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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.


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.

03 July 2019 @ 09:34 pm