Johannes Vogel hesitated at his bedroom door. Four days . . . nights of night mares, and now I’m afraid to open the door of my bedroom and walk down to the living room.
I should just throw it into the garbage bin, forget it ever happened.
He straightened his shoulders, grasped the knob firmly . . . turn it, dammit! He turned the knob and barely hesitated before he pulled the door open.
Just an empty hallway. The door to his study dead ahead. Stairs down to the right.
See? Nothing to worry about.
He trotted down the stairs. “I’ll just throw it away. Drop it at the donation center, something like that.”
His step slowed as he spotted the odd . . . splinters? What’s that smell? Burning?
Then he reached the bottom step and he could see the little side table. Or what was left of it.
His first thought was that the Japs had tried to kill him for revenge, and their bomb had been an underpowered dud.
Then he saw the odd square shaped hole in the shattered pieces of the thick top . . . As if there’d been a hollow in the slab of wood . . . and there was another.
In a horrible waking nightmare he laid out the pieces. He didn’t bother to measure. He knew what size a portal beacon was. He looked up at the ceiling. A scorched area were the portal had nearly hit the high ceiling.
This is where I call Security and confess all. Because a jap spy came through last night, removed the beacon and left. And is out there, somewhere. Probably more than one.
I could leave the girl out of it. Say I ought to have known I was paying too little . . .
Then they’ll want to know why I drained my account for it.
I’m a murderer. They’ll either execute me or chip me.
The best I could possibly hope for is to be fired.
No one will hire me, the bank will take the house . . .
I’ll be a bum on the street, and then they’ll chip me.
Or I could go buy some paint for the ceiling and toss the pieces of the table in the fireplace and burn them all.
A Little Surprise
November 15, 3739
“It’s almost the end of the semester, and everyone has to talk to a guidance counselor. In my case the guy from the University, since I’ve been accepted there. And . . . now I have to figure out what to do, what to specialize in. And that depends on what kind of job I want. I have an appointment, tomorrow.”
I could be an analyst like both my Vaters.
Maybe? Analyst could be interesting, digging deep and . . . whatever. But is that something that I want to do? Forever?
“I don’t know what I want to do with my life.” He dried the plate and set it on top of the stack. “I never thought I had any control over my future, and never thought beyond hoping I wasn’t too stupid after I was chipped."
Jana nodded. “Whenever you came here, you mostly talked science. And Dinosaurs. Lord Roman said you’d love the explorer unit.”
Fynn blinked. “The people who go through to check new Worlds? Wow. He . . . never said anything to me about . . . Presenting me.”
“He was planning on it. Worrying about Lady Barbara getting upset. He never told her you were his.”
“Oh, I know that. He didn’t want to have to sell Mutti.”
“Or lose track of you. Lorenz was always after him to train your Mentalist Talents, but he always said it was too soon, and the last six months would be sufficient.”
“And it was . . . Explorer Scout . . . That would take a lot of science . . . I’ll have to look into the science track . . .” He put the last plate on the stack and closed the cupboard. “I’d nearly forgotten the fixation I had on Dinosaurs.” He leaned and gave her a hug . . . paused to get a better look at her aura.
“Ah . . . Jana? Are you pregnant?”
Something hit the ground out in the living room.
“What? No, I can’t, I had a hysterectomy . . .”
Lorenz stalked into the kitchen and dropped a glare on Fynn. “Her husband beat her when he found out she was pregnant with a girl. She miscarried, and was bleeding too badly . . . they had to . . . and then that ass sold her.”
He wrapped his arms around her, protectively.
But Jana had an odd look on her face. A hand on her belly. “Lorenz . . . I think I need to talk to a doctor.”
Lord Lorenz looked down at her, his face going blank. “How . . .?”
The doctor just rolled his eyes. “Another one! Old women getting pregnant like this, and they all were in these disgraceful public orgies!”
Fynn could see the Lord’s back stiffen. “We left when the restaurant got . . . loud and some people were very drunk . . .”
Jana was shaking her head. “But I had a hysterectomy. Thirty years ago.”
The doctor shook his head. “Someone told you you’d had a hysterectomy.”
A growl from Lorenz. “So he could excuse dumping you.”
“The scan shows your uterus is smaller than average, but obviously fully functional. They stretch and grow with the pregnancy, after all. But we will monitor the situation very carefully.”
A ding from the doctor’s computer. He stepped over to look. “Labs are in, genetics are all normal. Do you want to know the sex?”
A double yes.
“A boy. Congratulations.”
Fynn sighed as they vetoed all the wedding plans he’d whipped up while they were off at the clinic.
“I know you two have been living in sin,” he ducked a half playful swing of a fist, “for over forty years. That’s no reason to not have at least a little ceremony and party.”
Jana rolled her eyes, and Fynn ordered a wedding cake, picked up flowers and invited Mario, Lady Barbara, Lord Bastian and his wife Lady Irmtraud to hold up Lorenz’s side of the couple, and Jana’s parents Lord Hans-Peter Hammermeister and Lady Gabrielle dropped by briefly and stiffly wished her better luck this time . . . Helly waited until they were gone to pop in and congratulate them.
The rickety old inquisitor who’d officiated grinned. “I can die happy now, knowing that miracles do happen. I have seen Lorenz Rembold get married.”
Then Fynn packed the newlyweds off to a cabin at a mountain resort, cleaned house and got back to studying . . .
It was a happy fall, with trips to the firing range every weekend.
Lord Roman had taken him shooting, as often as not with Lord Lorenz. So it wasn’t as if he was learning from scratch. But he learned how to handle every weapon Lord Lorenz kept at home. And learned more subtle shield techniques, aggressive slashes, and some nasty impressions. Techniques to use with weapons, including aiming and recoil suppression. “Not that you really need it with these.”
Fynn thought about the size of the rifles in the Doomsday Cube, and practiced the recoil suppression again.
Helly and the guys came to the range several times.
And every morning, mentalist practice. Illusions, reflections, unnoticeable . . .
Even medical applications, boosting healing processes, antibiotic impressions, numbing nerves, pushes and pulls of . . . well, they didn’t really have anything to practice on, but in theory, stopping internal bleeding, setting bones . . .
It was . . . all amazing.
He got top grades, registered for classes at the university, and was rendered speechless by the Mauser 36 sniper rifle he received for Christmas.
January 2, 3740
Lorenz frowned at his boss. Director Vogel was looking worse than ever.
Cancer, maybe? Alcoholism? Drugs?
“Pay attention, Director! Stuttgart has shut down two of its four portals. If, as I suspect, the problem is the portalmakers—we know two were quite old—they will be wanting new ones. If they don’t have any young nines, or at least high eights, they’re going to come and take them from their vassals. Bavaria only has two. Stuttgart can’t take both, but they might take one and they might want ours, no matter how old he is. I don’t know how many portals the other Tier Three Worlds that answer to them have. I have people digging for that.
“Take this straight to the Governor, don’t piddle around, they need to figure out what they want to do if and when the Stuttgartians come calling.”
Vogel swallowed. Looked almost relieved. “We could be cut off, if anything then happened to Bavaria’s last portalmaker. Right. I’ll . . .” a glance at his phone, sitting out on the desk, “go in person. Right now.”
Lorenz watched him go, and shook his head. None of my business. But I think I’ll knock off early and go gossip with truckers again.
He had a limo, bought in a moment of weakness. A gas hog, and hard to park. So he’d bought an upscale midsized sedan, quality over quantity, Roman called it. Still ran like a champ after twenty years. Jana used the limo for grocery shopping.
And now I have Fynn with his “Beast.”
And a baby on the way. Gott steh mir bei. If we lose contact we’ll be up for grabs, and I don’t want to raise a baby in a war zone.
I’ll borrow the beast, it’ll fit in best down in the industrial sector where we put the beacon, so Bavaria can find us.
He drove home and parked the sedan in the garage, walked in to find Jana and Fynn upstairs assembling . . . “Good grief! Is that my old crib!”
Fynn grinned. “So I assumed. And if it needs refinishing, Jana promised to leave it to me, so she doesn’t breath any nasty fumes.”
Lorenz shook his head. “You do realize I’m filthy rich? Right? You can by brand new . . .”
“Trash!” Jana sniffed. “Plastic parts. Trust me, I looked. Then Fynn said there was something up here in the attic and crawled in to look.”
“I didn’t need to actually crawl, just duck my head. I spotted those railed sides when I moved things to get to the table leaves. Do you mean to tell me you never needed a larger table for the last century?”
“Maybe eighty.” Lorenz grinned. “My parents were rather old and did not appreciate my . . . rather active and boisterous friends.”
Jana shook her head. “He was sixty when I met him. And I hate to admit it, but I told my father that if he threw one more old man at me, I was eloping with the chauffeur. Poor Eighty-two. He probably would have fainted if he’d heard that.”
Lorenz snorted. “I came to meet this woman who’d written a brilliant essay, published in The Political Alliance. I was anticipating a vigorous discussion about politics with Hans-Peter’s Lady Exec, and was a bit shocked to find myself taken for a suitor for his eighteen year old daughter’s hand.”
Fynn snickered. “And it obviously fell apart.”
“The moment I said I’d get her an exec chip, I was shown the door.” He sighed. “Well, I think we’ve had a wonderful forty-five year long relationship.”
Jana nodded. “A bad start, but a good finish.”
Fynn gave the crib a shake, it stood solid and firm. “And now a new facet to your lives.”
Jana nodded. “And you’re home early, dear, what are you up to?”
“You know me too well. I need to borrow the Beast so as to blend in a bit better and pick up gossip. And since Fynn is here, I think I’ll borrow him as well.”