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28 January 2017 @ 09:26 am
_The Last Merge_ part 13  

"Ajha's only a couple of kilometers ahead. He says to go into the shadow zone, touching as little as possible, find water to merge with." Ra'd was quiet for a minute. "He says that the reports he read said that merging was not universal all over either world, but that the shadow zone enlarges in leaps, and finally destabilizes and takes the whole world."

When the road split, Ebsa bore left then spotted the lumpy traces of a merged road and turned into the shadow zone. The light dimmed a bit, the sky was . . . strange, clouds rushing from each side and colliding . . . flicks and flashes of light up in the clouds, a few rain showers . . . diluting the red trickles off the roof, and finally running clear. Don't think about it. Every one of them had merged at least once, killed a captured civilian. "Well, there's water, but I suspect it's already merged."

"The clouds are climbing, if we can get close to the target side, there could be unmerged rain." Ra'd peered ahead. "There's a cross road . . . "

Ebsa slowed and turned left, bumped over a very uneven surface. He had to dodge potholes and lumps but kept heading toward the brighter light . . . rain sluiced down and Ra'd opened the door and reached.

"Damn . . . it sinks in. Stop here."

They spread a tarp, stood in the runoff from the roof of the crawler, wallowed in the water they collected. Drank.

"One, this is strange. We can still go home, after this, right?" Ebsa shivered as the wind picked up and the water stopped sinking into his skin.

"Have we had enough, or is the rain merging before it hits the ground now?"

"Either way, let's go find Ajha."

Ra'd scowled and pointed. "He feels like he's right there, in that building."

"Where that truck is backing in? Let's go see what the Bad Guys are up to." Ebsa left his seat belt off this time and they bumped over the remains of a road. He turned and sidled up to a side door of the building.

Ra'd was out and through that door in a rush, a weapon in either hand, pistol belt, extra ammo . . .

Two shots, a curse, three shots.

Ebsa bolted out and into a weapons and ammo dump. He shot the man to the left taking aim at Ra'd, swept a glance around. No more threats.

Ra'd dropped his gun. "Jammed. It's not properly merged—which is what they are doing here."

Ebsa eyed the set up. "Those are all Oner weapons."

"In color coded boxes. Bet they stole them from our army's camp this morning. I think they must be bringing them in, half through Helios, half through the Target world."

"And merge them so they have working weapons. That's, well, I'd say clever, but it's not like they don't have experience. They must have been scouting the camp, found the gate to the target world and realized they had the perfect opportunity for this." Ebsa swallowed sickly, as he suddenly realized why the analysts were missing, and some soldiers.

Ra'd was experimenting, checking cartridges, inspecting the disassembled weapons on the table. He rejected parts rapidly, assembled four automatics and moved on to the next table and a different weapon.

Ebsa started with the ammo. Big tins, possibly of discards, smaller tubs that were being loaded into magazines.

He rejected several magazines, and loaded all the rest. Moved to the next caliber.

Armed to the teeth, they explored deeper into the building. Ra'd raised his gun, hesitated and shrugged. Walked past an amorous couple on the floor. Cafeteria, mostly automated. The few staff eyed them but took no action, the diners ignored them, wolfing down nasty looking pabulum . . . Actually some of it looked pretty good. He and Ra'd both grabbed and drank as they prowled onward. An elevator lobby, doors to stairwells propped open. Glass front doors looking out on a road, the light getting even dimmer. The trucks rattling past had their lights on. Mostly.

Back the other way, snag something else from the cafeteria as they passed through. The far door was locked, braced on the other side.

They exchanged grins.

:: Ajha, are you on the other side of the blocked door to a cafeteria? ::

:: Yes! Is there water? I desperately need lots and lots of Helios water. They're bring people in through the Target to merge with Helaos. ::

"Tanker truck." Ebsa galloped back through to the glass doors, out to the road.

The fourth truck was a tanker. He waved it down. The suspicious driver tried to run him down. Ebsa shot him through the side window, wrenched open the door and threw himself at the controls. Three tries before he found a brake. "Never heard of pedals?" he muttered, and hauled on the yoke to circle the building. Backing up wasn't going to happen, but he did get into the docking bay.

Then it was just a matter of upshipping the hoses and spraying the unconscious Oners . . .

"One, they look young! Where did they find you all?" Ebsa looked at a few of the ambulatory youths.

"Karachi. They raided the university. I was watching what was going on across campus, and then suddenly I was sleepy . . . " The boy shivered, wet, but, well, if any of this lot got off without nightmares, they'd be lucky . . .

Ebsa peered around.

"There are thousands of them. How the hell are we going to get them out of here?"

Ebsa spun, gun coming up . . . to see a soldier fighting to raise, to not raise, his own weapon. He looks like . . . Ebsa snapped out a stun spell and dropped him. And the two men behind him.

"Are you insane?" Ra'd shouldered past him.

"I think that's Offe. He was still in there, trying to not shoot me." Ebsa swallowed. "They're going to want to see some merged people. The doctors and scientists back home. Might as well bring them some."

Ajha limped over, looking like he was about to drop. "Q gave me some spells. The ones that helped her were personalized, but maybe the generic spells I've been tossing around have worked . . . sort of. Don't risk your lives, but stun some of them." He sighed. "What are a few extra limp bodies to this mess we've got? We've got six trucks. We'll have to steal more . . . find drivers, load up the unconscious and run for the far side. If we can find a gate."

Ra'd looked back in the general direction of the crawler. "We have a radio frequency direction finder. For tracking dinosaurs. If we can adjust it to the radio signals from the laser relays . . . "

Ajha straightened. "We'll just hope to hell we don't get shot by our own people."

"We can lead off with the crawler, so we look a little bit legit." Ebsa looked over at Ra'd. "So . . . how many people can fit into a Bag of the Prophets?"



Disco

Inso requested help. Begged.

Orion assured him that Comet Fall was sending magical troops. His wicked grin was a bit unnerving. The One started sending troops back through the Gate to the Target World. The other polities looked askance, and then sent observers.

The vehicle that came through the Comet Fall Gate took his breath away. Earth manufacture, circa WWV, fourteen hundred years ago. Xen waved from the machine gun on top and the man Inso rather thought was his father popped out of a lower hatch.

"We can take out tanks if we get the first shot in, its armored, but not to tank standards. Although we'll raise shields as well."

"And we've got a dozen surface to air missiles, so we can take out some aircraft. Wish we had more ammo." Xen grinned. "I need Karl and Xian, we're a bit short handed."

"Good. Umm, so do you have a plan? I'm a ex Directorate agent, not a soldier." Inso looked at further movement from the Comet Fall Gate. "Oh, no. You can't use cavalry against a modern army."

Garit trotted up and drew rein beside him. "You can if they're all smart horses who can shield and levitate, ridden by wizards and mages with magically powered kinetic and laser weapons."

"Horses that . . . One. I don't know whether to laugh or cry."

Garit flashed a grin. "We think that with the shields we can enter the shadow zone without Merging, plus Q's wrapped us with her spells to reinforce our personalities and our genes. We know they aren't holding the kids on the Target World. I think they must be able to imprison them on their World, then just gate to the Target and haul them into the shadow zone for immediate merge. We're going into the shadow zone to find the merge centers and shut them down. Then we'll come back out, Gate to Helaos and find the kids."

Karl and Xian climbed into the armored vehicle, with exclamation of recognition. A couple of traders from Earth joined them, and the Fallen left them to it. Good. Inso looked back at the horses and shuddered.

Then both Xen and his father pulled horses out of thin air and mounted up.

Q and Lady Rustle rode up. "We'll open Gates and Corridors at need. Just tell us where."


Eldon

Eldon cruised down the bulldozed road at a speed probably not recommended for the surface.

"How are we going to find the kids?" Phil bit his tongue as they hit a larger bump than usual.

"We're going to ask. I'm not planning on being nice about it, either." Eldon told him.

"So how come you've gone from being the Demon of Jones Creek to Mr. Hero?"

"I think a whole lot of people need a hero, right now."

Jerry snorted. "That hardly makes sense. Watch . . . "

They hit the oncoming truck head on. Fortunately it had been going slowly and Eldon had good reflexes. They all leaped out and Jerry found himself grabbing the driver of the other vehicle and dragging him bodily out of his truck. "Where are the people you kidnapped?"

The driver cursed in another language.

Eldon reached over and put his hand on the man's forehead for a long moment. "In a prison by their Gate, which is well away from the shadow zone . . . right. I got the location." He got back in the SUV and waited impatiently "Just drop him. He's a cold blooded killer, you'd puke if you knew what he did to a college student a couple of weeks ago."

He backed away, turned carefully and drove back about a mile and turned off onto another bulldozed road, this one even worse. They drove for hours, the sun rose and illuminated more of the warped ruins than they really wanted to see. A cross road had been paved and carried a lot of traffic, Eldon sat and meditated a bit, thinking about where the Kidnapped kids were. All the vague thoughts of the other drivers were still, 'over there'. He pulled into traffic and headed there.

Half the bumps they were feeling were not the road. He rather thought that the SUV was on its last legs. But everyone on the road now knew where the prisoners were and it was close. In fact it was that building right over there, beyond the ditch and chain link fence, across the barren field. Eldon threw a Corridor and crammed the SUV in without worrying about the niceties. It spat them out a dozen feet from the blank concrete wall, and Eldon stepped out and looked it over. "Time for a bit of slicing, I think this place needs a new door right about here." He chopped his hand around and scooped a ten foot diameter hole in the wall, the rubble collapsed in front of them and they strode into a makeshift prison, a maze of bars and stairs. No one was immediately visible, but sounds further in suggest lots of people.

"Jerry, tell that dog to find Shane and Coltrain. I'm going to find guards. And here is the Corridor back to the Gate." He grabbed prison bars and molded them into a rectangle with handles. "Get the kids out of here."

He stalked off. Jerry and Phil looked around.

"You know. I think we're lucky his worst behavior seems to be nasty sex."

"Yeah. How'd you like someone like that that wanted to rule the World. Napper. Find Coltain." The dog sniffed the air and wagged his tail. They followed him, detouring around cages and finding a long straight corridor. There were occupied cages up a metal staircase, and Phil hauled the Corridor up there.

The young men spotted him and leapt to their feet "Get us out of here!"

He shoved the frame between bars. "Go through, look around, there's a Gate to Earth, take it." They dived through without questioning him. He jerked the frame out and shoved it in the next cage. There were hundreds of cages, with perhaps ten people in each. All men, he realized. He heard the dog barking and then some screaming, shots. The prisoners were all up and yelling, and he could only keep dragging the frame from cage to cage. Then Eldon was trotting toward him, snapping the locks off the cages with a gesture of his hands. Jerry held up the frame and the prisoners poured through it.

"Bring it upstairs, when you're done, plenty of kids up there, too."