Dean drew a deep breath. "Maybe we could all get free."
His twin snorted. "I doubt they know the difference between the Hundreds and us. We're halfbreeds, and barely better than the livestock, but Gior's world doesn't know that."
"Well," Gior thought that over, "if I could find Embassy we could talk to Disco, and make the distinction clear."
"We have an Empty World, like Camp World with no people there at all, that all the other worlds use as an Embassy World, where we can talk and trade and not attack and invade."
Yuri squirmed, winced. "But . . . how do they live? What do they do when they run out of resources?"
"They colonize an Empty World. And anyway, if your people would just nurture worlds instead of stripping them, it wouldn't be an issue." Gior shrugged. "We really ought to just call your people Locusts."
Yuri nodded. "Very apt. But if you get home, please let you people know that all these guys, well, except Me, Ivan, and Bob are our victims. The genes they have from us are from rapes. I . . . hope they will understand and not kill everyone."
Fred and Greg exchanged glances. Fred shrugged. "They won't show any mercy to us Cyborgs. Oh sure," he waved away her protest. "You and Ice can see the human under the electronics, but a Government doesn't see things on a personal level like that."
Greg waved out at the bright city. "You guys can go out there, and one way or another, join them. Even Yuri. We can't. The three of us, four if Bob and Ice get back, can't. We'll just . . . camp out til we die. And we're damned glad of it."
Gior nodded. "Possibly. We'll find out, eventually."
And Bob and Ice had damn well better get back! I will keep on trying until I find them.
The Art of Fine Dining and Back Stabbing
Ice kept an eye on Benedikt and when that group headed toward seats, was in a position to grab a chair four tables away, but away from the buffet end, facing toward the first table where the four top young Hundreds were seating themselves.
Away from the busy buffet end, where their guards could stand against the wall or directly behind then, with minimal impedance of the traffic flow. Or as Ice studied the situation, he realized, that everyone else could avoid them. No servants with a sharp knife was going to get near them. Ice pulled up a shield against his back, pointed Bob at the front wall where the majority of the Cyborgs were being placed.
Lada bloody damn well knelt at his feet.
Ice scanned carefully. Not many servants near. The other servants were scurrying for the buffet, where glasses were being filled. Trays, some with multiple glasses, some with multiple.
"Bring a tray full, girl." Ice nodded politely to his neighbors.
The man across the table curled a lip. "I hate buffets. And infants flaunting their wealth."
Ice shrugged and tried to look modest. "I was in the right place at the right time to get a bargain from a desperate stepfather. Peasants! No financial comprehension at all."
Grunts from agreement from all the young men who were probably going to be running out of money in short order.
Eight hours, Lada said . . . So they all piled through a gate early this morning, with what they'd packed, expecting to be joined by their patrons in a few days.
Then Lada said it collapsed. So this is a smaller vanguard than was planned. I wonder what happened to the gate? The nano gene editors? I can only hope.
He kept half his attention on Lada, a little push to a guy who got handsy, a little levitation when the heavy tray tipped.
Then she set the tray down and handed him the first glass.
He looked at the thick red fluid. Twenty milliliters or so in a crystal shot glass. I really hope this isn't blood. And I really, really hope it's not human blood.
Silence settled as the last young men fetched their own drinks and returned to their places.
Benedikt stood and raised his glass, and all the men rose a beat behind him, glasses raised.
"To the Three Way Alliance. To the Three Hundred Families. To victory forever!"
Ice tried to match mouth movements to the words the rest of the men were roaring out.
"By the blood of our enemies, we will own the Universe!"
They all shot the red stuff. He tossed his back; vodka and whatever burned its way down his throat.
Mostly vodka. Concentrate on that thought.
Everyone sat. The hotel staff or caterers, or whatever, hustled out with heaping tubs and crocks of food. Lada stood, clutching her tray.
"Load 'er up, Girl. But you gentleman are on your own for the most part."
Ladda hustled off, getting most of the way to the buffet before all the servantless men stood and headed for the food. She must have just grabbed whatever was closest, to get out of the crowd and back while most of the seats were empty.
She was flushed and keeping her angry eyes down as she laid a plate of meat and bread in front of him, flushing. Knelt again, cramming up against his chair to stay out of most people's reach.
"There weren't many vegetables." She growled.
Within quick grabbing distance. Gottcha.
The man sitting down across the table sneered a bit; his own plate would have easily passed a mother's inspection.
Ice pulled his little carved wooden bag handle out of his pocket and popped it open, down in his lap.
"I hate vegetables. Meat's a man's meal." Ice looked at the plate. "And bread. I rather like bread." He sliced two rolls, and looked behind the man. "But what I'd really like is to hear what they're discussing."
As the man turned to look, Ice stuffed the rolls with beef. A small unnoticeable spell and he slid them into his bag. Logistics. Feed the troops. Tactics? Get people talking. Strategy? One only knows. It'll all depend on what I learn.
"I wonder if they know anything about the gate?"
The man whipped around. "You mean the way it collapsed? Didn't you see it? Man, it wasn't attached properly, it moved, and, and pulsed . . . They said the Gate Maker was dying."
"Ah . . . that would explain a lot . . . but surely they have more, they can just get a new one . . . Nyet?" Ice looked around at all the pale faces.
The guy beside him whispered, "Dad said something about a problem at the training center. All the mentalists that had tested as possible were having headaches, not able to do the work . . ."
"It's true, then." Two down, across the table, a dark haired, dark eyed man. "All the rumors about a plague. An illness that destroys magic. That's why moy otets hustled me out . . . but he waited too long to follow."
Ice shut up and listened to all the talk. To the consensus that they were marooned here, and badly outnumbered by the Germans. Who were inferior to Russians, but still . . .
Lada made a run to the buffet and returned with a tray of desserts, and two bottles of vodka. To approving cheers from Ice's neighbors.
Ice got by pouring very small amounts for himself and doing a lot of waving it around instead of drinking it.
Bob got some thoughtful looks.
"We'll need to take over a lot of Cyborgs." The guy behind him, who'd obviously been listening.
Oops. I forgot about the Cyborgs. In their invasion, we finally decided they had one Cyborged Mentalist officer for every ten non-magical soldiers. And a full-on Mentalist for every three hundred.
So . . . how many Cyborgs are in the local military and police?
He threw that one out there. "How many Cyborgs have they made? Are they making parts or importing them?"
The guy behind turned around. "Importing. My family made a lot off selling them--all the electronics and even the arm frames. So what's here . . . is all we have to worry about, short term.. Long term . . . of course they know how . . . don't they?"
"But how many? That'll give us an idea of how many we need to take, to take over here." And there was Benedikt, strolling past the end of the table. Eyeing the drunks. Stopping to look at the fellow with the family business.
"How many Cyborg have they made?"
"Two hundred a month. For over twenty years. We just passed the fifty thousand mark." The guy scowled. "We have two competitors . . . one bigger, one smaller."
"Roughly hundred and fifty thousand . . . that means that the Germans must have five hundred strong Mentalists with them, and fifteen thousand weak mentalists capable of controlling ten soldiers?" Ice leaned back and made a show of surveying the room. "We are going to have to be careful we don't trigger the Germans into attacking us before we're ready. Hopefully with reinforcements."
Benedikt eyed him, nodded. "Politicking as we very carefully build strength. Taking Cyborgs, and getting funds."
Yep. Money problems. I can get to them there.
The Cyborgs are also an interesting weak point.
I wonder how many of them are old enough to remember freedom? Even the younger ones will have been brought up on stories.
Of course, no one here cares about the original inhabitants. I ought to find some. And some old Cyborgs. I'll see about doing a bit of shopping tomorrow.
Unless Gior shows up. Damn, I almost hope she has trouble finding us.