_The Destroyer_ part 19

Ice froze, last bit of donut in hand. "Crap. There's a pay phone at the store down there. Let me call and see who my clients are dealing with."

Mr. Hernandez was a short darkish man with a tidy goatee. Looking around in astonishment. Stepping to the kitchen, and whistling.

"Been awhile since it's been that clean, eh? Check out the bathrooms." Ice crushed his empty coffee cup and dropped it in the donut box. Ripped off a corner of the box and squared it off. Shifted the ink around, what was the address here?

Mr. Hernandez returned, looking impressed. "Let's use my office."

Ice spun out a gentle spell to weaken skepticism and followed the man to his office, three doors down the strip at the back of a "CPA" office, whatever that was. Weird comm . . . he remember old classical movies and stuck his finger in a hole and spun the dial. Hoped he remembered the number correctly . . .

"Squeaky Clean! How may I help you?" A cheerful female voice.

He almost hated to telekinetically hang up on her. "Glennis? Karl. Do you have the contact number for this job I'm on?" He waited a beat. "Thanks, and hey, call my crew and tell them they won't be painting today."

He dialed a random number, while modulating an auditor illusion of an almost distinguishable male voice.

"Mr. Mathus? Bit of a problem at the location. The manager doesn't think the space has been leased. Who did you deal with? Hernandez? What did Mr. Hernandez look like?" Ice shifted the head set further from his ear as he manipulated the sounds . . .

"About six feet tall, maybe a bit more, black hair and handlebar mustaches . . ."

Ice glanced back at the short clean-shaven Hernandez . . .

"Mr. Mathus? You might want to tell your bank to stop payment . . ." Ice made a loud click, then shrugged and hung up the headset. "So much for that job."

He looked from Mr. Hernandez to the cop. "You get many scams like that?"

The cop snorted. "It's a first for me."

Mr. Hernandez looked glum. "Not for me, and sometimes the people being scammed get really rude and expect me to refund their money."

Ice shrugged. "Well, may I ask you to accompany me to pick up my equipment, and see that nothing is missing?"

He put a hand in his pocket and found one of the local coins. Formed it into a key and slid it into the lock and wiggled it as he used his spell, changed the shape . . . he pulled the key out as he unlocked the door, handed it to Mr. Hernandez. Fished out the card he'd made and gave it a glance. Corrected the address, straightened the numbers on the back . . .

"Who ever it was, had the security code for your alarm system. You'll need to change that pretty quick." Ice handed over the card.

Mr. Hernandez shuddered. "Dios!" But he did a very careful walk through and returned shaking his head. "I can believe you got it so clean, so fast!"

Ice looked at the walls. "Still needs a coat of paint. But I suspect you'll have no trouble leasing it now."

"Yeah."

So he collected his gear, looked embarrassed, but accepted a twenty from Mr. Hernandez and marched off down the street.

Aleksandrov is going to pitch a fit.

He ditched the cleaning gear in a public restroom, gave himself an illusion of blonde hair, and ordinary features. Local style suit. Had a late lunch and checked on the locations of all the Mentalists around.

Hmm, all in one spot. I wonder if I'm going to need to rescue the Russians from whoever's scoping the place out already?"

He paid for lunch, thought it over and counted up his local currency (lots, gold was valuable here) and went shopping. And looking for good spots for a dimensional gate. Spot checked the Mentalists. Their meeting had broken up and his group was head back this way.

He bagged all his purchases, pulled out the tote with the beacon and cut over a few blocks to intercept a pissed off group of Russians.

He dropped the illusions and jerked his head toward a bar. Led the way in, spotted a corner with empty tables.

"From your expressions, you're day hasn't gone any better than mine." Ice waved down a tired waitress, pulled out his cash, and peeled off three twenties. "Beer. We'll start with three pitchers."

She perked right up, and hustled off.

"I had a nosy property manager who didn't know the store'd been let. So I moved on." Ice settled with his back to the wall. "How about you?"

Glare. "Another node was exploring this world, they've infiltrated, and consider it a waste of time. Where did you get the money?"

"I brought a bit of gold with me. Very valuable here. Have you eaten?"

Glares. "No." Aleksandrov eyed the waitress as she hustled up with glasses.

She grinned. "We have hot wings, corn chips and salsa, and pizza bites."

Ice handed over more money. "Bring lots." He turned back to the others. "I haven't seen anything like advanced electronics. No computers, comms are hard wired."

Nods around the table.

One guy, Federov, grumbled, "No use even picking up women. There's no halfers."

Thank the One! I won't have to deal with slave raids. This time.

But the beer and endless snacks perked them up.

"Well, this was a useful trial run." Aleksandrov eyed Ice. "Some of us fit in well, and dealt with problems easily. Most of us blundered around being snobby and rude." He looked pointedly around the table.

"And there were too many of us, and we argued with each other. In front of the other Russian Mentalists, and out in public, in Russian."

Popov hunched his shoulders. "I didn't want the livestock to hear what we were talking about!"

"Then you ought to have shut up until we were alone!" Aleksandrov growled.

Oh. My. They expect immediate and perfect obedience from others, but they don't like to be seen taking orders. Put a batch of Mentalists together and without extensive training they aren't going to work together well, if at all.

Ice looked at his watch. "Six hours until we leave, let's try to stay . . . not worthy of special notice."

Which got him a lot of special notice from the rest.

Especially from Aleksandrov. "I am beginning to think you are the only sensible one of the lot."

Not a high barrier.

"I'm surprised we don't have any trained infiltrators. Bit of an oversight, there." Ice shrugged off a dozen glares and crunched a chip. As the waitress approached with two more pitchers, he dived in. "So any of you check out the local museums?"

She picked up helpfully on that one. "Have you been to the Museum of Fine Arts? I love their Renaissance painting collection. If there were any employment possibilities . . . but I think I'll stick to accounting. I'll be graduating in just a few months."

"Any theaters nearby?"

"Two blocks that way!"


Which was a good thing. Ice added another bill to what was apparently already serious overpayment and led the slightly tipsy two blocks that way, and bought tickets to the silliest space adventure imaginable.

Had to wake half of them up when it was over.

Hauled them to a park with raised planters that was just perfect for his re-entry plans.

_The Destroyer_ part 18

There was a ramp up to where the gate would form. From the high ceiling three long hydraulic arms were folded back out of the way. The arms ended in arcs of some polished ceramic material.

No spinning rings? Or are the rings offset, like the descriptions of the Zingo's magic carpet transporter. Ice tried to not be obvious about his survey of the room. Nothing like the focusing parabola of the Zingo's, so maybe those arcs on the arms control the gate?

And maybe there's a lot of equipment underneath the floor here. And somewhere there's a mentalist wired into the whole mess.

A man in uniform looked them over. "Ist deine Gruppe bereit?"

Aleksandrov nodded. Replied in German. "We're ready."

"Three minutes. We will scan first, then if the World looks modern, we will anchor and you have thirty seconds to jump across. In eighteen hours we will begin searching for the beacon. I recommend you have it running earlier."

The arms moved, lowering their arcs.

A wide door on the right slid open and a over-sized coffin-like box was rolled out, trailing wires. A stab of pain through his head, mental screaming that had him tightening his shields, raising them higher.

Ice pulled his hood up and over his head. Tugged it down to his eyebrows. Pulled the collar up, over his nose and mouth. Hope this shit works.

He took the beacon in a bear hug. Fifteen kilos. I'm supposed to do what with this much weight to drag through last?

The arcs sparked, electric arcs jumped between them filling the gate-sized circle, the drawing back, circling as a night view opened . . .

Dark trees showing briefly in the light through the gate as it drifted. Mown grass, a sidewalk and bench, lights low down and near, further up and further away in a collection of skyscrapers against a pale re-dawn.

Orders as the picture sharpened and gained dimensionality.

"Gehen!"

Aleksander led the way, leaping through and landing on grass, running to get out of everyones way. The rest poured through, half of them muffing the landing, Ice ran with them, jumped. Stumbled over someone's legs, got a foot up high enough to step on the next prone figure, then grass, and a sideways turn to hit a tree with his shoulder as the light disappeared.

He looked back. No gate. He eased the beacon down and stood still as his vision adjusted to the night.

The man he'd stepped on wheezed at him. "How dare you step on me!"

"Sozhaleyu. I didn't dare drop the beacon."

A hiss as the man shoved himself up. Several others were cursing as they climbed to their feet.

"Can everyone walk?" Aleksandrov looked down at all of the men who'd fallen. "Let's move in case anyone saw that and will investigate."

Ice hefted the beacon and trailed the rest as they followed the paved walk across to the far side of the small park. What Ice would have called a strip center, back in his childhood, faced them across the street. Mid-rise office buildings beyond.

Ice lowered his shields to incoming, at that high frequency that the Drei seemed to show so brightly. Another mental shield between himself and the others. Felt more. Several kilometers away.

"There are Mentalists here. A dozen or so, that way." He pointed obliquely back across the park. "Not enough for this to be a conquered World. Perhaps infiltrators?"

Aleksandrov glowered. "That is not your part in this mission. We will find a safe place for you to stay."

Ice turned to study the strip center. "All the signs are in English . . . And that one's for rent, the windows covered."

"But can we get in?" Dimitrii Popov rubbed his chest, glaring.

Ice looked both ways at the empty street and crossed to the empty store. A rotary kinetic push and he pulled the door open.

Stale air, with an under current of grease and piss hit him.

Someone laughed, behind him. "Great place for you to stay, Morozov."

Ice grimaced. Stepped in and formed up an illusion of a metal tube, then a light spell. Empty, grimy. He set the beacon down and walked past a kitchen, to a hallway. Switches. A box on the wall, a blinking red light.

"Dammit, a security system, let's get out of here . . ."

Ice flipped switches, nothing happened. Electricity's off. So the alarm bow is battery operated, perhaps? He set his hands around the box studied the system. "Basic, very basic." The top row didn't work, but he felt the first number had been correct. So try the corners . . . Green light.

"So, Khar's a house breaker." Popov snorted.

"Useful, today. Khar, stay here with the beacon." Aleksandrov stepped out of the door.

"Yes, sir."

Ice followed them to the door and felt their alarm . . . oh, someone there, alert and suspicious.

He stepped out, flashlight tucked under his arm, an illusion of a clipboard with papers in hand. "So if you are certain of color scheme two . . . Just initial here, and sign at the bottom and we'll get to work."

He glanced over at the uniformed man, and nodded politely. Turned back to the others. "I'll get my crew out here, and we'll have it all cleaned by noon. Then we can see how much patching the walls need and either paint this afternoon or tomorrow morning."

Aleksandrov took the "clipboard" scanned it frowning, initialed and signed. Handed it back to Ice.

Ice aped tearing off a colored copy underneath and handed it to Aleksandrov. "Pleasure to do business with you." He turned and walked back inside the store. As he'd hoped, the cop followed him in.

"Oh!, that's . . ." The cop had his hand over his nose.

More illusions . . . a bright work lamp, that showed the whole dismal room. Ice looked over at the cop. "You think this is bad?" He shook his head and grabbed a screw driver. Took the "lamp" into the kitchen. Popped the top off the stove, as he'd expected, a greasy mess beneath, and some sort of fungus in one corner.

The cop shuddered and checked the bathrooms. Very briefly.

Ice led the way out into the fresh air. "I don't know why the hell they wanted to meet me here so early. I'm going to lock up and roust out the crew. Extra chlorine, top of the list."

The cop snorted. "Have a nice day!"

Ice walked back in, pulled out his little plastic tab and scooped up the beacon. Closed his eyes and "felt" the local area, enough for a recognition point. Set the alarm system, and bailed.

I'm going to have to clean it, just so I don't have to smell it all day! But first . . . I do believe I see a water tower.

He doped the water, sold a small slug of gold in an older area, and bought chlorine and scrub brushes and garbage bags at one store, and just around the corner from his grungy hideaway, a dozen doughnuts and a two extra large coffees.

He propped open both front and back doors, dumped chlorine where it was desperately needed, then retreated across the street to a bench.

Got laughed at by the cop, strolling past. "Airing it out?"

"For at least an hour. I splashed a load of chlorine about, but the crew swears they're not coming until it's done it's work."

The cop laughed and strolled on.

A foot patrol, what was it called? A beat? Odd, in a world with cars. Or maybe they have the trust of the people.

Those Drei I felt . . . the water tower was over that way. I hope to hell they get dosed. Else that cop will be patrolling with a Cyborg arm and a puppet master Mentalist making him very untrustworthy.

He headed back across the street, to magic up a cleaning like that poor old restaurant hadn't seen for years.

And then practice rolling through an imaginary gate and snatching the beacon . . . Making it clear that they must have lost a lot of people trying to keep all their body parts while also getting the beacon through the gate.

But if it's propped up at a thirty degree angle, it pulls through much easier, won't jerk me to a stop with my hands on the wrong side of the gate.


Then he reheated his second coffee and was polishing off the last doughnut wwhen the cop returned, and scowling man on his heels.

"Mr. Hernandez says the shop hasn't been let."



_The Destroyer_ part 17


They were back, spiffy in new clothes--German style, but not horrible--and their old clothes at the dry cleaners, when Ice was summoned back to the Paradies.

To meet a half dozen men. Showing their age, which was probably around fifty, they looked tough and eager.

"The Chancellor and his advisers are delighted to have us looking for a better home, and a treaty to provide cybernetic parts will be the cost of the gate time." Dryagin smiled. "Of course, that was after a private moment when I confessed that regen was my personal goal and if my special agents could find it, they'd bring two doses."

Berezin nodded. "Tomorrow, very early we'll send you with an explorers' beacon, to turn on after eighteen hours, and the last men through, pulls the beacon with him. A dangerous task . . . Khar."

Oh shit! Grab the beacon and roll through? He forced a grin. "Just like in the movies."

/// go back and throw in a few bits of cultural accumulation somewhere along the way.///

A number of sneers.

"Matvei Anatloi Aleksandrov will be in charge of the mission." Berezin nodded toward a man showing a fair amount of gray at his temples.

Aleksandrov shifted forward.

"The Germans claim to know nothing of the region they will scan and possibly solidify a connection to. So we are going completely into the unknown. Our priorities are to find out if they have Cybernetics manufacturing, and if they have regen. If they do, we will find a safe place leave the beacon, return here and start making plans. We will not acquire anything tomorrow. We are scouting and nothing more."

Nothing? They don't know . . . anything? What if we wind up on a Dino World? Well, I suppose they look . . .

"Dress unobtrusively. Meet me here at midnight." Aleksandrov showed his teeth. "I recommend an early dinner and try to sleep for a few hours. Tomorrow is going to be a long, busy day."

Yeah, eighteen hours in enemy territory. Not that I haven't done it before, but not with a bunch of Russian Mentalists snobs. Should be . . . bad for my blood pressure.

Back to the Little House and an empty room. No bugs, no sign of forced entry, no mental bars just laying around . . .

Calm down. They probably went shopping. So . . . I'll just step out and find a place where I can watch the front door . . . there a deli, or whatever they call it in German . . . I don't even know what part of the World we're on, or what language the natives speak.

But when he got there, the outside patio had an excellent view of the front of the old hotel. The staff gave him a cautious look. The main menu was a hasty germanic rewrite. The old part was . . . a variation of English. Ice studied the unfortunately small English sample and decided an early nineteen century split from the main Earth line would explain a lot.

I wonder what happened? And what the time variable was. If the World was pre-electronics age, when the German Drei invaded, that would explain why they're still importing cybernetics thirty-five years after they got here.

He took a sandwich and lemonade outside and sat until he spotted Lada and Bob walking down the street, Bob with what looked a lot like the dry-cleaning over his shoulder. He ordered three more sandwiches to go and headed "home."

Where his entourage was looking around in dismay.

"Yeah, I worried about you two, too."He grinned as they jerked around to where they'd left the door open. "But then I realized that while only one of you was actually an adult, Lada's pretty sensible. Have you had lunch?"

Bob looked apprehensive. "We went furniture shopping, then picked up the clothes . . ."

"Good plan." Ice shook his head. "Bob . . . where I come from people are not property, and as far as I am concerned you can do anything you like, so long as it doesn't involve hurting Lada."

Lada snorted. "Not worried about yourself?"

"Over confident and egotistic." Ice plunked his bag of sandwiches down on the table. "However, to avoid worrying each other, let's see, I'll shift this chair to have it's back to the windows, and when you leave . . . turn this one like this."

They nodded in relief. Lada's only know me for what? Forty-eight hours? Most of which I was either passed out drunk or asleep?

"Tomorrow, actually starting just before midnight, I'll be gone all day, exploring another World. So let me charge up all the cash cards you've got and be sure to keep those charmed coins on you."

They both nodded, and Lada produced some more expended cash cards.

"Bob . . . take those coins off. Let's see if you can do this. Just in case I don't come back."

Lada's hands clinched. "So we'll have money to run with. Please come back!"

"Yeah. I don't to have to explain this mythical wife of yours what happened." Bob gave a firm nod. "Because any woman crazy enough to marry you . . ."

"Keiq is not crazy. She is strong. And smart. And she knows me much too well to blame someone else for the trouble I got myself into." Ice pulled out two sandwiches. "I'm going to keep one, in case there's problems buying stuff wherever we wind up. You guys . . . remember that you can close yourselves in the bubble, and stay there . . . look, one minute inside is a week on the outside. Nobody ought to be watching the room after a week. Half an hour? It'll be late winter or early spring. Take a nap? And hour is a little more than a year. Stay in here all day? Twenty-seven years on the outside.

"So depending on the kind of trouble . . . watch the time."

Lada nodded jerkily. "I'm mostly worried about someone trying to steal me from you. Taking over Bob. And just . . ."

"Yeah. Look have you seen how women act after they gotten a chip? Act that way, escape when you can." Ice huffed out a breath. "I'm leaving at midnight, I should be back before midnight tomorrow."

He got subdued nods in return.

They ate while he rearranged his bags, again. Leaving most of his weaponry and gene editors, and half his survival supplies in the hideout room.

He napped, fetched dinner, napped . . . dressed like a middle class worker on any World he'd ever seen, with a coat that could class up the ensemble at need. A briefcase, that held a canvas tote large enough to hold the briefcase. And quite a bit more. The important stuff would be invisible to anyone here. And probably there.

He headed for the Paradies Hotel early, and relaxed, watching the fountain on the patio, moving inside as the rest of the group gathered, looking his plebeian garb over with sneers. Then Aleksandrov showed up with what at home Ice would have called an extended van. It was going to be a tight fit for thirteen of them. Fourteen, including the driver.

"Are we driving through?" Ice eyed the van. It would be fine anywhere with illusions to get the details right, but then the beacon . . .

"No, this is just our transport to and from the Science Center, where the Germans house their gate." He waved them in.

Ice climbed into the front with the Cyborg driver, then shifted to the middle scrunhing to avoid interferring with the controls. One of the older of the group scowled to have to sit with the help, the rest crushed into the back.

Fortunately it was a quick drive to the Science Center at this time of the night.

They piled out gratefully at a back security door, where they all got a suspicious double check from the guards, and the techs scowled and dumped a pile of white cloth on the floor.

Aleksandrov glared after the man. "Put on those covers. They are impregnated with metallic fibers that will alleviate most of the effects of the transit."

Crap. I forgot how nasty the powered gates are. Damn.

He wiggled into the baggy thing and sealed it up, leaving the hood down.

Two techs walked up with a box between them. "The beacon must be returned. The gate will collapse as it comes through, so the last man rolls through pulling the beacon through. And body parts not getting through before the gate collapses . . . will be left behind."

Ice swallowed.

The other tech shrugged. "The field cauterizes nicely."

Aleksandrov knelt and studied the controls.

"Just open this, push the button, and close it, so no idiots bump the switch. The gate will open just behind the beacon. Last man grabs these straps, dives through, pulling ther beacon up and through." A faint smile as they eyed Ice. "Tuck your feet in, those are the parts most often lost."

"Right." Ice didn't even try to not sound appalled.

"Do not stop, or the straps will be severed and the beacon lost. They are expensive . . . and currently irreplaceable."

Unlike the poor sucker trying to do gymnastics with a heavy weight. Pity I never worked hard enough to be good at it.

Maybe I'd better find the time, sometime today, to practice.



_The Destroyer_ part 16


The hotel was built around an open courtyard with a pool and fountain, spray blowing in the breeze.

I wonder if skin contact is enough? But then these guys are going to try to get me to a bunch of Worlds. So I'll wait before I experiment, here.

He strolled over to the pool and guessed it at fifty centimeters deep. He leaned and peered. Coins in the bottom? A careful pull spell netted him a handful of copper disks.

Anatoly looked over. "I've heard the Natives throw them in, and make a wish."

Ice laughed. "Ninety percent 'I wish the Drei would all go back where they came from and leave us alone' I'll bet."

"Nah, that how many want us to just drop dead." Anatoly walked away laughing. "Poor creatures. It won't work."

Ice dropped the coins in his pocket, and strolled home to find the room empty.

He closed his eyes, and for the first time, felt the tiny electronic tickle of bugs. He stepped to the nearest, plucked it off the bed frame. There was another in the light over the table, one in the bathroom.

He threw them out the window. Looked carefully. Nothing. The people on the other side of the walls . . . one asleep, the other drunk. He stepped over to the window and closed the curtains.

Picked up the metal rod in the corner and opened it.

Lada jerked back, hand still raised from closing the bag. She tumbled awkwardly out. "Oh! That was you at the door? Sorry. I sort of panicked when Bob started rubbing his head. And, and . . ."

Ice gave her a hand up, then grabbed Bob as he attempted a more graceful exit and almost managed it. "What time is it, Bob?"

"Nineteen-oh-two . . . wait the clock's updating . . ." He shot a spooked look at the rods as Ice shut them.

"So they came as soon as they got word I'd arrived at the Paradise." Ice grinned at their expressions. Yeah, the bags boggled me, when I actually experienced them, and I knew all about them. "I detected and removed three listening devices, before I even looked for the bag."

Bob rubbed his head. "Someone was trying to grab control. Without the wires, they couldn't do it."

"That's not good. I won't be around all the time . . ." He fished out his fistful of coins and spread them out on the table. "It's been years since I studied glyphs, and even then I was only doing it so the people watching me wouldn't realize what I was really doing."

"Oooo! Were you undercover, in another disguise?"

"No. That time the bad guys were undercover in disguise, and I was trying to figure out which one was the Bad Guy. Turned out to be a no-show Drei infiltrator and a puppet co-worker of mine. Ummm, nine months before your first invasion, which we squashed."

Ice leaned back, closed his eyes and considered the bare essence of a control spell, compared it to the spells he'd felt when people attacked Bob. Not much difference, and the backbone was the double loop . . . so the counter spell he'd used . . . was a big sprawling mess, flailing around in hopes of stopping something . . . which could be trimmed back to the useful parts . . . just a few extensions to cover the most obvious ways to sneak a control around a block . . .

He opened his eyes and grabbed a coin, wiped it clean of pond sludge and green patina. Impressed the background to leave two raised-rim circles, with a thick barrier between them. Closed his eyes and shoved the anti-control spell into the metal.

:: Can you hear me? ::

"Unfortunately."

Ice held out the coin. Bob's glow disappeared.

"Now can you hear me? ::

Nothing.

Ice threw the Drei variant of the control spell. "Did you feel that?"

"I didn't feel anything." Bob looked from coin to Ice.

"I'm going to try a few more things. Tell me as soon as you feels something."

Nothing mental got though. Physical and energy spells still hurt.

"Oh . . . kay. Put that in a pocket . . . right, I see your glow now, but it's really dim. I'm going to try the control spell again . . . It's sliding off."

"I sort of felt something." Bob squirmed.

"So you feel normal to me with it in your pocket, but are still protected. And if you felt someone getting through, you could reach in your pocket and block them. Excellent. Now I'll make one for Lada, and then we'll see about energy and physical shields."

Unfortunately he didn't have enough coins for everything, but that did leave him enough time and energy to turn his pile of lumber into a plywood floored, room with snazzy--or weird, depending on who you asked--lattice walled and roofed room. With bronze behind the lattice, of course.

"So next time you can wait more comfortably . . . and in fact we'll furnish it and we'll have portable hide-away where . . . Lada, where did you sleep last night?"

"On the floor in that corner, and Bob was in the other corner, and you were passed out drunk on the bed."

"Oh. Well, we'll have a portable hide-away where Lada can sleep without hearing Bob and me snoring. You'll have to leave the handles propped open so the time dilation effect doesn't take over.

"We'll go shopping tomorrow. Furniture and clothes. non-perishables and so forth." Ice looked around, walked to the front door, and the tiny closet. "Perfect. A weak sticky spell on the bottom bar hang the top bar on these clothes hooks and . . . what?"

Bob spread his hands. "A minute ago we were opening the bars sideways. So when you open them up and down, why isn't the room on its side?"

"The bars are attached to a multidimensional phenomenon that always orients its gravity to the last time it was open to a gravity field, and always is in the same orientations to a new--or the same---gravity field when it is opened again." Ice shrugged. "I can't make them, I just use them. And I certainly don't understand them."

They both looked dubiously at the fifteen centimeter wide opening. Then Lada turned and walked back to the bed, snatched the cover and a pillow and marched back to the closet. "Good night gentlemen!"

Ice walked back to the table, and rummaged in his clothes and weapons bag. sweats and t-shirts. Handed one of each to the Cyborg. "Bob, try these and we'll find a laundry somewhere, tomorrow for our fancy duds."

Bob looked down at himself. "Here I am the Super Spy's minion, and I'm wondering about laundry. This doesn't happen in the movies."



_The Destroyer_ part 15

Chapter Six

The Old Hundred



Lord Max Afanasiy Berezin, Lord Vitaly Vasiliev, and Lord Evgeny Dryagin were in a triangle discussion on the far side of the small dining room.

Shields lower, glowing with power. They turned their heads and studied Ice as he walked across to them.

Only four other men in the room. Benedikt frowned when he turned to see who the older men were looking at. His three followers, Cousin Anatoly, Rodion, and Svyatoslav stiffened in offense.

Two tables one with three chairs, one with five. Guess we're all here.

Ice bowed deeply. "My Lords. Bol'shoye spasibo za priglasheniye."

"We like to take an interest in promising young men." Berezin studied him. "So you had sense enough to leave your entourage behind."

A statement, not a question, but Ice answered anyway. "I am not attempting to show off to the younger set tonight. I am a bit surprised that you have no attendents."

"We don't need them." He glowed for a moment, painfully bright to the inner senses.

Ice closed up tight and bowed again. Oh shit.

Vasilev smiled thinnly, no doubt having felt Ice's fast retreat behind shields. "So, what do you see as the best method of taking over here?"

"The problem, sir, will be the local Cyborgs. In a straight up confrontation, we will need to control especially the Mentalist officers. I don't know enough about our people here to know if that's even possible. A diplomatic and social integration first, collecting any disaffected younger German Mentalists might, in the long run be a better road to take."

Lord Dryagin snoorted. He was the only one of the trio who actually looked old.

Which means he's probably the youngest and hasn't gotten their life extension therapy, whatever it is. Jaejong Chou was nearly a thousand years old, so it's probably genetic . . . but not inherited? So maybe epigenic?

Berezin nodded. "Our small numbers are indeed the problem. And too few of us brought our wives. We need to marry into the power structure, as well as acquireing local halfbreeds and raise a large generation of loyal Russians."

Ice raised his eyebrows. "I had heard that Chancellor von Bismarck was in poor health. Is there time for that method?"

Dryagin growled. "They have no regen therapy here! He's eighty-eight, and dying of old age. The fool should have come to us."

Ice nodded. "But they have a gate maker? If we could get home--we could promise him treatment . . ."

Triple glares. "The Plague has taken Novaya Moskva. We few appear to have escaped the contagion. There is no return."

Ice nodded. "So . . . other worlds. But to buy the regen or raid and steal it? And if it's a Russian World, could we recruit?"

"Bah, our funds are all lost to us. And where would we find enough Mentalists?" Dryagin looked angry.

Ice raised his brows. "Among the almost eighteen-year-olds slated for control chips. And the sons who are nearly strong enough to be presented."

Berezin narrowed his eyes. "Lower our standards?"

Ice smiled. "Oh, they'd never really be up to par, but could we train them up to control three or four Cyborgs?"

"Ha!" Vasilev grinned. "How about we raid the Cybernetic Center for actual Cyborged Mentalists. Replacement officers, loyal to us."

"Surely not here? That would set off the war before we're ready." Benedikt strolled up, and eyed Vasilev.

Uh . . . not very diplomatic, Benedikt.

"Of course not. Durak." Glare.

Ice scratched his chin. "So we need to investigate other Worlds. No doubt they already are, as they import a lot of cybernetics. If they see us as a problem, they might be delighted for us to look for someplace else to move." He gave them a bright smile. "I'd love to scout out everything we need. Regen, cybernetics, young prospects . . ."

Benedikt looked down his nose. "Yourself?"

Ice grinned. "I'm not afraid to get my hands dirty, to reach a highly valuable goal."

"An interesting mind set, Nikita Khariton. We'll think about this and talk after dinner." Berezin turned away and stepped to the table for three as servants scurried through the door with loaded trays.

Ice bowed out of the group and walked to the far side of the other table. Recieved glares from the young set, but watched the oldermen, and waited until they sat, to sit himself.

Benedikt turned his chair slightly, to keep the older men in sight, but turned his head to glare at Ice. "So you're volunteering to be the errand boy?"

"I'm aiming for the more difficult tasks." Ice shrugged. "But you can think of me as Lord Berezin's errand boy, if you wish."

A growl. "You're not there, yet." Benedikt turned away.

Ice subdued a smile. Yes. I ought to check out a few dozen worlds, especially the water supply systems of any that are under the sway of the Drei Mächte Bündnis.

He ignored the four, and kept an eye on the three old men, talking little, but he could feel an undercurrent of telepathic thought he dare not try to tap.


And after dinner . . .

"I like the way you think, youngster. I will be back in touch." Berezin turned and walked out, leaving Ice wondering at the tone.

I don't think that was too ominous. Really.



_The Destroyer_ part 14

Someone brought more vodka.

Trust Russians to consider Vodka a necessity to bring in bulk during a crisis. Or maybe it's local.

Ice watched until a few people started leaving, then slipped away quietly. Well, staggered.

"God, how do they drink like that and stay conscious?"

Bob grabbed his elbow and steered him down the street.

Lada snickered. "My father said it's a matter of training your metabolism to deal with it. I think they just get good at operating without their brains working."

"Heh. Just like their Cyborgs . . . sorry Bob."

Bob snickered. "At least I didn't do it voluntarily. But . . . they were getting through a bit, tonight."

Ice nodded. "Might be time for another dose . . . we need to buy some wine . . . and there's something else I maybe able to do, too. I studied glyphs, and I know the Free Cyborg Rebellion uses them."

A squeak from Lada. "Free . . ."

Ice bit his lip. "Lada . . . do you realize that I'm the enemy of the Drei Mächte Bündnis? That even though I'm currently out of touch with my people, I'm still going to do my best to sabotage the Hundred here, whether they're Russian or German?"

She stopped. "Oh. I . . . didn't think."

Ice swung around, didn't quite tip over. "They're the people who make nice fifteen-year-old girls into merchandise to be bought and sold. That puts control chips into the brains of every ordinary kid on his or her eighteenth birthday."

"I . . . hated that, I was afraid, in case my father couldn't protect me. But he couldn't, wouldn't help my friends. I begged him. And in the end, he couldn't even help me." She shivered. "And if they catch me now . . ."

Bob patted her shoulder. "You're safe with us."

"Today . . . and I think I'm on your side?" Big tears.

"Did your father get through the gate?"

"I don't know. It's all happened so fast. Yesterday . . . yesterday I was cheering inside because the Cybernetics Center couldn't take me for months. Even though I knew it was a very brief reprieve. Then Khar got the call from his father to pack and get to the gate . . ."

"And then we happened." Ice nodded. "If you don't want any part of us, just say so. I can stick you in the bag with Khar and let you out before I leave. It's got a ten thousand-to-one time dilation effect."

A wide-eyed jerky shake of her head. "No . . . I want to help. I just never realized it was possible."

Bob grinned. "Unthinkable, wasn't it?"

She nodded, suddenly looking sad. "I hope I never see my father again."

Ice winced. "He cared about you, maybe he can learn to expand that, if he ever leaves this poisonous culture. But now I have to survive two flights of stairs while drunk. But then I can feed you two."

Bob snorted and put a steadying hand in the middle of Ice's back. "I wondered what happened to that food you disappeared. Time dilation effect, eh? I'm sure you could do some interesting things with that."

Ice staggered up the last steps and managed to not fall through the door. "I really tried to not drink too much. Honest."

Lada snickered, and took the key away from him and unlocked the room door. Ice wobbled over to the table and pulled out his handles, opened the bag. Two sandwiches sitting on a head of black hair. Oops! Forgot about the Real Khar.

He pulled out the sandwiches and closed the handles. "Remind me to do some rearranging in there. Tomorrow. When I feel better."

He flopped onto the bed. As the world swirled away he heard Lada's voice. "What a strange man. How did you meet him?"

***

Some time around noon, Ice got enough water into his system to be able to think coherantly. "First we need to shop."

Lada pointed at the table. Three brown bags.

"Or maybe not. Maybe I should inventory what I have and reshuffle a few things."

They both looked at the table, where he'd left his old "wood carving," and compacted bit of oak firewood he'd whimsically impressed with a few curves. One of Rael's student had sliced it up along the curves and attached a dimensional bubble.

"What? You didn't peek?"

They both grinned.

"I was afraid to, but Bob opened it. Eww! The Real Khar woke up."

"Briefly." Bob put in. "I punched him and we decided to close it back up."

"Well, let's haul him out and see what I can do to get him out of the way, long term." Ice popped the block open. "Bob, hold this side and Lada, the other. That leaves me free to heave this fine gentleman out of there . . ."

Ice dropped Khar on the floor beside the bed, and seeing Lada's red face, grabbed the fancy coat he'd bee wearing yesterday and dropped it over Khar's bare ass. "The jerk needs to work out a bit more, put on some muscles." He started pulling out the little metal bars of the more standard bag handles. "Right, this one has my clothes, and this one is the tools and weapons . . . Bob, can you carry a gun?"

"Only soldiers need more than the laser. It wouldn't do to arm me."

"Lada? How about a concealed pistol? No?"

Bob snorted. "An armed servant girl? The horror!"

"How about a knife?" He pulled out a fifteen centimeter stilletto . . . put it back as they shook their heads. "Well, if I pull out a few extra things to wear . . ."

"Eww! Those are laborers' clothes." Lada's nose wrinkled.

"Huh. Imagine that." Ice started to put the blue jeans back in the bag . . . Then scooped up everything and stuffed it in with the tools, instead. "So there's one empty bag. Now if I dumped all of these," nasty little balls of gene editors, "into here with the rest . . . actually I should keep some handier. Can I have one of those grocery bags? Thank you. A dozen in there and the rest there, and voila! Another empty bag. So Khar? Back in you go."

A rummage back in the tool bag got him tape, and he labeled those handles "Bad Guys" and reloaded everything back into his wood handles. Except the other empty bag.

"This one, we'll use for a safe room. We'll need some lumber . . ." Ice broke off at an authoritative thump on the door.

Bob beat him to it by a step, Lada dived behind the bed.

The man on the other side ignored Bob, looking beyond him at Ice, who wrinkled his forehead and staggered to lean on the wall. Since I haven't cleaned up yet, I shouldn't have any trouble looking hungover.

Tall, gray haired, a skull plate showing under the tidy haircut. Nose raised. "His Lordship Max Afanasiy Berezin invites Nikita Khariton Morozov to join him and a few friends at dinner tonight. Nineteen hundred hours. Room thirty-two."

He looked Ice up-and-down. "One hopes you recover enough to demonstrate some usefulness."

Ice rubbed his face, kept one hand on the wall as he bowed. The personal representative of Lord Berezin. But chipped. Was the bow right or dead wrong? The man turned and left without another word.

Ice looked at his watch, "Uh . . . what time is it locally?"

"Two-thirty in the afternoon."

"Good, we've got a clear four hours for preps."

***

Four sheets of plywood, eleven wooden lattices, more support boards than he probably needed . . . they wheeled the cart load out to a spot between two trucks and tossed it into the bubble. A quick stop at a grocery for bottled water and non-perishable to add to the bubble, then a bus back to within walking distance of the Little House. He shed his "ordinary face" illusion and laid on an illusion of more appropriate clothing. As they rounded the last corner and headed up to their room.

Where Bob slapped his forehead. "Nails! We didn't get any nails!"

Ice laughed. "If I survive dinner, I'll demonstrate more of my amazing magic building techniques. While I'm gone, if you need to hide, just climb in . . . umm, maybe put the rod over on the floor in a corner, so any searchers just think it's trash?"

Then clean up and don the fancy outfit. "And you two aren't coming."

They both looked up from trying to brush out grime from their outfits.

"You two put me well up verus the younger Hundreds. Tonight? I don't want to brag, or look too uppity." Ice grinned. "Look, I can be very dangerous, if I need to be. I'll be fine."

Double glowers, but they did lock the door behind him.



Brief diversion

 Ice pointed back at the theater. "I am going to wake up in the morning and find out that was just a dream. Right?"
"Absolutely." Keiq stiffled a snicker. "No one would make the Cyborg invasion of Paris into a musical."

_The Destroyer_ part 13

Dean drew a deep breath. "Maybe we could all get free."

His twin snorted. "I doubt they know the difference between the Hundreds and us. We're halfbreeds, and barely better than the livestock, but Gior's world doesn't know that."

"Well," Gior thought that over, "if I could find Embassy we could talk to Disco, and make the distinction clear."

Puzzled looks.

"We have an Empty World, like Camp World with no people there at all, that all the other worlds use as an Embassy World, where we can talk and trade and not attack and invade."

Yuri squirmed, winced. "But . . . how do they live? What do they do when they run out of resources?"

"They colonize an Empty World. And anyway, if your people would just nurture worlds instead of stripping them, it wouldn't be an issue." Gior shrugged. "We really ought to just call your people Locusts."

Yuri nodded. "Very apt. But if you get home, please let you people know that all these guys, well, except Me, Ivan, and Bob are our victims. The genes they have from us are from rapes. I . . . hope they will understand and not kill everyone."

Fred and Greg exchanged glances. Fred shrugged. "They won't show any mercy to us Cyborgs. Oh sure," he waved away her protest. "You and Ice can see the human under the electronics, but a Government doesn't see things on a personal level like that."

Greg waved out at the bright city. "You guys can go out there, and one way or another, join them. Even Yuri. We can't. The three of us, four if Bob and Ice get back, can't. We'll just . . . camp out til we die. And we're damned glad of it."

Gior nodded. "Possibly. We'll find out, eventually."

And Bob and Ice had damn well better get back! I will keep on trying until I find them.

Chapter Five

The Art of Fine Dining and Back Stabbing



Ice kept an eye on Benedikt and when that group headed toward seats, was in a position to grab a chair four tables away, but away from the buffet end, facing toward the first table where the four top young Hundreds were seating themselves.

Away from the busy buffet end, where their guards could stand against the wall or directly behind then, with minimal impedance of the traffic flow. Or as Ice studied the situation, he realized, that everyone else could avoid them. No servants with a sharp knife was going to get near them. Ice pulled up a shield against his back, pointed Bob at the front wall where the majority of the Cyborgs were being placed.

Lada bloody damn well knelt at his feet.

Ice scanned carefully. Not many servants near. The other servants were scurrying for the buffet, where glasses were being filled. Trays, some with multiple glasses, some with multiple.

"Bring a tray full, girl." Ice nodded politely to his neighbors.

The man across the table curled a lip. "I hate buffets. And infants flaunting their wealth."

Ice shrugged and tried to look modest. "I was in the right place at the right time to get a bargain from a desperate stepfather. Peasants! No financial comprehension at all."

Grunts from agreement from all the young men who were probably going to be running out of money in short order.

Eight hours, Lada said . . . So they all piled through a gate early this morning, with what they'd packed, expecting to be joined by their patrons in a few days.

Then Lada said it collapsed. So this is a smaller vanguard than was planned. I wonder what happened to the gate? The nano gene editors? I can only hope.

He kept half his attention on Lada, a little push to a guy who got handsy, a little levitation when the heavy tray tipped.

Then she set the tray down and handed him the first glass.

He looked at the thick red fluid. Twenty milliliters or so in a crystal shot glass. I really hope this isn't blood. And I really, really hope it's not human blood.

Silence settled as the last young men fetched their own drinks and returned to their places.

Benedikt stood and raised his glass, and all the men rose a beat behind him, glasses raised.

"To the Three Way Alliance. To the Three Hundred Families. To victory forever!"

Ice tried to match mouth movements to the words the rest of the men were roaring out.

"By the blood of our enemies, we will own the Universe!"

They all shot the red stuff. He tossed his back; vodka and whatever burned its way down his throat.

Mostly vodka. Concentrate on that thought.

Everyone sat. The hotel staff or caterers, or whatever, hustled out with heaping tubs and crocks of food. Lada stood, clutching her tray.

"Load 'er up, Girl. But you gentleman are on your own for the most part."

Ladda hustled off, getting most of the way to the buffet before all the servantless men stood and headed for the food. She must have just grabbed whatever was closest, to get out of the crowd and back while most of the seats were empty.

She was flushed and keeping her angry eyes down as she laid a plate of meat and bread in front of him, flushing. Knelt again, cramming up against his chair to stay out of most people's reach.

"There weren't many vegetables." She growled.

Within quick grabbing distance. Gottcha.

The man sitting down across the table sneered a bit; his own plate would have easily passed a mother's inspection.

Ice pulled his little carved wooden bag handle out of his pocket and popped it open, down in his lap.

"I hate vegetables. Meat's a man's meal." Ice looked at the plate. "And bread. I rather like bread." He sliced two rolls, and looked behind the man. "But what I'd really like is to hear what they're discussing."

As the man turned to look, Ice stuffed the rolls with beef. A small unnoticeable spell and he slid them into his bag. Logistics. Feed the troops. Tactics? Get people talking. Strategy? One only knows. It'll all depend on what I learn.

"I wonder if they know anything about the gate?"

The man whipped around. "You mean the way it collapsed? Didn't you see it? Man, it wasn't attached properly, it moved, and, and pulsed . . . They said the Gate Maker was dying."

"Ah . . . that would explain a lot . . . but surely they have more, they can just get a new one . . . Nyet?" Ice looked around at all the pale faces.

The guy beside him whispered, "Dad said something about a problem at the training center. All the mentalists that had tested as possible were having headaches, not able to do the work . . ."

"It's true, then." Two down, across the table, a dark haired, dark eyed man. "All the rumors about a plague. An illness that destroys magic. That's why moy otets hustled me out . . . but he waited too long to follow."

Ice shut up and listened to all the talk. To the consensus that they were marooned here, and badly outnumbered by the Germans. Who were inferior to Russians, but still . . .

Lada made a run to the buffet and returned with a tray of desserts, and two bottles of vodka. To approving cheers from Ice's neighbors.

Ice got by pouring very small amounts for himself and doing a lot of waving it around instead of drinking it.

Bob got some thoughtful looks.

"We'll need to take over a lot of Cyborgs." The guy behind him, who'd obviously been listening.

Oops. I forgot about the Cyborgs. In their invasion, we finally decided they had one Cyborged Mentalist officer for every ten non-magical soldiers. And a full-on Mentalist for every three hundred.

So . . . how many Cyborgs are in the local military and police?

He threw that one out there. "How many Cyborgs have they made? Are they making parts or importing them?"

The guy behind turned around. "Importing. My family made a lot off selling them--all the electronics and even the arm frames. So what's here . . . is all we have to worry about, short term.. Long term . . . of course they know how . . . don't they?"

"But how many? That'll give us an idea of how many we need to take, to take over here." And there was Benedikt, strolling past the end of the table. Eyeing the drunks. Stopping to look at the fellow with the family business.

"How many Cyborg have they made?"

"Two hundred a month. For over twenty years. We just passed the fifty thousand mark." The guy scowled. "We have two competitors . . . one bigger, one smaller."

"Roughly hundred and fifty thousand . . . that means that the Germans must have five hundred strong Mentalists with them, and fifteen thousand weak mentalists capable of controlling ten soldiers?" Ice leaned back and made a show of surveying the room. "We are going to have to be careful we don't trigger the Germans into attacking us before we're ready. Hopefully with reinforcements."

Benedikt eyed him, nodded. "Politicking as we very carefully build strength. Taking Cyborgs, and getting funds."

Yep. Money problems. I can get to them there.

The Cyborgs are also an interesting weak point.

I wonder how many of them are old enough to remember freedom? Even the younger ones will have been brought up on stories.

Of course, no one here cares about the original inhabitants. I ought to find some. And some old Cyborgs. I'll see about doing a bit of shopping tomorrow.

Unless Gior shows up. Damn, I almost hope she has trouble finding us.