crawled underneath to cross. He didn't want that thing's friends to find it.


"You won't live to be thirty, crossing streets like that." The old lady rolled down her window and yelled at him. The man in the fancy chauffeur's get up in the front seat looked resigned.

Eldon grinned. "I'm twenty-seven already, and I'll be young forever." He turned back around and continued down the street. The big black car turned the corner and matched his pace.

"You are at the most, eighteen. I'd kill for your energy, not to mention my eighteen year old complexion."

He looked at her thoughtfully. "Killing won't get you what you want. How about a million dollars, instead?"

She snorted. "If you could do it, I'd pay."

Eldon fished his two wine bottles out of his bubble. They were the one thing, well, two things, he always had with him. In case he had to bolt. "Gotta wine glass? Drink these, and if you like the result, meet me here in one month with a check for a million dollars." He dodged around a light pole and some newspaper machines, and she held out a wine glass. He poured, grinning as they kept moving. "See you in a month. Bring your friends."

He stowed his wine and watched the car speed away. If she'd drink it, if she was good for the money, if she brought a friend or two . . . could be an easy way to get filthy rich.


They were back the next day. Armed and dangerous. With sleeping bags. Girlfriends armed with cook ware. Or in Shane's case, quite obviously a sister.

"Don't you have to go to school tomorrow?" Eldon looked them over carefully. "I'm going to assume you all know to use those weapons, despite not noticing that birdie getting hit."

Coltrain scowled. "That's why I've got this." He patted something that Eldon tended to associate with military movies.

"We're college students, we can skip classes if we want to." Shane gazed wistfully at the weapon.

Eldon blinked at Coltrain's nod. He'd figured they were the notorious inner city gangs they talked about in the papers. Although the shop was a bit outside the really rough areas, and not that far from the University and cheap student housing, now that he thought about it.

Eldon shook his head. "Well, don't get lost." He ducked through the Gate and crawled out from under it. Vultures and things that looked like over sized weasels scattered from the remains of the bird. Nothing large in sight, again. He tipped the Gate up.

"Have fun scouting around. I'm going to build some sort of building around the Gate."

The kids moved off, the women both repulsed by the gory, and slightly stinky remains and partly fascinated by the alien animal.

Eldon ran a quick head count. Seven guys, four gals. Then he scowled at the Gate. He just wasn't as good at rock stuff as, well, any witch half his age. But he wasn't helpless. In fits and starts he cleared the ground, found rock about six feet down. He eyed it with disfavor. Molding solid rock would deepen the pit as the walls rose. He kicked a rodent that came to investigate. "What I need is a rock outcrop, so I can bring all the rock down here."

The ground rose to the east, past the woods, so he headed that direction.

He spotted the kids up on a bare hill top, and veer aside to leave them to their little adventure. He spotted a more ragged looking hill, and found his outcrop. Slice was such a satisfying spell. Such clear results. He trimmed off the weathered limestone, and started cutting two foot thick slabs.

"Are you teleporting them to the Gate?" Shane had walked up behind him again.

"Nah, just scooping them into a bubble. Then I can pull them all down to the Gate and pull them out one by one, and fuse them together."

"Can we learn how to do that, or do you have to be born magic?" One of the other dark pack edged around and studied the scooped out rock.

"Well, see, it's genetic. My ancestors were engineered to be this way. I suppose I could give you some of the magic genes, but since you didn't grow up with them, I dunno if you can ever learn how to use them." Eldon eyed them thoughtfully. "You're pretty young, I don't suppose it would hurt to try it. I'll make up a potion when I'm done with this." He got back to work, and gradually the kids wandered off. Just as well. Some of them were curvy enough to be interesting, and he really didn't want to find out how Coltrain would react to him stealing his girlfriend. Or Shane his sister, for that matter.

He took the outcrop down to ten feet below ground level, then walked back to the Gate. "It would improve the atmosphere if you guys would drag that thing off a couple hundred feet." They'd been so busy poking it, they hadn't heard him coming.

"Wow, you walk pretty quietly." Shane's sister eyed him in a clinical fashion. Definitely too young.

"So do stalking animals. You lot should think about sentries." Eldon turned his bubble around and slid out his first slab. Fused it to the ground. He got a five foot wall and a temporary roof done, pulling the Gate down to the bedrock so it was safe, before he quit for the day. The kids followed him, after he promised to give them free access to the Gate.

He crawled home and collapsed. He hadn't worked that hard in years. In fact gold mining was slower and easier. Maybe he should go back. After Superbowl.

In the morning, a search of the potions he'd picked up from Rior and Aunt Susto gave him a good starting point for creating wizard potions. He had the potions for the three power genes, but what about the rest? A hundred and five other engineered genes, with no idea which were necessary for magic.

Well. He could start with longevity, and something from Susto that claimed to be "good health". He could reinforce their natural hair, eye and skin colors. Or change them if they wanted. Intelligence. Hmm. He took a sip of that one. Just in case it might work on an adult. Pity I didn't get any when I was a kid. I could be a nice honest wizard today. Probably bored to tears. Married, six brats. Unfortunately it didn't sound too bad.

He pulled out eleven empty bottles, and started mixing.

Heso came along to see his Gate. The kids eyed him carefully, then trooped through as Eldon opened a doorway out of his stone room.

"All right. I mixed up some stuff this morning. It won't change your hair, skin or eye color. If you want to change, tell me and I'll work something up. I don't even know what most of your names are. Here. Shane's sister. Miss Goldenhair. Nosey."

After he'd thumped Nosey, he explained that there was nothing wrong with a big nose, and what was his name? Ice? "Right. Now stop being so sensitive, only girls are sensitive. Here's yours. Coltrain. Pimples. Sorry, what your name? Right. Jeff."

They all looked scared, and eyed the bottles. Eldon grabbed his bubble started removing his low ceiling. His next tier of five foot tall slabs completed, he started on a floor. Heso levitated thinner slabs while he fused them to the walls and then to each other. He left a hole for stairs and started the next row of wall. Basement with gate. Three floors. Flat topped roof with stairs, for a look out post They all bugged him until he put up a half wall with crenellations. And arrow slit windows on all levels.

The kids informed him that there was a river fives miles away, and his location was lousy. He huffed a bit, then drilled a hole down through the sediments . . . six feet to solid limestone . . . but another hundred feet down he found a sandstone full of water and with a spell to induce movement, had running water in his kitchen and privy in no time.

The kids spent a week puking sick from the river water. He never heard what their parents thought about it. He just gave them all keys to the shop so they could come and go at will.


Eldon slouched around to the block where he'd poured wine for an old lady a month earlier.

The big black car was parked and waiting for him. The window rolled down. The middle aged lady studied him. And finally handed out a slip of paper. "Half. Because I don't look eighteen. Can you make me look even younger?"

He handed over a card with the magic shop's address on it. "I can. I don't have what I need with me."

She eyed the card, and looked in her mirror. "I still don't believe it. All my friends are envious of my very good face lift. Who are you?"

"Someone who knows that this stuff can never be licensed. Someone who would go to jail if the ingredients were known. If you want your young looks, don't tell the authorities." Eldon stepped away, and the car drove off.

The bank teller had a hard time not choking over the amount of the check.

Eldon opened the door of the magic shop, set out the sign and kicked back to watch a really great gory movie while waiting in vain for customers.

His young/old Lady showed up early two days later. She frowned around the shop. "I don't believe this. With what you can do you wind up like _this_?"

"This is the start, not the finish." Eldon protested. "You were the first rich customer I could find. I don't suppose you'd like to bring your friends along? I could give you a discount on our magic skin tightening cream." He wound up giving her a percentage.


"No incense? What kind of magic store doesn't have incense?"

Eldon slowed his steps as he approached the door of the Magic Potions. The high clear voice had sounded female and young.

"We specialize in magic charms and potions." Heso sounded breathless. She must be pretty.

"Well, what books do you have?"

"We don't sell books, that's around the corner, we're just renting the back room."

"I know that. I'm curious about what system of magic you use. Or pretend to use."

"Pretty much straight Comet Fall wizardry for me. My partner Eldon is better at the potions than I am. He's a mage too, and I think he's added a few thing here and there, some on purpose."

She snorted. "So, you could get rid of my freckles?"

"You don't want to do that! Your freckles are marvelous. I mean, attractive. I mean, why would you want to change yourself?"

Eldon grinned and leaned against the wall to listen. Heso sounded like she'd knocked him for a complete loop.

"Well, if your going to sell potions as if major changes are no more important than a better haircut, you ought to be used to it. Let's see. You can cure acne, baldness, graying? You've got to be kidding. No one will fall for that. I suppose your weight loss potions are no more harmful that any other junk people sell. Improve your eyesight? Heh. What's in your 'general base' up there?"

"Oh, umm, general healing, rejuvenation, libido, fertility, long life, strong immune system, anti cancer. Then we add special stuff. Whatever the customer wants. Most of them figure that's enough right there. Except the bald guys and the fatties."

"And them you charge extra."

"Would you like a sample? Maybe with some power genes? A bit of this and that will really rev up your Spring Rites, or whatever." There was a clinking of glass.

"I really don't think . . . "

"No, on the house. It's really good wine, by the way. Let's see, add a bit of witch and wizard, that's a nice strong combination. I've been thinking about adding a bit of mage, myself. Umm, a few extras to boost you magical ability . . . "

Eldon thought at him. :: Intelligence, Memory. Add her natural hair and eye colors.::

:: Mine! Go away!::

:: I don't poach.::

:: Then stop eavesdropping.::

Eldon wandered away, still grinning, and walked down to an ice cream shop.

"You keep eating like that you're going to get fat."

"I've got a potion for that." He told Shane's sister. "I suppose you lot are off to try and get yourselves killed again?"

She sniffed. "Coltrain's killed two more of those bird things. Did you see the humongous thing, a baluchi –something, I looked it up. It's like Miocene, fifteen or twenty million years ago. So we're time traveling."

"Nah. It's just a different World, where the time runs much slower than here. My World's even faster. So we had genetic engineering. And time to sort of evolve into it."

"How much time? Relative to here, I mean?"

"About a thousand years."

"That's not enough time for evolution."

"It is if you've got a whole bunch of new genes and a small, isolated breeding population. See, the people that made my ancestors freaked out over the magic stuff, and exiled us to another World. Then they had a nuclear war, maybe three, depends on how you count them, and they lost a lot of tech. They just rediscovered dimensional travel a couple hundred years ago."

"Huh. I wouldn't believe a word of it, if it weren't for the Gate. Triple chocolate, please. How come you're not at the shop?"

"Ah, Heso's trying to charm a lady there, and I figured I'd stay away. Not fair to the poor guy, to have to compete with me."

She snickered and traded the lady money for her cone. "Riiight. All this and modesty too. So, why did you make the gate? Why to there?"

"Well, I've never made one before. I was experimenting, and that just happened to be the World it went to. I suppose I'll open another one, sometime. Gotta try and figure out how to steer them, you know?"

"Sounds sensible, but isn't it going to crowd your shop a bit? Or do they over lap?"

"Naw, they repel each other. I've got to get about a hundred feet away. So I'll practice from the other side."

She looked out the door. "Well, here's everyone. Hope your buddy's lady friend can handle the shock."

The shop was empty, and they all jumped through the gate. By the sound of it, Heso had his lady upstairs. The kids grabbed their packs and guns from the hooks on the basement wall and headed straight off for the river. They were chattering about hunting, a bonfire and tanning hides. He was pleased to see a reasonable number of them looking around. Maybe they'd all survive, despite the nasty predators out there.

He returned to the shop and kicked back to catch the pre-game sports show. He'd close up the shop and head home before the kickoff.


Chapter 2nd placements

Empty World Paleoscene Megafauna

"So, in summary, our scientists' measurement agree with Q's. The first close encounter increased the probability that it with hit our world. By our calculations, Q's efforts during the second encounter deflected Helios by a few degrees. So our probability had less of an increase than it would have had without her work. Both the Dinosaur World's and the Primitive World's probability rose higher than it would have. The Dinosaur World will be the next close encounter, and Q is right now laying in gates this more distant Paleocene World to further encourage that.  Then she'll add hundreds of gates between Helios and the Dinosaur world. If it misses, it's close enough that it should deflect Helios away from the One World."

Director of External Relations Ajki Withione Black Point eyed his small audience.  "And unfortunately, toward Primitive World 65480.

"The Helios scientists' conclusion, that their world will miss the Dino World and has a high probability of hitting the sparsely inhabited Primitive World  65480 remains unchanged, as of our last intercept of a report to their Archelaos. We are monitoring around the clock."

Most of the people in the room were his experts, here to give details of their research and reports, if needed. "Questions, sir?"

The rest of the people consisted of the President of the Empire, the Prime Councilor, and the closest advisors of each.

The President was the first to speak. "I am delighted to hear this. None-the-less, as a hostile dimensionally able civilization, it behooves us to keep a close watch on them. I'm funding the completion and expansion of your current spy post, and authorizing another to pre-stage a large army. In case we need to either destroy or capture their merge centers. We'll work with Disco and . . . hopefully not need the army. But one way or another, when it's over I want their dimensional abilities destroyed. They've killed billions without remorse."

The Prime Councilor nodded. "Ten months until that happens. One help all the Natives if Disco can't move them."

18 September 2017 @ 09:34 am

"Governor? I though you had, like, Princes and Lords?" Bunny blushed. "We don't actually know a lot about you guys."

Q grinned. "It's mutual. The Kingdom is broken up into Provinces and Territories. They're broken up into Land Grants. The Land Grant holder is a Lord, generally hereditary, but in the territories they can buy grants, but they have to be economically viable inside of ten years or it lapses."

"The Land Grant Holders of each province elect one of them to be the Duke and represent them in the Council. The title of Duke has become hereditary as well, although the king can remove one, and in theory the other land Grant holders could as well. Territories have appointed Governors, ditto provinces where the hereditary duke is under age. They are also members of the Council. Cities and professional guilds over a certain size get representation as well."

"And of course," Xen sniffed, "the title of Lord has expanded to cover any and all male line descendants of the Land Grant Holders. So they're all over the place putting on airs."

Q snickered. "You tell them, Prince Xen."

Xen gave her a rude gesture. "Nope. Female line of descent. Princess."

That got a gesture Rael wasn't quite sure how to translate so she ignored it. "I got the impression the king is not exactly a figurehead . . . "

That got her glares.

Xen cleared his throat. "We have a two part head of state. Crown and Spear. The King runs the administration of the kingdom, the Spear runs the Military and the police. They both support each other and act as a check on each other. Either may request action of the Council, and either can veto legislation the Council passes. Two signatures are required to enact a law."

"Isn't that awkward?"

"It usually works well. Except when it's such a disaster it implodes before it gets within a generation of the top."

"And that's how the Hors de Combat started?"

"Yep. And we're really glad they don't seem to be in business any longer. Wherever they are."

Chapter Eldon

Eldon like the long trips down the east side of the Rip to the northern end of Long Lake. He'd grown up in Gemstone, with this stony wilderness just a few miles away. Of course they'd had a whole world to use and explore on the other side of their Gate. But a more boring World would be hard to find. The desert, on the other hand, had been perfect for his boyhood misbehaviors.

And hide from well earned punishment. We're all set up with a house and mining claims . . . I hope to hell we can keep it up.

With a good sized load of gold, he had all four horses hitched to the wagon today. Banana and Muffin leading, and Star and Blazer as his wheel pair. They'd been this way enough times that they hardly needed steering. Which was just as well; he rode the brake down the slope toward the bridge across the lake. The stupid dog sat beside him. Not stupid. He's a Hell Hound cross of some sort, and probably not even full grown.

The bandits showed up at an awkward time, pelting down the hill at him, as they made a rather sharp turn on the steepest segment. They were whooping and yelling, and had crossbows cocked and in hand.

The idiot dog growled and then faded into the rocks.

"Halt or die!" The leader had a really great mustache.

"What? Do I look stupid?" Eldon yelled back. He raised a physical shield around the horses and scowled at the idiots. Around the corner, Banana snorted and stopped. Eldon cussed and set the brake. Climbed down to examine the fairly minor fall of rocks that completely blocked the road. Eldon certainly wouldn't want to come up on it at any speed. "Son of a Witch."

The dozen men were pulling up alongside the wagon, grinning.

"Think its funny do you?" Eldon flicked a finger at the mustache, which promptly burst into flame. Half a dozen bolts bounced off his personal shield, and Eldon grabbed the nearest man and dragged him from his saddle. He removed sword and knife from the man's possession and shoved him at the rock pile.

"Start shifting rock. Don't give me any lip!"

Before the frantic leader had gotten his mustache put out in the road dust, Eldon had disarmed two more, bubbled three, and was studiously ignoring the rest of them.

"Who are you?" The man touched his tender face.

"I'm a bigger, badder man that you'll ever be. And you'd best be glad it's me and not any of my partners that you tried to rob. They've got tempers. But, despite my position on the pinnacle of evil, I'm currently trying to be an honest miner. So, you lot are going to take note of these odd colored horses of mine, and you aren't ever going to try to rob me again. Right?"

A sharp bark from the dog. Eldon sidestepped the swipe from behind and above and dragged the man out of the wagon. "Get out there and move rocks." He planted a boot in the man's rear for emphasis.

"You aren't Auchel Ibrahm."

"Old Gods, no. I thought they hung him. Twice."

"Three . . . Umm, well, yeah . . . not that I knew anything about it, being at the time an honest man, who's umm, just recently gotten desperate and, umm, so incompetently . . . I mean, we was warning you about the rock fall, to not drive your poor horses into it. Why, they could break legs, coming up on something like that sudden-like."

"Yep. Sure could." Eldon eyed the dust cloud to the south, and then the slightly diminished rock pile. "And if you and your helpful fellows were to clear those rocks in a hurry, why, I might let you go soon enough that you won't find out who's raising that cloud of dust."

"Shit." Burned Mustache eyed the dust cloud. "Boys, help the man."

They set to with a will and Eldon sent them off with a good three miles start on the troops. He was just clearing the last rocks when the officer pulled rein beside him.

"You have any trouble with those fellows?" The man was bald, riding a handsome bay stallion. His uniform, such as it was, suggested company security.

"Laufiler?" Eldon guessed. "No, not much, but I didn't have enough control to hold them once they saw you coming."

"Old Gods. What, are you another one of these damned wizards. Who are you, where from?"

"Elk Denison, from Gemstone."

The man looked disgusted. "Another damned Deni welp. I should have known, just looking at you." He shifted in the saddle and his horse headed up the hill on the track of the bandits. Eldon funneled a bit of wind to keep the dust off of himself and his horses.

The dog trotted in from wherever he'd been. Mottled black and gray he was hard to spot when he was still.

"I dunno why you keep hanging around me. Scat!" The dog ignored him. Eldon climbed back into the wagon and let off the brake.

A Hell Hound cross followed me home, Mom! How do I get rid of him?

He supposed he ought to have held the bandits, but then what sort of Bad Guy would he be? He was still wondering a day later when he rattled into Southern Hell and pulled up at Tivo's Gold Traders.

Tivo Harryson took his security seriously, and his guards stepped out beyond the wagon to make sure no one approached as the handlers, assayers and accountants got to work. Then Eldon took the letters of credit across the street to the Bank of the West and deposited them, distributing the money among their seven accounts. A fair amount of cash went into his pockets, and he sauntered out to see if the quality or quantity of entertainment had changed since his last visit.

The dog had galloped into town ahead of him off, and with luck would find someone who wouldn't be running for his life at a moment's notice.

The hosteller managed to squeeze his foursome into the stable of the Peacock, and he found a pretty lady with a bit of glow who was delighted to help him spend money. They had a decent show with dinner, and then got down to some serious gambling. He eyed the garish vest of Phillip Michaelson, and gambled recklessly. Jilly was careful, and cheated a few times and lost money. But she perked up when he headed for his room and showed him just how much she'd enjoyed the evening, and left in the predawn with every penny he hadn't stashed in a bubble. Which was enough for breakfast and a bit of grocery shopping, then he headed back to Cliff House.

The dog jumped into the wagon a mile from town.

Eldon shook his head. "Bad choice dog. Really. You need to find a new home."

By late summer they had respectable bank accounts, both corporate and personal, and were keeping a lot of their gold on hand, for cross dimensional trading.


Eldon thumped his head on the dining room table. "Stop looking so bored, Heso."

"It's almost football season."

"Not here. But suppose there's millions of worlds where it is. Geeze." He looked over at the witches, all sitting around with their new babies. "Maybe we could get them to . . . umm. We really, really can't attract attention to here. How about we sneak through Embassy?"

Heso thought it over. "But do they have Gates to Worlds we like? Those year 2100 to 2200 Earths are my favorite."

Rior looked over his, err, her shoulder at them. "There's one to the World where we raided that Senator's party. I wonder what Rivolte is doing, these days? Could be dangerous though."

Eldon and Heso nodded.

Falchion snorted. "I'll open one to the place were we had the Baldness cure place. Far away from all your girlfriends, though."

"We'll just rent an apartment and watch football." Heso promised.

"And take that dog with you."


Selling the gold was easy enough. Renting the apartment just took a bit of magic persuasion to skip the tedious credit check parts. And objections to large pets. Buying the SUV and the sports car ditto. The big screen TV they bought new, to be sure it complied with all the fiddly details of the broadcasts, or in this case, cable. The rest of their furniture they'd brought along in a bubble. They were ready for the pre-season a week early, and spent that mostly at the apartment complex's pool, trying, without success, to pick up babes. At least the ladies liked the dog.

Eldon gave up trying to get his computer to understand the gibberish coming over the cable, and bought a new one. It made researching what had happened after their last visit easy.

"Has it really only been a year and a half?" He muttered.

"Yeah. Seems like we were robbing banks for longer than six months, doesn't it?" Heso wandered over and grinned at the pictures he was downloading. "Hey, look! There's Julia! Twins! We had twins. Cool, eh?"

"Yep. Bet they'll be damn fine witches in a few years. We ought to come back every year to check on them, you know?" Eldon found another site with a complete tally of the "Stranger" Babies. "What the heck? Denver? I didn't do anything in Denver."

"That's where Rior pulled the jewelry heists that got us in trouble. I think he had Mag and that lot along."

"Ah. All right. I guess that makes sense. Those guys were hornier than us, hands down." Eldon scowled at the screen. "Eight babies up there have been identified by our genes. Huh. advertisements for genetic screening all over the place. 'Find out if your baby is a Stranger.' What kind of rot . . . Well, I suppose it makes sense from their point of view. They don't know when we came and went."

"Yeah. You're back to blonde, and you've lost weight, haven't you? I suppose I ought to too." Heso wandered off. Eldon stared at the computer uneasily. What if it had been the collective subconscious, influencing him? Was he going to start prowling around in animal form, raping women again? He decided to start sleeping in, not going anywhere near early morning joggers.

"Hey! The Highlights show is on! We can see what we missed last year."


Houston beat Kansas City in the first exhibition game.

"Probably the last win they'll see for a month. Houston teams always suck." Eldon grabbed another nacho and settled in to watch the after game wrap up.

"It's a hell of a lot more fun to lay around watching football when someone comes by and say you ought to get to work." Heso burped and put his heels up on the dog. The dog farted.

Eldon opened a window. "Yeah. This doesn't even count as goofing off. But we really can't get jobs. I suppose we could open up our own place again. But curing baldness is boring." Eldon crushed his empty beer can and lobbed it at the garbage can.

"Maybe we should open a shop of fun stuff."

"We could make like Susto, and sell magic potions that no one knows what they'll do." Eldon grinned. "Of course, we'd get sued. I told an old lady today I'd make her young for a million dollars. How about if we do everything the old shop did, but we act like it's dangerous and criminal and charge huge amounts for it."

"The problem is getting started. Word of mouth has to start somewhere." Heso looked interested, though.

Eldon grinned. "Well, if this place works like Houston, people will try anything to cure baldness. We just need to be sure to offer other stuff."

"Or get laid." Heso pulled out a bottle of the joy juice. "This is the stuff we ought to sell."

They went through all their stuff. Eldon had some cheap jewelry from Aunt Susto's, so they dissected it into a heap of little trinkets and started putting charms on them. 'Notice me', 'Don't Notice Me', 'Love,' 'Clumsy,' 'Confidence,' all the little things they'd learned as teenagers, just grasping power. Little bottles, and wine, and Eldon going carefully, step by step, through the spells he knew for anti-baldness, and various colors of hair and eyes. Lose weight. That was a good one. He experimented with his abilities, and was able to slightly change the shape of bottles. It wasn't up to what a witch could do, but it turned all sorts of scavenged pickle and jam jars into funny shapes, and he carved sections of wood for plugs. He imagined they looked very magical, and got a gallon of cheap skin lotion, added normal wine and turned it into a cure for baldness and put it in wide mouth jars, to be rubbed on the scalp. Heso got creative with labels on the computers, and by the time they'd rented a tiny room off the side-alley door of a used book store they had plenty of stock for their magical store.

"I dunno if this is going to do the trick." Heso grumbled as Eldon painted the sign for the shop.

"Of course it is. I've filed a DBA, we've got a bank account, all we need are customers."

"I don't believe you and I are doing this. I mean, we're lazy bums, right?"

"Right. That's why we got a big screen TV for here too. We can goof off while we're on the job." The dog woofed. Eldon turned and eyed the young man peeking around the corner.

"What can I do for you, kid?"

"I'm not a kid. My name is Shane."

"So, whatcha need, Shane?"

"Can you make a girl fall in love?"

"No, but with a confidence charm and a notice me charm, you'll have a lot better luck doing it yourself."

The boy hemmed and hawed, looked askance at the dangly charms. "I can't wear those, everyone will think I'm gay. Don't you have magic rings? Something a guy could wear?"

Eldon and Heso exchanged looks.

"Rings. Right, why didn't I think of rings? Rings are so easy." Heso grabbed a crushed beer can out of the garbage and flowed aluminum into a smooth shiny ring. They checked it on the boy's hand, shrunk it and widened it a bit, then Eldon put his Notice me and Happy and Confident charms all intertwined around it and sent the kid off twenty dollars lighter in the pocket, but also wide-eyed by what he'd seen.

"We'll have to do a bunch of that." Heso formed more rings dropping them on the desk as the can shrunk. "People will really believe in the magic if they see it performed."

"Yeah. And metal is so easy to form."

That was their only customer for the day, so they pulled the sign in, locked the door and headed home.

Eldon opened the door of the magic shop, set out the sign and kicked back to watch a really great gory movie while waiting for customers. And actually got some. And more as the week went on

Teenagers mostly. Amazingly naïve and giggling as they read the labels, and frequently bought several.

The dog wandered in—he was getting really good at doors, and since they hadn't gotten any complaints from the apartment manager, he must be good at sneaking as well.

And as word that his charms worked circulated, he got so busy selling charm rings to teenagers he had trouble keeping up with football. Halfway through the season he put his foot down. The shop was only going to be open late on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Monday, Thursday and Friday, until five. Period.

Rings with a spell to prevent ovulation and menses, activating every quarter of the Moon, were amazingly popular. Almost as much as the orgasm intensifier. He resisted all requests for compulsion spells. The amounts offered often left him gawping.

"Old Gods! I don't do love potions. Why don't you just offer her that much? Sheesh."

"She won't talk to me."

"So go find someone else. Women are all pretty much the same."

"But she's special. She's the only one I want."

"Right. What you need is a plan. Like maneuvers before a war. Start with anonymous notes. Love letters, you know? Poems? Then find out what she likes to do, and start doing it yourself, so you sort of meet now and then. Let's see, then it might be about time for flowers and candy. Then you let one of her friends know that you're the fellow who's been doing it all. And by then she'll probably talk to you."

"That's a awful lot of work."

"Guess she's not that special, eh?"

The boy bristled, and bought some of his anti-acne cream.

Then a couple of men stopped in, and by the holiday they called Thanksgiving he was doing a steady business in anti-baldness lotions. And practicing all the other little things he'd been picking up, that he hadn't wanted to let the others know he could do.

If he could do them.

To make a Gate, Falchion had grabbed an oddly shaped bubble. So he sat and looked at the bubbles, and the more he looked, the more irregularities he spotted. Bubbles of different sizes and toughness. Cone shapes, spinning madly. Cylinders, doing nothing much at all, although they occasionally touched and stuck on those crumpled sheets-of-paper looking things.

When Falchion had made that Gate, she'd grabbed a bubble and rammed it with a cone to slow it down. Eldon spotted a cone and grabbed the nearest bubble. He bumped the cone with it, got knocked back a bit, bumped it again, braced himself mentally and kept bumping it until it slowed. Then he reached out and grabbed the cone pulled it around, shoved it large size up to the nearest sheet of paper. There it sat. Whoop-de-do. Doing nothing. All right. Falchion had pulled the tail into that wild energy, the breach in the Universe. So that couldn't be what she usually did. So, how about another cone? He tracked one down, bumped it until he could handle it and pulled it over closer. The narrow tails swung past each other, twisted together and the large end turned toward him and pounced. It sucked down right on top of him and he found himself dumped into long grass full of stickers. The dog landed on him. He jumped up, cussing. The whirling white mouth of a Gate was directly above him. He landed hard on the floor of the magic shop.

"Wow, how did you do that?"

He eyed the pack of teenagers. Two packs of kids, light and dark. "Magic. Excuse me, I need to straighten this out a bit. He managed to shove one end of the Gate down, and the other up, then jumped through. This time he stayed hunched down and slithered through the stickers until he was out from under it. He look a long look around. Tall grass, thin woods. Nothing dangerous in sight. He tipped the Gate upright, and the teenagers poured through.

"Hey, don't you lot go getting lost or killed or anything! Just because there's nothing dangerous in sight doesn't mean there isn't anything dangerous out there."

17 September 2017 @ 06:10 am

Meet the Family

1410 px 1412 yp

Izzo fished in a pocket. Snatched fingers back, guiltily. Rael'd seen him deliberately affront people with his hick toothpick chewing. Apparently he simply used a real habit for other purposes.

He dropped his hand to his lap.

"According to rumor, Xen Wolfson has either been killed, or seriously wounded." He paused and watched her.

Rael tried to not respond, to not show any reaction beyond polite interest. She suspected she failed miserably.

"Dr. Quicksilver says injured, leave him alone for a year or so and he ought to be fine. We'd like you to go to Comet Fall and ask to see him."

"Right. Nothing to it." Rael considered the Fallen, probably the most irritating people in the Multiverse. "I'll start with their embassy on Embassy. If they won't let me through, I'll see if his horse will show me a back route." She ignored the odd look he gave her.


It looked like an "Old Western Frontier" stage set had met up with a kitschy Swiss Chalet schemed touristy ski villa and unfortunately, procreated. The setting sun tried to gild the spring snow-melt mud, and failed.

Rael lifted her reins and urged her horse down the slight decline and into the little valley.

She'd taken the corridor as far as the provincial capital, then bought the horse for the final leg. She'd picked this one because with the irregular pinto spots she figured there wouldn't be any of the engineered genes that made the "best" horses here so One damned scary smart.

But "Calico" had turned out to be smooth gaited and easy going, the muddy-grass-over-gravel road in reasonable repair, with rather obvious camping areas at high and dry spots along it. The last two days had been more pleasant than the preceding four talking to ambassadorial type people and large suspicious in the blue and gold uniforms of the Kings own.

Out here, alone on horseback, the lack of people had felt eerie at first. But today it had seemed peaceful, and the sudden scatter of huts and muddy sheep and fenced pastures over the last ten miles an unfortunate intrusion.

The mud deepened as they descended to a creek in full spate. A bridge of logs thrown across, with boards nailed on top, was barely above the water, and from the fresh scrubbed look, had been under water quite recently. Calico slid a bit on the muddy slope down to it, ambled across and up the other side.

And then she was in the village of Ash. The center of magic on this world.

Calico's iron shoes clinked on harder pavement, free of mud. There were lights coming on behind windows, indistinguishable voices, a baby crying. Two girls, preteen at a guess, stopped to eye her.

"Hi? I'm, umm, looking for Xen Wolfson?"

One girl raised a supercilious nose. "Oh, you mean Xenotime Rustleson."

The second girl elbowed the first. "Don't be snotty, she's obviously just a city girl, doesn't know anything." She pointed. "Take the road past the inn, go right at the fork."

"Thank you." Rael booted Calico forward. The inn was emitting delicious smells. I could hunt him up in the morning . . . But she ignored her stomach and turned up the road running between it and a garden, lush with budding bushes, flowering trees, and rows of soil full of sprouts. Just past the inn's stable, the road turned into a dirt track. Sandy enough to not be a morass. A kilometer up the rising path, it split and she took the right fork. The almost full moon cleared the mountains to the east, and by its light she could see that the path dropped a bit toward another creek. Smaller, with a faint smell of sulfur. Run off from one of the hotsprings they talk about.

The path dived into the dark under an oak tree. A hitching rail was dimly visible. Was this a picnic spot, or did visitors tie their horses here and walk the rest of the way?

"That's the usual procedure."

For a second she thought she'd found him, the voice was almost . . . but the man stepping out into the moonlight was more muscular, bearded . . . but those dark eyes . . .

"And I think you're the first Oner we've had stop by."

Rael clamped down hard on her shields.

White teeth flashed in a quick grin. Familiar enough to wrench her heart.

"You must be Xen's father."

"Yes. Wolfgang Oldham. And you are?"

"Rael Withione Montevideo. I . . . The President is concerned, we've gotten rumors that he was badly injured." She slid off the horse, trying to not wince as her feet took the weight.

"Yes." Exasperation in the deep voice now. "An amazing number of people want the boy dead. And are perfectly willing to take out any number of innocent bystanders to achieve that."

Rael sighed. "Yes. At least most of the Oners who want him dead just try to stick him with a sword. May I speak to him?"

"Umm, don't know that he'll wake up, but come along and see for yourself."

She tied the horse and followed the shadowy figure along the stream through a gap in the hill that opened up quickly to orderly grape vines climbing the hillsides. Ahead a grove of enormous trees. Redwoods, like on the west coast of North America?

"Yes. That's where I got these, or rather, their progenitors. Coastal redwoods. I wish I'd thought to snag some giant sequoias. Now those were impressive trees."

Rael tried to tighten her shields further. But there wasn't any tighter. One damn it!

The building just beyond the redwoods was sleek and modern. The first room was obviously part of a winery. It smelled of fruit and alcohol. Beyond it, a sitting room, with stairs leading up to a second floor. And sitting on the stairs, Xen.

"I thought I heard you." He looked like he was fighting off sleep. He looked like hell. "Tit for tat? Come to see me at my scarified worst?"

She thumped down beside him, into his embrace, hiding her face in his shoulder, hugging him back. "Orde sent me. Paer is driving him crazy asking if he's heard anything."

"You, of course, weren't worried at all."

"Course not." She leaned back and studied him. "What happened."

"I ran into a batch of honest-to-god cyborgs. Lasers, bullets, grenades, and finally a flamethrower. It was a bit exciting there, for a bit. I ran like hell. Pretty much the end of the story."


"I dunno. They took one look and demanded I surrender. I said sure, take me to your leader, I want to talk to them about cross-dimensional cooperation. They said, sure, once we've got the control chips inserted into your brain. I suggested we discuss this first. They opened fire. In retrospect, trying to keep talking instead of just traveling out wasn't a good idea."

She reached over and poked his scalp. "Is your hair going to grow back? I dunno about the spottiness, but being you, you could set a new trend." The patches of untanned skin over his face and shoulder made her queasy. How badly injured were you?

"I may have set a new personal record." He wiggled the fingers of his left hand. "At least I didn't loose any important body parts this time, the fingers are almost healed."

But not tanned, and the fingernails are still growing back.

"Well, since I'm awake, I ought to eat. Have you had dinner?"

"No, and you have no idea how tempted I was by that inn. The aroma!"

"The local witches preempt the kitchen for informal cooking contests. Unfortunately you're going to get whatever I accidentally order from the kitchen fabber."


"Yawning while poking buttons can yield unexpected results." He pried himself off the stairs and led her to a kitchen out of a museum. "It's been bubbled a lot of the intervening time, so it isn't really fourteen centuries old. We use it a lot more, now that we know we can just go and buy a replacement."

"Grab drinks." Xen's father spoke from behind them. "Rustle's bringing dinner up from the Inn."

Xen snickered. "Is Rael about to get the whole 'examined by the parents to see if she's suitable' treatment."


/// Speed bubbles and the inadvisability of sleeping with injured gods . . .

/// Rael hauled off to keep her away from dreaming Xen. Meets the witches.

"Weak." The old witch looked her up and down. "Dependent. Running after a man."

Rael blinked at the head witch, the Senior Sister, they called her. Answer. "Actually my president sent me to check on the status of a very important person."

Sneer. "You look young, but I can see you must be nearing the half century mark. And you haven't the complexity of a woman who's given birth. Such a waste, you seem so strong."

Rael unclenched her jaw. "And how many children do you have?" In truth, the old witch's glow was both incredibly complex and frighteningly strong.

"Three. Ten granddaughters. Nineteen great granddaughters. Eight great great granddaughters—so far. And unfortunately, a great great grandson, and a great great great grandson." Snort. "Here. You lot don't count."

"Xen? You aren't proud of . . . ?"

Snort. "We don't have any need for men beyond brief use. We are not weak, we are not subservient, and we should not have sons." She eyed Rael. "At least you are well trained. No doubt your president finds you useful. Your genuine infatuation creates a vulnerability in the man. He's amazingly weak for someone so strong magically. Not terribly bright, and soft in the head as well. But do join us . . ."

It was certainly an eye opening experience. Such different training. Such different talents. Such different methods. So many very strong women.

And soaking in the hotsprings after was rather nice as well. And she was much too worldly to be embarrassed by the casual nudity. Really.

She eyed the two witches heading her way. One complex and strong, one simpler and very strong. A young mother and an older . . . not a virgin, but not a mother, either.

"I'm Obsidian, and this is my sister Topaz. We're Xen's aunts." The older one had light brown hair and blue eyes. The younger was blonde with hazel eyes. And similar features, and they certainly did look quiet a bit like Rustle. But then they all did, to her untrained eyes. Local phenotypes, and less variation, after at least one bottleneck.

/// I will, of course, find some trouble for her to get into.///

/// Xen will suggest she go show Nil how she gets through shields. ///

/// Nil will not appreciate it.///

/// I suspect Rael will be too uncautious as Xen practically falls asleep on his feet, worrying about faint signs of age showing. Rael will be somewhere around 50. He'll toss the longevity spells on her. She'll freak and keep a safe distance from him thereafter.

16 September 2017 @ 12:06 pm
 Sorry, more blathering, which will probably get cut. I need to get to "And three days later they had two hundred gates up and packed up to go home. 'See you in a month, when we find out how much this did, or didn't, help' " And get to the more exciting bits.

  By the time they got to the building, Pig and Barracuda turned up with a pheasant apiece. The witches grabbed them and started arguing recipes. After the dogs fetched eight more birds, Xen told the dogs to stop, and assured them that they'd get plenty of yummy leftovers.

Q thumped down beside Bunny. "It looks like it'll be pheasant in game sauce vs orange-ginger pheasant."

Rael eyed her. "But you're not cooking?"

Wrinkled nose. "It's the two triads competing—and no, Icks and Ux, I will not tell you who is cooking what—and no outside help allowed."

Rael prodded a bit. "You aren't really part of the witch community any more are you?"

"No. Both my mother and I have difficult relationships with Answer, especially, but we're both gone quite often, for long enough periods that we don't have triads to fit back into." She shrugged. "Disco's much more interesting, but I do regret never really fitting in, back home."

Xen nodded. "We both fit in better with Magic Central—the army's magical group—than the more traditional magicians in Ash, or the very eccentric magicians in Rip Crossing."

"Isn't there a pyramid in Karista? That's your biggest city, right?" Bunny looked fascinated.

Q and Xen swapped grins.

"The Karista Pyramid is . . . " Xen broke off, looked at Q and they both started laughing.

Q cleared her throat. "The Karista witches spend too much time immersed in city life to be serious about developing their magical talents."

Xen looked innocent. "But they're up to the minute on the latest fashions and high society gossip." The grin broke through. "But don't cross them. The Eldest Sister, Trump, may not know the advanced subtleties, but she's a powerful force of nature and not to be underestimated."

"What about the other countries? However many, no one seems to ever know." Ohhe looked like he wished he could take notes.

"The problem is Auralia. After the Amma departed with his nobles, families and army, their Empire broke up into a dozen or more pieces. How many depends on who you're talking too, whether regions are separate nations or if it's just a few rebels talking nonsense.

"But the West has the best training, and the highest background level of magic genes. Verona's close, but their training is pathetic. We've quietly intervened a couple of times, just to be sure they never get enough people that even with their brute force training they are a threat to us." Xen shrugged. "Not my problem any longer."

Q nodded. "The last time I checked in . . . well, let's just say most of the kids they were trying to train had moved to Rip World."

"Is that near this Rip Crossing we keep hearing ridiculous rumors about?"

"Oh, it's a colony world. The gate to it is in Rip Crossing. The population's so low that the government just treats it like part of Desolation Territory and let's the governor run it."

13 September 2017 @ 06:09 pm

She cleared her throat. "I suspect we should not use the word séance when any of them are paying attention."

The guys swapped grins around.

Icks looked innocent. "Unless they need to be insulted."

Bunny snickered. "Nor should we quote Shakespeare. 'Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble.' Except we'd have to make that Triad and trouble . . . "

Scar grinned. "Shall I fetch you a fillet of a fenny snake?"

Ux jumped in. "Must be some eye of newt, and toe of . . . "

"Stop!" Ohhe glared around. "Not going to happen. Split up and pretend to be guarding very, very, hard."

They split up, and if there was a bit of snuffling and coughing . . . Rael sighed and walked away as well. Stared over the rolling hills. I wonder where in Spain we are? What city ruins we're camped on? Not that it should bother me, our Paris has made a park out of the ruins of Old Paris.

Movement far out . . . she magnified her vision . . . something hopping like a kangaroo, but . . . the tail was long and the ears rounded . . . Did Europe have a native mouse that hopped? The descendants of zoo escapees? Whatever they were, they weren't getting any closer.

Barracuda paused beside her to stared out at the hopping whatevers.

"I don't think I want to eat anything I can't recognize. I was thinking deer, or, hmm, pheasants, maybe, for dinner?"


"And I haven't the faintest idea whether Xen was kidding about your brains or not."

Which got her a doggy grin and wagged tail before Barracuda trotted off.

Another survey . . . ten more circles of "not here" standing around. Not too different, just . . . the stones over there are melty looking instead of old and weather.

Rael stepped up beside Q as stood up and grabbed an elbow as she staggered. Steered her around brush and past the witches and her brother and another hundred meters. "All right sit here and we'll start shifting everyone else."

Ux and Icks were all too happy to gently nudge their favorites.

A loud electrical snap and Ux stumbled back and sat down, shaking his hand.

Jacana snorted. "All three of us felt that pinch. You're lucky you're alive."

Ohhe glared. "Ux, get up on the hill and don't come back until I order you down." He switched his glare to Icks.

Who waved both hands. "No pinching. I'll just gently tap Demi's shoulder . . . " as he did so. And soft voiced, "Time to shift over a bit. You gals have ten gates done already."

That group dropped hands and sort of sleep walked past Xen before forming up again.

The other triad sent resentful glances all around, and Jacana looked like she was seriously thinking about kicking Xen as she walked past.

A gate sprang up, way down hill, and then another. Goldfinch hustled her triad and got them back together.

Jacana growled something about stupid men, her glare drifting from Xen to Ux and back.

Rael prowled the new perimeter and ignored them. Another new gate sprung up, this one much closer.

An hour later they'd finished twenty and Rael walked between triads, telling them to quit. Nudged Xen.

He nodded. "Just a few more cones to use up and we'll quit."

Rael looked back to the witches, relaxing, dropping hands, power released. Bunny hustled by with an armful of boost, and Rael headed to the ute to help.

Three more gates far down the hill, and Xen and Q quit as well.

Xen stretched. "Two hours, twenty-three gates. Excellent. A short session this after noon, and then three or four more days should take care it."

12 September 2017 @ 09:13 am
If any of you are wondering what story _Gate Team_ is going to get mixed up in: https://pamuphoff.livejournal.com/2017/01/14/
11 September 2017 @ 09:59 pm
Trying out a suggestion. Better or worse?