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matapam
19 April 2018 @ 08:53 am

“Must be the drugs that are still in your system.” Xen grinned as she frowned at their burden. “Bear. Think of the rug it’ll make.”

They all paused to listen to the high voice. “ . . . And Mr. Wolfson has a really great house under an oak tree and me and Jiol have been collecting stuff while he was away finding you. I’m having fun!

Karl grinned. “Under other circumstances, I’d be enjoying this too. Q’s traced the general direction, but it’s so far she says she’d have to make a chain of gates, and it would take months.”

Xen nodded. “Excellent, and I’m getting over this crap in my bloodstream, so I may be able to build out to meet her. Umm, let’s not mention that any of us have dimensional abilities. Those guys may be helpless city boys . . . but they’re the enemy’s city boys.”

Jiol’s gaze sharpened. “Indeed. Cali thinks she knows all about why her daddy was transported . . .”

“Cali . . . doesn’t understand her own status. I talk to you later about, if it doesn’t come out all on it’s ugly lonesome.”

Karl gave him a sharp look. But glanced at the approaching men. “Right. Well, why don’t you lead me to this house under the oak tree.”

They left the bearskin down at the stream, cleaned up a bit under the waterfall, and helped Sam climb the irregular rock ledges up to the tree.

The old man sat down on a barely shaped log and looked around the roughly octagonal log cabin.

“Holy cats.” Karl was staring up at the roof, supported by the limbs of the tree. “You know it’s going to torque every time the wind blows, don’t you?”

“Yep.” Xen grinned. “Let me see what I’ve got by way of bedding for five more people. I haven’t killed all that many deer.”

The four looked horrified. “Sleep on a dead deer?”

Cali looked over at the leather hammock Xen had rigged for her.

“Don’t worry, we can heap up a bunch of grass. It’ll be softer than sleeping on the ground.” Xen looked around. “I don’t suppose any of you can cook? You know, starting with raw meat?”

Looks of horror.

Jiol rolled her eyes. “How much meat are we talking about, Xen?”

“Several hundred pounds. Lots of nice fat to render, too.”

She looked down her nose.

“I believe it’s one of the first steps in making soap.” Karl was grinning. “What do you need help with?”

“Let’s start with a shallow pit and get a good fire going, then build a frame and rack. I’ll rig a deerskin for smoking the meat.”

Jiol rolled her eyes and held out a ragged lump. “Acorn flour, chopped walnuts and a bird egg. Sort of baked.”

Xen took a crunchy bite. “Excellent. And not just because it isn’t meat.”

***

The four Chinese guys were stiff and complaining the next morning.

Xen hauled then into the woods to carry the small trees he cut and trimmed back to the meadow by the tree house. And made them use the stone tools to shave them down a bit, and notch and fit them together. Soak strips of rawhide to bind the bedsteads together.

The newcomers collapsed in the shade. Giving Xen time enough to properly scrape and clean the bear skin, and stretch it.

Xen cleaned up, and grinned at Jiol, who was up in a tree raiding a squirrel’s cache. “I’m ashamed I never thought about the squirrels. Three months of unnecessary protein starvation, all because I ignored squirrels.”

Karl nodded. “If we can’t get out of here . . . this is what life is going to be like, isn’t it?”

“Yeah. I don’t think it will last, but for now, hard work, and once a month, rescuing idiots and showing them how to survive.” Xen tipped his stretching frame up so the bear skin would dry.

“At least they can’t send, transport, anyone less clued in than these guys . . . Right?”

Chapter Thirteen

The City

An illusion over her clothes, darken her hair and Rael fit right into the street scene.

Everyone wore the loose-pants-and-long-jacket-with-sash style. Generally in subdued colors. A lot of gray shades, none very dark, looking crisp and business-like.

Business karate. I’ve been in a few meetings that would have been improved by a few spontaneous fights.

Both men and women wore gray, but highly biased toward the men. There were both men and women in pastel colors, but highly biased toward the women.

Tsk! A dimensionally able civilization and they’re still male dominated? How very unusual. Most high tech civs overcompensate for a few generations after women hit the workforce in large numbers, then settle down to rough equality in everything except a few fields that need muscular strength.

At first glance I’d say these guys are lagging. I wonder how many worlds they have?

I need information.

“Do you need help Miss?” Rael turned. This washed-out blue outfit had a copper badge.

“Sorry, I got turned around. I was looking for the library.”

“Ah, new in town. Go up two blocks and turn right. It’s on the right about three blocks further.” He looked quite benign, so Rael beamed and thanked him.

First conversation, no disaster.

And directions to the library.

Where she met with her first problem.

Everything was electronic.

An older women gave an audible sigh and emerged from behind a long curved counter. “They need to spend more time training you colonials before they let you return. Come here.”

“Here” was an odd hooded desk, a dull black quarter of a sphere.

“I suppose you want some silly story?”

“I sort of thought . . . history?” Rael tried to look very young.

“History of the Universe, the World, the Empire . . . “

“World?” Rael watched the woman press spots on the desk and the inside of the sphere lit up. So much for browsing through the stacks! “Thank you.”

And soft surround sound . . . “Exile World Three was settled in the year 2117 by a mixed group of genetically engineered people and their normal families, all led by The Immortal, Jaejong Chou . . .”

One of the Tellies?

They’d had enough tech, and there were enough resources to build a modern civilization from the start. To learn how to manufacture electronics before the old ones died.

Jaejong had brought the vital pieces for a dimensional gate with him.

All he needed was power. And that they could build. Eventually.

Two hundred years after the Exile, they had working gates . . . and no control of where they would go. They persevered, trying different techniques, redesigning the equipment, off and on for a thousand years.

Until one test was pulled to a particular world, and the gate held while a million desperate people fled a dying world. The last person to leave was the brilliant and powerful magician AnnaKarina.

And for the last century and a half, Jaejong and AnnaKarina had explored the muiltiverse, and planted scores of colonies.

They kicked Rael out when they closed, her head full of knowledge and speculation.



  
 
 
matapam
18 April 2018 @ 12:45 pm
  Miles of trees.

On the horizon, a city.

Down below, pavement. Vehicles, a road disappearing into the trees in the direction of the city. Train tracks paralleling it.
Rael circled the scaffolding, nothing but trees in all other directions. Both the road and the tracks ended here.

The two bosses walked out to two different vehicles and departed.

Grand Poobah, and Grand High Executioner, perhaps? But which is which?

Inside the bowl the rescue squad had three guards on stretchers and carted them out the doors. The other three guards followed them. The doors swung shut. Rael bit her lip.

I can probably open them. Set off alarms, or be seen. She looked at the distance down. My specialty, no reason it shoule interfere with a light warp. And if this is the end of the line . . . how often does the train run?

Becasue given the complete desolation out here, I suspect their gates are more like the premanent gates, with most, if not all of the "mechanism" mental.

She spread her shield and pushed off. swooped, banked, dropped down by the train. Tram might be a better term. Automated, three cars. One bare, two passenger. Doors open.

She watched, felt carefully, as the people entered the first two cars. No electronic checks that she could feel. Stretchers in the first one. Poobah and the ambulatory guards joined them. The rescue crew walked back out and into the second car. Rael slipped in after them.
No alarms. The doors closed and the tram rolled down the tracks. The workers moved to the back of the car and sat with their backs to Poohbah and his guards
.
Ostracized. Unpersons.

Transported to die slowly.

Something tight relaxed inside her.

Did they do that to Xen?

I don't know where they send them, but I can pretty much guarantee he isn't dying at all, let alone slowly.



Chapter Twelve

Xen shook his head at the strangers, the Chinese, who were sitting down, taking a break after about three hours of easy walking. He turned slighhtly, and took the bear hide out of the bubble, down low where the tired city boys wouldn't see it.

Karl grinned and grabbed one end of the long folded bloody fur. Xen took the other and hiked up to the recumbent foursome
.
"Only a couple of kilometers. Up and at 'em." He walked right past them, as they groaned and grumbled. At least they did get up and follow.

"Just as well they did stop." Karl was snickering. "They probably couldn't find your house without whatever sort of electronic guide they use."

Xen detoured west to find the game trail through the woods. "Point. Especially since it isn't too obvious." A trio of deer disappeared into the woods as he entered the meadow.

"Good hunting though."

"Oh yes. And even with this many people, the bear will feedus long enough to do a bit more experimentation on the plants." Xen heard rapid foot steps from ahead.

Cali burst into the clearing. "Daddy? Where's Daddy?"

Xen pointed back and she shot past him.

"Ha!" Jiol walked out  of the trees. "How did I forget how much energy kids have?"



 
 
matapam
17 April 2018 @ 04:34 pm

She eyed the guards, looking around, alert, definitely worried, facing out as they protected their charge. She could see Poobah between two of them, fingers clenched on his staff and chair arm.

Ignoring the diplomats. He’s lost. Perhaps a more visceral approach will get a reaction.

She jumped up and headed for Xen’s house. First, she was going to get out of this ridiculous suit, then a few requisitions . . .

She was back inside of an hour. In very civilian garb, pulling a cart.

“Excuse me, gentlemen.” Rael cheerfully displaced a couple of intel types. They glared . . . paused as they recognized her, and stepped away. She unfolded a perfectly normal table and standing on stone, reached out and placed the table on the carpet. All seven chairs.

Then she reached into to the last box and brought out bottled water. Inside the box, she opened her bubble and pulled out seven boxed dinners, still hot and leaking delicious odors. She set them on the table and stepped back. “Dinner, if you’re hungry, sirs. And the small blue building you can see down that diagonal road is a public toilet and shower. Please feel free to come and go from there as you desire.” She inclined her head minimally and stepped away.

She had definitely caught their attention.

But she walked away anyway.

Ambassador Ashe turned and joined her. “Trust you to get a response out of them.”

“Well, frankly they’re so damaged I’m not sure they can relate normally. Especially Poobah. The guards aren’t quite so programmed. Just rigidly loyal to their charge, and unable to not obey orders. If this goes on very long, if Poobah gets desperate and gives them order to kill. It’s going to be messy.”

On the other hand, if they’ll eat our food, I just might dope it with the joy juice and see if it can heal them of malign influences. Although I doubt there’s any physical brain damage.

“I’ll get guards out who have good shields.” Ashe split off for the Oner embassy. Rael walked back to Disco and found some shade to sit in.

After awhile Lala joined her, and handed over a plate.

Real blinked at it. “Oops! My lack of parenting skills is showing.”

Lala giggled. “We all ate at the restaurant. Don’t worry about us, we’re practically grown up.”

“Heh. When I was sixteen, I thought sixteen was grown up too. One! Was I ever wrong.” Rael giggled. “Not that I want to act like an adult, most of the time.”

Lala snickered. “You act like an adult. And you enjoy life. It’s that last part that most adults mess up. We’ve all been talking, and we’ve decided to do adulting like you do it.”

“Ooooh! I’m a bad influence. So have you decided?”

“Yeah. Business school, so I can run my own dimensional engineering company.”

Rael blinked. “I thought you were going for biology?”

“No, that was what I thought I ought to take. Dad talked to me about it, about how since I didn’t seem really interested in it why not do something that would help with the dimensional stuff.”

“Corridors sell for half a million apiece.”

“Yep. I’m going to be a contract worker, and just do dimensional stuff. And I can hire a secretary and an accountant and someone to deal with finding the jobs and contracts and such.” She squirmed a bit. “After I get paid for the first one.”

Rael grinned. “Relax. You’ll be showered with job offers. And you’re only competitors will be your siblings.”

“Ugh! But close to half of them have applied to the Directorate School, so they won’t actually be competition.” Lala eyed her. “Was it weird, finding out you have kids? Xen’s kids?”

“It’s still weird. I love those kids so much, but I’m not really their Mom. Didn’t do the work, don’t get the title.”

“Oh . . . I didn’t think about it like that. They brag about you all the time, you know?”

Rael nodded. “But just about as much as they bragged about their aunt a few years ago. I just . . . have to build on from here. And get ready for a good adult relationship.”

“Because we’re all practically grown up. But we still need parents. So don’t do anything crazy and get yourself killed before Dad gets back. And he will get back. He’s very clever.” Lala took the plate she’d somehow managed to empty, and slipped quietly away.

***

Everyone had quit trying to talk to them after two days of feeding the poor automatons, and watching them rush to and from the public bathroom.

Rael did most of the meal deliveries, and slipped a bit of that wine into their morning orange juice the third day. It had no obvious effect, not even a hint of the aphrodisiac effect.

Sommer Albrecht shook her head. “It that stuff can’t get through to them, nothing will. I got drunk as a sailor on one swallow, and even with a broken leg, I wanted to drag myself out of the woods to find some man to pounce on. Good thing I was alone.”

“What was an FBI Agent doing out in the woods?”

“Fell off a helicopter.” The woman grinned, bright teeth against dark skin. “It wasn’t very high, it had just taken off, with a suspect in it and I jumped and grabbed a skid . . . suddenly realized what a stupid thing I’d done . . . as my grip slipped.”

“Umm . . .”

“Yeah. And all for a drug dealer with cross-dimensional aspirations.” She shrugged. “I dragged my ass home and got lectured about asking for help from the master lone wolf . . .” She leaned forward and squinted upward.

Rael followed her gaze. A rippling rainbow shimmer . . . “Damn. This might be it.”

Sommer bolted for the front door. Rael trotted closer, but stayed well back as the shimmer floated, expanding and contracting. Drifted over the copper carpet and dropped.

Rainbows all around . . . “Oh shit!”

A wrenching horrible gate transit. Rael warped light, crashed down, rolled off rubble that bore a strong resemblance to a sidewalk and the black basalt steps . . . judging by the symmetry of the heap, the gate effect must have snatched a sphere of space, maybe a third of it underground.

The whole had crumpled, big slabs of the plaza’s magically metamorphosed stone angled down from the apex, where the copper carpet draped limply over it all.

They were inside a circular fretwork of metal rods, close to a hundred meters across at the base spreading wider as it rose.

Like stadium scaffolding, or a radar dish or, of course, some sort of dimensional ranging equipment. I wonder what’s underground? The solid wall surrounding it all was about twenty meters high, blocking sight of anything beyond.

No skyscrapers, but then who’d put a dimensional . . . thing . . . in a city, anyway?

Rael climbed to her feet and started trotting around the mound. Poobah and company were on the other side . . . She slowed as she spotted the people entering the bowl.

A man and a woman striding forward, then stopping to look around.

The man was medium height, slender, Asian, young . . . although the way he was glowing with power, he could be a lot older. Same with the woman, a blonde Caucasian, frowning around the bowl.

Rael tightened her shields. Nobody here but your puppets.

Poobah was climbing slowly to his feet. He must have rolled down the slope. Three of his guards hustled over . . . to ignore him and stand at attention before the new pair. The other three . . . one was trapped under a chunk of plaza, one was laying limp and the sixth was dragging himself out clear of the debris.

Poobah staggered closer, and dropped to lay prone before the man and woman.

His glittering jacket was torn and filthy.

The two looking down on him were dressed in black. Jackets to mid-thigh, some minor embroidery in gold, loose pants, belt.

Fancied up karate gear.

“Look at me!” The Asian squatted and looked Poobah in the eyes.

The women was looking at the guards. Done with the standing three, she walked over to the crawler as he tried to stand on a broken leg. She turned away, stepped closer to the trapped man . . . stepped back, glanced at the limp form and shrugged. She pointed to the side and made a summoning gesture. Men scrambled in, stretchers, prybars.

“A waste of time. We should just kill them.”

The woman shrugged. “Why destroy our mystique of generosity? Transport them. They can die there slowly, contemplating their failure.” She frowned again. Looking around. “Guards, sweep the area, we may have collected a native.”

The three guards turned and started toward her.

Crap . . . Not that I can’t outrun them . . . She looked up, jumped to grab the first bar and swung up on top of it, grabbed the next. Let’s just see what sort of view I can get from the top.



 
 
matapam
16 April 2018 @ 07:42 am

Chapter Eleven

Pin the donkey on the . . .

Rael felt utterly ridiculous in the spacesuit.

Not that she was going to let Poobah see that.

She had the helmet under one arm and tried to look friendly as the carpet fibers hissed like a million little bits of metal sliding against each other and waved around her feet. “I am Rael Withione. At the behest of the President of the Empire of the One, we invite you, or other representatives of your government to come and go freely, talking to everyone . . .”

Poobah was going straight to the staff.

She swung the helmet over her head in a quick practiced motion . . .

The carpet fibers grew and stretched . . .

Iron rods slammed through the carpet from below . . .

The staff leaned her direction and thumped down . . .

Lightening leaped from the staff . . .

Hopscotched across the rods and crackled around her head.

And died.

Poobah thumped his staff again.

A slight crackle. The carpet fibers wilted.

Poobah dropped his right hand from staff to the arm of his chair, and the six guards threw themselves back onto the carpet.

Rael turned and sprinted . . . hit the pavement and turned.

Poobah was jabbing at his chair arm, and nothing was happening.

Rael pulled the helmet off and studied the seven strangers. Lowered her mental shields and probed carefully . . . into rigid simplistic minds.

She pulled back in horror, and looked at Inso, as he came up on her right. “They’re mind molded. Strongly. Horribly. We might as well be talking to robots.”

Q rose, and frowned across the carpet at them. “Oh. Yes. This may not be very helpful.”

“Unless they can snatch them from wherever.” Inso exchanged glances and nods with Lon Hackathorn. “It’ll be a useful test.”

Rael nodded. “Q? why don’t you head out to the end of your chain and just wait for a powered gate.”

The girl crossed her arms and glared across at Poobah. “I don’t understand why there isn’t more gate activity. “Oners and Earthers throw powered gates around a hundred times a day. I should see that level of activity, but it’s like there’s nothing out there. As if they use their gates a couple of times a month.”

Rael nodded. “When you’re close enough. Maybe they don’t have the power to run them often? But they ought to be looking for these guys fairly soon, right?”

Q shrugged. “Maybe they don’t care. All right. I’ll head out and hope for something.

She was gone in minutes, and Rael settled down on a big black basalt cube to one side of the Disco building. Several diplomates were trying to talk to the strangers, and getting ignored.

The poor things don’t know what to do. We’re too far off their programmed script.

I just hope they don’t suicide when captured, so to speak.

Or flip out and start killing people.

 
 
matapam
15 April 2018 @ 11:22 am

Xen stayed for an hour, chatting while charging Killerbite. Hunter got close enough to sniff the unmoving robot all over before retreating at the first sign it was powering up.

Once the just-past-full moon was well up, he slung the water jugs over his shoulder and headed south. And got an itch to hurry.

Bloody Hell. Last thing I need is premonitions and such.

He hurried, running through the grass lands and tripping through the trees and across a dry gully. Back into grass as the moon set and however brilliant the stars, the night got darker.

He spotted the dim glow of a dying fire, the cacophony of frightened men. Karl with a spear, circling the fire in a sideways shuffle to stay between the strangers and whatever prowled, a moving bulk, turning suddenly and rearing. In the dim firelight, towering over Karl. A bear. Size extra large.

Xen dropped the water jugs, gathered power as he charged up the hill. I’d better get close. And if it doesn’t work, what then?

A darting shadow, and the bear spun to leap at the wolf.

“Hey! That’s my wolf. Leave him alone!”

The bear swung around and charged Xen.

Sidestep. Slice.

The bear hit the ground and tumbled past him, a splash of blood . . .

Karl galloped down the hill, a handful of flaming twigs in hand. “Honestly, the sheer amount of time we spent worrying about you . . .

“Heh. The first two weeks were a bit rough. Everyone all right?”

“I only had to bodily tackle one of them to keep him from running off and becoming bear chow.” Karl shook his head. “I’m a city boy too, but . . .”

“But the Army knocked that out of your head?” Xen looked around. “Now where did I drop the water?”

“Yeah, it got really dark when the moon set. Up till then I could see the critter and make the civvies get fuel for the fire. Not that there was much.” Karl shifted his grip on his improvised torch.

Xen stepped over and snapped thin branches off a small bush and lit his own torch. Walked down hill a few steps. “Damn that’s a big bear.”

And my slice didn’t make it all the way through its neck. Good thing it hit the spine and jugular!

“The sun’ll be up in an hour, then I’ll butcher it.”

And thinly from up hill. “You’re going to eat a bear! Shining one!”

Xen snickered. “Yummy. And here are the jugs. It’s only another ten kilometers to home. Jiol and Cali are fine and the stream is still running.”

“All’s well with the world.” Karl dropped his voice. “So, how about a gate?”

“Not yet. I just finally managed to grab a bubble . . . three days ago now.” Xen grabbed the jugs and headed back up hill. “And once we get home . . . the first thing we’ll have to do is build a few more cabins. Eight people will definitely strain my accommodations.”

“Accommodations? A mud hut perhaps?” Sam snorted. “I can’t believe it’s come to this.”

Xen tossed his smoldering branches onto the fire. Noted that the huddled scientists didn’t have so much as a stick among them. The second spear was laying on the ground. Maybe one of them just set it down. I didn’t think to cut them so much as a walking stick, but then we were carrying Sam. Tomorrow, we’ll get a bit better organized.

He stretched out an napped until the sun peeked over the horizon, then walked down to where Hunter was prowling and bristling around the dead bear. And perked up and looked hopefully at Xen.

“Don’t tell me, let me guess. You not only want the liver, you want me to cook it for you.”

Karl laughed. “Yeah, you’ve got that wild animal half-tamed all right. I didn’t think you could eat bear liver. Toxic levels of vitamin A.”

“Nah, that’s polar bears, because of all the fish and fish-eating seals in their diet. This guy should be fine.”

“That’s gross and disgusting.” Sam called down from the hilltop.

The other three walked down and stared in horror as he and Karl got to work.

Clanking from up hill. Sam staggered down pulling the deer hide, loaded with the water jugs.

“I’m going to go find this putative home of yours.”

Xen stepped over and grabbed one jug. “See you there.”

The other three shuffled their feet, and finally followed him.

“Another house. Real fast.”

Karl grinned. “But yours gets the big bearskin rug, right?”

“Right.” Xen cut a quarter off the liver and tossed it to Hunter. Then started cutting the meat off the bones. “I’ll need the brains to tan the hide, and this lovely fat for various things, and we’ll just leave the rest.”

“Yeah, probably only a couple hundred pounds . . .”

“Did I mention that I finally caught a bubble—and don’t mention that to them—we could take the whole thing . . . and in fact some of these nice meaty bones for the wolf.” Xen grinned. “Now if we just need to find some had grains, a bee hive, test more veggies and we’ll be in fine shape.”

***

 
 
 
matapam
13 April 2018 @ 10:32 am

“Hi. I’m Karl Mantigo, Earth Prime, assigned to Disco.”

“What?”

“Huh?”

The old man staggered to his feet. “What’s a Disco?”

Xen sighed. “Hi Karl. Disco is the Department of Interdimensional Security and Cooperation. The Dimension Cops.”

The old man rounded on him. “Dimension . . . there’s no such thing.”

“Xen! I was hoping you’d show up.” Karl was grinning, relieved.

Were they that worried about me?

Xen pulled his attention back to the strangers. “We operate an Embassy World where all polities can talk instead of fight. Your people—I think—have come in to start a fight. Hopefully they will decide to try diplomacy, but, well, we’re out of the fight for now and just staying alive.”

Karl looked him up and down. “Staying alive. You . . . look a bit leaner and meaner than when PooBah snatched you three months ago.”

“I’ll bet. I found Jiol, she’s recovering. I take it they didn’t stick a magic suppressor pill in your back?” PooBah? Oh. My. God. That’s perfect.

Watson looked around. “He’s obviously not magic, why would they?”

“Oh, I thought they might just do everyone. Can you see glow already?”

Watson wrinkled his nose. “He’s . . . ordinary looking. I mean, you’ve got height, unusual eyes, not a surprise you’re magic. Even though you aren’t Chinese.”

Chinese? Xen eyed the group. Only the old guy looks even a little Chinese.

“Huh. Well, I’m Xen Wolfson, sorry, ought to have introduced myself before surgery.” So, two magic, two not. Might be some indication of a magical elite.

The old man growled a bit. “I’m Dr. Samuel Chou, Head of the Guangzhou Institute of Science. Or was.” A glare at Watson. “Call me Sam.”

“Jerry Thorne, and that’s Connor Johnson.” The pudge jerked a thumb at the young one. “We’re Dr. Watson’s lab techs. And Doc Sam is the Big Boss.”

Dr. Watson hung his head. “I told them it was all my doing, that you guys were ignorant of my . . . aberrant behavior.”

A glare from Dr. Chou. “Failing to disassemble the robotic dog was bad enough. Failing to terminate a biological experiment, lying about it! You deserve this.”

Xen eyed the old man. You’d better not be talking about Cali! But I think I won’t mention her until I have to. Because I suspect you are chock full of information about your society.

“Karl? Do you know of a water source nearby?”

“Nope, the streams all dried up about three weeks ago. There a tiny snowmelt spring half a day up the mountain.” He eyed Xen’s clay jugs. “How much you got left? And do you have a place with water?”

Yeah, and like it or not, I’m going to have to take them there.

“I’ve got two gallons. And I’ve got a house by a stream that was still running a day and a half ago.”

“Umm, give me the empties. I’ll fill them and catch up to you north of here?”

“Yep. The house is probably right on a hundred kilometers away. If you don’t catch up to us by nightfall, we’ll light a fire . . . umm, was that you playing arsonist?”

“Yep. Worked too, although I was getting worried about Jiol. Anti-magic chemicals, I take it?”

“Yes, but mine and Jiol’s are starting to wear off. Oh, and there’s a half-tame wolf around, but watch out for any packs.”

“Gotcha.” Karl grinned. “Half-tamed wolf? Buckskin pants. House. Dunno why everyone was so worried about you.”

“Have some venison. See you tonight.”

***

They made five miles at a snail’s pace before Sam folded. The four of them carting him on an improvised stretcher made better time, but none of them complained when Xen stopped on a hill at sundown.

He slid one of his spears out of the deer hide stretcher and used the edge to cut enough brush for a fire. Some combination of signal and to keep predators away.

The PooBahs all grumbled about the jerky.

“Why didn’t you collect nuts and berries instead of killing animals?”

“Because the nuts ripen in the fall, and the birds beat me to the vast majority of the berries. Plants have to be tested carefully, as a lot are poisonous. If we’re stuck here very long, yeah, lots of plant material will be added to our diets.”

Xen stared into the night. Rustling grass. Hunter or Karl? Or something else?

“Hello the camp.” Karl sounded cheerful. “I found your pet wolf.”

He walked into the dim firelight, Hunter at his heels. The wolf circled around to lay down near Xen. Karl handed over four jugs of water.

“We’ll be home late tomorrow.” Xen eyed the tired strangers. “Well, maybe not. Might take an extra day. What do you call your world? Or is it another Earth?”

“Exile Three is the original name. But we call it Xin Zhongguo.”

Xen sat up. “Well, that explains the magic. I’m from the fifth Exile World, now called Comet Fall. Our founder population was exiled from Earth when they turned on the genetically engineered.”

They all shifted uncomfortably.

Watson broke the uneasy silence. “Yes, that’s how our world got started. And then added more people a hundred and fifty years ago. Now we have laws against genetic engineering. It happens only under very controlled conditions.”

A glare from Sam. “Not controlled enough.”

“Please understand that on Embassy, and my own world, that even directly engineered people are . . . people. With all the rights, privileges and responsibilities that all people have. I suggest that we act in that fashion here, so as to avoid any dangerous conflicts within the group.”

Jerry turned and studied him. “We were unconscious and dropped off alone fifty kilometers apart. Was there someone beside us four dropped off? Say . . . a girl named Cali?”

Watson’s hands fisted and he stared at Dr. Sam.

Sam Chou’s mouth thinned. “Great. The failed experiment, and we’ll wind up feeding her and caring for her.”

Watson’s hands relaxed. “It doesn’t matter here, that she’s designed.”

Karl looked at the PooBahs, or whatever they called themselves. “Why was she a failure?”

Sam huffed. “We were trying several combinations of genes, trying to replicate a specific ability. She didn’t have it, so . . .”

Xen eyed them. “So Watson adopted her, instead of ‘terminating the experiment’ in the usual fashion. Which is apparently to kill the unsatisfactory children.”

One glare, two techs gazing off into the distance. Watson staring holes in the ground.

“How could I kill her? I work with the magic metal, I don’t . . . I couldn’t. Anyone could see she was a little girl!”

The old man scowled. “You should have told me you couldn’t do it when I suggested you take on a bio-division opportunity. I would have had someone else socialize her. Someone with a proper scientific attitude would have who would have taken care of the entire process.”

“Yes.” Watson got up and stared out into the dark. “Actually, you deserved to be Transported.”

It was a very silent group that settled down to sleep.

Karl signaled that he’d stay awake. Xen nodded, and put his head down . . . woke to a growl from Hunter. A rustle in the grass, departing quickly.

Karl shrugged. “Whatever it was, it changed its mind.”

Xen nodded. “I’ll take the watch. Catch some sleep.”

He sat up, crossed his legs, and slipped into a meditation trance. Six glows close by. Sam was the brightest, jumpy and uneven. Watson’s glow was jumpy as well. Wonder what I look like, magically? I’ll have to ask Jiol tomorrow. Karl and the two lab techs were ordinary, normal people. Hunter glowed like most of the larger mammals.

Xen soaked up a little heat. And touched a bubble. Cupped his mental grasp carefully around it and pulled it closer. Opened a hole. Closed it. Stuck it on his arm.

Yes!

A quick check of the surroundings. An owl skimmed by overhead.

Xen settled back and looked at the inbetween. A crumpled paper universe there, and another way over there . . . He couldn’t look any further.

Yet!

***

Xen got them moving at first light. Chewing jerky and complaining. He and Karl carried everything, and he parceled out the water in small sips, gave them frequent rests.

He gave up and let them stop as the sun dropped toward the horizon.

“Only one gallon left. Karl, stay with them. I’m going to take the empties ahead and fill them, check on Jiol and Cali.” He grabbed the empty jugs and trotted off. Hunter ran ahead, and was lapping water when he climbed down to the stream.

The flow was sluggish, but just seeing it eased one of his fears. He clambered over rocks to the waterfall and hailed the house.

“Well, you took your time!” Jiol’s cheerful scold relieved his main worry.

“Daddy? Did you find Daddy?” Cali scrambled down the uneven rock staircase.

“I did. He was too tired to walk all the way back, so I came ahead to refill the water jugs. I’ll get him back here tomorrow. And Jerry, Connor, and Sam.”

He could see her big grin in the twilight, and his heart ached. She has no idea her Uncle Sam doesn’t see her as a person. I just hope the other two are kinder. More human. And I wish her dad was less apologetic about not killing her.

He stuck the jugs under the waterfall. “Oh, and I found Karl Mantigo. He was the one starting the fires. I’ll carry the water back to them tonight. It’s only another ten kilometers or so, but they’re city boys, and Sam’s old.”

 
 
matapam
12 April 2018 @ 08:23 am

Ten miles to the southwest, the dots had spotted them and turned toward them. Two men supporting a third. Watson rushed ahead.

“Bloody impulsive . . .” Xen followed at a reasonable pace and got there in time to catch most of the acrimony.

“. . . your fault, and Doc Sam is dying without his magic.” That one was young and intense, dark haired.

“I can’t believe you did that!” The second man was not as young, not as dark, and pudgy.

The third man was elderly, sagging. Thin gray hair and brown eyes, slight epicanthal folds.

Watson looked at Xen. “Cut it out! Quickly!” he turned back to the old man. “This guy can get the Death out of your back. He took mine out.”

The old man waved vaguely. “Too late. It’s done. I am no longer a Chou.” He collapsed on his face.

Xen sighed and brought out the water. “Sips, small sips.” He turned and looked for the smoke, thinning, but the mountains were close enough for him to spot the blackened slope.

He dropped his gaze to the nearest hill where a man in orange stood surveying them.

“Who the heck is that?” Watson shifted nervously, looked at his . . . friends. “Who else was transported?”

“No one . . . this month.” Pudgy propped up the old man and helped him drink.

“It may be one of my people.” Xen turned back to the old man. “In any case, let’s get the poison pellet out of you and make a few plans.”

“What good will that do. It’s too late.”

“Swear to god you lot are pessimists. If it was permanent, they would need to put a dissolving poison in your back, now would they?”

Xen had it down to a routine, now. He was helping to old man back into the overall as the next guy walked up to the group.

“Hi. I’m Karl Mantigo, Earth Prime, assigned to Disco.”

“What?”

“Huh?”

The old man staggered to his feet. “What’s a Disco?”

Xen sighed. “Hi Karl. Disco is the Department of Interdimensional Security and Cooperation. The Dimension Cops.”

The old man rounded on him. “Dimension . . . there’s no such thing.”

“We operate an Embassy World where all polities can talk instead of fight. Your people—I think—have come in to start a fight. Hopefully they will decide to try diplomacy, but, well, we’re out of the fight for now and jut staying alive.”

Karl looked him up and down. “And you . . . look a bit leaner and meaner than when PooBah snatched you three months ago.”

“I’ll bet. I found Jiol, she’s recovering. I take it they didn’t stick a magic suppressor in your back?” PooBah? Oh. My. God. That’s perfect.

Watson looked around. “He’s not magic, why would they?”

“Point. Well, I’m Xen Wolfson, sorry, ought to have introduced myself before surgery.”

The old man growled a bit. “I’m Dr. Samuel Chou, Guangzhou Institute of Science. Or was.” A glare at Watson. “Call me Sam.”

“Jerry Thorne and that’s Connor Johnson.” The pudge jerked a thumb at the young one. “We’re Dr. Watson’s lab techs. And Doc Sam is the Big Boss.”

Dr. Watson hung his head. “I told them it was all my doing, that you guys were ignorant of my . . . aberrant behavior.”

A glare from Dr. Chou. “Failing to disassemble the robotic dog was bad enough. Failing to terminate a biological experiment, lying about it! You deserve this.”

Xen eyed the old man. You’d better not be talking about Cali! But I think I won’t mention her until I have to. Because I suspect you are chock full of information about your society.

“Karl? Do you know of a water source nearby?”

“Nope, the streams all dried up about three weeks ago. There a tiny snowmelt spring half a day up the mountain.” He eyed Xen’s clay jugs. “How much you got left? And do you have a place with water?”

Yeah, and like it or not, I’m going to have to take them there.

“I’ve got two gallons. And I’ve got a house by a stream that was still running a day and a half ago.”

“Umm, give me the empties. I’ll fill them and catch up to you north of here?”

“Yep. The house is probably right on a hundred miles away. If you don’t catch up to us by nightfall, we’ll light a fire . . . umm, was that you playing arsonist?”

“Yep. Worked too, although I was getting worried about Jiol. Anti-magic chemicals, I take it?”

“Yes, but mine and Jiol’s are starting to wear off. Oh, and there’s a half-tame wolf around, but watch out for any packs.”

“Gotcha.” Karl grinned. “Half-tamed wolf? Buckskin pants. House. Dunno why everyone was so worried about you.”

“Have some venison. See you tonight.”

***

They made five miles at a snail’s pace before Sam folded. The four of them carting him on an improvised stretcher made better time, but none of them complained when Xen stopped on a hill at sundown.

He slid one of his spears out of the deer hide stretcher and used the edge to cut enough brush for a fire. Some combination of signal and to keep predators away.

The PooBahs all grumbled about the jerky.

“Why didn’t you collect nuts and berries instead of killing animals?”

“Because the nuts ripen in the fall, and the birds beat me to the vast majority of the berries. Plants have to be tested carefully, as a lot are poisonous. If we’re stuck here very long, yeah, lots of plant material will be added to our diets.”

Xen stared into the night. Rustling grass. Hunter or Karl? Or something else?

“Hello the camp.” Karl sounded cheerful. “I found your pet wolf.”

He walked into the dim firelight. Hunter was at his heels, but circled around to lay down near Xen. He handed over four jugs of water.

“We’ll be home by noon tomorrow.” Xen eyed the strangers. “What do you call you’re world? Or is it another Earth?”

“Exile Three is the original name. But we call it .”

Xen sat up. “Well, that explains the magic. I’m from Exile Five, now called Comet Fall. Our founder population was exiled from Earth when they turned on the genetically engineered.”

They all shifted uncomfortably.

Watson broke the uneasy silence. “We have laws against genetic engineering. It happens only under very controlled conditions.”

A glare from Sam. “Not controlled enough.”

“Please understand that on Embassy, and my own world, that even directly engineered people are . . . people. With all the rights, privileges and responsibilities that all people have. I suggest that we act in that fashion here, so as to avoid any dangerous conflicts within the group.”

Jerry turned and studied him. “We were unconscious and dropped off alone fifty kilometers apart. Was there someone beside us four dropped off? Say . . . a girl named Cali?”

Watson’s hands fisted and he stared at Dr. Sam.

Sam Chou’s mouth thinned. “Great. The failed experiment, and we’ll wind up feeding her and caring for her.”

Watson’s hands relaxed. “It doesn’t matter here, that she’s designed.”

Karl looked at the PooBahs. “Why was she a failure?”

Sam huffed. “We were trying several combinations of genes, trying to replicate a specific ability. She didn’t have it, so . . .”

“So Watson adopted her, instead of ‘terminating the experiment’ in the usual fashion. Which is apparently to kill the unsatisfactory children.”

One glare, two techs gazing off into the distance. Watson staring holes in the ground.

“How could I kill her? I work with the magic metal, I don’t . . . I couldn’t. Anyone could see she was a little girl!”

The old man scowled. “You should have told me you couldn’t do it. I would have had it taken care of it.”

“Yes.” Watson got up and stared out into the dark. “Actually, you deserved to be Transported.”

It was a very silent group that settled down to sleep.

Karl signaled that he’d stay awake. Xen nodded, and put his head down . . . woke to a growl from Hunter. A rustle in the grass, departing quickly.

Karl shrugged. “Whatever it was, it changed its mind.”

Xen nodded. “I’ll take the watch. Catch some sleep.”

He sat up, crossed his legs, and slipped into a meditation trance. Six glows close by. Sam was the brightest, jumpy and uneven. Watson was jumpy as well. Wonder what I look like, magically? I’ll have to ask Jiol tomorrow. Karl and the two lab techs were ordinary, normal people. Hunter glowed like most of the larger mammals. He soaked up a little heat. And touched a bubble. Grabbed it and pulled it closer. Opened a hole. Closed it. Stuck it on his arm.

A quick check of the surroundings. An owl skimmed by overhead.

Xen settled back and looked at the inbetween. A crumpled paper universe there, and another way over there . . . He couldn’t look any further.

Yet!

 
 
matapam
11 April 2018 @ 12:08 pm

“Okay, if you’re going to be an ass about it . . . how about I cut that nasty stuff out of your back, and then we can duke it out magician to magician in a month when you’ve recovered.”

“Cut . . . Fat chance I’ll let you near me with a knife . . . Cut what?”

Xen turned to display his back. “I had something, a big pellet or whatever you want to call it, under the skin there. I got it out but it was dissolving. Two months later, a woman I work with was transported. She sliced it open and scrubbed the rest out.”

“What good will that do?” At least there was an edge of uncertainty to his belligerence.

“My power’s coming back slowly. I hope to hell it’ll recover completely. I suspect the quicker we get it out, the faster the recovery. Maybe the less permanent damage.” Oh shit, I don’t want to think about permanent damage.

Dr. Watson barred his teeth. “Do it to me right now, you piece of dross. Prove that you’re on my side.”

Xen stood up. “Peel off the top of that . . . garment and let me get to work.”

The man grumbled to his feet and shrugged out of the overalls.

“There it is. Umm, it’s very absorptive, so let’s minimize both our exposures. If you would lay down on your right side . . .”

Fortunately he could do a reasonably strong pain spell. So, a quick slice, and flick the pellet out, wash it and scrub it with a wad of grass, rinse, and try a healing spell.

“Well, that’s all I can do without running water.” Xen stood back and rinsed his hands. Blood, but no nasty stuff. “Judging from my friend, you should be feeling the power just a bit in ten days or so.”

He straightened and looked south, to the thin column of smoke. “So, if you want to head straight to Cali, go north. I’m going to find out who’s . . . no?”

“No. I still think you’re full of shit, and I don’t believe you about having Cali here. I’m going to go find out which of my friends set the fire.”

Xen sighed. “Right. I recommend we hike up that hill, there’s a couple of trees, so there will be fallen wood for a fire. Dinner, sleep, and we’ll find the fire by midday tomorrow.”

“We should keep going. It wasn’t that dark last night.” Watson looked stubborn.

Xen sighed. “And so we met potentially hostile people dead tired?”

The man stepped around him and started walking.

Xen picked up his deerskin sack and followed.

I hope Cali’s representative of their culture, not Watson and the Judge.



Chapter Nine

“It feels like a bloody space suit!” Rael looked down at herself, very glad that Dr. Wrla didn’t have a mirror in his lab.

The Subdirector of Research nodded. “It very nearly is. Put on the helmet.”

“The last suit worked very well, apart from needing a bit more heat insulation.” Rael looked at the helmet. Smoked glass, well, carbon fiber impregnated outer layer with clear non-conducting inner layers.

“They’ll up grade. We’ll stay ahead of their game.” Wrla grinned. “Since Izzo won’t let you just kill them.”

Rael put the helmet on. “At least it has lots of holes for airflow.” And it doesn’t seal, so I don’t have to worry about it getting welded shut by an electric arc. “I feel ridiculous.”

***

Q howled with laughter when she saw it. Then sat down and cried.

Rael looped an arm around her shoulders. “They can’t have just killed him. They must have wanted information.”

Their eyes met, and neither of them said anything about what methods the PooBahs might be employing to get answers.

“So. My turn to cook dinner for the hordes?” Rael got up and headed for the kitchen.

/// Figure out when, and the ages of all the kids who might be around to be fed.///

Living in Xen’s house had turned out to be quite different than she’d imagined.

Q’s nine-year-old daughter Destiny, and five of Xen’s teenaged kids were in and out all day, even though they slept in a “kid’s hangout” with corridors to both Xen’s and Q’s houses. And attended school here as well.

But while Rael was back home reporting in—and visiting her own teenagers—four more little kids had joined them.

“Jacana and Lapwing never did get over their little adventure with Heso and Eldon, so rather than leave the kids in a bubble forever, we’re raising them. My Aunt Obsidian has them most of the time, but this summer she needed to take Fir up to Mount Frost. Fir’s fourteen and could easily grasp power this year.”

Rael nodded. Xen had mentioned the witches’ ceremonies, so she knew, in general, what Q was nattering on about. More little redheads, well, two of the four. But three out of four teenagers are red in one shade or another. “Nine years old by the calendar, but somewhat less in actual experience?”

“Yes. A bit younger than Destiny. I bubbled her regularly while dealing with the Helios, but I got her out whenever I had a few days off. Those two just didn’t even want to think about their kids.”

“And they both had twins. You know, it suddenly occurs to me that red hair is pretty common on Comet Fall. It’s very rare on the One World.” Rael opened the cupboard to see what was available. And I never realized that Xen had a deal with the witches who ran the restaurant to keep him supplied with food in various levels of assembly.

Q nodded. “Blonde too. Two of the Old Gods—Barry Virtue and Edmond Vice—were sexual predators and spread their genes widely and often, especially in the early years before the other Gods reined them in a bit. Barry’s blond and Edmond was a redhead and fortunately dead. Add in a small founder population, then a bottleneck, and we’ve got several distinct types. And a whole lot of redheads, especially in Ash and Rip Crossing, where the Mages and Farmer Girls are all related to Beck Butcher.”

Rael sighed, and ran her hands through her hair. I need a hair cut. “Umm, did you hear about me?”

Crispy hot fried chicken in the hot bubble. They obviously know how many people Xen feeds regularly. I never stay here long enough to notice. I’m not a regular part of his life, and he’s not a regular part of mine.

“One of Bran Butcher’s daughters, speaking of men who got around? In a nice way in his case. Like Xen, the highly magical are highly attractive to witches.”

“And Oners.” Rael shuffled her feet embarrassed to say it. “The name is so . . . I mean, I might name a dog Bran . . . and butcher . . .”

Q grinned at that. “Brandon, officially. And Butcher was just his father’s job description. I think the original family name was Done Mayor or somesuch. They were the strongest Mage line, much status attached to it, even before the comet fell, a thousand years ago.”

“Ah.” Rael grinned ruefully. “It’s embarrassing to have to admit that’s a huge relief. Brandon Done Mayor sounds so much better.”

Q snickered. “Even without a Withione, or whatever, in there?”

Rael shook her head. “In Oner terms, he’d be . . . Let’s see . . . Something like Ando Clostuone Done Mayor Comet Fall. Except the letters would depend on his insertions.”

“That’s an insane naming scheme.”

“I know. You’d think they’d at least let us have official name type names in addition. Or let us change them as adults. But no. We’re stuck. Not that I don’t like mine, but Wqlw? Not that anyone would dare laugh.”

Fresh broccoli. One of the vegetables they’d actually eat, so long as it wasn’tmushy. Fresh rolls, smelling heavenly, butter.

“At him? Unlikely they’d do it twice, but he get’s along pretty well with the people here.”

“Which is astonishing to those of us who knew him before the bio-attack. Thank the One that was a boy who had a rigid sense of honor.”

Q eyed her. “What about you?”

“I’m not sure. Well, I lost three genes, but . . . I can do things I never could, before. Maybe because I never tried. Or maybe because those three genes were always turned on and drawing power.”

“Interesting . . . so, in addition to this not-really-a-space-suit what do you have planned?”

“I want to put a whole lot of grounding rods . . .” She broke off at Q’s nod.

“I’ve got a grid of rods all over the plaza now. Just below the surface. I can raise as many or as few as he’s on. I’m hoping to drain his batteries, or whatever he’s got, and punch holes straight through his damned magic carpet.”

“Good plan. We need to keep him here, and ask him a few question.” Rael eyed the other woman. “I could get some priests in, or you could invite that William Michaelson of yours.”

“Or both. Will can’t compel speech, he just suppresses lies.”  

Then a cacophony of voices as the kids poured in.

“Ah, school’s out. So, you guys want a snack now and dinner later or are you ready for the fried chicken now?” Rael was already pulling out the chicken as multiple calls for it erupted. “You lot are bottomless pits.”

And I’m going to stay a part of your live from here on out.

With Xen, dammit. He has to be alive.



Chapter Ten

When they took a break at midnight, Dr. Watson (please let there be a Sherlock somewhere!) fell asleep. Xen took a quick look around under the light of the full moon and spotted movement in the grass. A wolf . . .

“Still following me? Silly wolf.” Xen tossed him a strip of jerky. And since he wasn’t showing any signs of attacking the new human, stretched out in the grass and let himself fall asleep.

Woke to Watson’s cursing in the early dawn.

“You needed it.” Xen handed him a strip of jerky. Looked around. Hunter was well down the hill, watching them. “Let’s go.”

Three hours later Xen trudged up a high hill for another look around. Spotted movement. Several specks of orange, heading west. “You know Watson, I’ll never complain about the orange outfits again. They’ve made finding people really easy.”

Watson wheezed up beside him. “Bloody predator. Hunting people.”

“And a good thing. Water?”

“Yeah. You’re running low, aren’t you?”

“Not yet, but getting all of you back to my base may be a bit tight.” Xen took the bottle back and took a sip. Corked it. “Come, Watson, the game’s afoot.”

“It’s not a game. We’re marooned here with no way to get home . . . not that I could live there anymore, without a job . . . or legal existence.”

Xen nodded. “We’ll see.” When I trust you well enough to tell you I’m not from your home.

 
 
matapam
09 April 2018 @ 12:48 pm

“DADDY!” Cali leaped out of the robodog. “We have to go find Daddy!”

“Or whoever set that.” And the first one, three weeks before your daddy was transported. “But if it wasn’t your daddy, he may see it and walk toward it. So I’ll head that way at first light.”

***

He left the bow and arrows with Jiol, and loaded up with even more water this time.

And hustled. I won’t say I’m a hundred percent, but I do feel a lot better. But the ladies are going to be alone for three days. Even if I just go there and head straight back.

Two hills away, the wolf showed up paralleling him and scaring up rabbits and birds. Finally realized Xen wasn’t hunting and grabbed a rabbit himself.

Xen crossed the dry stream bed, passed where he’d found Jiol, and kept on. The next streambed was dry as well. He detoured around a high rocky hill, then climbed the next to take a good look around.

The smoke was still obvious, and still probably a hundred kilometers away.

He took a slow look around. Not many animals. Too dry? And to the east, a small dot of orange, moving to the south or southwest, as he watched.

“So someone has seen the fire and is heading that way. Hopefully Miss Cali’s dad and not some common criminal who got himself transported.” Xen climbed down the steep south face of the hill and headed a bit east of due south.

The sun was low in the sky when Xen spotted the man in orange. Half a mile away. He waved . . . whistled . . . shook his head and trotted on an intercept course.

The man was trudging, head down, staggering a bit. Oblivious. Until Xen stepped in his path.

“Hi. You look like you could use some water.”

The man blinked, nodded as he rocked to a halt. “Yeah.” Raspy, almost a croak

Xen dropped his sack of food and water jugs and pulled the cork of the half empty one. “Take sips until your stomach can handle more. I’m Xen.”

The man took the jug warily, took a sip swallowed. “I didn’t know there were natives here. Umm, I’m Dr. Michael Watson.”

Sip. “Mike.”

Sip. “How did you learn to speak English?”

Xen snickered. “I’m not native. I’ve only been here three months, now.”

Sip. The man looked him up and down in disbelief. Hung up on the scar down Xen’s chest. “Well, yeah they hit you with the lightning rods, but where’d you get the pants?”

“Ah, you’re a city boy. I killed the dee, skinned, tanned the hide, cut it, and sewed it.”

Dr. Watson straightened. “I . . . see. Well, did you set that fire on the mountain?”

“Nope. I was going down to check on it . . . so, do you have a little girl named Cali?”

“What!” The man jerked around. “You piece of shit! Three months my ass. What have you done to Cali, you fucking government goon. Are you the Queen’s hit man? Damn you!”

“No! I . . .” Xen ducked a punch, tripped over his sack and the man jumped on him, hands going for his throat.

Not a clue how to fight. Xen had him face down in the grass, with an arm twisted up behind his back in seconds.

“According to Cali . . . Stop cursing and listen, will you?”

“If they hadn’t killed my magic I’d . . .”

Xen shoved his face in the grass. “Once Killerbite got her away, they heard you were to be transported, so they went to, what did she call it? Anyhow Killerbite ran to jump on the carpet when it transported, and he was going so fast he ran off the other side. So she got dumped about a hundred kilometers north of here. I found her and brought her back to a fairly safe place I made. She’s there with a fierce old lady named Jiol. Now. I understand there were four of you who got transported?”

“Like I believe you?”

“Okay, if you’re going to be an ass about it . . . how about I cut that nasty stuff out of your back, and then we can duke it out magician to magician in a month when you’ve recovered.”

“What good will that do?” At least there was an edge of uncertainty to his belligerence.

“My power’s coming back slowly. I hope to hell it’ll recover completely. I suspect the quicker we get it out, the faster the recovery. Maybe the less permanent damage.” Oh shit, I don’t want to think about permanent damage.

Dr. Watson’s cursing paused . . . “Do it right now, you piece of dross. Prove that you’re on my side.”

Xen stood up. “Peel off the top of that . . . garment and let me get to work.



 
 
matapam
07 April 2018 @ 03:12 pm
Getting better? Getting worse?