March 25th, 2020

_Warrior at Large_ part 13

I haven't written part 12 yet, but . . .

He gritted his teeth, got back into the Ute and drove over to park beside Disco Headquarters. He got out and braced himself and headed up the steps. Relaxed when he made it through the front doors.

"Whew. So . . . once you make it through the front doors you're safe?" He grinned at the receptionist. "Umm, I'm looking for some reports from the early days of, well, Embassy. Rumor has it they're getting digitized, but I didn't find any such thing in the Library."

A laugh from above. Ice looked up and spotted Xen Wolfson.

"Are you back to work for the government?"

"Afraid not. I'm chasing ideas and old history down rabbit holes." Ice scratched his chin. "Actually, I suspect you know all about this particular rabbit hole. May I interview you?"

"Certainly come up." Wolfson flashed a grin. "Relax Dagger, Ice is one of Rael's students. I can beat him up if I need to."

"Great. A student of the assassin."

Ice snickered and headed for the stairs.

Wolfson waved him into an office and shut the door behind them.

"So . . . who do you have in the bag?" Xen eyed it. "Is Twit making bags?"

"Yes. Anonymously, and only giving them to people Rael permits." Ice shrugged. "I have a young man named Peter Golden. He was born on Earth, but his maternal Grandmother is a Purple, and he inherited their power gene. And may have added the Oner gene. He was part of a six person assassination Team sent from Earth to the One World to kill the Prophet Emre. Given the opportunity to get away from both the Earth and the One, he took it."

Ice winced. "The other five were steadfastly determined to carry out their mission. In any case, Peter, here, needs a new home. I've heard rumors about several other Earth spies defecting to Comet Fall. If true, they may well be relatives or old friends. May he join these theoretical defectors?"

"What happened to the other five?"

/// spoiler redacted///

"I see. So, let's just ask him, shall we?"

Ice pulled out the handles and spread them. Crooked a finger in front of the bag.

The young man stepped out, looking wary. "What went wrong?" He looked around, a puzzled line between his brows. Then he focused on Wolfson and his mouth dropped open. "Ohshit!" He looked for a exit . . .

"Relax. It's been three days. I was just asking Captain Wolfson about the whereabouts of Victoria, Rich and Eileen."

Peter looked back at Wolfson, panic giving way to hope. "Eileen's my little sister." His jaw jutted out belligerently. "Did you do something to her?"

"I helped her elope with a young man she fancied. They live in a small town on one of our Colony Worlds. Rip World. Would you like to visit and talk to her?"

"Yeah . . . as a matter of fact."

Wolfson refused his offer to drive and led to way to a barn and a trio of horses, saddled and ready to go.

Other than the big dark brown one not having a bridle.

Ice met the intelligent gleam in the horse's eyes and suspected he was being laughed at.

:: Yes. But at least you don't disbelieve we're intelligent. ::

The sturdy black "Percy" looked normal, and short enough that he didn't need a levitation spell to mount. Didn't reply to a mental greeting. Peter mounted a dun mare with reasonable competence, and they followed Wolfson through a series of gates and corridors, winding past a log cabin trying to imitate a swiss chalet, in-and-out the sides of a barn sitting in a wheat field, a huge canyon with a sprawling domed building in the depths, and another gate.

Into a lush green world.

"This is Rip World. It's in an Ice Age, so winters, right here are quite unpleasant. Half the population moves south, the other half pops back through that gate and spends the winter carousing in the Rip Crossing Inn."

Xen headed for another arch. "Beach View is the largest town on the world. Population six thousand. This time of year."

He popped through the arch and Peter turned in his saddle to look at Ice. "I'm getting sick and tired of having thirty second glimpses of strange places."

Ice nodded. "And I'm getting tired of what all these corridors and gates are doing to my stomach."

But Beach View had a long view of golden sand stretching away toward the horizon from a modest rise. And a beauty shop run by Eileen and her Aunt Victoria.

"Uncle" Rich was only two years older than Peter, and delighted to hire him. "I haul stuff all over two worlds. Corridors make it easy, apart from loading, unloading, taking care of the horses . . . "

Ice huffed a relieved breath. Caught Wolfson eyeing him and shrugged. "One good outcome from the whole almost disastrous mess."

He bit his lip. "That Evac World that lost its gate? Please don't re-attach it. Other than five well-indoctrinated would-be assassins, there are some other really nasty sorts we really don't want on the loose, anywhere."

"I see." Wolfson hesitated. "So . . . How about we leave the family reunion to get on with life, and get out of here."

"Good idea. I need to get back to writing political snark." Ice turned back to the horses, lounging in the shade. "And I can truthfully tell my girlfriend's parents that I have been practicing my minimal riding skills."

Wolfson laughed. "Horse shows?"

"Dude Ranch, umm, a place for city people to go pretend to be frontiersmen or something."

"I see."

"Actually . . . I really ought to introduce domestic horses to Tall Trees. But not the pampered beauties from One World. Does Comet Fall have normal horses?"

"Oh yes, although most of them have some Smart Horse genetics in their background. "Percy there is out of a normal mare, and sired by Pyrite. A largeish pony actually, and while he's a very intelligent horse, he's not in the same territory as the horses that are three fourths or more Smart Horse."

"I see. I was thinking more in terms of horses that could deal with predators, than intelligence. But easy to train . . . hmm. I suppose I should start with a few, and see if any of the Trees are interested."

Wolfson grinned and detoured to the town of Bleaker Knob, and a horse auction. Where Wolfson quoted an exchange rate and swapped coins for two of Ice's cash cards.

***

Three mares and a gelding later, Wolfson warped wood into a small shed with a wooden floor, put the horses in it and scooped it into a bubble. Attached it to a "walking stick" sized bit of deadfall, split lengthwise . . . and handed to Ice.

Ice looked at it . . . "You do realize that the bubble is worth about a thousand times the cost of the oddly colored horses you insisted I buy myself."

"Yes." A flash of teeth. "But I you misuse the bubble I'll pop it without remorse. You own the horses."

"I see. Sorry, but I still refuse to be a spy."

"Right. Well, if these four work out, dose the gelding with the joy juice and you've got a small breeding herd of part Smart Horses, born and raised far enough out to be aware of wolves, snakes, and holes in the ground."

"Thank you. And hopefully the Trees will find them useful."




_Warrior at Large_ Bonus scene at end of book

Bonus Scene

"So they said they'd rather stick to trucks and utes, but the horses looked nice and plump and would probably be tasty. So I brought them home."

Keiq snickered. "So, how many horses do you own?"

"Four. I haven't a clue what to do with them, now."

"Can we ride them?" Zwyk, the thirteen year old looked around from the screen that she might not have been paying as much attention to, as Ice had thought.

And Qwik, aged eleven, bounced. "Can we? Where are they?"

Elk snickered. "They've been taking lessons for years, and trying to get our parents to buy them their own horses."

"You do too!" Qwik stuck out a belligerent jaw.

"Yeah, but I'm not horse crazy."

Ice grinned. "I'd let you, but I doubt your parents would approve of trampled lawn."

Keiq glowered at him. "And they might not be safe for kids . . . where are they, anyway?"

"I, umm, have them in a dimensional bubble." Ice stood up. "Would you like to see them?"

"Ice!" Keiq jumped up and jabbed a finger at him. "They don't ride until I've checked them out . . . I'm going to go change into riding gear."

Which led to a chorus of "me toos" and they all disappeared. Ice strolled out to the ute and pulled out the "walking stick." One up to the front of the ute, the top of the bubble lifted up over the edge of the roof, then the stick brought down and stuck on, with the butt on the ground. Then he walked the other half down to the back of the ute.

And grinned at the horses peering apprehensively around.

"Don't worry. I took you far away from the people who wanted to eat you. Now you just have to survive being loved by a batch of kids."

:: Good. People foals are fun. ::

"Ice . . . where did you get these horses?" Keiq eyed them. "I heard that, you know!"

"Comet Fall. Wolfson assured me they weren't Smart Horses, but I think he was wrong.

Lightning, the mostly black gelding nodded. :: He was scary. We didn't say a thing! ::

Pineapple shivered. :: He was like a big black tornado, sucking us in. ::

The kids galloped up, eyes widening as they peered around the opening of the bag, to the lack of anything on the back of it.

"Whoa. That's weird." Elk held a hand out to be whiffed. "They're big!"

"Pintos!" Zwyk grinned. "All different colors!"

"What are their names?" Qwik had her hands up scratching the bay's jaw.

"That's Triple, the palomino is Pineapple, the buckskin is Dusty, and the black is Lightning."

Keiq slid up closer, "One! They're tall. And broad. So, let me take one for a spin and see how they behave. Just because they can talk doesn't mean they'll behave for a kid."

:: We'll be careful! :: Dusty

:: People foals this old usually ride like maniacs. :: Lightning pointed his ears at the kids.

Elk gulped. "Did he just . . ."

Ice nodded. "Shh! It's a secret."

Keiq glared. "Right, let's take a test spin."

By the time Azek and Wacky got home all the kids were mounted and Keiq was giving lessons from Lightning's back as they wound through the topiary.

:: I don't think there's really any such animal! :: Lightning stopped and looked up at a leafy green giraffe.

Azek eyed the horse. "You know, Ice, I think you're the strangest man I've ever met. And now you've got strange horses."