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matapam
07 July 2019 @ 09:05 am

Inso shook his head. “You. Having a leadership crisis? I knew you were the Multiverse’s worst lone wolf, but . . .”

A snort from Peter Rhodan. “I want to know how he’s going to find a spy. I mean, I worked here for a month and nobody even asked where I was from . . .”

“And now your knowledge of the maze is about to come in handy.” Xen grinned. “Because I refuse to believe that any spies could be coming and going or sending reports directly from here without Q or me noticing. So let’s start by talking to some of the old reporters about people who showed up in the last couple of years. And which way they were coming and going from.”

The rest of the crew swapped glances around.

Andrei Andrews sniffed, “Centauri? You’d better go with them, and Dagger? You two have had the most wilderness experience.” She eyed Cactus and Fyre, who both shook their heads. “City girls. Like me, I regret to say.”

Admiral L’Sanjac snorted. “I’ll go. Ought to have someone along with leadership experience.”

Solti Farad Mubara bit down on his knuckle, for his humor under control. “I’m in.”

Xen nodded. “Right. I’ll get . . . is anyone taking care of the horses right now?”

Andrei rolled her eyes. “Styx yelled for help. Five girls who claim to be thirteen showed up. That Yellow woman with the red hair is keeping an eye on them.”

“Oh good . . . but maybe we’ll take some vehicles anyway.” Xen shrugged. “I need to recruit more people.”

“Ha!” Cactus shook her head. “Could we please regularize the personnel hiring methods? I mean, five girls show up and tell me they’re the new interns? I was lucky to get their names before they ran off to play with the horses. I think I’m supposed to pay them?”

“Yesss . . . I suppose we do need, like, a pay scale or something? And is anyone training them?” Xen sighed. I’ve been gone for . . . seven months, and about to run off again?

“Nighthawk was. With those Oner friends of hers, and Rael, whenever she was here. Q was too busy laying out a thousand gates. Warric helps whenever he’s here . . . need I say they’re all out with their telescope now?” Andrei snorted. “They get a weekly delivery from the messenger service.”

“Who all got raises.” Cactus added. “They were talking about whether they ought to quit and form a company. I recommended waiting a bit. Especially since they were using Disco vehicles.”

“Hmm. Didn’t think about that. Are there any vehicles left?”

Cactus rolled her eyes. “We just got in a bunch of new ones. Now we need a new garage.”

“Excellent. We promise to not put a single scratch on them.”

Cactus shook her head. “You may be a good liar, but somehow when you lie about the impossible . . .”

“Kids these days. No faith in their elders.” Xen shrugged. “And where would we find these vehicles?”

He looked around at all the eager faces. “And mind you, I’m going to casually chat with the reporters who camp out in the Maze, and look them over.”

***

Napoleon Zambrano was kicked back at Long Lake, pretty much ignoring the pole beside him.

“Don’t you ever get bored?” Xen strolled up to look over the lake.

“Heck no. This is heaven.” Zambrano sat up grinning. “Especially when a story comes looking for me.”

“What? The need for sanitary facilities at what’s become one of the most used camping areas? I figured here, Fire Lake, Sea Side . . . how about the Deadly Desert? Anybody camp there? Or head out further?”

“Nah. We can’t get too far from Embassy, we’d miss all the fun stuff. So how’s the scar doing?” Zambrano grinned. “Can I take a picture?”

“No. Rael prefers no scar, so I’m fading it fast.”

“Not instantly?”

“No. Scars form when the body rushes to heal. If I go too fast, it’ll just scar all over again.”

“Huh. That’s a fine note. I thought the main thing about magic healing was how fast it happened.”

“That and no-surgery shoving things around inside. Fresh wounds can be healed with much less scarring, starting from the get go. It’s old injuries with scar tissue that are a real pain to fix up.” Xen sighed. “And the answer is still no. No. pictures. Now, what do you guys need here? Toilets, showers?”

Zambrano finally peeled himself off the ground and looked around. “Fire rings would be nice. And . . .” He raised his voice. “Hey guys! What do you think? Some sort of roof, a pavilion or some such, up there on the flat? Big fire pit?”

“A smoker!” A man called back. “And hot water!”

“Sauna!”

“Jacuzi!”

“Washer and dryer.”

“Solar panels.”

Xen pinched his nose. “I ought to have known better.” He raised his voice. “Which other worlds need stuff?” He pulled out a pad and started writing.

“And mind you, some reporter go further. But most of us stay close.” The Oner fellow, Ojki.

“A big glassed in place at Sea Side. It can get chilly, and I get tired of the wind.” Whirlpool One had joined the reporters’ club soon after they’d been found.

Good grief, it’s been five years!

“Do many of you guys stay out there?”

The Whirlpool guy nodded. “It’s popular with those Earth Book guys. They like to hang out together and compare notes on which of them have had the worse presidents.”

A laugh from someone else. “Or best sports teams.”

“Horse racing, stock market picks.” Zambrano shook his head. “They keep trying to out guess each other, betting, going home and playing the stock market. Generally losing their shirts.”

“Good grief.” Xen shrugged. “How about the desert? Do I need to supply water?”

“Nah, no one go there, or at least they don’t stay.” Ojki shrugged. “Those Chinese fags go there, sometimes.”

Xen tried to look puzzled. “Chinese?”

Zambrano shrugged. “Orientals of some sort. After all, they compose a very large chunk of almost every world. So there’s plenty, right Ho?”

“I’m Vietnamese. How dare you insult me by lumping me in with those uncouth Chinese.”

“Is there a problem with some of the people here? I guess I just assumed you all got along well enough.”

Zambrano grinned. “Well there are a couple of rather standoffish fellows who tend to listen a lot and not talk much, especially about themselves, and occasionally pass through the far left corridor and disappear for a few days.” He shrugged. “We just figured they were fags and left them alone. Can I come film you tracking them down and disturbing them in their little love shack?”

“Er, no . . . I think I’ll just catch them after one of the morning briefs. Sounds like they don’t need much.”

“So . . . any news? Any reason we should all come to tomorrow’s morning brief?”

“Not so far. The Judge stayed away this month, but I dare say they’ll be back sooner than I’d like. Orde has been trying to get together a diplomatic mission, but we can’t guarantee their safety, give their . . . charming displays of hospitalities to date.” Xen eyed the pin on Zambrano’s shirt and sighed. “I’ll get the pavilion set up in a few weeks. My staff is trying to create paperwork for everything. But maybe I can dodge it, this time.”

He chatted with the reporters who preferred the sea coast, and a different lake, but didn’t hear any thing about other people going off on their own. ///Change this, make it at least three that he needs to check on.///

Chapter Thirty One

Spy Hunt

Xen got out all his maps and let Peter drive one Ute, and Sommer Albrecht the other.

L’Sanjac and Mubera were expectably horrified and climbed into Peter’s ute. Xen shook his head and rode shotgun with Sommer. Centari and Dagger took the back and Xen pointed the way to the Deadly Desert.