"Already?" Master Mentalist Lord Michail Rasputin, Director of Alliance Security on Siberia Max huffed a breath of relief, and sat back to listen to his wife's report on a letter from Ariadne Gorbachev.
". . . doesn't know whether to kiss Axel or kill him. Apparently he was so worried about Bureau interferance that he grabbed an early slot and hauled Ark off without telling her, or a goodby hug or anything." Lilia sounded like she wasn't sure but that Axel ought to have been shot. "He sent a TEXT from the Presentation Facility! Can you believe it?"
So the Bureaus are trying to pressure Grigory? Not that he didn't know he was walking into a vipers nest. Dammit. If only the Alliance Bureaus and the Office of the Inquisitors got on as well as Grigory and I did, right from the start.
And I can blame that on Axel, too.
The punk kid who met me at the reception desk my first day here. With Vinogradov as a family name, I figured he was a spoiled brat descendent of this "Founder" I'd been swotting up on.
Of course now I know he was actually thirty-eight. But he looked young and earnest, gave me the tour, with the business level gossip. Very useful.
Then he introduced me to the Inquisitor . . . Dear God that was funny.
"And this is our very own Inquisitor. We only have him because we're a sanctioned Research Center. But he's very stern-looking so we bring him out and parade him around on all the holidays, so everyone knows we're not out-of-control Mad Scientists."
I was horrified until Grigory started laughing and threatened to turn him into a toad.
"Don't let Axel fool you," Grigory was wiping tears of mirth from his eyes. "They're all Mad, here. It's their job."
Told the kid to get back where he belonged, and took over the tour.
Ending up with the fast Reaction Teams all tricked out and on display. With that nice boy all armored up beside Team Four.
I invited him and Grigory out to dinner. Grigory said his wife had been warned to expect guests and did I have family along . . . Lilia and Ariadna hit it right off. They had a five year old and a baby, we had a four year old . . . within a week Tatyana was copying Ark, saying "Uncle Axel" and they decided that I was Ark's Uncle Michail, and Tatyana had an Uncle Grigory . . .
I never got up the nerve to ask Grigory what the hell someone like Axel was doing stagnated on a barely populated Tier Five World. Hell, I'm not sure who an "Agent of the 300" is supposed to report to. Grigory, I suppose. I got used to him jumping when I gave orders . . . The Great Grandson of Ivan the Founder.
He pulled his mind back to what his wife was saying. "Next week? Excellent . . ."
And to what she was not saying.
They haven't heard from Grigory.
And Axel will probably just slide quietly back through one of the commercial gates, but . . . if he's having trouble with the Bureaus . . . he might use the emergency protocols. So I'll start rotating the quads through and have the rings on standby.
And I think I'll have a team all tricked out and on hand from now on out.
No telling what problems might be right on Axel's tail.
Ark grinned as he spotted the battle limo turning in the driveway. "Uncle Axel's back!"
They scrambled to their feet and trotted out to meet him.
Me and my two Cyborg pals. Who have thought I'd ever say that?
Uncle Axel eyed them. "So, no alarms?"
"Nope. Pauli was up all night, he's catching up on his sleep, and we're all packed."
"Excellent. Now, I need to show you three something. Pauli knows how these things work, but I want you guys for back up." He'd been walking as he talked, and they followed him into the garage. "When we load up your two cars, we'll drive them into this interesting phenomenon. Observe the little metal bars."
About the size of a pen, a little wider, flater . . . splitting down the length with . . . a dark slit between the halves.
"It's a dimensional bag, only a little like a portal. It'll hold a huge amount in a state of time dilation." As he talked, he'd sort of looped one half the bar under a lip of a concrete slab that was inside the "bag", then reached up to loop it over a wooden frame, also inside . . . and stuck it on the wall of the garage.
Uncle Axel squeezd in front of the limo , opening up the hole to show a faintly glowing space, concrete floor, bronzy walls and ceiling outlined by the wooden frame. Tall and wide enough for the car to drive in . . . and long enough for two oversized vehicles.
Ark swallowed. "Can you close it up, with the limos and the people inside?"
Uncle Axel grinned. "Yes. So, it will just be me and Pauli, driving home in our car, not the Gorbachev's leaving before someone decides they're still valuable game pieces."
"Instead of threatening me with no presentation, they can hint about what might happen to Mom or Anastaciya . . . or the littler kids . . ."
"Exactly. So, I mentioned time dilation? Ten thousand to one ratio. So if you three were standing inside, right where the bag seals, eyes glued on your watches . . . or internal chronometers . . . One minute inside is seven days outside."
"Exactly. If I haven't opened the handles inside of one minute, you can figure that something has gone badly wrong. You will just barely crack the handles and peek out. With a good chance you'll still be in the trunk of the battle limo. I will show you how to get out of the trunk. At that point, you've got to figure out what to do. One of you could simply pocket the bars and walk away. Or drive away. You'll have to figure out what World you are on, and how to get to Siberia Max," he nodded at the car behind them, "With your family in your pocket."
Ark swapped wide-eyed looks with the two Cyborgs.
Then they practiced getting in and out of the bag, getting out of the trunk of the battle limo, getting their biometrics into the battle limo's data base and driving it.
And then there was the onboard computers with auto-locate, maps, self-drive . . .
"I hope at worst, that you'll still be here on Regulus, and you just have to get through a single Portal to get home." Uncle Axel looked at the two Cyborgs. "Memorize this address. Go there and say Axel sent you and give them this string of numbers. Then tell them everything that happened."
Ark nodded, along with Six and Thirteen. Not that he could remember it all . . .
"So . . . Why are you so certain there's danger?"
"Because I had trouble scheduling your presentation, until I found the blacklist. Then your appointment was removed . . . so when I spotted that early opening, I was delighted you wanted it. And I had to grab it again, as we got there. Once we'd physically signed in, it stuck."
"So I sent a message to your mother, and . . . well, you saw the face-to-face meeting. Nice to know that it was them--the Bureau agents--and not the Inquisitors . . . who were also using your Presentation to poke at me a bit. The Inquisitors . . . appear to be aware of a few misdeeds of mine."
Uncle Axel looked at him, dead serious. "Which is dangerous, but useful. I suspect that if they haul me off to the highest power, I'll wind up pretty close to your father."
"Uncle Axel . . ."
He grinned. "It's the kind of thing I do." He raised his head, and Ark turned to see all the servants coming around from the back with luggage they carried into the garage."
Ark took a deep breath. "Looks like it's time to leave."