September 6th, 2021

_Fall of Empire_ part 19

Chapter Eighteen

Touch and Go

May 7, 3740

Mikhail slept poorly, and in the morning decided it was time to find out if his students could make portals.

“So while they slowly bring the rings up to sixty percent, take a look back at Regulus and let’s see what is going on.”

The kids wiggled a bit and the four at the table touched the helmets on their heads, but settled down into a practiced meld and sank into the inbetween. Timo’s Quad, who were not as strong as the other, but who had better control.

Mikhail watched passively, all too aware of the flock of watchers outside the new door in this end of the control room. But the kids turned their collective attention to flying easily and directly to Regulus.

:: Two gates! ::

:: Two different cities, did they attack over night? ::

:: That’s from the Hit-and-run World. ::

Mikhail relaxed a hair. :: Trace them. Let’s see what Hit-and-run is doing. ::

Again the easy flow to a World already seen.

And the two commercial portals were open. A close swoop, an ambulance . . . more. Going both ways . . . :: Oh, that’s clever. They’re taking patients from the damaged city to another, probably right to hospitals. ::

Mikhail shook his head. “An interesting way to quickly move people and supplies around.”

“An amazing indication of self-confidence and surety of one’s own ability . . .” Hurst paused. “Of course, since they just grounded a Tier Two World, brushed off a second invader . . . in less than six hours, maybe that a well founded indication.”

“Rings at sixty percent.”

:: Pull back to the top of the Massif. See the Portal bay? let’s see about attaching back over here. Close but out of the way. Can you feel the portal here? ::

:: Yeah, but . . . ::

They poked at it a bit.

:: Can you pull it out? Stretch it out like a long balloon? ::

:: Yeah, that works. ::

He watched quietly as they towed the insubstantial thing across and back to where they’d just been . . . and pause.

:: Sort of touch it to the ground, maybe? ::

They shoved it around, frustrated.

:: It’s supposed to stick and open up. ::

And beside the spot they were try to attach the bubble to, vehicle and men were gathering, something that looked rather like a missile launcher . . .

:: All right relax for a minute. Let me try to think of anything special Igor has said about this part of the process. ::

Maybe Simon’s Quad could do it?

Speaking of whom, Simon was jumping up from where he’d been sitting on the floor watching. “They’re firing up their rings! I think they may be coming here!”

A stir back in the portal bay. Mikhail stepped out to join them.

“They can’t get to within a mile of us, as long as the rings are charged.” Walther looked out the bay doorway. “So . . .”

“We should power down the rings.” Mikhail grinned at all the shocked looked aimed at him. “You want the kids trained? You want to know what happened out there yesterday? Let them come.”

Walther eyed him, nodded. “Power down. And I hope you’re right about them being friendly.”

“They’ll be friendly as soon as they see me.”

“I like to see confidence in a man, so long as it doesn’t get him killed . . . that looks like your Portal forming up out there.”

Mikhail strode out confidently. Of course if it’s Pavlosky/Aslanov I could regret this . . .

The portal swirled open. Murphy in the center, big gun in hand, missile launcher behind him.

“Looks really friendly, Mikhail!”

Murphy tossed the gun to someone out of sight and spread his arms, palms up as if to ask, “What now?”

“May I invite an extremely competent and dangerous Military Leader type Cyborg belonging to the Inquisition over to brief us on what happened yesterday?”

“Certainly.”

Mikhail made a summoning gesture and Murphy strode forward and took the two foot drop like an old pro. Popped his helmet, lifted it off and tucked it under his left arm.

“Wondered if that was you knocking on the door. You missed all the fun yesterday, and Igor’s recovering in the hospital.”

“Good, from the distance it looked . . . serious. The two Quads I’m training gave us an interesting view of the proceedings. Why don’t you tell me all about it?”

With everyone listening, nodding as their assumptions from what they’d seen were confirmed.

And the two red robes who were scowling at Murph tried a variety of control spells, to no avail at all. Murph acted like he didn’t notice them.

Walther was frowning, by the end of the story. “During this emergency, what did Director Pavlovsky do?”

“Director Pavlovsky had a . . . health issue and was unconscious in the medical unit for the duration of the emergency.”

Mikhail grinned. “And I’m certain Igor would not have anything to do with this issue?”

“I was not there, and could not say. Inquisitor Gorbachev gave operational control to Igor, and when he was injured, took command himself, with advice from people with more military experience.”

One of the red robes snorted. “Gorbachev has no training in military matters at all! Who was in command!”

“He was. He deferred operational matters to the experts, but the programs—such as the using the commercial portals for patient transport to other cities—were all approved by him.”

“Oh, approved? And who came up with that idea?”

“I did.”

Oh Murph, don’t declare war here!

“Oh really? Well. You are Inquisition property. I think you’d better come with us.”

“My orders are specific. And I am coming up on my report deadline.” He turned and walked back to the portal, putting his helmet on, utterly ignoring orders to stop. He jumped through the portal and a moment later it swirled down and disappeared.

The inquisitors exchanged glances.

“You appear to have a dangerously uncontrolled Cyborg on Siberia Max. This will be addressed.”

Mikhail turned and shook his head. “Murphy is the second best Special Forces officer I’ve ever met. Igor being the first. Together they can stop an Invasion from a Tier Two World in a few hours, and if one goes down, the other will step up and finish the job. As happened yesterday. I recommend leaving him in place.”

“You are nothing.”

Walther bristled . . . but the Inquisitors just switched their frowns to the eight portalclones, then turned and walked off toward their chauffeured limo.

“You know, some days I think Grigory Gorbachev is the only Inquisitioner worth saving.”

Walther thumped his arm. “And I didn’t hear you say that.”

Then frowned. “And an uncontrolled Cyborg? A Military Leader Cyborg that can resist control?”

“Most of the Fast Reaction Cyborg are completely uncontrolled. I hadn’t realized that Murphy was so resistant, but . . . Walther, that doesn’t matter. He is reliable and trustworthy. And very able.”

“Crap. Now you’re going to worry me.”

Mikhail laughed. “You can always leave Pavlovsky in place.”

Walther growled, again. “And Simone wants to meet these children you’ve practically adopted. How about a nice informal luncheon?”

“Sounds good. Mind you, they all think they’re adults.”

The kids started out a bit intimidated by the upscale, made for entertaining business and political cronies house, but relaxed and told Lady Simone all about the inbetween, finding worlds, watching a battle . . .

Mikhail kicked back with Walther and talked about the Fast Response Teams. “It’s not at all like the military, where you’ve got a bunch of sullen cyborged natives that need a loyal Alliance Cyborg over every squad to keep them in line, a True Man Officer over every platoon . . .”

“That’s the way it is.”

“In the Army. But the Teams are eighty-five hand picked, trained, and because we respect them as people, as real men, and don’t mentally control them, don’t place compulsions on them, and don’t order them to do things they’d hate to do . . . and give them quite a bit of leeway in how they perform duties . . . we’ve built up a two-way trust that just can’t be beat.”

Walter frowned. “All right, I trust Thirty-eight . . . pretty far. You always did get along with the Cyborgs.”

“Yes, and it’s so easy with that bunch.” And my house guards and chauffeurs . . . The guys I worked with here a decade ago . . . “you guys ought to travel more.”

Walther sighed. “I don’t dare take my eyes off this mess, right now.”

Mikhail nodded. “But if you ever need a place to run to, come find me.”