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12 July 2015 @ 03:22 pm
_External Relations_ Part 1  
 

Exterior Relations

Pam Uphoff

Prologue

1409

Izzo Withione Alcairo was a spectator today. But rumors of his pending appointment were circulating already, and many eyes turned his way. No doubt some poor slobs were assigned to note his every twitch and nose scratch. He resisted an urge to find a toothpick to chew.

The Assembly room was large enough, barely, for the audience today. Izzo eyed the empty arches in the walls at the height of a second floor. "They're going to have to expand, pretty soon."

His cousin shrugged. Idzo was the Subdirector of Embassy Affairs for the Directorate of External Relations. Izzo thought Spymaster would have sounded better, but the Subdirector of Intelligence might have objected. Omsi was also here today, as his demesnes covered all the non-Empire Worlds, including this one.

The Ambassador to Embassy, a Ministerial Appointment, was a few meters away. No doubt he also had an Intelligence officer.

Overkill, for a World with a population of less than a quarter of a million. Except, of course that most of those people are associated with the embassy of one or another of close to a hundred Worlds.

Down on the floor, representatives of Earth, the Empire of the One, and the World of Granite Peak presented four different views of a sticky situation. When the One World had discovered Granite Peak, it had been the first habitable World they'd discovered, across the dimensions. As such, and in view of their own over-population and periodic famines, they'd claimed ownership, settled it, farmed it. And pretty much ignored the thin population of stone age nomadic hunters and pastoralists.

Fifty-six years later, the Earth had discovered Granite Peak. Izzo had been twenty-three. Not even officially an adult by Oner standards. He remembered the series of shocks vividly. Another world with dimensional abilities. Hostile and aggressive. The unprepared Oners had been overrun, and only closing the gate in the face of the fleeing settlers had kept the Earthers from attacking the homeworld through it.

Today, sixty years later, the Earth was arguing for their ownership, the One was pointing out that they had a presence there that predated the Earth's, and the nomadic herders were arguing for not just political independence, but the removal of both warring polities' citizens from their World. Two groups of laborers, brought in from other Worlds to work the mines for Earth, were arguing for redress or at least to not get turned back over to Earth as virtual slave labor. They'd all interbred with the local Nomads and each other, so there were no clear cut lines.

Neither the Oner families with over a hundred years residence, nor Earth families with fifty-five years wanted to leave. The mine workers and all the crossbreeds had no place to go.

". . . where even the youngest of the Earther children have grandparents who were born on Earth, we Oners are on our fourth generation of children who have never seen the One World, children fluent in the Native languages, children born on the plains and in the mountains of Granite Peak. It is our home. We have, despite the Earther's attempted genocide, ten times their population. We comprise almost forty percent of the population of the World, the Earthers, even counting their laborers and their halfbreeds, are less than five percent."

Disco – the Department of Interdimensional Security and Cooperation had set a time table. Today the first arguments. Then diplomacy. If there was no agreement in one standard Earth Year, Disco would make one, and enforce it.

It was going to be an interesting year.



Chapter One

"Hey, Nomad, you dropped something."

Flu ignored the snickers from the children. They'd all gone to school together, but somehow the pure Oners didn't seem to be getting jobs and getting down to work. She sniffed. If they can't start college this year, they ought to do something. And if we're going to be so independent, why don't we have at least a tech school here? How are they going to keep the mines open, the farms so productive without any tech training?

She set the stack of reports down on the work table. Unnecessary labor. Maybe the boys were right.

Ahme looked over with a frown. "Well? Did you pick it up?"

"Not yet, Grandfather. I didn't want to drop the whole stack." She turned and walked out. The hallway floor was pristine. Of course. The boys, whatever they'd been doing here – checking out the pretty blonde who worked in the traffic department, probably – had left. She waited long enough for the old man to get distracted then walked back in. Ahme, better known as "Ahem, Cough Cough" was one of the Heroes of Granite Peak. When the Earther's had cut off their retreat through the Gate, he'd ripped the power from the Governor who was counseling the people to prepare to join the One, and marched them into the mountains. He'd kept them alive and free, and raided and sabotaged the Earthers for almost twenty years, until the Earther's gate was destroyed. Then he'd led them to victory, recapturing their town and farms. He'd married a Native and raised his daughter to as close to Oner standards as their nomadic, hit-and-run lifestyle had allowed. Most of the unmarried men had taken Nomad wives, during that chaotic period. The next generation of girls married the mine slaves the Resistance had freed, or halfbreed boys. Flu's mother had eschewed marriage, but not celibacy. Fourteen years ago, a new gate from the One World had opened. Flu had been two years old, and oblivious to the huge change that was coming to her world.

After the return of the One, no one, no One would marry the halfbreed girls. So Cough Cough was helping to raise Flu. And keeping the Colony records. All the notes and copies of orders and lists of supplies, all on paper, all in boxes.

With the trial, the records had suddenly been evidence of their continual occupation of the World, and they'd had to be sorted and available.

Everyone had looked at the boxes in dismay, and no one had questioned the presence of a hundred thousand Oners on Granite Peak for the whole twenty-two year occupation by Earth. Once the gate was open, it had taken couple of more years for the Empire to get control of the Earth colonized areas. A dozen years of rebuilding what the Earth had tried to ruin or take over, all with limited movement to the One World. Not even much trade. The Earthers hadn't maintained the robotic farming machinery, they were ruined and rusting and not even paid for. Lawsuits were still circling over the defaulted loans.

Flu blew out her breath and started scanning the first file. At least I've got a job for the short term. Then what? I get to be a second class citizen of the Empire, an Enemy Alien in Earth Territory or a worthless foreign woman the Nomads won't want either. Maybe I should listen closer to Governor Arry. Maybe there's a fourth way, and maybe I can make a place for myself in it.

***

Jack Hemmingway had everything he wanted out of life except lots of money. He eyed the blonde girl and knew that even that could be his, if he played it right.

"You don't want to be here, you want to find your friends. Good. Because I want to find them too. Not to hurt them. To hire them. So I figured I should start with you. I'm what most people call a mercenary. I hire myself and my people out for various duties, generally involving protecting them from Bad Guys." He couldn't read her emotions, her eyes were opaque.

"Now, you and you buddies are Bad Guys, but generally you just steal things, you aren't in the business of killing people. Some of your guys get carried away, now and then – the robbery at the Senator's manse was funnier than hell."

He shifted. Damn it, what is she thinking? "But what I really want is a World all my own, with a Gate or three to go shopping, to pick up a job here or there. So I need a magical person. You've got two problems, from what I've read. This Chain thing." He leaned forward and touched it. She didn't flinch. "And some genetic changes. Where can you go to get these fixed?"

Still no reaction.

"I've been exploring through some of the backwards, behind times, Earths. Some of your former buddies like them, for their raids. Other people do science on them. And I found a back route to Comet Fall."

She straightened at that. A spark lit in her eyes. "On Comet Fall I can fix the genes. For the Chain – I just need to meet the right person."

"I figured we'd better hurry, in case your friends decided to take down the Gate."

She stood up. "Right. Let's go."

He had a pass to Embassy, as did all of his officers. Three of them were tall blonde women. Arrow didn't get a second glance as he barely slowed before being waved through. They'd turned the gate around, so now he came out facing the Embassy, with the street dead ahead. He turned left, then right, drove a mile and turned into his compound. He only kept a dozen people here. No need to worry anyone. All his jobs were across on other Worlds. Generally defending scientists or farmers from predators. Occasionally from Natives, which could get a bit dicey. Had to use stunners. No matter how many of your buddies they'd killed.

"We'll leave at midnight, on horseback. Everyone knows that only the primitives ride horses, they'll never give us a second look."

The witch paced around the courtyard, glanced over, up and spotted the black rock of Disco headquarters. She scuttled across to where she couldn't see it. Even her rich tan complexion could pale. "Laugh all you want. I saw that Quicksilver Witch kill the two most powerful witches in my pyramid in less than a minute. It didn't even count as a fight."

"Come on inside. We'll have dinner and you can tell me about where on Comet Fall we need to go."

"If one of the Gang opened the Gate, it's probably close to where we need to go. There's a bunch of . . . Farmers. Worthless bums, actually. But they trade with some people from Rip Crossing, and the God of Thieves has brought them some interesting things."

"Things?"

"Magic potions." Her voice sharpened. "I recognized them. They were my mother's. The God stole them from whoever had found them after my mother died. Now Aunt Susto has them. And in among them will be what I need. And that family will probably be able to supply the other need I have."

Grigor came in and set the table quickly, returned with two plates then disappeared. He knew Jack wouldn't be drinking, nor want his guest tipsy. Arrow sat and poked at the food, finally eating perhaps half of it. Jack polished his off, and a slice of cake when Grigor brought that in. The witch ate the cake slowly. Savoring the tiny bites. Note to self: Keep sugar on hand for the witch.

"I've got some paperwork I might as well clear up while we're waiting. There's a bedroom through there, if you'd like to get some sleep. Or a shower, and clean clothes."

"Thank you." She walked out, and he heard the lock click behind her. Right. Paperwork.

At midnight Carl had the horses ready. Two nice, easy going mares. Not that he expected Arrow to have trouble riding, from that culture. His eyes narrowed as she scrambled awkwardly aboard. Then again, maybe she was a city girl, rode around in carriages and so forth. They plodded out to the Plaza, and then across and up the diagonal road to the northwest. "They use this hill for astronomy. Then take their equipment to other Worlds and make comparisons. So they put a series of Gates out here for them." He turned the chestnut and thumped her sides when she thought about balking. The bay followed without a fuss. "I came out when it was winter here, and followed the tracks. They're getting careless though. Even in the Summer the ruts are showing through." This World was also dark.

She looked around, but said nothing. Followed him through two more gates. The third one was out onto hard rock. Bright sunshine pouring down from overhead.

"I lucked out on this one. Spotted some horse manure, kept going this direction and found this gate. Six months later, again in the snow, I followed tracks the other direction, to more Empty Worlds. So I came back to see why there was a second Gate, and found civilization. Comet Fall, Kingdom of the West. I started thinking about how to find magicians who weren't working for the established government. And that is when I thought of you." He turned the mare through the Gate.

This Gate was on a low ridge covered with small trees and brush. Arrow looked around and smiled. "Perfect. I know right where I am, and right where I need to go. Come this way."

On the west side of the ridge, a stone paved road led north to a small town. Arrow turned the other way. They hit another road running to the southeast. Arrow rode up the rutted track and over a low spot in a long high ridge. A huddle of houses down on the fertile ground between the rocky ridges didn't look particularly prosperous. Someone was up on a ladder in an orchard and he could smell baking bread.

Arrow stopped at the first house, and led the way in without knocking. "This is sort of like a what you'd call a pawn shop."

Junk shop. "Yeah?" Jack scanned the dusty crowded room. Makeshift shelves held everything from cut crystal vases to crude clay pottery. Cheap jewelry, rusty tools. It looked like a loud sneeze would topple everything.

"Yeah. She used to have a crate full of little bottles. I can't imagine she's moved them anywhere. Ah!" The woman pulled a crate out from under a rickety table. "Just like I remember." She pulled out an ugly clay mug. "Drink this, you'll like the results." She sat down and started reading the faded labels on the glass jars.

Jack retreated, with the ugly clay jar. It was the size of a small apple, thick walled.

"So, you want t'hex somebody, eh?"

He spun around, the woman had snuck in without him hearing a thing. She was pretty, curvaceous. Her eyes were cold and hungry. Arrow leaned out and nodded. "Aunt Susto. You look good."

"Oh, back t'take your chances with tose, are you? I've got some new ones wit good labels."

"Got any for magic?" Arrow sounded sarcastic.

"Oh, now, you don't believe in tat nonsense, do you?" Aunt Susto jiggled, and smiled to see where Jack's eyes went. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Arrow pour the contents of a bottle down her throat.

Jack spotted more movement. A kid, teenager at any rate.

Arrow looked him over and smiled. "We're going to be here for a bit. Is there someplace I could put the horses?"

Susto nodded. "Bari, you take tem on out t't'barn."

Arrow walked out with him. Jack hesitated.

"How 'bout a cure f'baldness?"

His head snapped back around to Susto.

"Ten you wouldn't have to cut yur hair so short, trying t'hide tat little bare spot."

She had a couple of goblets and a bottle of wine. Jack eyed the rows of bottles behind her. He walked around the table and took down the baldness cure. He took a swallow of the wine Susto handed him. It hit his stomach and blasted his inhibitions to bits. After he managed to get his hands and mouth off the woman, he added the baldness cure to the cup and swallowed.

"This is great stuff. Hey! Broad shoulders," he reached for another bottle.

"How about tis one for a bigger pizzle."

"It says red hair."

"I gotta learn t'read one of these days."

She dragged him into the back bedroom for a romp, then they hit the shelves again, wound up back in bed. More samples. The floor was closer than the bed.

At some point he realized it was night, and sometime later he wondered where Arrow was. And then he drained the "Hex" bottle and passed out.

"Wake up."

Jack opened bleary eyes and blinked at the witch. His head didn't hurt.

"Drink this, or it will start again."

It was water, cool fresh water. He drank it all and looked for more.

"I filled the canteens. We need to go someplace where there are more people. I need another virgin. There were protections on the chain, just Bari wasn't enough to break it."

He blanched, picturing that boy's body lying in the barn. She didn't say anything about sacrificing virgins! He found his clothes, averting his eyes from the snoring form in the back bedroom. He eyed the bottle of wine. That's got to be the one everyone talks about. He corked it and staggered out to the porch, checked the cinch on the chestnut mare, stuck the bottle in the saddle bags and mounted. The mare was prancing and excitable this morning. She neighed, and a deeper neigh answered from beyond a line of trees.

"Probably some stallion over there."

Arrow snorted. "The young one in the barn was more useful. Would have been better if I could have done it myself."

"What?"

"When a man has sex for the first time, there's a burst of energy. Very good for force breaking things like this Chain spell. If I'd realized there were protections, I'd have bred the mares first, tried to capture that colt's virgin flash. Pity neither mare was virgin. Well, I've got the power genes back, so I can work around the Chain just a tiny bit. And all I need to get totally free are some randy virgin teenage boys. So let's go find them."

It sounds like she doesn't out-and-out kills them. But you've got to wonder about the life expectancy of men in this culture. He glanced back, but Susto's hovel was out of sight. She probably had a graveyard of worn out sex slaves in the back. "I'm working on a planet, guarding a bunch of farmers. Shall we see how many of their sons fit your criteria?"

"Yes. Lets do that." She led the way confidently off the path and through the trees to the Gate.

Jack let his horse follow while he pulled out the canteen and took a long swallow. His scalp itched.

The Granite Peak Contract was an albatross around his neck. Ten years ago, as Earth slowly rediscovered its marooned colonies, it had found Granite Peak, the World where it had all started. Why the hell, fifty-seven years ago when they first found a World already colonized by a dimension traveling civilization, they'd turned it into a war was anyone's guess. Restarting the pissing contest was clear evidence of insanity. They'd wrangled the situation down to a stalemate, and there it had sat for over eight years. He'd been in a financial bind, and had leaped at the opportunity when Earth decided to privatize the protection of their colonists from the brutal natives and genocidal One Worlders.

The job had proven to be a problem of an entirely different sort.

It was boring.

The Oners were almost a thousand miles away. The Natives were a thin scattering of nomadic herders and hunters. The main difficulty had been the imported miners. Natives of several different Worlds, mostly men, next best thing to slave laborers, they were out of work as the mines petered out and the companies resisted government pressure to throw money into a disputed world.

The miners had taken to hunting, but at first the only women around were the (imported, Native) whores in town. So they hadn't gone away. Over time they'd developed a decent barter economy, eventually trading with the nomads. Mainly for the Nomads' daughters. Many of them had started farming, moving to unclaimed land at the fringes of the Earth settlements.

Add a couple thousand bored soldiers, mostly male.

Hiring women for every possible position and firing the worst trouble makers, and persuading Earth to make the world a family posting, had eventually settled everything down to, well, routine boredom.

For eight years. His troops had had children who were talking about going back to Earth for college, f'crsak. It was probably the perfect place to take a woman who wanted virgin boys. Unfortunately it had lately become a bit of a hot potato. The Nomads had somehow gotten to Disco and asked for help. Hopefully the situation would stay under control for long enough for Arrow to regain the abilities they needed.

It was late evening when they rode back into Embassy. He flashed his ID and took them through the gate next to the one to Earth. "This is Granite Peak. I'll put you on the roster as some sort of clerk. We patrol to the west, between our farmers and the One World Colonists. I have roughly two thousand people here, about two thirds of my total employees. Some of them are married to each other, some to outsiders. Plenty of teenagers and kids around. Three community schools out nearer the farms, and two in town here. Then a big College Prep boarding school here."

"You don't need to make it sound like I'm going to make career out of stalking children. One or two should be enough."

"Right. Well, this is Camp Granite. Built by the Earth Army when they were kicking the Oner's off the World. Or trying to, at any rate. They took to the mountains and raided our settlements – well, their settlements that we'd taken over. Then they reestablished their Gate and returned the favor, and then everyone settled down to wait each other out. We don't need this much space any more, but part of the Contract is to keep it in working order. We have a few horses, but mostly use cars and hovercraft." He steered them over to the single women's barracks. A woman walked out and saluted while they were dismounting.

"Colonel Hemmingway?"

"Sergeant Gallup. This is Arrow Teridaut. Find her a bed, then I'll take her over to HQ and let Captain Farris throw a fit."

He stayed out with the horses while Arrow took her saddle bags inside. She was back in a moment. "I don't know how well I'll fit in. She called me a native, as if it was an insult."

"To an Earther it is an insult. Just break that Chain, then you can slowly start showing them your abilities. Act innocent. 'Oh, didn't you know I'm from Comet Fall?' They'll come around."

She looked dubious, but followed him back to HQ. He took his own saddlebags and turned the mares over to a private to take to the barns. Arrow followed him inside.

Captain Ferris was in charge of everything that didn't involve bullets and food, and he arranged the purchasing of both of those. He looked worldweary and cynical when Jack introduced Arrow.

Arrow rattled off the training she gotten in prison – not mentioning the prison part – and Ferris put her in accounting and sent her off with his secretary.

"Set's a bad example, Colonel."

"For your ears only, Nate. She's from Comet Fall. One of that criminal gang. She was only eighteen when they arrested her, so they let her out early. She has enough training that with practice she may be able to make Corridors and Gates."

"Jack. Be very nice to that girl, and try to keep her." The Captain smiled faintly. "And don't get yourself turned into a goat."

Jack scratched his head. "I'll try." Must have picked up fleas or lice or something at Susto's. Or both, or something worse. And his head hurt. Hangover returning. He headed for his office, stopping only to collect a large glass of water.

He sat down and eyed the stack of paper in front of him. Nate Ferris could sign damn near everything, but made it a practice to send him duplicates. And anything having to do with the Contract. Jack wiped sweat from his forehead and sipped water. Maybe he should track down Arrow and get her to renew the hangover spell. His stomach twitched. All right, maybe he'd had enough magic spells for now. He rather uneasily thought back to Susto's shelves. There'd been the baldness cure. Had he drunk the stuff labeled Broad Shoulders or the Enlarged . . . He scratched his head. Probably all the new hair growing . . . Red Hair. Susto'd set the Red Hair potion down on the table, but he hadn't drunk it, had he? Oh God. She couldn't read. She'd pulled some other bottles down off the shelves . . .

"That bitch has poisoned me. Arrow took me there on purpose. And handed me that ugly bottle. Susto called it a Hex. That witch poisoned me!" He jumped at the knock on the door. "Come!" he eyed the woman who entered.

"I'm Harriet Donne. Jackie's gone home for maternity leave, so I'm your secretary for the next six weeks or so."

"I see." Nate's trying to control me, getting rid of my loyal people and assigning his toadies.

"Is there anything you need immediately?"

Hangover cure? Not from your hands, honey! "A map. Maps. This world and this continent."

"Yes, sir!" She bustled out and he grabbed the rolled map from the rack.

He spread it out on the work table. The local area, perhaps a third of the continent, it showed his guard stations, the Oner's guard stations, and the Nomads' routes running from north to south roughly in between.

"Christ, I've had an army here for fifteen years and never even explored, let alone made any of it mine. What was I thinking?" He swallowed. What am I thinking now? Is this the onset of Male Menopause, suddenly I'm going to go out and conquer the world – literally?

Harriet bustled back in with two printed maps, still warm from the fabber. Not bad looking, maybe I should try to steer her loyalties back toward me.

He flashed her a smile and "Thanks." He didn't have time for her right now. Now, he needed to study these maps. He took down a picture and pinned the world map to the wall. The continent, he unrolled on the table.

There were two problems. The Gate to One World and the Gate to Earth.

The question was, could Arrow close them?

That Oner had paid him a bundle to acquire a Fallen Witch for that purpose. He hoped this one could do it, because getting one of the older witches out of prison wasn't going to be possible.

Jack put another marker down on the table, beside the Earth Gate. The Gate to Embassy. Asset or liability? Can we use Disco to prevent either side from opening a new Gate? Use them to guarantee our freedom from both?


 
 
 
Michawl DolbearMichawl Dolbear on July 13th, 2015 07:12 pm (UTC)
Thanks.

I suggest you mark this for a revision

==
Fifty-six years later, the Earth had discovered Granite Peak. Izzo had been twenty-three. Not even officially an adult by Oner standards. He remembered the series of shocks vividly. Another world with dimensional abilities. Hostile and aggressive. The unprepared Oners had been overrun, and only closing the gate in the face of the fleeing settlers had kept the Earthers from attacking the homeworld through it.
==

A new reader will be confused.

I think the 'maintained a settler presence" needs to be up-front and since gates were temporary the explanation at the end of Empire does the job better.

And later ==the One was pointing out that they had a presence there that predated the Earth's,=

++the One was pointing out their arrival predated the Earth's, with a continuous settlement since then++

Further, from part 2,
==and centuries of being the bully on the block had relieved any fears of the Gates being captured and used against them.==

Which doesn't match ==attacking the homeworld through it. ==


Little Egret in Walton-on-Thames