“Ownership.” Ra’d’s voice was flat.
“At the moment, we’re still trapped in a system where everything is owned.”
Ra’d eyed Pauli.
“Yes. He owns me. Mind you, I have the documentation so tangled and such that if he dies, I can just sort of . . . On paper, well, electronic records, I’m currently owned by a company that’s owned by a company, that’s owned by eighteen people who don’t actually exist, and I’ve got a web of companies standing by for . . . extengencies.”
Axel nodded. “I hope to hell we can transition to complete freedom . . . but for now we can only . . . practice and show everyone how much better a free people do. While keeping a wary eye out for a resurgence of the Alliance. We’re calling the kids Free Portalists, paying them salaries, they work their shift and then go off to do whatever they want to do, live wherever they want to live.”
Pauli nodded. “Which is what he does.”
“Ha, you lot went off and did it yourselves.”
“You told us t-to. We might have gotten a b-bit carried away.”
Axel suppressed a grin. Already comfortable enough with English to think faster than your tongue can keep up, and gets confused. “And did a damned good job of it.”
He braced himself and turned into the hospital.
The girls at the check in desk eyed the stitches.
“Actually, I was hoping to speak to Dr. Heath about one of her inventions . . . creations?”
Her eyes unfocused for a moment, then sharpened. She pointed at elevator door. “Third floor, then out to the point.”
Not that the building ended in an actual point, but the short wall at the plaza side of the building was about the right width for an executive office. With windows on three sides.
Dr. Heath, a handsome middle aged woman—at the moment—frowned at him. “Sit down young man! Whatever you need to talk about can wait a moment.” She stalked around her desk and put both hands around his head.
“Your wine is doing a very good job . . .”
“And sometimes it does better with a little hands-on help! Well! Your poor brain! And skull!”
Axel tried to hold very still and pretend he wasn’t hearing any crunching noises through the bones of his skull.
“Open your mouth.”
He opened. Louder crunches. “That’s better.”
Then she ran her hands over the worst cuts. A long pause at his ear . . .
“So,” she turned away and sat down, interlacing her fingers and eyeing him, “which creation of mine is the problem today?”
“The power removing ‘plague.’ Does it breakdown, and how fast in what environments? Specifically, in a city water supply system in most cases, and an air release in a closed building in a very dry hot desert, for just one, that I know of.”
“Eh, we designed it for city water systems, it should be strong for a month, then start breaking down over another. In three months it will definitely be gone. Now an air release . . . it wasn’t designed for that.”
“It was quite effective. Took out most of the 300, plus a lot of other strong mentalists. They sealed up the building and it’s been undisturbed for several years.”
“Good heavens! Well, and even some of the inner capsules might be undamaged . . . I’d recommend humidifiers to start with, and possibly steam cleaning to deal with the loose powder, and very careful and thorough cleaning to find the undamaged capsules.”
“I see. Well, I’m glad to hear about the water system.”
“Hmm.” The doctor’s sharp gaze switched to Pauli. “And you young man, what is that in your head?”
“It’s a-an Exec P-plate . . .” He stopped as she raised a finger.
Pointed it at Axel. “You. Go away.”
Axel rose hastily and retreated. “I’ll go check on the kids. Would you like me to send two former Portalmakers in before we leave? They’re talking to Xen and Q at the moment.”
“Yes. You do that.”
Ra’d left with him. “No telling what she’ll do to him.”
Axel sighed. “Nothing harmful, I’m sure, although removing the plate could make things difficult for him, legally, back home. Although given the ease with which he gets into computers, probably not.”
Leon and Henrik were sitting in a circle with half a dozen other young people, all trying to grab absolutely nothing out of thin air.
Axel grinned and head for the Kitchen to see how Dr. Heath’s repairs to his jaw worked, before Pauli could catch him and made him behave.
May 17, 3740
“We had a factory tooled up to make collectors and rebroadcasters, so we thought you might like some temporary installations while you rebuild your towers.”
Murphy kept a straight face as the Regulans suspicions deepened. Poor sods just aren’t used to the concept of good neighbors. Or maybe it because they don’t trust the Office of the Inquisition.
The Mayor of Parizh was flanked by a man from the Governor on one side and an army general on the other.
“And what does the Inquisition want in exchange?”
“I’m here as the representative of an Emergency Council that includes the Governor Berezin, myself, the Bureaus, The Research Center, and Businesses of Siberia Max. The stability of Regulus and Orion are vital to the continued well being of Siberia Max.”
Oh god, I don’t count as Representing the Bureaus, do I? They don’t even own me! Even if I am sort of doing the Boss’s job despite the existence of Pavlovsky.
“So we need you in good shape. And we need to stabilize local trade. Have you contacted Orion?”
“Yes.” The Governor’s man grimaced. “They were a bit on the defensive side. Claimed their Portalmaker was in the hospital but should be returning to duty . . . soon.”
Poor guy! Maybe Axel’ll kidnap him, too.
“Lord Axel’s going to go talk to them in a few days.” The Inquisitor cleared his throat. “Perhaps it is not premature for me to mention that we’re considering a private company to run portals, and own the Quads. So it’s not Siberia Max taking over.”
Murphy bit his lip. “And the possibility of using an otherwise empty world as a hub to give all the trading partners a measure of security, has been brought up, but not otherwise explored.”
“And where are you going to find one of those?”
“The Research Center’s found dozens of perfectly boring Worlds that no one wants.” Murph shrugged. “The idea of a trading association is interesting, but would probably just be a temporary measure, depending on what happens Alliance-wide.”
They all looked at him as if . . . a Cyborg was talking to them as an equal.
“So as a first step, you need Power Rebroadcasters and Siberia Max, as usual, needs food. This isn’t a swap meet. You rent or buy rebros, we use the money to buy stuff here. We both profit.”
“Strictly a commercial deal?” They looked over at the Inquisitor.
“Right, nothing to do with the disrupted liege-vassal relationship between us, or between you and Orion. That is an entirely different matter, which if it need to be discussed, will bring in not just Orion, but Betelguese, Rigel, Bellatrix, and Saiph.” The Inquisitor shrugged. “And I doubt that any of us is ready to take that step right now. So, let’s authorize some trades, and get us all back on a solid footing and ride out the next few years.”
A sly glance from the General. “Anyone need any spare Cyborg parts?”
Murphy hoped his poker face was holding. Shrugged. “We’re a manufacturer. I suppose there were a lot of casualties on both sides.”
“Eh, we’ve got a bunch of prisoners, too damaged to be worth keeping alive.”