Room 322. Work first, then apply for a job.
Crossing the back end of the big, open central hallway on his way to the stairs . . . a chill. He slowed looking around carefully . . . a man who had been walking toward Ajki and Ox, glanced his way, turned away abruptly and sped up, heading for the front doors.
Lucky Dave noticed too. Black and purple uniforms started moving . . .
The man pulled a gun and spun . . . aiming at Ice. He shielded and dived, spinning as the bullet hit his shield, scrambled to his feet and dashed to the guards standing around the . . . mentalist.
That’s why they haven’t grabbed him.
Ice formed a mental shield and wrapped it around the man.
The guards jumped, shook themselves.
“He’s been X-rayed.” Lucky Dave frowned. “And how the hell did he get a gun in here?”
Ice lowered his shield just enough to feel the man frantically probing for a weakness. “I think we have found a representative of the Drei Mächte Bündnis. Keep your mental shields up hard, and beware of anyone around he could grab and take control of.”
He eased the shield, but the guards were ready, now, and grabbed him, and searched him.
A girl, young woman, trotting past with an armful of folders slowed, blinking. Dropping everything and reaching for a guard’s gun . . . Ice threw a mental screen around her, and she jerked back, looking shocked.
“In fact, a dose of methalformalin would be a good idea.” Ice looked at the man, so ordinary . . . “And a DNA analysis.”
“Oh. Good idea. Ask a Dr. Ysse at IR about how it compares to Jaejong Chou’s DNA.” Rael, bounced up, sounding cheerful.
“They’re pulling in everyone, aren’t they?”
“Oh yeah. Urfa’s over on that Cyborg World with Xen and Agni. Explaining to their government that they’ve been naughty, and they aren’t going to be allowed to play in the multiverse anymore. Every time they get snippy, they blow up another building. I think Agni and his crew are enjoying themselves.”
Agni? One! Did they just sic a couple hundred Action Team Traitors on something they were allowed to blow up?
The man they were holding wrenched and snarled. “The Drei Mächte Bündnis bows to no one! How dare you cattle try to limit us!”
Lucky Dave nodded. “Snippy. Ice, how come they set you off?”
Rael’s brows rose. She looked from Ice to the captive. “It must be something to do with how you shield . . . If I lowered mine . . . yow!” She rubbed her arms. “That’s . . . really interesting.”
She turned to eye Ice. “Can you feel this?”
A hard poke at his mental shield . . . sort of at the edge, somehow. “Yes?”
“Stiffen it up, right there. Good. Now here.”
Ice stretched his shield further that way and strengthened it. “Oh. It’s gone. Whatever I was feeling.”
“Right. Now lower it again, but remember that, if you need it.” Rael looked down at the girl scrambling to pick up her files. “Twit? Next semester sign up for one of the Magic Practicum sessions. You need some shield work.”
The poor girl managed to get even redder.
Oh, pulled in Directorate students for emergency internships? How the hell many people have turned up with chips?
Lucky Dave glanced from Rael to Ice. Shrugged. “In the meantime, I think that horrible Chain is just what we need here. ” He circled his left index finger and the man’s glow disappeared.
Ice eyed the silvery chain around the man’s neck. That wasn’t there, a second ago . . . was it?
“What I want to know, is what the One Hell do we call these people?” Ice eyed the man, but he was sagging, sobbing—in fury, since he was still glaring. “Drei? I mean that’s just German for three, right?”
Rael giggled. “The Free Cyborg Rebellion calls them Bunnies.”
Ice blinked. “The Free . . .” He thought back . . . Mom said . . . “Right, they take young men from their conquered worlds and turn them into Cyborgs. So they’re rebelling? How did they manage that.”
That got him several hard stares. But Rael nodded. “It’s these control chips. I’ve met a bunch of the rebels, by and large not magical at all, they say that three days of the Joy Juice dissolves the wires in their brains, then they’ve got these medallions, with shield glyphs on them to shield them mentally.”
She looked back at the temporary committee room. “I’ll be talking to them about it. Maybe we can dissolve the puppets’ wires and . . . see if we’ve got a competent President or not.”
She bounced away toward the committee room, and two of the Black Horse grabbed the . . . Bunny’s arms and hauled him down the west corridor.
The remaining guards frowned at Ice. Lucky Dave loomed. “How did you learn this much about them?”
“Ah . . . there are some XR security issues involved, and I can’t talk about it,” He looked at Ajki, approaching from the side, with Major Eppa. “Unless the Boss says so.”
“The Boss has five free minutes, come in here, all of you. This will not be further discussed, even among yourselves, and sure as hell not with anyone else.” Ajki led them to a small room and closed the door. “Ice? Now I need the details.”
“My mother is Kaat Withione Kriti. She was with the Presidential Directorate under Uzmo, then transferred to XR, was infiltrated into Earth via Comet Fall.
“Two years later, working in their version of the SGA, she was caught up in that stupid attack through the Earth’s gate to Comet Fall. Which in case you didn’t know, involved a three day rape, pillage, burn, and blow up rampage before they all fled back through a gate to some world One knows where.
“What with serious head injuries, and so forth, Kaat only remembered her cover identity.”
“Amnesia doesn’t work like that.” Ajki’s voice was mild.
Ice snorted. “Yes, there’s usually a strong psychological element. Maybe, say, a two hour gang rape by her own side?”
“Uh . . . or the Auralian troops?”
“Mostly Halfers, not that that makes it any better. They were still trained by us and putatively under our command.” Ice took a deep breath. “The raiders probably thought it was a great joke to force Joy Juice on all the women so they’d get pregnant. In any case Kaat was evacced to the Hague, and instead of returning to Nowhereistan, found a job there. She was one of only seven women out of several hundred, who did not abort their pregnancies. In any case, fifteen years later, she regained her memory and the beacon she’d brought across.”
“It was still where she’d left it?”
“No . . . well, sort of. She’d attached it inside a large sofa, which had been lost in all the mess. It was coming across the sofa that triggered the return of her memory. She shifted the beacon to a house—with the return of her memory, she had access to a lot of things she’d set up including more identities and bank accounts—so she could buy a house. She ran standard marooning protocols for several years, then finally left it on, full time.
“XR never found it, but apparently the Cyborgs did. That house and five others were where they attacked from.”
“Mother had spent years working their traffic control system. Which enabled her to assist in locating their gates and getting them closed.”
Ice paused to look for questions. Or for bravery.
Dammit. Just keep going.
“Now, we never really talked about it. But . . . well, when she regained her memory, there she was. Married, with a son, a stepdaughter, friends, neighbors, a job she liked . . . and since they’d checked all the rape children’s DNA, the near certainty that they knew she was a Oner.
“After the Cyborg raid, they stopped pretending, and she helped them question their Cyborg prisoners. And she told me about them.”
Lucky Dave eyed Ice. “Do you know where her loyalties fall.”
“Not then. I’m not sure she knew. And since then she’s either been marooned for another twenty plus years, or XR is really good at keeping secrets. I thought at least Ajki would have some idea of her existence, if they’d ever contacted her.”
“Not a clue.” Ajki shook his head. “Damn. And what about you?”
“Earthers are even worse than Oners when it comes to Natives, and phobic about genetic engineered mutants. I was not considered human. Mother got me into the training program aimed at getting spies into the One World. A couple dozen Purps, and the seven of us. One of the training programs, they must have had at least one more.
“I crossed over in 1399 to Tall Trees, under orders, and with no intension of following them. Spent five years there until I was accepted at the Directorate School. I have not been contacted, nor attempted to contact anyone from Earth. I have been to Makkah and got a ‘Welcome Home.’ End of story.”
“Fuck me.” Ajki shook his head, checked his watch. “I have to go. Dave, get Ice some helpers and haul him everywhere, and find as many of these Cyborg Puppeteers as possible.”