Ice reached and took the bars, stepped back and opened them.
Inside the bag, just a few seconds had passed. Lada was just turning away from the handles she closed, Rafail was clutching the wall, Animal hiding behind the heap of clothes on the floor.
They had enough warning to scoop up stuff on the way to the hide away. Good.
Lada spun, leaped out to hug him . . . recoiled when she spotted Mikel.
"Lada, we're with a bunch of my friends, on another World." Ice stepped inside to grab Rafail before he fell over. "I've been rescued. Come meet my friends. You too, Animal. I think you're going to like it here."
She eyed him dubiously. "Thy thorns are smeared."
"Yes. And very soon now I'm going to wash them completely off. Would you like to watch, so you'll recognize me without the thorns?"
She gave him a dubious glower, but when he helped Rafail hobble over to sit in the car, she followed, ducking down to peer under the jeep.
"No, that's how animals get squished. On the other hand, there appears to be a space behind Rafail's seat and the bed of the jeep."
She studied it. Rafail grinned, and leaned forward, and grabbed a lever that tilted the seat forward. Animal vaulted in and crouched down. "Lean Back! Hide me!"
Rafail leaned back, and Animal glared balefully from her triangular cave.
Ice looked back at Gior . . . hand tucked in Furkan's elbow, double glow . . . Oh isn't that going to be fun to explain to the bosses! "So, what else have you been doing while I was away?"
"Well, looking for you, of course, but exploring around here, we found some gold. So we started trading in on other worlds, and buying tons of things. Then I found 375 World, and well . . . once I'd helped them find and treat the Rangpur survivors, and showed them around here and how I made gates and found a dinosaur world . . . Umm, I've made gates to an Algae World and there's a ton of scientists studying a bunch of Dinosaur and Pleistocene Worlds from there . . ."
"And rescuing me. Hot damn, Gior. That's awesome." Ice looked around as Mikel loomed.
"I suppose you have one of these Withione names? We haven't been formally introduced. I am Mikel ibn Daiki ibn Byrum."
"In my society, I'm Ice-kah Withione Sycamore Tall Trees. In the old style . . . Ice ibn . . ." damn, security alert! ". . . Ingwe ibn Emre."
"Ah, a grandson, that explains a lot." Mikel held out a hand, jumped at the strong zap. "And by that and your purported blond hair, a descendant of Byrum as well."
Ice shrugged. "If so, it's lost in a thousand years of random reproduction."
A snicker from the Prophet. "He's probably a descendant of yours, Mikel."
Ice pinched the bridge of his nose . . . and met Mikel's gaze as he lowered his hand from his own sinal salute. Precogs. The sycamore trees.
"Well. This young lady is Lada MacDonald. Bob is properly Bogdan Egorov. And the younger lady has not actually admitted to a formal name, and prefers to be called Animal. And Rafail Rudolph Zarkov, in the jeep. Guys, this is Gior Withion Tallin, my fellow marooned Oner scout.
"And . . . instead of inundating you guys with names, why don't we head for the camp. Gior? Do I still have a lean-to or do I need to start from scratch?"
Gior winced. "Oh . . . The camp's a bit messy. We've been importing a lot of prefab cabins and barns and stuff. Let me show you!"
She grinned suddenly. "But now that you're back . . . let's talk seriously about water and sewer systems."
Wretched Charismatic Leaders
Gior subdued a smirk as Ice looked around the camp.
Everyone eyed him dubiously.
Ice flashed his pretty teeth. "Yes, it's me. Not to worry, the ink with come off, ditto the hair dye."
A snort from Yuri, who appeared to have lost his chain. "Hey Bob, have a nice vacation?"