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13 June 2018 @ 08:41 am

Chapter Two

10 February 3523 ce

Granite Peak

Jack Hemmingway had everything he wanted out of life except lots of money. And he had a . . . job that just might lead to something big. If he played it right.

“You! Hemmingway!”

Oh God. The Rabid Bitch. Thank god she lost the election. Twice. Even Granite Peak doesn’t deserve a governor like her.

Joyce Hall disagreed. And the old lady was still holding a grudge about it. She stalked up. Lean, mean, and moving easily. Not as old as her gray hair made her look. Lady ought to have dyed her hair.

“There’s been natives sighted around the outlying farms.”

Jack sighed. “It’s been three years since some over-exuberant young men stole any livestock. And right now, politically, this would be the worst possible time for an incident.”

“You can kiss Disco’s ass all you want, you’re just hired muscle. But we’ve got homes here.”

Jack sighed. “I’ll have the boys patrol out a bit wider.”

Granite Peak. We even call it by the Oner’s name now. On contracts it’s still Chelsea Company 15. On the original colony sales pitch it was Serene Plantation. Sounds like a generic suburb in some back-water old-american south. Fitting, really, the way we treat Natives.

Of course, here, we had to import people who had some sort of work ethic. No amount of money could get one of the horse nomads into a mine shaft.

Pity we didn’t just turn and walk away when we discovered the Empire of the One had discovered this world and colonized it over fifty years before we found it.

“See that you do!” The old lady’s eyes snapped.

Jack pulled out his comm. “Nate? Shift the patrols out further, and run a few extra.”

On the other end of the line, his second in command—for all intents and purposes the man in charge here—sighed. “Hall again?”


Sigh. “Right. Enjoy your escape, Boss. See you in a week.”

“Unless there are complications.” Just hiring some specialized help.

And I hope like hell there aren’t any complications here. Like the guys on patrol getting too pushy-friendly. But Ferris knows who the problem boys are.

Jack clicked off and nodded politely to the not-governor. “That’ll give any . . . light-fingered natives something to make them a bit more cautious.” A polite nod and he put his gyp back in gear. Resisted the urge to gun it and leave the old pest in a cloud of dust.

Sometimes I hate being the good guy. There are days when hoisting the skull and cross bones is so tempting. And this simple hire . . . could be an opportunity.

If I dare.

There were two dimensional gates on the low bare hill. The metal arch marked the gate to Earth, dark now in their night time.

Usually the first gate touches down within a thousand miles or so of the same place on the parallel earth. This must be one of the outliers, nearly halfway around the world from Nowhereistan.

The other dimensional gate, the stone arch, showed daylight. Only an hour off from Disco Time. Embassy World. An Empty World where all the dimensionally able worlds could build an embassy and talk to the other worlds.

In theory.

Disco—the Department of Interdimensional Security and Cooperation—kept inviting any inhabited world they encountered to come join the fun. Whether they had the ability to make gates or not. Disco’d be happy to make gates for them.

Earth and the Empire of the One could make their own gates. With huge, complex machinery, eating up electricity in terrifyingly—expensive—amounts to hold a gate open for a few minutes. These permanent gates . . . “A natural dimensional phenomenon that we can use for our own purposes” they said. “Like a sailboat uses the wind, instead of steam or diesel engines to get you where you want to go.”

Fine for them. Only Comet Fall, of all the Worlds, seems to have the “right” kind of magic to make them. Good thing the Ones can’t.

The view through the gate was clear, so he drove through, coming out facing a street and a . He eased out into the street—as usual, pretty empty—and turned left, away from the big black cubic building of Disco Headquarters. Right would have been quicker, but he didn’t particularly want to drive in front of the Earth’s embassy.

Nosey bastards. Always keeping track of people. Especially their own citizens.

So a bit more than halfway around the plaza, he turned again, looking carefully before driving through another gate. This Earth—most people called it Bogata Nuke, because that was the splitting point—was locally famous for having been a target of a cross-dimensional criminal gang.

Jack was known here, came through two or three times a month to check the small private security firm he had here. Mostly to escort freight through to other worlds. His staff here stayed up-to-date on import-export regulations and easily half their work was just making sure the right paperwork was with each shipment. And not infrequently providing drivers as well as security.

So he parked where they pointed, popped his trunk and hood, rolled down the windows and nodded to the customs people. Three out of four he knew by name.

“Hey Jack.” Officer Hicks bent and glanced at the empty ute. “Any more issues with the convoy last week?”

“Eh. Assholes being assholes. I thought they released all the trucks to return.”

“Yeah, they came back an hour ago. Grumpy as all hell.”

Jack nodded. “There are days when I hate my own government. And days when I wonder why anyone does any business with them.” Note to self, send more polite guards along!

“Heh. No kidding.” Hicks stepped back as his underlings closed the hood and trunk, and waved him on. “See ya next time.”

Then he drove through the growing sprawl around the gate—what’s it been ten years that this world’s been in contact with the multiverse? He followed the signs, they’d gotten the highway interchange open since the last time he’d been through, and headed south for the old city. His man, a local who . . . was an expert at expediting . . . things without troublesome paperwork, had arranged a meeting with the woman he was hoping to hire.

He followed the directions he’d been given, parked where he’d been told to park and walked from there. His clothes fit in, he subdued his dominant body language and no one gave him a second glance. A cheap auto café. He got a cup of coffee and spotted his expediter.

He was sitting at a small table, with a blonde woman. He stood up when he spotted Jack, said something to the woman and walked away.

Jack slid into the chair and eyed the blonde woman. Young enough to call a girl.

A Comet Fall Witch, just released from prison, working a menial job on a foreign world.

Arrow Albdaut. The youngest of the witches jailed here, and so far, the only one released.

"You don't want to be here, you want to find your friends. Good. Because I want to find them too. Not to hurt them. To hire them. So I figured I should start with you. I'm what most people call a mercenary. I hire myself and my people out for various duties, generally involving protecting them from Bad Guys." He couldn't read her emotions, her eyes were opaque, her lips pressed thin.

"Now, you and you buddies are Bad Guys, but generally you just steal things—you aren't in the business of killing people. Some of your guys get carried away, now and then—the robbery at the Senator's manse was funnier than hell."

Her brows lowered.

He shifted. Damn it, what is she thinking? "But what I really want is a World all my own, with a Gate or three to go shopping, to pick up a job here or there. So I need a magical person. You've got two problems, from what I've read. This Chain thing." He leaned forward and touched it. She didn't flinch. "And some genetic changes. Where can you go to get these fixed?"

Still no reaction.

"I've been exploring through some of the backwards, behind times, Earths. Some of your former buddies like them, for their raids. All connected to what they call the Maze, on Embassy. Lots of people explore them, some people do science on them.

“I found a back route to Comet Fall."

She straightened at that. A spark lit in her eyes. "On Comet Fall I can fix the genes. For the Chain—I just need to meet the right person."

"I figured we'd better hurry, in case your friends decided to take down the Gate." He held out a blue uniform jacket with his company log on it, like the one he was wearing.

She stood up and reached for the jacket. "Right. Let's go."

He had, among his staff, three tall blonde women. In the company jacket, Arrow didn't get a second glance as he barely slowed before being waved through.

They worry more about the people arriving, and what they might bring with them. They don’t care who leaves.