Lots of screaming and running . . . and Kit was running up to the first guard, grabbing his rifle and shooting guards as they tried to kill his new friends . . .
A huge flash of fire that had a guard dropping to the ground and frantically rolling while peeling off burning clothing.
The civilian types rushed forward and flew back . . . Ian staring at his out-thrust hands . . .
A sudden silence.
A man ran toward a fallen guard. Kit swung the rifle his direction and the man skidded to a halt, backed away, hands up.
The kids and most of the women bolted back toward the kitchen, the plain-clothes types edging away, eyes on Kit.
Well, what now?
Well, escape . . .
He looked at the women. "Who is the driver of the bus? I want the keys."
"But, but . . . they'll fire me!"
"I could search your corpse."
Her mouth rounded, and her glance drifted to the last table, a bag of some sort hanging on the back of a chair.
"Stay where you are." Kit tossed a look over his shoulder. "Henry? That bag on the chair? Bring it here."
The man closest to the bag tensed, body weight forward . . . and another, closest to the fallen guards was shifting . . .
Kit fired twice.
The first man flinched back, hand clamped to his arm.
The second man had gone for one of the guns on the floor, the bullet hit his right shoulder and he fell, screaming as he tried, and failed, to not land on that shoulder.
Henry darted in, snatched the bag and ran back.
One of the blue girls stepped closer. "What should we do?"
"Collect all the guards guns. Just one of you please, so things don't get confusing again."
"Right." She started forward.
"Go behind me."
"Oh." The redhead smiled nervously. "Sorry, this isn't what they trained us for."
She circled behind him, and actually had enough sense to grab the furthest man's pistol first, and retreat to get the burned man's gun. The third guard had both a pistol and a rifle.
"Bring them back and place them carefully in the hallway by the kitchen."
A brunette edged up. "I'll get some too?"
She snatched two pistols and retreated.
A third girl tiptoed up to grab a pistol and rifle, then the redhead was back and picked up the last two, and stopped at the rugby roadkill to take his pistol as well.
Kit eyed the adults. "Where can we lock them up?"
Henry laughed. "In the kids' wing. It can't be opened from the inside."
Kit nodded. "You lot are going to go there. We'll be working to load some food and stuff in the bus. We'll release you before we leave. Please remember that we are armed, and if try to stop us, I may have to kill you."
"Where do you think you can go?" One man glared.
But the woman next to him was frowning. "Who are you? You're not one of our students! Missy! Take that gun away from that horrible boy before he kills someone else."
The redhead snorted. "Despite all your efforts, we're not that stupid. I'm not going to be a sex slave all my life, and all you rapists and pimps can just die, for all I care."
"Tansy! Where did you hear such horrible things!" Under the circumstances the old lady made a credible job of being shocked.
Tansy gave her a middle finger. "Yeah, like you don't know they were raping us every day to 'train' us."
The adults were edging forward again, and from the whimpers, there were injured among the guards. Kit kept one in his peripheral vision as he slid a hand down to his empty holster.
"Okay. You civilian types. Into the kids' hall."
"We don't know the combination." The man who'd gotten his arm creased smirked.
"Try nine, six, five, one. If that doesn't work I could tie you up, or shoot you." Kit eyed them. "Killing you would be safer, and probably what you all deserve."
"George, which hallway is the kids'?"
"The back one. I'll go unlock it."
The bare door was between the table where they eaten, and the grownup's tables. None of them moved as George trotted over and punched in the numbers. The door slid open, and George moved away.
"So. Are any of you trained medics?"
Blank stares. "Right. You, guy in the blue suit. Go help your buddy on the floor stand up and take him with you."
The guy on the floor whimpered, and cradled his right arm and he climbed carefully up and staggered after the rest as they shifted and moved through the door.
"Keep going. All the way to the back of the hallway."
Before these guards get themselves back in fighting order.
Kit backed up toward the kitchen hallway, to keep them all in sight.
"Any of you guards who can get up and walk, I suggest you do so." Kit looked down as one of the little twins walked up.
She was bloodied and crying. "If they don't, I'll burn them!"
"Yeah." The other one swiped a rivelet of blood out of her eye. "Again."
The burned guard staggered to his feet. Helped another man get up and they limped across the room and down the hallway.
"And you ladies have fun locked up with all the rapists!" Tansy yelled after them.
George darted forward and slapped the controls. The door slid closed. He edged back and tapped it. A red "LOCKED" sign lit.
Kit heaved a sigh of relief and looked at the carnage. He stepped carefully around, checking for pulses.
Jay was dead. And three guards. Two blue ladies, one one who'd stabber Dr. Metz and another. Dr. Metz was dead.
Four guards in bad shape.
George, the two girls, and four of the blue women had minor injuries.
"Henry, did you say the gate was going to open at oh-three hundred?" Kit looked at the big clock on the wall. "That gives us seven hours. Let's start by finding a first aid kit. Then we'll load non-perishable food . . ."
"I'm the only one who knows how to drive?" Kit looked at them in disbelief. "Well . . . They sure weren't training you guys to fit in very well."
He looked back at the bus. Stuffed with food, tools, weapons . . . "Well. It's an hour to gate time. Everyone climb in, I'll be right back."
"What are you doing?"
"I said I'd release them when we left. So . . . I'm going to see in any the injured guards are able to get across the room to do it." He grabbed a pistol and carried it with him.
The guards shut up when he came into sight. One of them was off his mattress, and glared at him. "You are as good as dead you little mutant."
"So, I guess you know all the codes. Looks like you can drag yourself across the room to let the others out. Good luck. We're out of here."
Three of them cursed him as he walked away. The other one was still out cold.
I think I hope they survive.
He closed and locked the door to the hallways, pushed the garage door button in front of the bus and hustle aboard before the outside air blew in. He closed the door and sat down in the driver's seat. Moved the seat all the way forward. Started the engine and backed carefully out. Turned and well, there wasn't any place else to go but down fifty meters of road to a circle of steel sunk into the pavement.
He lined up exactly in the middle, with plenty of room to accelerate.
"It's fifty minutes to the scheduled time, but they could be early." He looked over his shoulder. Lots of apprehensive faces. "Hey, it beats just getting killed because they see any point in further research, right?"
Henry nodded. "I wish they hadn't killed Ellie and Cari."
The redhead scowled. "At least Cari finally got Dr. Metz. She'd spent months putting a point and two edges on that butter knife. We knew it was going to get worse."
Kit eyed her, "You guys are clones too, right?"
"Yeah. Trisha Lindbeck. Of course they don't bother tell us anything about our . . . whatever they are."
"Well, slavery is illegal, so you must have genetic engineering. So legally you aren't a person."
Henry and Tansy both glared at him.
"I . . . can do some things that make me wonder if I'm all human, sometimes." Kit bit his lip. "I was born about a year before Embassy, so really, there ought not have been any question. But . . . my Mom once said I ought to avoid DNA tests, just in case."
"They do let us watch movies, sometimes." Henry frowned. "But all we get about Embassy is lectures about how dangerous it is, and what those Oners would do to us, if they caught us."
"Yeah. And, well," George climbed over a seat back--the middle aisle being stuffed with stuff, "they never ever talk about magic. All we know if from a couple of books the Mataharis stole from the men when they . . . were training them."
Tansy nodded. "We shared them around, everyone but the twins read them. But we don't know how to do spells. I made a wand once, but it didn't do anything."
"But the twins can do magic, so we know it's real . . . What's that?"
A white spot in the center of the steel circle. Expanding.
"The gate." Kit scooted forward enough to get a foot on the brake as he shifted to Drive.
"Oh. . . that's really Earth? We're going to Earth?"
Kit took aim at the whirlpool and hit the gas. froze, driving straight ahead even as he was spun and stretched and spit out onto an ordinary road squeezed in by tall buildings. A short block to a T intersection. We turned left, so if I turn right we'll go back along all those permanent gates.
"They're looking at us!"
Everything is fine, close the gate and go to the next world.
Kit shivered as everyone on the bus spoke in rough harmony. "That was . . . I was thinking that really hard." He turned right and tried to push the pedal harder.
"Oooo! Telepathy." Henry grinned. "Can you make them leave us alone?"
"I'll try." Kit swallowed. Magic?
One of the other women called out from the back. "What are all those white things?"
Kit looked right. "I think they're gates. Those permanent gates they talk about. We need to get through on, to a colony or a big Mining World, where we can get lost."
"What white things? What are you talking about, Betty?"
"Over there. Can't you see them?"
"I see a bunch of those metal circles, but no white things." Tansy scowled. "How do we know when they're going to open any of them?"
"I think they're open all the time." Kit eyed the entry on the left. A crash gate, opening for a couple of trucks. He turned.
We're with them. Authorized, cleared, the bus is with the truck. It's okay, leave the gate open. Good, good, good. Everything is fine.
He followed the truck through the gate.
"Read the signs. A hub world would be best, they'd have to check multiple worlds to find us."
"There's a sign, turn left." Tansy pointed. "Hub One."
Kit turned and lined up . . . "What's on the other side? I just see white."
"A road through a desert. There's trucks down a ways."
Kit locked his arms and drove though.
A line of trucks, stationary in the right lane, hundreds of meters down the road. On the left, a truck drove out of a circle of white and turned toward them. And six more followed. Heavy, strong sided . . . ore haulers? Does that mean there's a large enough settlement on the other side for us to hide in? Or that kids will stand out and get noticed?
The ore trucks trundled past, and the line he was in started moving. Movement in his mirrors . . . big trucks pulling up behind him. He stretched for the gas pedal and followed the truck ahead.