?

Log in

No account? Create an account
matapam
17 February 2019 @ 02:04 pm

“And Isakson’s going to be pissed at both of us.”

Lucky Dave laughed. “For not killing him? You Warriors can kill anyone you want. I’m a bodyguard, and them carrying a warning back home to not even think about threatening the families makes my job easier. Revenge for killing a priest makes it harder.”

The priests stirred uneasily.

Ra’d looked them over. Shook his head. “Take heed. I understand that the other Isakson and my duplicate slaughtered a quarter of your priests. Don’t give Nick reason to visit Makkah again. Because he won’t be coming alone. As Dave said, build yourselves up with volunteers and do something useful. Be the leaders, not the threat. But then if you were the leader types, you wouldn’t be so desperate for a real leader, would you?”

“Ambassador Ipti?” Everyone turned at the deep voice.

Lucky Dave blinked. He recognized Xen Wolfson from the hospital and from pictures . . . but the man felt like nothing what so ever. Is that an illusion he’s projecting from elsewhere, or really good shields?

“Please contact your government and be sure they actually want to start cross dimensional criminal sprees. I realize that kidnapping children is a way of life for the One. But we really dislike it here.” He eyed Ra’d, then Lucky Dave. “And I thank you both for your restraint today.”

The Ambassador growled. “What about their kidnapping raid?” His glare switched back to Ra’d.”

“Ra’d didn’t, nor Nighthawk. Izzo? Did you order any of your people . . . No? Well, Ambassador, I’ll keep investigating, but the pool of people who could open a gate, pop through and see the Bag of the Prophets and thus retrieve it quickly and quietly is limited and I suspect I’ll run out of suspects quickly.”

“They could have used that gate.” Ambassador Ipti pointed off behind himself and to the right.

“And flown and driven from Paris to Bangledesh, er, India, and back?” Wolfson shrugged. “Possible, and with a really good description of Lucky Dave’s location, wandered around for a few days and found the bag, then travelled all the way back.”

Izzo frowned. “I wonder about your rebel former priests, myself.”

The pyrotechnic priest glared. “It wasn’t Izpo, he went straight back to Tyrant’s Worlds. We watch for that traitor.”

Izzo started faintly. “Izpo? I never actually heard the name of the man who spread the joy juice all over Makkah.”

A snort from Wolfson. “A relative of yours, Izzo?”

“Well, I have two uncles who were taken for priests. Could have been, or just the usual coincidence of these name codes.” Izzo shrugged, but there was a suggestion of a smile on his face.

That had all of the Nuked Oners glaring suspiciously at Izzo. Who just shrugged. “I’ve never met either of them. If there’s any more I can do for you gentlemen? No? Good.”

As they walked away, Dave heard Izzo’s low voiced question to Ra’d. “Did you really have nothing to do with that?”

And Ra’d answer. “I obeyed your orders to the letter.”

“I . . . see.” Izzo dropped back and turned to Ambassador Ashe. “Ashe, let’s have a little chat. Ra’d? Give Lucky Dave the tour.”

“Good idea.” Ra’d gave a razor thin smile. “Want to meet the family?”

***

Nighthawk was a tall elegant woman, beautiful, by her complexion part African, by her nose, Xen Wolfson’s daughter.

“I’m glad to finally meet the legend.” Her eyes twinkled. “Ra’d has been entertaining the kids with tall tales.”

“Umm . . .” Dave glowered at Ra’d.

“Show the poor man around and bring him home for lunch.” Nighthawk snickered. “I, of course, have also heard all about you from my half-sister, Crazy Redhead Number Two. Stealing cars. Dear me!”

“Umm . . . Dave threw his hands up in the air. “Gah. You modern people are all insane.” And Crazy Redhead Number Two . . . could spot a Bag of the Prophets. I wonder if she can open gates?

Ra’d laughed and led him up to the roof of the building to point out the sights.

What had started as a few embassies around a central plaza had grown mostly to the west, toward the ocean on the horizon. “North was assumed to be Oner allies—note the lack of large buildings beyond the embassy. South was Earth allies. Only the Purps came close, and even they stayed a bit west, in what was generally considered neutral territory. Arrival built next to Comet Fall, and nothings been built east of them, nor east or southeast of Disco.”

“It looks like they’re running out of Neutral Territory.”

“Yes, now they’re spreading out north and south, but staying west of the original plaza.” Ra’d pointed. “The pink granite building on the northwest diagonal road is the only large thing anywhere near our embassy. It’s the Comet Fall Hospital. And down the southwest road, the white building with wings all over is the public library. All the worlds send history, culture, government propaganda and whatever, and all the other worlds faithfully copy and analyze it all.”

Dave snickered. “I wonder how many people that keeps employed”

“Tens of thousands. Anyway. We’ve now got housing developments and schools. A fire department, and we’re arguing about a city police force. The current option there being ‘whatever Disco agent shows up, and does whatever he wants to do about it.’ Which is usually kick someone off the planet. We’ve only had one murder, so far, and fortunately the victim and culprit were both from the same world. We sent them home and the killer was tried and executed.”

“You like it here, don’t you?”

“Yes.” Ra’d waved at the view. “This place is fascinating. Mind you, Nighthawk’s a big piece of it, and just growing up. But I really like the size of the Multiverse and the sense that we can all talk and trade and not attack each other.”

“Damn, you have grown up.”

Ra’d laughed. “You think I was fierce before Rangpur? You ought to have seen me after we arrived, crashed head first into the One, and . . . well, the first year was tough. And may I say that I’m delirious with joy that you rescued Dad? I thought I’d abandoned him to die.”

“Huh. Yeah sixteen years of thinking we were dead. Well Jadida married, but not Umaya. How about that other One World? Have you met them?”

“Yes. Heh. A little brother and another sister. Two Umayas. They’re all pioneering a new world, and doing well. I haven’t checked on them lately, they may be ready to return to civilization. I suggested to that Nicholas, that he wait at least a year and make sure he’s on top of his game before he seriously thinks about returning to that One World.” Ra’d grinned. “And I told him to talk to Ebsa, and talk to the government, before he got close to that mess in Makkah.”

 
 
matapam
15 February 2019 @ 07:37 pm

“Get out of the way.”

“As soon as I see some sign that rational discussion is all that will happen.” Dave showed his teeth. “Has anyone told you what happened in Makkah when Nicholas traveled there to talk to Emre?”

Narrowed eyes.

“The Hive Mind—the stuck grand compass—was broken. Not at all a bad idea, in my opinion.”

The big man swung at him. A slow clumsy blow. Muscles, not Speed. Powerful . . . if Dave had left it connect. It sailed over his head as he squatted, a sweep of his own right arm added to the blow’s momentum and twisted the man around. Dave gave him a gentle shove and stepped forward to give himself more space.

“Now, have you sent someone to speak to the Prophet on Tyrant’s World?” Dave tried to keep his voice neutral, and not reveal the happiness bubbling up inside him at the prospect of a good fight.

Remember. Don’t kill anyone. No diplomatic incidents. Just put them in their places.

He felt the power building in multiple people and raised those shields Rael had been making him strengthen.

The big guy jumped him. Sidestep, grab him and spin him again, this time making sure he hit the other two—the ones gathering power.

The Nuked Ambassador yipped as a misdirected push spell hit him and knocked him flat. Some odd pyrotechnic effect flashed upward. Dave kicked him first, turned to the pusher and sank a fist into his stomach. Turned and picked a nice thick bit of skull to chop down on as the big one tried to get up. Stepped over his unconscious body and turned back to face the Nuked Oners.

The Nuked Ambassador scrambled to his feet and took a step back, gawping at his fallen entourage.

Izzo and Ambassador Ashe exchanged glances and shrugs.

El Zee, the chauffeur bodyguard got his mouth closed. “Ra’d? I think he’s faster than you are.”

Ra’d smirked. “Yes. There’s a reason he’s the bodyguard for the prophet who most often put himself in very dangerous situations. And if you’re wondering about his other qualifications . . . He trained me to shoot.” Ra’d stepped up closer to the Nuked Ambassador. “And if it’s of any interest to you? The General of the Armies is exceptionally good at battle magic. Think about it, before you try to take him away from his family and new home.”

The pyrotechnic guy climbed to his feet, hunched a bit arms wrapped around his chest. “So perhaps we should eliminate the family. First.”

The air temperature dropped a couple of degrees.

Dave stalked over to the priest. “Tell me, do you remember the laws regarding threats to the families of the Prophets?”

The priest’s eyes widened and he staggered back. “N, n, n, no! Don’t, don’t . . .”

“Oh, I won’t. This time. I understand your stuck compass is down to fifty people. Make sure they realize that they’ve had their one and only warning. Do. Not. Threaten. The. Families. Of. The. Prophets.” Dave gave them a friendly smile. “The Prophets can take care of themselves, by and large. But I’d recommend you forget about Nicholas and start recruiting retirees with a wide range of experience and start helping people rather than lording it over them and placing assassins in all the high households.” He turned his back on them and walked back to Izzo. “Sorry, got a little carried away.”

Izzo smirked. “Not a problem. I’m going to have to find an excuse to drop by Versalle some morning and watch you demolish Isakson.”

Ra’d nodded. “I always did think all your magic went into Speed.”

Lucky Dave shrugged. “Once, maybe. But now Rael’s got me doing Cold Speed. And learning a whole bunch of other things. The future is an interesting place.”

 
 
matapam
14 February 2019 @ 12:34 pm

“I see. About the time I adjust to the future, it will all change.”

“Pretty much.”

***

Dave watched the road signs, as the car changed lanes. “What’s the SGA?”

“Secured Gate Area.” Izzo shrugged. “We’re moving the Colony Gates to a less secure area, to speed up commerce and commuting, but we’re still more than a little jumpy about invasion, after the Helios encounter.”

He glanced at his comm and sighed. “One! The Ambassador from the Nuked One is apparently accusing us of kidnapping your counterparts from their World.” He glanced at the chauffeur. “El Zee? We’ll go straight to Embassy.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I though the Bag had disintegrated? Over there?”

Izzo nodded, eyes on the scrolling words. “Apparently not. Apparently it was delivered to the Comet Fall hospital just a few days after Rael and you had that public fight at the hospital. Anonymously.”

“Are they still there?”

“Nope they’re all on Tyrant’s World now, with their families. Have been for a month. The Nuked One people just realized who some of the new people were and their Hive Mind is pissed.”

Dave snickered. “They ought to be glad. Look what happened when my Nicholas went to Makkah.” He squirmed at snickers from Izzo and his driver. “Right. But don’t think that other me wouldn’t have done something . . . well, depending on how healthy I was at the time.”

“Lucky Dave . . . given the seriousness of your injuries, and Davos’s, I’m not sure either of you would have survived without both the joy juice and the personal attention of Xen Wolfson.” Izzo looked him straight in the eye. “And you certainly couldn’t have protected him at the start. They’d have taken him away from you.”

Dave’s breath caught. “Right. If we’d been found by priests searching for a prophet, rather than a top government agent masquerading as a ditzy . . .”

Izzo snickered. “That woman terrifies me. Partly because of what she’s capable of, and partly because I don’t know who she actually takes orders from.” Sigh. “Not that she doesn’t question orders. But when the One told her to obey the Interim Committee to the letter . . . she did.”

“Umm . . . Okay. Next question. What the Hell is Tyrant’s World?”

Izzo started laughing. “One of the other nine worlds in that multidimensional whirlpool. Have you read . . . Good. The Ra’d from Nuked One wound up on a world with a belligerent Earth Army General and with a couple of companies of soldiers on one side, and the belligerent Minster of War with a couple hundred ministry guards on the other. That Ra’d—who calls himself Nick—found it necessary to beat the crap out of both would-be tyrants, and be the tyrant himself for two months until he could arrange an election.

“In the election they voted to make the title of Tyrant official, and elected Nick.” Izzo snickered. “He’s doing quite a good job. Married a Presidential Directorate Princess, has a son, almost two years old. And now his father.”

“Huh. Right. That sounds . . . like something my other self can deal with.”

Izzo grinned. “We’ll see if as many people try to recruit him as will shortly be besieging you. If any of those three don’t like pioneering, they may well move elsewhere.”

The car decelerated smoothly, and pulled up to a heavy metal gate, the guard gave them a good hard look, nodded politely, and the gate rolled out of the way.

“The Head Quarters Building is outside the SGA so visitors—mostly politicians and newsies—don’t have to go through the check point.”

The car turned away from the high rise office buildings inside the SGA and drove down a long row of warehouses.

Izzo glanced back toward the gate. “The security’s not for show, but it’s mostly in place in case of an invasion through the permanent gates.”

“Which you’ve never had?”

“It was close both when Earth took Granite Peak, and again when the Helios came calling. We never have figured out how they found us. They emplaced beacons in at least five places—college campuses—and raided for merge victims.” Izzo sighed. “We got back ninety percent of the students they kidnapped, most of the soldiers who merged on the battlefield. We had a spell net, to reinforce the original genes, the original personality of a lot of soldier who rotated through our surveillance camp. So they recover fully, eventually.”

“Psychologically?” Dave knew he sounded dubious.

“Umm, it was definitely a life-changing event. A lot of divorces, and sometimes even their parents rejected them. Limbo started as a halfway point, a place to recover before they came home. Three-fourths of them stayed and Limbo’s now an official colony. Beautiful place, in case you were wondering. It was one of the Evacuation Worlds so a lot of basic facilities were already in place.”

“I don’t know if I’m glad I missed it, or sorry. War is at least something I understand.” Dave eyed the last warehouses, the scanned the open area . . . several hundred acres with roads leading to metal arches. “Well . . . I suppose with tens of thousands of worlds . . .”

“Most of which had a single brief study and haven’t been visited since.” Izzo grinned. “There are five hundred gates here. Seventy of them go to the colonies, paired gates for traffic both coming and going, to several different places on each colony. Twenty hub worlds, that branch out to other worlds with infrequent traffic or potentially hazardous conditions that need a buffer between us and them.”

“Like aggressive natives?”

“Umm, no. We don’t go to inhabited worlds anymore. When we find one, we mark it as such and leave it. Those, by-the-way, are worlds we find with our powered gates. If the world looks promising, we pay Disco for a permanent gate. Two million rials, approximately the cost in electricity and personnel and such for a one minute powered gate.”

“Huh. You’d think they’d charge more, wouldn’t you?”

Izzo started laughing. “Oh One! It’s insane. Now that they’ve opened offices on other worlds, and hired locals to staff them, Disco has maybe two hundred people working for them. Thirty core people. And they . . . keep us all in line.” He nodded at the gate they were approaching. “Eight or nine worlds who can make gates.”

“Thirty of them?” Lucky Dave grabbed the seat as a nasty twist.

“Two, if we’re going to be brutally frank. Xen Wolfson, and his sister Dr. Quail Quicksilver.”

The car drove through a courtyard and turned out onto a road . . . on a central plaza with a fountain . . . and an angry crowd.

“One! There’s Ambassador Ashe. Let me out at the fight.”

“Sir!” The chauffeur, sounded more affronted than alarmed.

“Relax, El Zee, I’ll be fine.” Izzo groaned. “And there’s Ra’d. I have a nasty suspicion the accusations have moved from the forum to the . . . less regulated arena.”

Lucky Dave stepped out first and stayed between Izzo and the crowd, while he got out. Walked slightly in front of his right shoulder, while El Zee walked to the left.

Ra’d looked around, looking amused. He nodded to Izzo. “I have explained that I have never set foot on their world, cannot open gates, nor see bubbles. With shields down enough that they know I am not lying. I have refused to speculate on who else might be responsible.”

Izzo sighed. “I have just been told that you’re version of the Prophets, and two of his fellow soldiers are on Tyrant’s World. Have you asked if you can send someone across to be sure that they are there of their own free will?”

Three people glared. The big one stepped up, glowing hard. A Priest. “We will go there and get our prophet.”

Lucky Dave stepped into the space between Izzo and the big guy. “Commander Nicholas One is not property. Not my Nicholas, and not your’s.”

“And who are you?” Brighter glow. Looming.

“I am Captain Dave ibn Daiki ibn William, head of Commander Nicholas One’s bodyguard detachment.” He met the priest’s gaze. “From Director Izzo’s One World. You can call me Lucky Dave, if you wish.”



 
 
matapam
13 February 2019 @ 12:58 pm

Ox nodded. “The thing is to be flexible, and not double down when a plan doesn’t work. I’ve spent the last four years officially working for External, but working closely with Internal on police and courts on all the colonies. It’s been fascinating, watching the upper levels think. The Ministries are a bit stiffer, but the Directorates have been a delight.”

Izzo looked over at him. “Do you think there will be a problem with the Ministries over the governors?”

“No. I think they’ve got the worst of it knocked out of their heads. After all the elected Governors on the other worlds have done well enough.” He grinned a little and caught Dave’s eye. “They elected a sixteen-year-old girl on Lucky Number Thirteen. Well, she’s twenty-one now, and still doing a good job.”

“I see . . .” Good Grief, these people are insane!

“So is it officially sixteen colonies?”

“Yep, with three more being actively colonized.” Izzo grinned. “I need to consolidate some of the colonies that don’t really need a subdirector each, to keep an eye on them. Maybe a Subdirector of Evacuation Worlds.”

Rael answered his questioning gaze. “When it looked like there was a possibility of the Helios miniverse hitting us, we started setting up forty worlds for massive evacuations, and long term residency.”

“So now you have forty worlds that are what? All ready for people to move in?”

“Yep. We needed three for various purposes—All the Granite Peak people moved to one, the Helios victims who couldn’t go home to another, and some traitors to yet a third.” Izzo shrugged at Dave raised eyebrows. “We executed the worst. The followers are getting a chance to redeem themselves.”

“Yikes?”

“Very much so.” Izzo eyed him. “If you have the free time, I’ll show you around.”

Dave hesitated.

Rael giggled. “Go on. It’ll be good for you. I’ll let Nicholas know where you’ve gone.”



Chapter Seven

The Multiverse

Director Izzo had a large car—not quite a limo—and a driver. “One of the punishments for advancement. They start assuming you’re too important to know how to operate a vehicle.”

The chauffeur grinned and held the door for them.

“So . . . have these corridor things destroyed the airplane industry?” Lucky Dave eyed the shorter man. Right. This is the man who killed the head of the assassination plot in a sword fight. Talked Ra’d, Abbas and Isakson out of Makkah when they dared attack Warriors and their families. Don’t underestimate him.

“Not quite, but it’s definitely changed things. Likewise shipping. Shipping . . . by water has become nearly non-existent. Trucks can drive through a few corridors and be within a thousand kilometers of any destination on the World, in a few hours. And loads that can fit through a gate—can go anywhere in the known multiverse just about as quickly.”

“Or an Army? Like the one Jiol spoke of. And . . . she said something about a Combat Gang and the Maze?”

“Yes. You’re going to be picking up on details for years. When the Fallen—which is what we call the people from the world called Comet Fall, because of the comet that hit it a thousand years ago—invented the permanent gates, they didn’t know how to take them down. So when they found us—this was a couple of decades after we’d founded them and two years after we’d tried to invade them—they built a maze of gates and corridors they could use to dissuade pursuit.

“Pretty much unused until it was discovered by Fallen smugglers, who added on to it. And then a criminal gang, mostly composed of Fallen Witches, some of whom could open gates and calling themselves the Hors de Combat.”

Dave snorted.

“Indeed. Led by a marooned Oner Princess who’d taken a sex change potion. Rior.” Izzo sighed. “Most of them have been arrested and are in prison. But the Maze keeps growing. Disco explores, students practice their gate making lessons, the smugglers are still out there . . . From the original thirty-five gates, it’s grown to well over five hundred, and the maps are always out of date.”

Dave blinked. “So . . . they know of five hundred worlds?”

“Or, more than that. That’s just the Maze. All the contacted worlds have multiple worlds we’ve claimed, or just explored. The Catalog is up to sixty-thousand, and I’ll bet the Earth has even more.”

“Okay. I’m officially boggled. I know in theory there are an infinite number of worlds, but when you start putting numbers to it . . . that’s boggling.”

“Yes.” Izzo shrugged. “I just think ‘lots and lots’ and avoid spraining my brain.” He grinned. “I’ll show you the catalog, and try enticing you toward XR.”

“I . . . have a duty to Nicholas. And . . . I’m a really good bodyguard. Period.”

Izzo shrugged. “You did what was most needed at the time. Dave ibn Daiki ibn William? I think you have a lot of untapped potential. I’m perfectly happy to steal you from Urfa and get you into lessons with Xen Wolfson.”

Dave eyed the traffic as it slowed . . . in front of a corridor. “So you’re recruiting? I’m surprised you’re not after Davos.”

“Oh, I’ll get around to it. Unfortunately I haven’t come up with a real need for a prophet, but I’m working on it.”

“I see . . .” The car gave the faintest of lurches as it drove through the gate and on to a road that curved and merged with a four lane highway. No, eight lanes. Four each direction.

Damn. Yet more ‘welcome to the future, Dave’ experiences.

“So . . . these political parties, eight of them?”

Izzo nodded. “The War Party, Isolationists, Strong Federalists, Multitude Supreme, One First, Nativists, Pacifists, and of course, the Modernists.”

“Orde’s a Modernist, right? And you?”

“Modernist.” Izzo sighed. “We’re such a small party, and Urfa’s the only well-known person who could run . . . 1415 is going to be an interesting year, but not in a nice way.”

“I see. About the time I adjust to the future, it will all change.”

 
 
matapam
12 February 2019 @ 06:48 am

“Oh . . . that would be. . . interesting.”

Nicholas snickered. “It would be good for you, to branch out.”

“Oh . . .”

***

An hour later he received an invitation from Urfa to join him in a meeting.

At Government House. Itsy turned up driving an official car—at least it wasn’t a limo—and turned it over to another guard at the back entrance to Government House.

“I’m supposed to make sure you find the right room. Betting in the barracks is that you’d wander around lost and the first person you asked for directions would be the guard at the door to Urfa’s conference room.”

Lucky Dave sighed. “You guys do realize that luck comes in a bad variety, right? So tell them I walked confidently into the ladies lav. Okay?”

“Oh Kay. You know that one word is enough to identify you as a thousand years old.”

As they walked up on a guard, he opened the door he was guarding, for them. Inside a drop-dead gorgeous woman behind a desk. She flashed a smile and pointed at the side door.

“Just walk in, Captain, and have a seat.”

Itsy dropped into a chair across the desk from her. “Any interesting gossip, Puur?”

Lucky Dave eyed the door. Straightened his shoulders and opened the door. Stepped into a completely ordinary conference room. No. It was absolutely bare. Along table with a dozen chairs. A desk a bit apart, crossways at the end to his left. The desk was bare, the walls were bare, the only things on the table were small comps the people there had obviously brought with them. No windows.

Rael was there, chatting with two strangers in business suits. One short and blond, the other large and brunette. Idlo, one of the Directorate Agents he’d met. Several other men, and older woman looking him over with a sharp gaze.

Rael caught his eye and pointed at a chair.

“I think everyone is here, now. So perhaps some introductions for the two new people. Over there we have Captain Dave ibn Daiki ibn William, whom we, along with half the other organizations on the world are trying to recruit. And sitting next to him, Jiol Withoine, former Presidential Guard and now with Disco.”

“Dave, Jiol, to my right, Ahxe Withione Blackpoint who will officially be the Subdirector of Criminal Investigation over at the Internal Relations Department as of sometime tomorrow. His boss for the next few hours, Director Izzo Withione Alcairo. To my left Ydro Servaone, Inre Neartuone, and Idlo Withione are specialists in Political Intel.”

In as much as Idlo had taken the chair at the foot of the table, and his nose was starting to elevate, he apparently didn’t like being grouped with the other two.

Mere Servaones and Neartuones. In the Presidential Director’s ingroup! The horror! Dave shrugged off the thought that if not for Ra’d quick intervention, he’d have been even lower. A Halfer.

These people are insane to judge people’s worth with a genetic test.

The door opened again. Urfa and his pretty secretary.

Everyone turned off their electronics.

“So, Ox, everything smooth?”

The big guy—Ahxe—nodded. “Not without a few noses out of joint, but when I told them They could now that their complaints straight to Izzo . . . they decided they could live with the situation.”

Urfa grinned, and glanced down the table at Dave. “We colonized four worlds with a native population, and had separate police and courts for the natives. Which was silly from the start, with Homestead, but now they’ve all been combined. One police force, one court system for each world.”

Dave made a mental note to ask about how a single police force could cover a world.

“So, welcome to Paris, and Internal Relation, Subdirector.” Urfa looked down the table. “Jiol? Did you find out what the problem was?”

The old woman snorted. “An un-contacted Earth, Tunguska Branch, circa 2172. The found a gate—probably the Combat gang—and decided to start by capturing this city their scout found. Embassy of course. Fortunately their scout had the sense to go straight to Xen, and he sent their invasion packing. He said he left them a small branch of the Maze to keep them busy and he’d contact them in a year or so and see if they’d decided to be sensible.”

Dave eyed her. “You make it sound like he did it alone. Or was it a small expeditionary force?”

“Six tanks, and two companies of infantry. And yes, he did it alone. We all go to bed every night praising Allah for making Xen a genuinely nice guy.” The old woman chuckled. “You’ll see, if you ever spend much time around him.”

A giggle from Rael.

Urfa nodded. “Captain Dave? We had several reports on the Prophet’s visit to Makkak. I’m curious though, about you opinion of the whole situation.”

Lucky Dave bit his lip. “Well, I skipped the whole deification of the stuck grand compass, so while, from my reading, I realize that the compass was needed at the time, the subsequent . . . care and feeding of it and the barbarian practices they added utterly repels me. So I’m delighted to see it broken, apparently long term.

“I’m aware of two deaths, and numerous problems the departing priests are experiencing, yet it seems to be settling down to something that I would call a normal religion. One of faith in a God, rather than recognition of the power of the church.”

“I’ve heard that their main means of control is the assignment of a princess assassin to every influential figure. That . . . well, again, I know it’s roots, in arranged marriages to the daughters of the Prophets, to monitor and control allies. But is it actually necessary, anymore?”

Rael giggled. “Oh, Dave. You are going to be fun to have around. The current thing that everyone is wondering is who can order the assigned princesses take actions against their assigned bureaucrats?”

Urfa winced. “Not a power one wants just floating around.”

Dave nodded. “In Makkah, Emre and three other Priests, Jeb, Usse, and Ytry seemed to be coordinating everything when we left.”

Rael nodded. And met Urfa’s gaze. “I’m just back from there. They’ve pulled in a few more people for the top echelon, and are delegating specific chores to them. We’ll see what they can do about weather real soon now. There’s a typhoon in the south Pacific they’re trying to weaken and steer. The individual mosques and churches are being given much more autonomy, and the funds to deal with local issues. But the control through the Princesses is still being handled by the top four.”

Dave frowned. “Marrying off their daughters is how the Prophets stayed on top of an intensely tribal culture. Most of us children and grandchildren were raised in the Prophets values and culture, and I’ve seen very little of the tribal organizations, but a fair amount of class snobbery, since we . . . arrived. I’ll talk to the commander, and no doubt he’ll liaise with Emre and his people about whether a distributed system of status symbol assassins is still needed.”

The pretty Puur slapped her hand over her mouth snickering.

Rael yipped. “Status symbol assassins! Oh, One! That is exactly what they are. Sorry, Puur.”

Dave look back at the beauty, snickering, wiping her eyes, and blowing her nose.

Urfa shook his head, eyes twinkling. “Well, anything new politically I need to know about?”

Shaken heads. Idlo shrugged. “With Agni so definitely out of the running, the War Party has a dozen people testing the waters for a presidential run. Ambassador Ashe, Minister Asni, and Councilman Wzli are the most often mentioned. The other parties are buzzing like mad as well, but only the Isolationists have a single strong contender—Councilman Ovil.”

“How about the Strong Federalists?” Izzo leaned forward and looked down the table.

Ydro snorted. “They don’t think they have a chance of winning, so they’re trying to entice Subdirector !Tok into running.”

Dave blinked at the roof-of-the-mouth pop that preceded the name.

A snort from Izzo. “!Tok is much too canny to take a step like that. Quit his job for a guaranteed loss? Nope.”

Izzo’s pop ran smoothly into the Tok and made it all sound like a very foreign name.

Dave cocked his head. “That’s right they have to quit to run. I’d forgotten that. And it all officially starts the first day of Muharram, 1415. Fourteen months from now?”

Rael sighed. “Not looking forward to it.”

Urfa dismissed, them then, leaving before them.

Lucky Dave looked after him, then over at Rael. “Does he leave us alone to talk about things we didn’t want to bother with in a formal meeting?”

Rael laughed. “Probably. What’s up?”

“One police force for a whole bloody planet?”

Izzo grinned, and Ox shrugged. “I suppose it does sound odd. But every police department is a small part of the Internal Relations Directorate. But they are finely divided, right down to city police, and in rural areas, sheriff’s departments. The Native police, on the other hand operated under the authority of the appointed colonial governors. Combining them ensures equal treatment under law, and frankly, is probably the first step toward elected Governors.”

“Okay, so why is it bad to have the Governors in charge of the police?”

“It . . . gives them the ability to lord it over the Natives. There haven’t been too many cases of abuse, but they do happen. By separating the governor from the police’s line of authority, will, in theory, help.” Izzo shrugged. “We’ll find out if it works in a multi-world empire.”



 
 
 
matapam
10 February 2019 @ 08:52 am

Chapter Five

Apparently the loss of the Hive Mind was a tragedy to some and barely noticed by most.

Emre announced that the Great Compass would only reform in times of great need, and that they would recruit priests only from volunteers who came to them. “You need not have the Priest Gene. You need not spend your life here. If you feel drawn to serve, then come. And when you wish to leave, leave. With the breaking of the Hive Mind, many of my priests will be moving out into the world, with our support, of course.”

Not that it was that easy. The priests had never been taught to shield.

Nicholas drew them like a magnet. One or two a day, a steady trickle of lost children—however old their bodies.

Rael got put in charge of dealing with them. She hauled them in for lessons in how to shield. And found them jobs, schools, homes.

“At least most of them have the good sense to avoid the priests who are staying with the religion.” Lucky Dave watched the latest group finish up—better shielded than they’d been just an hour ago—and straggle out to the house they were sharing. “I’m surprised at how easily they’re finding jobs.”

“The most magically powerful people on the One World? The companies that need that sort of strength will happily train them in the basics, hoping to keep them afterwards.” Qamar was back, prepping for her thesis defense. “There’s only about three hundred of them. More than half the priests stayed.”

A snicker from Rael as she joined them. “They’ve loosened way up. The women priests who want to have a baby are getting far enough away that the Hive Mind—if it reforms—won’t mess up the babies’ brains. Sometimes with a favorite priest, sometimes not. The priests have formed a few four and eight man compasses, for some work, and had no problem disengaging afterwards. It’s a work in progress.”

“I’m a bit surprised about the women. They want babies?” Lucky Dave shrugged. “Don’t glare. I checked. All the women priests are volunteers. Generally from that ‘Princess School’ thing.”

Real gave her standard giggle. “Some of them want babies, some of them just want that level-up that childbirth gives. But so far, that’s only about forty women.”

Feol—the Head Princess—sniffed. “And I suppose they’re taking that joy juice to get pregnant?”

Lucky Dave blinked. “Do you mean to tell me that on top of massive aphrodisiacs, that stuff is a fertility aid as well?”

They all laughed.

Rael shrugged. “Very much so. There will be more twins, and fewer delivery problems than normal.”

“Good grief. So . . . what do they need even ordinary compasses for? There’s not war.”

“A fair amount of what they do involves weather control.” Feol shrugged. “Not that I understand it, but they say that heating and cooling air masses high in the atmosphere can steer storms. Pull moisture into a drought stricken area, or away from one threatened by floods. Steering hurricanes and weakening a strong monsoon . . . well, we may find out if a Great Compass can be formed for work, and then released, over the next year.”

Hurricanes and either strengthening a weak monsoon or weakening a strong one that threatens flooding? That will save more lives than . . . anything.

“I told them to use the grass clippings in their free medical care, but they got insulted and pointed out that they mostly worked on mental illnesses.” Rael glanced over at him. “A pilgrimage to Makkah is good for depression and anxiety. Addiction, depends on how much is psychological and how much physical. And they do have both doctors and medgicians. And docboxes, although few people needing them go to Makkah.”

“Okay. I keep hearing about these docbox things. What the hell are they?”

“Umm, life support to whatever degree is needed. They’ll circulate and oxygenate your blood while lungs and hearts heal, filter it while kidneys heal. Lots of repair nanos. And tests. Detox. Umm . . . they’re bloody expensive, and need lots of maintenance, and anyone sick enough to need one won’t survive a long trip to Makkah. They’re used a lot by the External Relation Directorate, for their away missions, where there isn’t a doctor.”

Dave nodded. “I see. And . . . you haven’t had any new students for a few days. Have they stopped leaving Makkah?”

“I talked to the Princess School. The people leaving are now stopping there for shielding lessons, a search for family, and arranging job interviews and apartments, as needed. The younger priests have mostly gone home. A lot of the older ones find siblings or nieces and nephews. So apart from the lack of shields, it’s worked well enough.” Rael nodded toward the exit. “That will probably be my last class. Then I can get back to my usual.”

Lucky Dave eyed Rael. “What is your job, anyway?”

Feol rolled her eyes. “Rael is Urfa’s and Orde’s top agent. She gets sent out to do odd jobs that no one else knows what to do about.”

“In between which, most of the time I analyze things, give opinions, and liaise with Xen Wolfson. Which is polite-speak for worming information out of him. Generally in bed.”

“Umm . . .” Dave failed to find polite-speak for do you want to fuck him.

Rael snickered. “For your information, I’m madly in love with the insane wizard, and spend most of my vacation time with him. As an experienced espionage agent, he tells me as much as he wants Urfa and Orde to know, and then I get to analyze all his minor body language tics to try and figure out fact from fiction. And he’s really good at lying.”

“I . . . see.”

She just grinned. “So, how about a driving lesson? You’re going to need a license.”

Which eventually meant he got to drive Nicholas and Umaya around to potential new homes for a prophet who was looking a bit lost in this strange future.

***

Lucky Dave stood back and watched President Orde, who was fast turning into the commander’s friend.

“We understand the need for the ‘New Prophets’ at the time, and the silence about just where they’d come from. But now, we’d really like a complete and detailed history. The Comet Fall Gods had brain damage, and they’re so in contact with their collective subconscious that they have trouble remembering their early lives.”

Nicholas grimaced. “So I should write my memoirs?”

“Yes. And then I think you’ll find yourself highly in demand as a lecturer in ancient history.” Orde grinned. “But right now? You should spend time with your family. Travel—we’ve got sixteen colony worlds, and then there’s Embassy, where Ra’d, Nighthawk and their kids live.”

“That sounds . . . interesting.” The commander looked over his shoulder and grinned at him. “Lucky Dave, are you really horrified?”

“Yes. I’ll need help guarding you.”

The commander half turned and studied him for a minute. “No . . . Dave, I think you need to stop worrying about me and . . . absorb this world on your own.”

“Commander!”

“Oh, relax. I’ll accrue more guards. Probably starting with those ecclesiastical guards who killed the priest.”

Lucky Dave choked.

The commander grinned. “They’re trained guards. I’ll add a few people with wider recent experience, and go touring. Except when I’m home writing up reports on everything I can remember from my childhood.”

Orde chuckled. “Your expression, Lucky Dave! The Presidential Directorate wants you, and your brother. But I’ll warn you, I’ll have you go with Rael when she’s on any special assignments.”

“Oh . . . that would be interesting.”

 
 
matapam
09 February 2019 @ 09:45 pm
 . . . with a prophet?

Poor man's gone from a losing battle, a life threatening injury, recovery and  . . . here he is in a future with no no obvious job for himself.

Can I have him sit and write his memoirs until I need him for something?
 
 
matapam
09 February 2019 @ 10:38 am

Emre snorted. “One! Nick, I thought you might do that if the idiots got pushy. But Lucky Dave . . . I’d ought to have known it would be you.”

“It’s not funny.” Jeb turned and glared. “Davy . . . you, you always were impossible!”

Lucky Dave ignored a snicker from Ra’d. And eyed the fallen priest.

The other . . . were they head priests? Senior priests? Whatever. Ytry bent over Unvu and peeled an eyelid back. “Heh. Serves him right. Medic’s on the way. Emry, why don’t you haul your guests off to your house while Jeb and I deal with the wandering flock.”

Lucky Dave stepped in between the commander and the white uniformed guards. “You lot back off.”

The one with the most frufru on his uniform bristled. “It’s our job.”

Lucky Dave looked him up and down. “And what were you doing while,” nod at the man who was being loaded onto a gurney, “he was orchestrating an attack on the Prophet Nicholas One?”

“That was not . . . not . . .”

He snorted. “You were following that priest’s orders. Well, your mind is now your own—I suspect you have until Unvu regains consciousness to decide if you want to keep it, or be mind-slaved again. Good luck.”

Dave turned and followed the two Prophets. Makkah had not expanded much in the intervening centuries, but buildings had been replaced, landscaping changed.

Emre had a small house in a garden.

Dave ordered Scar to spread the Black Horse guards around, and gave the house a quick search. Isakson and Davos were hovering over the two prophets, so he stepped out the front door. Oldy and Ahsi were bracketing the door, and Ra’d and Ebsa were further out, facing some priests.

Lucky Dave stalked out to join them.

“. . . just want to go home!” The young man, boy really, all teenage gawkiness, had a high childlike voice.

Dave shuddered and eyed the group. “You all look very young. I thought they’d stopped taking children.”

The spokes-boy nodded. “I think I was the last. Six years ago. But they’re out of my head and I want to get away from here before they came back. The guards stopped the train, and took us off. If Nicholas One orders them to let us go, they will have to obey. Won’t they?”

Ra’d pulled out his father’s bag . . . no, this was a shiny new one. And produced a jar of virulent green stuff. “All of you take one swallow of this. It’s a multi-medical spells potion. In three weeks you’ll experience abdominal pain while your newly grown testicles descend. Pain and muscle relaxant spells will help. One. Swallow.” He handed it to the boy.

Lucky Dave eyed the bottle. “Doesn’t look much like that . . .”

“They call it grass clippings, because of the color. Possibly because of the taste, but I’ve never tried grass pureed in white wine, so . . . Anyway, it’s got all the healing, and none of the fun.” Ra’d took the nearly empty bottle back from the last young man.

Ebsa looked them over. “I’d guess half of you are under twenty-two. Give puberty a year, get your voice settled, then there are various ways to suppress your hormones so you Priest gene can maximize your magic. Give it until you’re twenty-five of so, then let it go.”

A boy of perhaps eighteen glanced over his shoulder. “But will they let us go? And what do we do then?”

Ytry stalked up. “Indeed, didn’t think past running away, did you?”

Ebsa ignored him and looked at the boy. “Let me ask the prophets what they are going to do about this situation.”

Lucky Dave boggled a bit, and followed the crazy man back inside.

Ebsa stood politely for a minute, until Emre leaned back and eyed him.

“So, the young man so concerned with justice. Who are you rescuing this time?”

“Some of the priests wish to leave. To try to have a normal life. Will you help or hinder?” Ebsa’s voice was polite, mild and . . . calm.

Emre thought that over and nodded. “We will help our fellows who wish to leave. What do you have in mind?”

“Money, to get a new start with. Umm, I’d recommend two thousand rials a month for ten years. Long enough to remediate any schooling they missed, plus college or trade school, or start a business. If any older priests wish to leave, and have no families to help them, you might offer the hospitality of the remote mosques and churches.”

“Humph. That’s not unreasonable. And this healing potion . . .” Emre glanced over at Ytry with a smirk. “Better than the one some people got dosed with.” His eyes unfocused for a long moment. “Right. Excellent idea young man. Tell the children out there to report to the financial offices for their first payment. That should get them home . . . well, they’ll need all sorts of things eventually, but the civil authorities can sort that out.”

Ebsa bowed and backed out.

Lucky Dave stayed.

Emre shook his head. “I wish I’d been alert enough to appreciate that boy the first time he came storming in here demanding we do the right time.”

Ytry snorted. “I’ve ordered the priest to stop being silly and just go about their jobs. Have you decided whether to form up again, or not? Unvu’s starting to wake up, and the guards are hovering over him.”

Emry sighed. “He’s going to be a problem. Always trying to take over. Coming quite close, when I was at my weakest. If I allow him to form a compass, there will be large problems.”

The nasty crackle of a strong magic-user dying had them all turning to stare in the same direction.

Emry winced. “I misjudged that. The guards weren’t there to protect him. They were there to protect themselves. Well. The next few months should be interesting. I wonder how many will leave?”

Lucky Dave shrugged. “Once it’s their choice, some will return. And once you stop think you need children, some very wise or powerful people may chose to come here and help in their retirement.” He looked at Jeb. “Remember?”

“Old crippled Warriors coming home, and lending their mental strengths to Compasses here? Yes . . . it’s going to be a huge upheaval.” A wry smile. “Here. We may be humbled to discover how little the outside world cares, or even notices.”

***

They stayed for another twelve hours.

Emre had a doubled fast room—Nicholas took him up on his offer, and started emerging every fifteen minutes for lav and food, then back into the room.

By midnight he was alert and energetic. He thumped Eme’s shoulders and wish him luck rebuilding the One and they walked quietly back through dark buildings to the cars.

 
 
matapam
08 February 2019 @ 12:44 pm

“I need to talk to Emre. Perhaps I should do so right now, while this attack has me alert and not likely to snooze for a while.”

***

Three armored vehicles. Isakson, Ra’d, that Ebsa fellow who’d been in so many vids. Scar and his team. Foo and his team.

Lucky Dave and Davos with Nicholas in the center vehicle, Ebsa driving, Ra’d riding shotgun. I wonder if they use that phrase anymore? And of Ra’d’s three visible weapons, not one is a shotgun.

And Corridors. We’ll only have to drive straight the last 300 kilometers.

I wonder how much it has changed in the last millennium?

Less than he’d expected. Some obviously new buildings in Jeddah more that were either aging incredibly well or had been replaced with buildings so similar as to fool his memory. The road still skirted the ruins of Mecca, a victim of the nuclear war that had happened a century and a half before the arrival of the New Prophets. Fifteen centuries ago, now. Hence the extensive parking lots, and people on foot, walking in.

Another two hundred kilometers on, east and then northeast, they reached Makkah. The home of the New Prophets.

Lucky Dave was squinting at the head ache from holding a mental shield against an increasingly powerful mental buzzing, pressure from ahead, from something huge.

Nicholas gripped his shoulder, and the commander’s shields reached out and covered him. “Relax for a moment. I don’t know what that is.”

Ra’d glanced around. “The hive mind. Five or six hundred powerful magic users in a giant merge. Stuck there. Some of them have no individuality left. Few were volunteers, and while the coerced mostly accept their fate now a lot of bitterness and hatred remain. Emry was weakened for some time. He’s recovered and is trying to correct the excesses, but I do not find the situation pleasant.”

A massive understatement!

I’ve seen a few, with the usual eight. And jolted a few loose, come to that, when they needed to retreat, or just stop and eat.

Five or six hundred! No wonder that buzzing is so unpleasant.

Lucky Dave eyed R’d. “So . . . from our vid education, most of the people here were kidnapped at ten years of age, castrated and then shoved into this hideous huge merge?”

“Yes.” Chilly tones, not hiding the hot anger underneath.

“But this Wine of the Gods joy juice stuff can regrow their tentacles?”

Ra’d shot a nasty grin over his shoulder. “That’s what happened to that other One World. A priest was among those marooned for months, and when he returned, he took the wine with him and spread it all over Makkah. Without a prophet to hold the together, most of the priest broke loose from the merge and have left Makkah. There are ongoing problems, with less than fifty priests, the influence of the church is gone.”

Lucky Dave shifted uncomfortably. “I wonder if they were behind the attempt to kidnap . . . but then, don’t they have their own prophet Nicholas?”

Ebsa answered that one. “There’s an eleven year time lag, so they went and searched for your Bag of the Prophets. Where you ought to be resting. I understand they found only a small rusty stub that they think was part of the handles. They’re searching local records for anything that might have been you three, and finding nothing.”

The commander eyed him. “Are you involved with them?”

“Yes sir. I was doing a quick survey of this odd world, just as the other Earth connected. It was . . . quite exciting for a while there. I am liaising regularly.” He kept his eyes forward as he spoke, and slowed and turned to park near a raised train platform.

Lucky Dave raised his own shields and stepped out of the car first.

A mob of people approaching, eerily silent, rustling footsteps. The first ones were in uniform, white with green and gold piping. The remainder were in white arab style robes, perhaps half including a white keffiyeh scarf with agal bands in multiple colors.

Dave ran a hand up and down the short stick he’d picked up out of the various weapons in the gym’s martial arts collection.

If that was my Luck, it’s off its top game. This isn’t riot control material.

But he stepped out anyway walking far enough away from the Commander that Davos and Isakson had time to form up with the Black Horse Guards for a loose merge if it looked like they were going to need it.

Scar stepped forward as well, an unneeded ninth.

Ra’d and Ebsa . . . were an interesting pair. In contact somehow, standing far enough apart to not interfere with each other if it came to a fight.

Dave waved Scar out to the left flank, and took the right.

The white uniformed guards split to let five men through.

A dark man, striding out, grinning.

Lucky Dave recognized him, with a shock. Jeb ibn Oliver ibn Joseph ibn Byram. Head of the Islamic Unions Diplomatic corp. Everyone always said he was as strong as a Prophet. Apparently as long lived as well.

The second man was a stranger. Lucky Dave’s shield was leaky enough to show his strong glow.

:: Unvu. :: A quick thought from Ra’d. :: Young, ambitious, and not to be trusted. ::

Then Emre.

The Prophet was visibly older than when Lucky Dave had last seen him. He could pass for a healthy sixty year old. Not bad for fourteen centuries.

He switched his attention to the last two men. They looked older than the prophet, one calculating, the other grinning like a kid.

:: Usse can be dangerous. Retired spy. Ytry’s the youngest, an expert in shields, trained Rael. Trustworthy. ::

Dave could feel Ra’d concern about the mob, as he stepped forward. “Grandfather?”

Emre nodded at some unspoken question. “I am well.” His lips split in a grin as he looked beyond Ra’d. “Not as well as you, Nicholas.”

“You look a thousand years older than when I last saw you.” The commander grinned as he embrace his old friend.

Unvu stared hard at him. “Join us. Lower your shield.”

Emre frowned at him. “Unvu this is very unwise. It is time to disengage, not entangle another Prophet.”

Jeb turned to frown at him, and the silent mob of priests closed in.

Not physically threatening, but the pressure of their minds made Dave’s eyes water in pain as he eased through the crowd.

Drawing the stick.

And bringing it down in Unvu’s head.

The mental pressure snapped as the priest dropped.

The mob stepped back, spread out, the priests shaking their heads, puzzled.

Nicholas started laughing.

“Lucky Dave, I believe you have successfully broken their Compass.”

 
 
matapam
07 February 2019 @ 08:25 am

Misadventure Number Three

“Well, tell him to open the gate again and herd them back where they belong.” Rael clicked off, and could feel her cheeks heating at the regard of everyone at the table. The monthly meeting of the department heads. No one seemed to mind a rather ordinary meeting being interrupted.

Chancellor Urfa grinned. “What happened this time?”

Rael sighed. “Despite being warned, his teacher told him to stop lying about being able to open gates. He got mad, she dared him . . . so he opened a gate to a dinosaur world. Apparently she has a half dozen baby Mayasaura running around her classroom.”

“Well,” There was a ton of amusement straining to escape Urfa’s mild tone. “Hopefully Exzy won’t be tossed out of this school, too.”

A chortle from down the table. Professor Ivy, the head of the History Department, seemed to consider Rael’s nine year old child the best form of entertainment around. “But I predict it’s not going to last much longer.”

Rael threw her hands up. “I’m running out of schools! Nobody can cope with a kid who is capable of doing anything.”

A sniff from the Magic Department. “Send him to his father.”

“And miss all the fun?” From the Head of Languages.

Rael growled and looked back a her report. “So. As I was saying, it looks like we’ll have eighteen seniors on the Team Track next year, so I’d like to add six of the top juniors to the advanced class for compass work . . .”

***

Exzy sighed in relief as the front door closed firmly behind his mother.

“School sucks.” He informed the empty room. Empty house.

Three days suspension! Yay!

Miss Gear seemed shocked that I didn’t fight it, didn’t try to blame it all on her. Did she think I wanted to be in school?

He trotted out to the tiny back yard and sat in the sun. All I’m going to do is look. I mean, maybe they’re all dead. Maybe that was a horrible idea. Plus it’s been over two years. The big rats are probably getting old.

He bit his lip and thought about the Wine. My bottle’s from Rip Crossing. It’s got the Wine of the Gods, the Elixir of Long Life and probably other stuff, but they aren’t von neumans, so since I’ve used so much and refilled so much, the other stuff is probably gone.

Of course it might not work on rats.

There’s the horse one and the dog one . . .

I ought not experiment on smart animals.

A faint rustle from above.

Squirrel are rodents, aren’t they?

And they say there are mice and rats around, you just never see them. Until they’re everywhere.

He trotted into the kitchen and found paper cups, a bottle of wine, half empty, a dropper, and a funnel. He checked his bubble, the bottles were clearly labeled. A bit in each cup. A bit of wine funneled into his bottles to top off his supplies. In fact he need to top off his Wine of the Gods.

He eyed the inch of wine left in his mom’s bottle. Shrugged and added water. “That way she won’t think I’m a wino or something.”

Then back to the back yard to sit and feel for living things in the bushes, and in the house, and call them to him. Nice big—for backyard wildlife—glows reluctantly leaving the shelter of the thick landscaping. He threw a stun spell. Reached wider to call more . . .

Things started hitting his face and he opened his eyes to a buzzing swarm of thousands of flies. A grasshopper came arrowing in . . . He threw out the anti-chiton spell hastily and they all turned to goo and dropping out of the air. On his head and down his shirt, into his cups of elixir.

He jumped up and ran around shaking them out of his hair and clothes.

Knocked over the horse elixir. He grabbed it with a yip of dismay . . . there was enough left, no problem. He picked his way over to the larger animals. Two squirrels, three black rats, two mice, a mole, and the neighbors’ cat.

He separated them out and put them in a network of shields.

“Horse elixir for one squirrel, one rat, one mouse, and the mole.” He dripped a bit into their unconscious mouths, then shifted to the other side of the patio. “Dog elixir for one squirrel, two rats and one mouse.”

He eyed the cat. Scrawny and old. It had taken awhile but the cat had decided that Exzy was suitably well trained in the proper petting of cats and visited regularly. Exzy eyed him, and decided he wasn’t an experimental animal.

Then he went inside for a good book to read while his experiment played out.

A good history book, not the kid’s version they had to read in fifth grade.

When he walked back to the back door, the birds were feasting on the dead flies, and a crow was trying to get at the stunned mole. It gave up and eyed the cat . . .

“Don’t even think about it!”

The little birds fled in a flurry of wings. The crow snatched a big fat grasshopper and flew up to the top of a tree.

Exzy swept the flies off into the little bit of lawn they had, and sat down in the sun to read while the animals recovered.

The cat raised his head, stretched and relaxed in the winter sunshine.

The squirrels regained consciousness next, staggering about, recovering, and racing frantically around their invisible cages. Then the rats . . . backing into corners, then exploring a bit before scuttling into their corners again.

Exzy sighed. “I can’t tell if it doesn’t work, or if it works and doesn’t hurt you.”

They all scurried about, looking for a way out.

After two hours, Exzy released them all and gave the old cat a dropper full of dog elixir. And got scratched and given a dirty look.

The door opened behind him. “Oh, hi Mom. See? I’m here. Reading history.” A quick glance . . . the paper cups and dropper were pretty much out of sight, by the planter.

“But not your history text.”

“It’s boring and simplistic.” Exzy perked up at the sight of the bag in her hand. “Lunch?”

“Lunch.”

He grabbed the book, slipped the dropper into his pocket to wash out later, and dropped the cups into the trash without his mom noticing anything unusual.

After a really good deli sandwich—I should stash a dozen in my bubble—he was alone again as his mom went back to the university, grumbling about two classes and “those idiot women who’ve never fought in their lives.”

Poor Mom! Stuck teaching martial arts to the girl students. Of course she also teaches the advanced class, magical theory, advance magical practicum. And some lectures sometimes in other professors’ classes about stuff she was in the middle of.

He hunted through the kitchen and finally gave up and programmed the fab for cookies.

If the Rats of NIMH are still alive, I can sprinkle the cookies with the Dog Elixir and leave it for them.