April 24th, 2018

_Marooned_ part 19

Rael eyed him. “They had to dig him out of the mess they made with that rescue snatch of theirs.”

Xen knelt. “Compressed skull fracture. And they didn’t even try to reduce it?” He checked the man’s arms. “He’s been on an IV . . . So tell us about this snatch thing while I work him over a bit. How did you trap them in the first place?”

“Q put iron rods vertically all over the plaza, barely under the stone. The next time he showed up, she shot the rods up through the carpet and shorted it out. Then she and Pyrite hauled ass of to the end of her chain of gates, so they could watch any rescue attempts and finally locate where these people were coming from—well, she mostly wanted to find you—and get a gate to there.”

Three weeks or so of healing, I’ll just dissolve the bone . . .

“Did she?”

“I don’t know. The third day there was this rainbow distortion floating around, above the plaza. Everyone backed way off—I was on the bottom step of Disco—then the rainbow dropped, and I was inside it.

“We crashed down in a metal lattice bowl, and judging from the debris mound they must have grabbed a spherical shape, maybe a third of it underground. I didn’t see anyone else from Embassy. I warped light and, well, wandered all over for almost three weeks. I figured that I’d check their government building, see if you were there and I just could feel you. Then I’d go back to the bowl and see if I could hitch a ride. Well, not one of my brighter ideas. I really ought to have skipped the ‘search the jail’ bit.”

Xen winced. Stood up and grabbed her hand to kiss her fingers again. “Yeah. Not that I’m not happy to see you. And I may be able to get us all out of here pretty soon.”

They all looked at the guy on the ground.

“What the heck we’re to do with all these guys, I have no idea.” Xen knelt and pushed eaters and assemblers into the man’s bloodstream.

If he doesn’t have any blockers, the assemblers won’t have much energy to make repair nanos. He shrugged, grabbed a bubble and swooped it over the unconscious man. “Let’s go get the rest of them. The alcohol is fading and I suspect the hangover will be nasty.”

The next guard had a broken leg. At least he was conscious and warily unaggressive.

“No. I don’t want to be around the Judge. Former judge. I can’t not do whatever he orders me to do.”

“Oh, well, there’s plenty of room for another camp. You’re a hundred kilometers south of him . . . can I look at your back? Do you have the Death of Magic implant?”

The man looked away. “Yes. I never had much magic, but they took it all away.”

“Right. Let’s fix that.”

He limped carefully along with them, and talked to the last two guards. They all opted to get the Death removed and to stay away from the former judge.

Xen dragged a corridor from their quickly chosen campsite back through all the other corridors, shook it loose, and anchored it to a scrawny tree ten kilometers from home.

***

“They transported the Judge! How could they?” Mike was clearly appalled.

Sam grinned. “How the mighty have fallen! And all his guards? Not the neighbors I’d prefer.” He eyed Rael, shrugged. “Now a few nice Chinese lady, that would have improved our little village immensely.”

“Village? I leave for a day and we’re suddenly a village?” Xen looked around. The communal campfire, with logs to sit on all around it. The meat smoker. The almost finished cabin. His tree house mostly hidden in the tree. “Well, close enough. We’ll finish the cabin tomorrow . . . maybe start another.”

Connor hunched his shoulders. “They must have done something wrong.”

Everyone looked at Rael.

She giggled. “We trapped them. Poor idiots got punished for their failure. Apparently your government thinks they can attack people with impunity. And waltzing into Embassy and attacking the Dimension Cops? Not a good idea.”

Jerry looked around. “Oh? Seems to be working.”

“That’s because of the long term effects of the Death. Which I’ve just about dealt with. We’ll see. Oh, and apparently distance, in a non-3D, dimensional meaning.” Xen sat back and considered that. “It’s odd that one of the Exile Worlds is so distant . . . and that they’re exploring so far from where they are.”

“What causes distance?” Karl poked at the logs and got a shower of sparks. “I never did understand that.”

Xen shrugged. “Well, mostly the starting cause of a major split. Which is usually astronomical. I wonder if they started out as a Hygeia branch world, but had so many unique occurrences that they . . . turned out very different? They might be what Q calls a stray, zinging off away from their starting point.”

Baffled looks from the Chinese.

Rael reached for another skewer of venison. “Or maybe they were already a stray, and fourteen centuries ago it was crossing the Hygeia branch and was chosen to be an Exile World. And a hundred and fifty years ago, while experimenting with gates, they were close enough to find the Eden Colony and everyone there evacuated.”

Sam eyed her suspiciously. “What do you know about them?”

“We found the ruins. Studied them briefly before the sun started flaring and well, cooking the planet. We check occasionally to see if the sun’s gotten quiet enough for the archeologists to go back. Hasn’t yet.” Rael eyed him. “So . . . in that case you found a population of people delighted to join you. What would have happened if they hadn’t wanted to leave?”

The four men exchanged glances. Sam shook his head.

“Most likely we’d have left them to their fate.”

Rael smiled nastily. “I felt that lie. Surely a high tech world wouldn’t raid for slaves?”

More squirms. Mike hugged Cali. “We have a very low birthrate. We need immigrants, workers. That’s why the Biosector was experimenting with artificial gestation.” He shot a glare at Sam. “I didn’t realize Cali was an unauthorized genetic engineering experiment.”

Sam glowered. “There are too many controls on research. I wanted something spectacular. To . . . gain recognition and maybe leadership of the new research center.”

Jerry gawped at him. “So this is all your fault? You tried to blame it on Mike, but it was you all along?”

Sam growled. “I was trying to correct the situation, but it was too late. But if Mike had followed orders . . . maybe . . .”

They all glared at him. Jerry looked over at Mike. “I’m glad you didn’t. I apologize for the things I called you.”

:: Xen? Do you know what they’re talking around? ::

:: Sam’s order to Mike to terminate the experiment, AKA kill Cali. He smuggled her out and took her home with him. She doesn’t realize her Uncle Sam wanted to kill her. I think Killerbite might be another unauthorized experiment. ::

Rael glowered across the fire at the old man. “So, your world raids for slaves.”

“Immigrants. They aren’t slaves.”

“Did they come willingly? Can they go back home?”Jiol swept a look over them all.

“I . . . never thought about it.” Jerry looked worried. “Mom never talked about it.”

Xen eyed him. “So . . . she immigrated perhaps thirty or forty years ago? How many other people came from her home world?”

“Twenty thousand. It was the largest immigrant surge since Eden. It’s all in the history we learned in school.”

Xen thought that over, shook his head. “What is the population of your world? Umm, Xin Zhonggao.”

“Fifty million. I don’t remember the exact numbers, but it was back over fifty million.”

They all stared at him.

“Fifty million and they’re trying to pick a fight with the biggest meanest collection of worlds in the Multiverse?” Karl shook his head. “Unbelievable. They don’t have the population base to create a high tech civ.”

“Except, as an Exile World they started out high tech.” Rael rubbed her forehead. “Starting to wear off. Good.”

“A dimension traveling civ with a fertility problem. And when I get home I suspect it’s going to be my problem.” Xen glowered. “I’ll have to talk to the immigrants and get their side of the story, and I’ll have to find the worlds they came from and see if they think were raided, or their citizens offered an opportunity.”

The Zhongs all looked indignant.

Mike shook his head. “We aren’t cross-dimensional pirates. We just need people and they come for the jobs.”

A snort from Karl. “Pity your government didn’t just come and set up a job fair.”

Rael looked back a Xen. “So . . . since they’re here, what are we going to do with Poobah and company? Those last three guards seemed reasonable, but they’re still mind molded and will obey Poobah.”

“Stop calling him that! It’s disrespectful,” Connor snapped.

Jiol smiled. “Indeed. Perhaps we should call him Ex-Judge.”

Multiple bristling.

“Do you know what his actual name is?” Xen looked at them. “Perhaps I’ll ask him tomorrow.”

“If he even remembers. There so much mental modeling he’s nearly an automaton.” Rael shivered and rubbed her arms.

“It’s a great honor.” Jerry scowled. “Of course they have to lock up any information he might give the enemy.”

Connor got up and kicked the unburned end of a log into the coals. The flames jumped and showed his clenched teeth. “I’ll go talk to him, to them. I may be a criminal, but I’m not the enemy. Maybe he’ll tell me what’s going on.”