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matapam
18 July 2019 @ 01:10 pm
  He studied the distribution of the people, the density points of the steel boxes in orderly groupings. The zinging electricity of computers . . .
He snapped back to local awareness a person nearby. Well shielded . . . with happy sparks leaking . . . He grinned and let her snuggled up while he checked the guys . . . no one worried . . . He opened his shields to let Rael feel it all. She nodded recognition of points around the city, and reached out to steer Ebsa into a library and show him how it worked. Julianne was with him, and Xen felt Ebsa showing her the controls.

Xen pulled back and looked for the hard shielded competency of the black cops . . . and found widespread coordinated activity, homing in toward Karl and Ra’d. He sent Ra’d a quick flash map of the cops’ locations and directions, then hunted for the last group.

Chris Hanger, Noah Verde, and Martin T’Linc.

Surrounded by a circle of shielded magicians, and the circle was closing in.

:: Xen? :: Chris sounded worried.

:: I see them. Ra’d’s got them too. :: Xen stood up, warped light and used Chris for a recognition point. Stepped through, a few steps ahead of the trio, and grabbed a quick recognition for that spot. “Gather round, it’s time to leave.”

Martin shot a look over his shoulder as the black uniformed cops broke cover and charged.

Bumped into the invisible Xen, who grabbed them all and stepped back to the gate. Xen jumped past them and slugged the black clad cop who'd gotten close enough to grab. He grabbed the staggering cop, and slung him through the corridor to the ally, popped the corridor bubble.

“They must be on the alert for fake IDs.” Xen looked down at Rael.

“No problems yet.” She murmured. “Oops, Ra’d on the other hand . . .”

Ra’d staggered out of thin air, hauling Karl backwards with him.

“They have very good shields.” Ra’d frowned back in the direction of the city center. “And a very good fast response protocol. Without teleportation, they’d have had us.”

Karl nodded. “Nice encirclement.” He slipped a gun back into a dimensional bag and closed it. “But I was just as glad to miss an opportunity to see if Q’s shield piercing bullets worked.”

Rael thumped Xen’s leg. “Come take a look at the library. I think they’re moving on Ebsa and Julianne, now.”
 
 
 
matapam
15 July 2019 @ 04:25 pm

Inso nodded. “Orde’s got most of the Worlds on board for some sort of official non-aggression and trade agreement, and has a nice assortment of people to go talk to the Xin Zhonggou government, once any sort of agreement to talk is reached.”

“There needs to be a firm agreement to not damage our delegates.” Xen ground his teeth.





Chapter Thirty-two

Infiltration

Xen nodded sympathetically at his . . . Old Gods! My spies. I’ve graduated to spy master.

“Just having a good grasp of the descriptive part of the ID is good.”

Julianne frowned at her computer screen. “That’s the only part we can get right, in any case. The second and third lines may just be addresses and com numbers, for all we know. But the last three lines . . . Damn base three numbers, but they’re good for a hundred and twenty-nine million IDs.”

Ra’d tapped her screen. “The oldest people we scanned started with a plus in the hundred million slot, and the middle group a minus. We only picked up a few nulls, from a group of teenagers. Zero, one, two . . . except they probably rollover and start again every few generations.”

Ebsa grinned. “Now we need to figure out how to get a hold of one of their computers. Ajha promised to send Azko out here—if he can’t hack their comps . . . well. Anyhow, once he’s in he can try to insert some fake ID numbers and give us some background, some money, or credit or whatever. You didn’t have that much, when you started, did you?”

“Your society is much less monitored. And dysfunctional. We sold gold and lived on cash cards, hiding behind some old winos. If we’d had to start with computer hacking we’d have been toast.”

Ra’d shrugged. “We were expecting high tech intrusions. The analyses of where we went wrong are . . . interesting. All the security on the gates, minimal internal awareness of potential foreigners just showing up.”

Xen grinned. “I suspect that’s changed. So, whip up some new, improved, ID’s and we’ll try a few minor purchases, ride the tram and so forth. Since the ID numbers we use may belong to real people, we need to minimize anything that might get noticed.”

Oh Damn. Spy Master.

“Well, you’ll do all that. While you lot stroll around town. I’m going to sit and try some passive monitoring of the Transport Facility.” Project confidence in their abilities! ‘If you get into something you can’t handle without killing someone, remember to yell for the God of Spies,’ does not project confidence!

“And . . . I deduce from the grins that you already have your new IDs taped on, so put on your business karate and have fun.” And I’ll go have a fit of vapors.

***

Or not. He could sit and feel them walking out of the corridor and sauntering casually away. Confident, competent. Leave them to it and check on Jaejong and AnnaKarina.

Nothing. Well, several hundred people underground, but no one very strong.

The bosses are out right now.

I should take a look . . . pickup a computer or two . . .

 
 
 
matapam
13 July 2019 @ 01:05 pm
  Xen walked around pulling the heat from all the fires, and eyed the thirty plus foot diameter bare circle. So this is where their magic carpet lands. I wonder how often?

Xen check the radio . . . and caught the shortwave signal. Disco Thirty-two, open for settlement.

So we’re back in the known part of the Maze. And thirty-two? That’s one of the Worlds off the Deadly Desert . . . They just hike to Embassy from here.

I wonder whether I found their spies in camp or if someone’s going to get a nasty shock when they return to check in?

He jogged back to the mine field, and followed his path carefully. Felt for density differences and found nineteen more mines. “Dammit, I shouldn’t leave them here . . .” He hopped through the gate, bumped Alf who was blocking . . . a whole pack of kids.

Xen looked at all the youngsters—the Feral Teens had joined forces with Centauri and Dagger—and shook his head. “No, you cannot go through. They’ve got a minefield, which I’m going to attempt to set off in a minute, and all the Zingos are bubbled.” He stepped back through the gate. Eyed the trees and picked out a nice tall pine. Sliced a wedge on the side toward the gate, and as it started leaning, cut deeper and jumped through the gate.

Waved Alf to the side and angled a shield as the first blast blew wood and shrapnel through the gate. He counted five more explosions, as each shifted wood and set off others. “Drat. Let me try that again . . .”



The teenagers followed them all the way back to Disco. Xen bought them all lunch at the kitchen and after sorting through somewhat confused memories of their history classes, designated their home world as Earth 2020 Tunguska and sent them off with a dozen claim beacons for “the Feral Company.”

Then all the Disco people put their heads together about what to do about Zingo spies.

“Simple. We wait until the ‘Last Sunday’ and see who heads for Thirty-two to report back home.”

Xen bit his lip, nodded. “So, shall we invite the friendly Renshe for a visit? Maybe just the first five?”

“Especially the robot dog.” Fyre bounced in her seat. “All the messengers talk about Killerbite!”

Grins all around.

Xen nodded. “And somehow we need to figure out how to talk to those people.”

Inso nodded. “Orde’s got most of the Worlds on board for some sort of official non-aggression and trade agreement, and has a nice assortment of people to go talk to the Xin Zhonggou government, once any sort of agreement to talk is reached.”


 
 
 
matapam
11 July 2019 @ 10:23 pm
 

They eyed him warily. And L’Sanjac even more warily. “So . . . why don’t you care that a pack of kids is roaming the . . . you call it the Maze?”

“Because there are, by now, probably a thousand worlds connecting to it . . . and it is impossible to control. Might as well admit it. Umm, if you do find worlds with people, I’d appreciate you’re telling us, so we can check and see if we need to close those gates?”

They looked stubborn.

“Some primitive tribes have no immunity to modern diseases, and some modern polities think invading first and asking questions later is a good idea. So . . . please don’t get friendly with primitives, and be careful with any modern worlds until you’ve got some grasp of their aggressive tendencies.” Xen grinned, and looked toward the next gate. “Is the terrain drivable?”

“Well, to there, yeah.” The first woman looked baffled. “But . . .”

Centauri and Dagger popped the bubbles holding the utes.

“If you go to Embassy, tell them you talked to Xen Wolfson, and need the hospital or Disco—Department of Interdimensional Security and Cooperation. Anyone there can point you in the right direction.”

He ignored the mutter in the back, “. . . really say Disco?”

***

Five gates later he had them park the Utes, and trotted ahead alone, with a light warp. The gate was close, but fortunately turned away, so it anyone was watching, they wouldn’t have seen the Utes, and everyone scowling at being left behind.

And of course the mirror trick was a bit awkward, but there wasn’t anyone waiting to kill him . . . disturbed ground on the far side, but not vehicle tracks or a footpath . . . leaves scattered.

Trap of some sort? He backed away and circled out of sight. :: They’ve got something on the other side. Trap, or maybe an alarm. I’m going to set it off and see who shows up to check on it. ::

He sliced a heavy branch off a tree, cut a section and lugged it around to the gate. Shields, so Q doesn’t yell at me again . . . Heaved it through.

A flash of light and wood splinters and metal shrapnel knocked him flat, or maybe the rush of air. No boom, sounds didn’t transmit well . . . He rolled to his feet and got his mind back on the job.

:: Get back through the last gate and out of sight! Now! ::

A mine was a bit more than I expected.

He stood beside, a little behind the gate and stuck his mirror out past his light warp, widened the eye slit for a good look.

And yes, here they come.

Yep. Zingo cops in black uniforms, half a dozen, and stopping well back. Have they got a whole mine field out there?

He watched a trio walk a zigzag path, kneel to pick up a shard of oak, fresh and heavy. The leader narrowed his gaze . . . and eyed the mirror. Met Xen’s gaze.

Xen grinned. Come ahead and we’ll just see if you’re as tough as Jaejong Chou.

He grabbed bubbles . . . inside out would leave an interesting impression . . . Of course, AnnaKarina could free them, so no problem, right? Maybe they just need to disappear, one-by-one.

He shifted, closed the eye slit to everything but ultra violet, then frequency shifted the UV down into the visible range. Wreaked havoc with the colors, but, he was much less visible as he shifted around and waited.

:: They’re talking. Much handwaving. ::

Xen sighed. :: Alf, you’d better be keeping your shields up, and peeking around a tree you can duck behind. ::

A mental snort. :: I do have just a bit of experience. ::

:: And the children? ::

:: I put them to work thinking up clever combinations of spells to ambush anyone chasing you through the other gate. They might have sense enough to stick to that side. ::

Xen suppressed a thought along the lines of “unlike you.”

:: Ah, here they come two-by-two. They’ll be sweeping both sides, looking, but like as not firing. :: A mental smirk from the old admiral. :: Speaking from experience. ::

:: Just like a boarding action? ::

:: Close enough. And . . . Go! ::

The first through fired on auto, swinging around the gate and filling the air with lead . . . The next two held their fire, peering around, flanking the gate. Last two covered straight ahead . . .

Xen swooped up one man and then the other behind the gate. Grabbed another bubble, looked and teleported right behind the leader. Got knocked flat as bullets hit his shield, kept up the light warp. A stun spell bounced off the nearest Zingo as Xen got up, ran closer and scooped him up in a bubble. The last two fled back to the gate. Stepped carefully back through, and turned to look for the safe path through the mine field.

:: Deadly traps on the other side! Do. Not. Follow! ::

Xen eased after them placing his feet carefully. When they relaxed and ran, he followed, grabbing bubbles. The Zingos in their camp were already alert and armed.

“Invisible moshushe!” The first man yelled. “Guns can’t touch him! Try lasers!”

Bloody smart cops! Xen raised a broad wavelength energy shield, and stopped long enough to pick up a recognition point. Look at the far side of the camp and step there. The Zingos swept their lasers across the approach from the gate, while Xen stepped up behind the rearmost and bubbled him.

And the next. Tried spin and trip. Damn they’ve got good shields! Good thing they aren’t dimensionals!

By the time he was done, the Zingos had started two minor forest fires and burned most of their own camp.

 
 
 
matapam
10 July 2019 @ 02:22 pm
   Mountains all around, no people. He closed his eyes and looked for a corridor . . . no, there was another gate, half a mile downstream.

Xen pulled out his radio . . . “No claim broadcast. Dagger, Centauri? Go bubble the utes and bring them along.”

Alf stepped through the corridor after them. The old admiral returned quickly, shaking his head. “I’ve had to accept magic, but this dimensional stuff defeats me.”

Xen nodded, and headed downstream. “Yeah, but do you realize how much I envy your ability to just look at a corridor or gate and see what’s on the other side? Nothing comes without cost. So, tell what’s through that gate?”

“A campsite. Colorful modern tents . . . teenagers and young adults. Couple dozen.”

“Huh. Well they are just five gates from Embassy.” Xen stepped through to a grassy meadow surrounded by a mixed broadleaf forest.
Mountains all around, a gushing stream through the middle of the meadow. Kids backing away warily, and couple shifting rifles around for quicker access, but not actually threatening them.

“Huh. Interesting reaction.” Xen raised his voice. “Hello, the camp! May we come in?"

A few of the kids exchanged a few quick words. Then one woman, barely twenty, at a guess, stalked forward, a scoped rifle, muzzle lower and pointing down, in her right hand.

“What do you want here?”

A hint of a British accent, perhaps?

“I sort of keep loose track of corridors and gates, in case some idiot attacks through them. Are you having a problem?”

A teenage boy scowled. “What business is it of yours, to control the portals? We’ve been camping and exploring for years. You’re only the third group we’ve encountered, so far.”

Nothing close to any of the accents from Zingo.

Xen started grinning. “You aren’t from a contacted World, are you?”

“What do you mean ‘contacted?’ I suppose you’re with those old fisher guys?” The women glowered at him.

“Didn’t you talk to them? You’re five gates away from the Embassy World, where all the various worlds have embassies and can hopefully work out problems without starting a war.” Xen looked over the belligerent youngsters. “Not that I’d mistake any of you for government representatives, but anytime anyone wants to come talk, any of those fishermen—they’re actually news reporters, they’d just rather camp and fish than sit around hotel rooms—can give you directions.”

Peter walked up beside him. “You’re not from the World Union of Socialist Nations are you?”

Wrinkled noses, as if smelling something nasty.

“Socialists! Hell no!” The young woman crossed her arms and glared.

“Good.” Peter grinned. “Don’t glare, that’s where I’m from and by now probably wanted as a traitor. Do you have a government type problem?”

More kids had come up as they talked.

A grumbled from the back. “Other than that they’d take away our access to the portal and exploring the multiverse? No.”

Xen grinned. “Well, have fun, and if you have a problem, like I said, five gates and four corridors to Embassy. There’s a hospital there, if you have that sort of problem . . . Umm, one of the reasons we’re checking new gates and corridors . . . some people have had issues with strangers in the Maze. You said we were the third group you’ve encountered?”

Reluctant nods.

“There were these two Chinese guys. They told us to get back through the portal and never set foot on their territory again.” The first woman glanced down at her gun. “They weren’t armed, but weren’t the least bit concerned about our weapons. They laughed when Reggie raised his gun, and . . . gestured and he flew back a good five meters.”

Her eyebrows rose. “You believe me!”

“Oh yes. Several world have genetic engineered abilities, like telekinesis. And can you tell me where this encounter happened?” Xen pulled out his maps, but since this world wasn’t on it . . . He grabbed a pen and sketched it in . . . “And since just a few hundred miles can change the description from ‘mountain waterfall’ to ‘rolling prairie with distant mountains’ this won’t work very well . . .”

But they got directions and prepared to roll out.

Xen hastily scribbled on a piece of paper. “A shortwave radio, broadcasting on either or both of these frequencies, something like ‘This world is claimed by the Feral Teens Exploration Company’ or whatever name you prefer is all that’s needed to make it yours, from Disco’s legal perspective. What your own government says, umm, well, eventually you’ll find out.”

 
 
 
 
matapam
08 July 2019 @ 10:35 am

My staff is trying to create paperwork for everything. But maybe I can dodge it, this time.”

He chatted with the reporters who preferred the sea coast.

Half on the beach, half out on a rocky point, fishing.

And giving hm fishy looks. “Why are you out here, asking silly questions?”

“Because all my minions ran off to form a messenger service, but mostly because Disco, having operated without me for seven months, needs to keep doing that. Disco needs to be a lot more than Xen and support staff. Because one of these times I will, finally, actually, get myself killed.”

Xen shrugged. “So I’m being careful to not take back over in any way at all.”

The Purple reporter looked skeptical, shrugged, and pointed. “A nice lodge up on that hill, with big windows on three side of the main room, with a big fireplace. Hotel type rooms and a laundry room, a kitchen we could use . . . wouldn’t mind someone in charge to do the cooking and cleaning . . .”

“You guys are pretty regular . . . or have I just not noticed people trekking through and exploring?”

That got a laugh. “Oh, we get lots of them.” The guy looking around was black haired and amber eyed, Veronian accent.

Old enough to be one of Dydit’s kids. I didn’t realize Verona had people out here.

“Diplomats, or more usually, their kids. They go exploring, and like as not get lost. We’re usually nice and send the back toward Embassy.” The Veronian shrugged. “If they’re obnoxious, we send them that way, to the other corridor.”

Other corridor? Since when? And is there another gate I don’t know about? Dammit, between the Smuggler Sisters, the kids experimenting, the Black Island Gang . . . the Maze is growing faster than I can keep up with it!

The Purp nodded. “I think it must loop around, I saw a group coming out of it a month or so ago.”

Xen sighed. “I don’t think anyone’s died out here, but eventually, I’ll be getting some embassy asking if I’ve seen one of there people who hasn’t gotten back yet.”

Fire Lake was untenanted. A magic battle with fireballs had started a forest fire twelve years ago. The young forest was doing well, and time and termites had taken care of all the half burned tree trunks. Plenty of sign of light use.

“The Smuggler Sisters, no doubt they came by for the Summer Solstice. And they’d be good ones to ask . . . but would they answer honestly?”

Chapter Thirty One

Spy Hunt

Xen got out all his maps and let Peter drive one Ute, and Sommer Albrecht the other.

L’Sanjac and Mubera were expectably horrified by the prospect of a woman driver and climbed into Peter’s ute. Xen shook his head and rode shotgun with Sommer. Centari and Dagger took the back and Xen pointed the way to Sea Side. Closed his eyes and spotted the unknown corridor.

He pointed and Sommer drove . . . stopped. “We’ll have to go around. How far is it?”

Xen frowned at the rocky near cliff. “It’s halfway up. Let me take a look.”

They all bailed out and followed him. Of course.

He stepped through the corridor into a shady forest glen. Walked across to a gate. Sommer, following close behind, filled him in.

“No one in sight, river bank with deer grazing.”

He stepped through and walked down to the rocky edge of a small river, rushing and leaping over stones, Mountains all around, no people. He closed his eyes and looked for a corridor . . . no, there was another gate, half a mile downstream.

“Dagger, Centauri? Go bubble the utes and bring them along.”

Alf stepped through the corridor after them. The old admiral returned quickly, shaking his head. “I’ve had to accept magic, but this dimensional stuff defeats me.”

Xen nodded, and headed downstream.

 
 
 
matapam
07 July 2019 @ 09:05 am

Inso shook his head. “You. Having a leadership crisis? I knew you were the Multiverse’s worst lone wolf, but . . .”

A snort from Peter Rhodan. “I want to know how he’s going to find a spy. I mean, I worked here for a month and nobody even asked where I was from . . .”

“And now your knowledge of the maze is about to come in handy.” Xen grinned. “Because I refuse to believe that any spies could be coming and going or sending reports directly from here without Q or me noticing. So let’s start by talking to some of the old reporters about people who showed up in the last couple of years. And which way they were coming and going from.”

The rest of the crew swapped glances around.

Andrei Andrews sniffed, “Centauri? You’d better go with them, and Dagger? You two have had the most wilderness experience.” She eyed Cactus and Fyre, who both shook their heads. “City girls. Like me, I regret to say.”

Admiral L’Sanjac snorted. “I’ll go. Ought to have someone along with leadership experience.”

Solti Farad Mubara bit down on his knuckle, for his humor under control. “I’m in.”

Xen nodded. “Right. I’ll get . . . is anyone taking care of the horses right now?”

Andrei rolled her eyes. “Styx yelled for help. Five girls who claim to be thirteen showed up. That Yellow woman with the red hair is keeping an eye on them.”

“Oh good . . . but maybe we’ll take some vehicles anyway.” Xen shrugged. “I need to recruit more people.”

“Ha!” Cactus shook her head. “Could we please regularize the personnel hiring methods? I mean, five girls show up and tell me they’re the new interns? I was lucky to get their names before they ran off to play with the horses. I think I’m supposed to pay them?”

“Yesss . . . I suppose we do need, like, a pay scale or something? And is anyone training them?” Xen sighed. I’ve been gone for . . . seven months, and about to run off again?

“Nighthawk was. With those Oner friends of hers, and Rael, whenever she was here. Q was too busy laying out a thousand gates. Warric helps whenever he’s here . . . need I say they’re all out with their telescope now?” Andrei snorted. “They get a weekly delivery from the messenger service.”

“Who all got raises.” Cactus added. “They were talking about whether they ought to quit and form a company. I recommended waiting a bit. Especially since they were using Disco vehicles.”

“Hmm. Didn’t think about that. Are there any vehicles left?”

Cactus rolled her eyes. “We just got in a bunch of new ones. Now we need a new garage.”

“Excellent. We promise to not put a single scratch on them.”

Cactus shook her head. “You may be a good liar, but somehow when you lie about the impossible . . .”

“Kids these days. No faith in their elders.” Xen shrugged. “And where would we find these vehicles?”

He looked around at all the eager faces. “And mind you, I’m going to casually chat with the reporters who camp out in the Maze, and look them over.”

***

Napoleon Zambrano was kicked back at Long Lake, pretty much ignoring the pole beside him.

“Don’t you ever get bored?” Xen strolled up to look over the lake.

“Heck no. This is heaven.” Zambrano sat up grinning. “Especially when a story comes looking for me.”

“What? The need for sanitary facilities at what’s become one of the most used camping areas? I figured here, Fire Lake, Sea Side . . . how about the Deadly Desert? Anybody camp there? Or head out further?”

“Nah. We can’t get too far from Embassy, we’d miss all the fun stuff. So how’s the scar doing?” Zambrano grinned. “Can I take a picture?”

“No. Rael prefers no scar, so I’m fading it fast.”

“Not instantly?”

“No. Scars form when the body rushes to heal. If I go too fast, it’ll just scar all over again.”

“Huh. That’s a fine note. I thought the main thing about magic healing was how fast it happened.”

“That and no-surgery shoving things around inside. Fresh wounds can be healed with much less scarring, starting from the get go. It’s old injuries with scar tissue that are a real pain to fix up.” Xen sighed. “And the answer is still no. No. pictures. Now, what do you guys need here? Toilets, showers?”

Zambrano finally peeled himself off the ground and looked around. “Fire rings would be nice. And . . .” He raised his voice. “Hey guys! What do you think? Some sort of roof, a pavilion or some such, up there on the flat? Big fire pit?”

“A smoker!” A man called back. “And hot water!”

“Sauna!”

“Jacuzi!”

“Washer and dryer.”

“Solar panels.”

Xen pinched his nose. “I ought to have known better.” He raised his voice. “Which other worlds need stuff?” He pulled out a pad and started writing.

“And mind you, some reporter go further. But most of us stay close.” The Oner fellow, Ojki.

“A big glassed in place at Sea Side. It can get chilly, and I get tired of the wind.” Whirlpool One had joined the reporters’ club soon after they’d been found.

Good grief, it’s been five years!

“Do many of you guys stay out there?”

The Whirlpool guy nodded. “It’s popular with those Earth Book guys. They like to hang out together and compare notes on which of them have had the worse presidents.”

A laugh from someone else. “Or best sports teams.”

“Horse racing, stock market picks.” Zambrano shook his head. “They keep trying to out guess each other, betting, going home and playing the stock market. Generally losing their shirts.”

“Good grief.” Xen shrugged. “How about the desert? Do I need to supply water?”

“Nah, no one go there, or at least they don’t stay.” Ojki shrugged. “Those Chinese fags go there, sometimes.”

Xen tried to look puzzled. “Chinese?”

Zambrano shrugged. “Orientals of some sort. After all, they compose a very large chunk of almost every world. So there’s plenty, right Ho?”

“I’m Vietnamese. How dare you insult me by lumping me in with those uncouth Chinese.”

“Is there a problem with some of the people here? I guess I just assumed you all got along well enough.”

Zambrano grinned. “Well there are a couple of rather standoffish fellows who tend to listen a lot and not talk much, especially about themselves, and occasionally pass through the far left corridor and disappear for a few days.” He shrugged. “We just figured they were fags and left them alone. Can I come film you tracking them down and disturbing them in their little love shack?”

“Er, no . . . I think I’ll just catch them after one of the morning briefs. Sounds like they don’t need much.”

“So . . . any news? Any reason we should all come to tomorrow’s morning brief?”

“Not so far. The Judge stayed away this month, but I dare say they’ll be back sooner than I’d like. Orde has been trying to get together a diplomatic mission, but we can’t guarantee their safety, give their . . . charming displays of hospitalities to date.” Xen eyed the pin on Zambrano’s shirt and sighed. “I’ll get the pavilion set up in a few weeks. My staff is trying to create paperwork for everything. But maybe I can dodge it, this time.”

He chatted with the reporters who preferred the sea coast, and a different lake, but didn’t hear any thing about other people going off on their own. ///Change this, make it at least three that he needs to check on.///

Chapter Thirty One

Spy Hunt

Xen got out all his maps and let Peter drive one Ute, and Sommer Albrecht the other.

L’Sanjac and Mubera were expectably horrified and climbed into Peter’s ute. Xen shook his head and rode shotgun with Sommer. Centari and Dagger took the back and Xen pointed the way to the Deadly Desert.

 
 
matapam
04 July 2019 @ 01:26 pm

Chapter Thirty

Checking in

“So how did it go?”

“Smoothly.” Xen kicked back in in his chair and eyed his boss. “We’ve collected a bunch of ID codes. The troops are working on decoding them, and then we’ll need some hackers to see if they can get into the system. Ra’d suggested a Oner by the name of Azko. If any other polities are interested, you might ask if they want to send someone.”

Xen eyed him. “Privately. Because they knew who to target for maximum effect. I suspect they still have people on the ground here. I’d like to find them before I bring the Renshe here.”

“Yes.” Lon winced. “In case they’ve got orders to kill any Transportees on sight or some such. So . . . does the God of Spies have a repours with spies?”

Xen couldn’t help but grin. “Of course. Do you have any idea how many people on Embassy are government agents of one sort or another?”

Lon snickered. “All of them?”

“ Close.” Xen bit his lip. “Lon . . . does sending other people into dangerous situations ever get any easier?”

Lon Hackathorn shook his head. “No. But you grow callouses. And . . . you being such a bloody lone wolf . . . and having a lot of personal and painful experience in how dangerous it can get . . . You are going to have to work at it. Fake confidence in their abilities. Because if they think you don’t think they can do it, they will doubt their own ability. And that will be deadly.”

“Ouch.”

“Sooner or later you’re going to lose people you know well, respect and like. And you’re going to turn around and send out someone else who you like to try again.”

“Ouch.”

“Deal with it. Get some callouses.” Lon sighed. “Callouses are only skin deep.”

“Oh . . . well . . .”

“Take a few days off to loaf around eyeing all the spies around here. I’ll see about getting you some computer experts.”

Xen pushed himself out of the chair and stepped into the hall. Which was occupied by half the staff. Xen jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “That why Lon’s a better boss than I am.”

 
 
 
matapam
03 July 2019 @ 09:34 pm
 
 
 
matapam
03 July 2019 @ 12:15 pm
One of those times you have to grab the needle nose plyers and pull the words out of the brain, one-by-one . . .

He looked over at Nighthawk and her Oner friends.

Ra’d nodded. “Our orders are to stay and assist you.”

“Right. Messengers? Your choice, cram into the tree house, or come with us.”

Lala snickered. “Maybe we should let Joil and Inso have some privacy.”

A snort from Inso. “Bloody stupid hammocks . . .”

Xen suppressed a grin. “Right, c’mon then. Grab your utes. I’ll give you a lift.”

He caught a nod from Ra’d, checked that they were all close enough to fit, and dropped all the people and equipment in front of the Great Stone Inn.

Xen looked around at the well-fed group. “So, how many of you remembered to scan IDs?”

***

In the morning, all but two of the messengers has departed, and there was snow on the trees and bushes, although it was still melting as it hit the ground.

“Huh. Guess this place is going to have a Winter after all.” Xen stepped out to take a deep breath of cold air. And grabbed a bubble and tossed one end across the river and north to the new gate to the Heavy World.

Xen walked back inside and pinned this end down.

He wandered into the kitchen and started the coffee brewing. Walked back to his corridor.

“Problem?” Karl yawned and walked over to stare at the bronze square.

“Well, I don’t feel anyone over there, but I can’t see. It would be awkward if I went and got myself really killed.”

“So? Open a hole and let me take a look.”

Xen shrugged. “Do you like feeling like you’re suffocating while being squeezed? C’mon, then.”

He pushed into the bubble and reached for the far side. Karl crowded in, shoved up against him by the elasticity of the bubble, and Xen opened a small hole.

“Clear.”

Wider. “Deer, no people.” Karl ducked through the hole.

Xen reached through to pin it down before rolling out and looking around. Just Karl, walking over and looking through the Gate to the Heavy World, like it was no effort at all.

“No one there, either.”

“Good.” Xen sighed. “I don’t think I’m being over cautious. While the Zingos—sorry, Rael’s term—know where Wolf World is, I’d hate to lead them straight to half the Disco staff.”

“Yeah, even Greg and Aaron have bad opinions of those federal cops, and they interacted with them often enough to know what they’re talking about.” Karl turned away and followed him back through the corridor.

Lala was up, and starting to cook. Xen poured a cup of coffee and got out of her way.

By the time he was heading back for another cup, everyone was up and a breakfast buffet was loaded. Time for business.

“Okay, here’s my tentative program . . .”

***

In medium gray business karate they had no problem wandering the city, a small reader in their hands to pick up the implanted ID patterns, while their small spy cams picked up the details of the person belonging to each ID.

They avoided the trams and cafeterias, the stores. Anything that might scan the little six-by-six grids glued to their wrists.

Because they might pass . . . or they might set off alarms, if something in the pattern registered as criminal, or Transportee. They needed more basic information, and once they had that, they’d need computer access and . . . for that, Xen was going to have to beg favors of several different worlds.

“Starting with XR. I know Ajha will be glad to loan out people, but I haven’t even met your new Director, and barely know your Intel fellow.”

Ra’d snickered. “Subdirector of Information Isde is a good manager and an average geek . . . hmm, I don’t think that term is in use anymore . . . So long as he gets copies of everything, I suspect he’ll loan out some people. Azko, at a guess. Director Ugpw is a politician, a Strong Federalist, Modern Federalist, now. Good in that he shares Izzo’s political views, but he’s never been in the Directorate before. He lacks that . . . basic understanding that we go out and deal with the real world in a physical sense and polls and opinions don’t change that reality.”

“Umm . . .”

“I think he’s catching on fast. Just the fact that he’s not trying to undermine Izzo puts him head and shoulders over anyone but Ajha.”

Xen grinned. “Poor man. He just hates being stuck in the office.” He fell quiet and watched yet another street encounter. Two men in roughly the same shade of darkish gray, walking past each other. Neither acknowledging the existence of the other, bumping shoulders and trying to not twist and not break stride.

Xen strolled past the man coming this direction, on his left side, reader in hand.

The sidewalks are busy, but not so crowded that those sorts of encounters are inevitable. They must be taking aim from well down the street.

Further down the street a man in barely lighter gray stepped over to a store window to admire something, then turn and continue, now well out of the path of the darker gray man walking away from them.

“It would help if I knew if they worked together or if these were just random encounters. I don’t know if this is social display, standard office political ploys or personal animosities.”

Ra’d watched as a trio of soft pale greys scurried out of the path of a medium gray. “Possibly all of the above. Everyone is class conscious on the sidewalks, but a few of the encounters between equals seem to have more than the basic status shows to them . . .”

A couple of low medium grays stopped, face to face. And lowered their shields.

“Ah, a glow down.” Ra’d breathed. “Mostly high school confrontations, on the One. Occasionally lapping over into college, and romantic rivalries.”

The Zingo with his back to them flinched and raised his shields, sidestepped and brushed roughly past his opponent, who smirked and walked on.

Then the sidewalks started clearing.

“Lunch hour’s over. I’ve got a couple hundred readings.”

“Same.” Ra’d stepped to the side and nodded up the block and across the street. Xian Chang in medium gray. Strolling casually. Everyone getting out of his way. “And it appears that being very Han is the sort of status that no one challenges.”

“Indeed. That’s interesting. He hasn’t a drop of magic. I wonder if these poorly trained types think he just has a strong shield?” Xen eyed Chris Hanger, trailing Xian, getting jostled . . . he snorted. “They had to split up a bit. I’ll bet Xian isn’t getting any readings at all, the way people avoid him.”

Xen glanced over his shoulder at a wave of disturbance on the far sidewalk. A man in very dark charcoal stalking up the sidewalk, everyone getting out of his way without regard to saving face . . . Aiming straight for Xian.

“Crap.” Xen took a quick look at the traffic and dodged across the street, eyes fixed on a store . . . sort of bounced off Charcoal, stumbled into Xian, who turned and backstepped, pushed him off.

Xen staggered into the store as Xian turned back, well to the side of charcoal, and said something in Mandarin, nodded politely and walked on as Charcoal laughed and went his own way.

Xen let them get well away before he stepped back out and hustled to catch up. Ra’d was grinning.

Xian looked indignant. “If I’d known you knew Mandarin, I’d have been much more polite, well, diplomatic.”

“Oh, you didn’t call me a drunk did you?” Xen snickered. “That was very smooth, by the way. I jumped in because they seem to do magic challenges, and he sure was looking at you.”

“Yeah, he looked like high ranked trouble. I wonder why he was focused on me?”

“The very Chinese sorts seem to have status above their color rank.” Chris shrugged. “Or maybe you just reminded him of the fellow who swiped his girlfriend.”

Xen nodded. A quick check, Noah and Martin were both heading east, presumably with Julianne and Karl. At a few blocks distance he couldn’t sort them out of the crowd.

They strung back out and headed east, turned into a quiet street, and around the corner and through a corridor. The little circle of cleared brush in the forest was still empty of everything but his gate. He stepped through, clear, and waved the rest of them through. Counted them.

All back safe.

I really don’t need to be this nervous. I just don’t want them killing any of my friends.

Next time I see Jaejong, he gets one chance to talk, then I’ll try that gravity knot of Answer’s.