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10 September 2017 @ 05:01 pm

"Umm . . . do you know where we are, geographically speaking?"

"Europe. Spain, was the old term. The Helaos concentrate in North America, so we're avoiding it." Xen leaned to pet a distraught Barracuda, ears down and tail between her legs. "Poor puppy, nobody loves you."

"I thought gates tended to stay close, you know, same place on a different world?"

Xen snorted. "Close as within a couple of thousand miles. Which might be the other reason for being four gates away, not that Q couldn't do it in one, but why give her yet another chance to show off?"

"Big brothers are a pain in the ass." Q walked up and shook her head at all the wolves. "Well . . . perhaps he wasn't completely wrong to think we needed some people along to pay attention to the real world while we were working."

The witches gathered. Egret shrugged. "Nasty thin coats, must be warm here. Maybe you should bury them so they don't start stinking. Xen? I believe you said something about a building?"

"Right. Top of the hill good, Q?" He took the sandwich Rael was holding out. Damn, and food too?

"Yes, wherever you can find a flat enough spot." Q grinned and grabbed a sandwich from the box Icks was toting. "You lot are going to be handy, aren't you?"


Rael gave Xen a ride to the top of the hill. Giving him an occasional quick glance. Three hours of intense mental work that had us all backing away and holding shields as hard as we could . . . You guys all need keepers.

"So, just any old flat spot?"

"It'll be easier if it's not solid rock . . ." He leaned out the window and stared at the ground. "I'm not dead sure this isn't more the heap of some huge fallen building than a natural hill. At any rate, a heap of very coarse, unsorted sediment, and streaks of rust and even some surviving iron alloys."

"Sounds like building debris."

He straightened and pointed. "Park there. I'll do the ground prep . . . "

Still a bit out of it, but he's on his feet . . . Mostly.

She watched in fascination as dirt and rocks—squarish things that certainly might have been bricks a long time ago—poured out of rapidly deepening holes, and large flat square area flattened itself.

Xen pulled absolutely nothing off his shoulder held it out and poked it. The ground quivered as a building dropped into place, inches from his toes.

"There we go. The Great Stone Inn."

Rael swallowed. "Well, and here I was thinking we ought to bring along some tents. Where did you get this?"

"Made it." Xen walked through the glass doors, and she followed him into a open two story . . . common room?

Four rooms to each side, staircases up both sides to eight more rooms off a balcony . . .

Xen flopped in a big armchair. More chairs, couches, vid screen. Tables and chairs beyond them and a kitchen.

Rael prowled. The side doors all led to ordinary hotel type setups . . . The vertical stacks of the bathrooms . . . "Those holes you made are for some sort of waste disposal, aren't they?"

"Yep. For a couple of weeks they'll be more than enough. There's a condensation unit on the roof, and if that doesn't keep us in water, I'll make it rain. Solar panels up there too."

The other utes drove up and everyone trooped in, even the dogs. People carted luggage, poked in all the rooms. The Fallen witches all claimed rooms on the ground floor, even Q, a bit to Rael's surprise.

Q shrugged. "Straight witches like to stay in touch with the earth. Silly, really, in a solid stone building. And we've all got the wizard gene, so it hardly matters . . . but for this mission I'll try to conform to witch customs."

Stay in contact with the earth? Why?

Xen waved upward. "I'll take the front corner and you guys can fight over the rest. There are two extra rooms, so Ohhe? If you decide you need more men, or Q, if you want to bring in a couple more witches for your own Triad . . ." He paused and frowned at Rael and Bunny.  

Q turned her head and eyed them as well. "Now that's an interesting thought. I've never heard of Oners doing anything like triads."

Scar opened his mouth, shut it at her dismissive wave.

"Men and their Compasses, yes, but what about women? We should try it tomorrow."

Ux snorted. "Two princesses and a witch. Now that'll be fun to watch." He walked over to the shelves below the screen and pulled out a vid. "Attack of the Super Soldiers?"

"It's from Earth, made about three years before the Exile. I thought you might like seeing the sort of things that led to the Exile. It's based on an actual occurrence. My dad says it's as close as one could expect in a work of fiction. There's a couple of those, some modern vids and documentaries from Earth Prime, some of the other slow earths, some stuff from the British Empire, and Purple." Xen flashed a grin. "You can call it sociological research."

Rael snickered. "It'll be just like Wednesday night at the Black Horse Barracks." And a triad? Some sort of link with Dr. Quail Quicksilver, the lady who can see the multiverse? Holy One, this could be interesting.

Or scary.

Only one way to find out.


Rael checked out the kitchen. Less than commercial size, bigger than family . . . no fab. Eek! but the big bins held shelves of prepared meals, steaming hot. Rael closed the door and glanced at the nearest witch. "Ibis . . . bubbles, right?"

The witch grinned. "Yep. Separate ones for four dinners, but also a big freezer and dry goods, fresh vegetables and fresh fruit in other cupboards. We helped Q stock up, last week."

They both looked over at a blast of sound . . .

"Oh One. We're going to get a movie whether we like it or not."

Iris swiped her long hair over her shoulder. "I like. The old guys have an incredible stock of these things, that they're shifting to your format. I haven't seen this one before . . . "

Rael located cold drinks . . . "Beer? When we're on duty?"

"Nope. Right now we're off duty. There's wine too—not that wine, relax—although if we could get some into Xen . . . umm, umm, that glow. You lucky dog."

Rael paused, then decided that from the witch's tone of voice she had not just been insulted. She hoped.

Ibis nattered on. "You ought to have his baby and advance."

"With my job? I haven't got the time."

Ibis shook her head, nabbed two beers and settled down beside Icks, who shot a guilty look Ohhe's direction and set the beer where the Sergeant couldn't see it.

Rael grabbed two cans of non-alcoholic "cokes" and settled down beside Xen to watch an appalling and hopefully not at all accurate fourteen centuries old movie.

"Dad says the Russian supper soldiers were raised in cages, treated like animals, and no wonder they ran amok when they escaped control." Xen stood up and headed for the kitchen. "Your Prophets were born and raised in the North American Union, and treated like children. Some were fostered out, some raised in group homes, but they were loved, cared for, educated. Then as the test kids reached their majorities their parent companies were bought up and the kids consolidated. It all went down hill, from there. But they had a good start."

The witches waved them off and started pulling out the hot dinners. Xen led her to one of the four tables, and waved Ohhe in to join them.

"Was that common knowledge?" Ohhe settled in a chair on Xen's other side. "We were all shamelessly eavesdropping."

"Dad's one of the original Tellies. He knew your Prophets when they were kids. And when things got nasty at NewGene, a bunch of them escaped. Dad wound up in the Army, and said he witnessed a lot of that. We're trying to get him to write up all the gory details. Umm, no. I gathered that the details of the Russian's upbringing wasn't known, which just added to the anti-genetic engineering prejudice, and the Exile."

Rael took a bite of . . . something wonderful. This is going to be a damned fine assignment!

Chapter Rael Triad

:: Oh, nice training. ::

Rael gulped a bit at the strong mental contact. Deep like Xen, but totally lacking the sexual component. Brilliant and controlled. :: We're trained, but not for . . . deep communion, merging like a men's compass. ::

Bunny was there too, feeling excited and scared, no verbalizations at all.

:: Take this bit of power from me, pass it to Bunny. Bunny back to me. Don't worry about being serious, make it a game. Pass the ball around then start smearing it around into a spinning hoop. ::

:: Spinning hoop, right . . . :: and it did smooth out, a huge amount of power, but since she was only handling a tiny bit at any given time . . .

:: This is amazing! :: Bunny's fear faded into awe.

A bit of amusement leaked in from Q. :: now while that spinning along we'll take a look around. This is what I see when I deliberately look at the multiverse. ::

The world blued gradually, ziggy little bubbles . . .

A mental giggle from Bunny. "Like looking into a blue soda. ::

:: Well shaken. :: Q agreed. :: Now see these folded crumpled almost transparent sheets? These are the membranes, entire universes. ::

They moved closer to one, bright specks turning into galaxies, thousands . . . billions, but that one right there . . . they fell closer, into it . . . a curve, a globe. Down to skim across a world. A coastline, a city . . . Paris, there's Government House . . .

:: Yes That's the One World. Now to pull back . . . ::

They whipped back into the sparkling blue, away from the pull of that one membrane.

:: Home. We can almost always recognize and find our home. As apparently you can. But right now, let's look at where we are.

:: We're actually looking through a couple of membranes, and I'm going to pull back so we can see them. ::

Crumples and bubbles shrank away, an edge towering over them moved back, more curves and bends in front of them.

::That's this universe. That edge out there, the bend, see how small it is, compared to the others? That's the Helios Miniverse. Relax now . . . and see the real world. ::

The blue faded away . . . And Rael was standing on a sandy rock holding up a thin weak ring of energy . . . that faded, disappeared, and the mental contact with Q and Bunny disappeared as well. Rael staggered back blinking. Backed into a nice warm man holding a bottle of boost.

Bunny sagged down to sit on the ground, Scar hustling up with a drink.

Ohhe walked up and handed another bottle to Q. "And I thought Rael was insane to order so much."

"How long did that take?" Rael looked up to check that she was leaning on the right guy.

"Fifteen minutes, start to finish." Xen squeezed her shoulder and released her. "Usually Q'd break all that into at least three sessions. But you two have much more mental control and discipline than her usual students."

Rael cocked her head and thought that over. "But these witches are stronger, and I can feel how . . . subtle and detailed their power usage is."

"They're Halfmoons—women who have given birth—so they've crossed a major threshold in complexity. It's different from discipline and control, which they are continually working on."

A snicker from Q. "When they aren't goofing off. But I'll work with you both a couple more times, then perhaps mix things up with the other witches."

A sniff from Jacana. "Exceeding your authority, massively."

"So, let's see if we can do twenty gates this morning." Q glanced at her brother. "Why don't you catch cones, and I'll spot today."

10 September 2017 @ 11:47 pm
Formerly known as _Rescue Mission_