September 12th, 2021

_Fall of Empire_ part 25

Chapter Twenty-three

Corridors and Gates

May 20, 3740

“You guys do realize that you can stay here, right?” Axel shook his head at their laughter. All three of them!

Henrik shrugged. “All we’d do here is about what we do at home, so why leave our homes and all our friends?”

Leon grinned. “And not see what Igor does next?”

Pauli laughed. “I wouldn’t mind studying their computers, but I’ve got a ton of data chips and some equipment to experiment with interfacing so I can see the data. Next trip, I’m taking trade goods, so I can buy some serious equipment. And yeah, well, Siberia Max is my home, and I want to see what Axel does next.”

But there was a little shade of sadness there, behind it.

Alex eyed him. I’ll talk to him in private. Later.

He took his time and drove sixty gates before he pulled over in the shade on some World with a warm sunny day.

“Why don’t we let our stomachs settle a bit. I brought lunch, we can relax, maybe walk a few gates . . .”

Pauli stepped out happily. “Can I walk the rest of the way?”

“If you get soaking wet, I might not let you back in.”

“Meanie!”

Leon walked around the ATV. “I don’t know why people haven’t settled some of these worlds.”

“Or set up a store and gas station.” Henrik looked around. “Probably too close to Embassy. Mybe there is something further out, say at Gate 500?”

Pauli looked both ways. “At a hundred, hundred and fifty feet apart, one thousand one hundred and something g-gates . . . it’s probably only thirty miles long. N-nausea being the only r-reason to stop. No one with any s-sense would run out of gas.”

Leon grinned. “So they better have at least two gas stations spread out along the route.”

Pauli stepped out and peered down the line of gates. “Maybe s-someday I’ll h-hike to the end.”

“You know, at the rate the Quads can find Worlds, maybe we need a dedicated Explorer Team.” Axel sat back against the tree. “Did either of you two catch any bubbles?”

They both started grinning.

“Yeah! We can make Corridors, and we watched them make these gates, and I’ll bet the Quad could do one.” Leon perked up.

“So your explorers can come and go at will.” Henrik looked around at Pauli. “Maybe you should take a quad with you, when you go exploring, Scout Leader Pauli Igorov.”

Pauli laughed. “Igorov! Yes!”

Axel grinned and listened as they discussed how they were going to organize their Explorers, what they were going to do with all the worlds they discovered . . .

“We need a World to be our base, so we don’t have to worry about biological contamination.” Henrik seemed to like the idea

“Yeah, a really nice one!”

“I was thinking desert, so anything that get through dies.” Henrik sighed. “But I don’t think my girlfriend would like a desert.”

“W-well, if it’s going to be our b-base, it ought to have g-good weather . . .” Pauli sounded wishful. “We’ll need houses, a water well, lots of solar cells.”

They meandered off through the gate and Axel gave them a good head start before he stretched and headed for the ATV. It’s only another mile and a half or so. No problem if they want to walk the whole way back.

They quit at the sand storm and let him drive them the rest of the way.

Everything was quiet in the Portal Bay, but people kept glancing at Murphy and . . . sort of hanging around. Even the Inquisitor strolled in, glanced at Murphy and looked innocently away. “So? Find out anything?”

“When put in a ordinary city water system the plague molecules resist deterioration for a month, decline for month, and are definitely broken down and harmless in three months. In a closed arid hot room . . . best humidify and/or stream clean it.”

“About what we thought. It’s been quiet around our branch, but the Quads have been looking around, at Ilia Balabanov’s request. It looks like the Japanese are arming up and spreading out. So far it looks like single Tier Three Japanese worlds attacking German and Russian World one or two Tiers higher than them. The Tier Twos are massing troops near their portal facilities, but only Yamaguchi has actually attacked anyone.” The Inquisitor suppressed a smile as Murphy walked up.

Murphy had his poker face on over . . . uncertainty? “Yamaguchi’s the ones who popped a port into Regulus. They must have some ability to view other Worlds, and Regulus, battered from fighting the Germans must have looked like an irresistible and easy target. The rest are just . . . arming up, while their vassals scoop up the worlds that are near the borders of the Japanese section.”

Axel frowned. “I really hope they aren’t going to attack Home. Or the Citadel.”

Grigory nodded. “While you’re talking to the government people on Orion, I think I’ll go talk to Mikhail, and warn them.” A faint twitch of his lips. “I’ll leave Murphy here, in charge, so he can also keep an eye on his interesting acquisitions. A glance over his shoulder. “Oh, excuse me.”

Murphy flushed a little.

“What did you do that has everyone so amused and apprehensive?”

“On Regulus, talking about trade, this General said they had used Cyborg parts for sale, unfortunately still attached to Cyborgs too badly damaged to bother to heal and/or repair, but they’d be taking care of that matter real soon.”

“Ah. Did you take them to Dr. Vadik?” Axel eyed his relaxing shoulders. “How many of them?”

“Seventy-four. They’re camped all over the place in those tents we got from the Stutties, but feeding them is . . .”

“Expensive, but well worth it.” He looked over to where Pauli was talking to the rest of the Rangers and a bunch of Free Portalists. “And that bunch is trying to go exploring.”

He walked over to where the ATV was parked, and Murphy followed him. “So what’s really worrying you?”

“How I paid. I just thumb printed acceptance on the sales page, figuring I’d have to talk to the Inquisitor about paying for them, but the page just flashed that they were paid for.”

“Good. When I was there a couple months ago, to bitch about the blacklist on the Presentation page, I, umm, updated the agent list on the Alliance computer. I usually just pass an annual update to the Citadel, and everything cascades outward, but I can’t count on that anymore. The funds are accessible through the joint banking system that almost everyone on Regulus uses. I’m glad to know my addition worked.”

“But, but . . . I don’t think that’s what those funds are for.”

“Well . . . Agents run into odd circumstances. I think that’s a perfectly good use.”

“. . . Okay. I guess I won’t protest further.” Murphy sighed. “Now I just have to figure out how to feed seventy-four injured soldiers. And figure out what to do with them.”

“Talk to Natasha about On Call Workers. It hires out the Rehabbed servants who don’t want to go back to Vinogradov House . . . or wherever they came from. We’re branching out, carefully. Not that your injured soldiers will be ready to work for some time, but they might be interested in trade school or college. And starting with some idea of the job market never hurts.”

Murph grinned. “I don’t know why I thought you be pissed. Yeah, they’re really beat up, so it’ll be awhile before they’re independent. But then what do I do? Most of them can’t speak Russian, let alone read or write it.”

“Hmm. Any of them with Mentalist talent, I can hand-off the language. I’ll stop by out there as soon as I’m back from Orion. The rest of them will have to learn it the hard way.” He looked around for Pauli. “And now I’m going to go talk to my wife and then find out how far Pauli’s going to go with this Explorer Scout thing.”

“ . . . Hand-off a language?”

Axel looked around, raised brows.

“I’ve been thinking about learning Japanese.” Murphy tried to shrug casually.

Oh really?

“It’s like . . . hang on, I haven’t done this for awhile . . .” Axel concentrated carefully and switched to Japanese, thinking the earliest phrases . . . “Kon'nichiwa . . .” and copied it and the whole string, bush, tangle of the language and pushed the copy out into a bulge in his mental shield and thinned it . . . “Reach out and touch it mentally.”

“Ima, watashi wa sore de nani o shimasu ka?” A pause. “Nihongo de itta?”

“Yep. If you practice it, it’ll stick. Otherwise it’ll fade.” Axel grinned. “So . . . what’s her name?”

Murphy blushed. “Minako Felis.”

“Felis like cats? I don’t think the Japanese do . . . or do New Texans do Latin animal names? I thought Lobo was Spanish” Blink. “Oh. Would someone named Equis be from New Texas.”

Murphy eyed him, “You know someone from Clan Equis?”

“A family. They, rather appropriately, run a stable out to the southwest.” Axel snickered suddenly. “I guess everyone I know is going to start rescuing people. So go practice Japanese and sometime when there aren’t any crises happening all the New Texans can get together.”

“So . . . who rescued the Equis family?”

“Dina. The stable owner sold the land to a developer and was going to toss the family onto the public board, and slaughter the last old horses they couldn’t sell. So Dina bought everything, and I got them new land. I suppose I ought to go see how they’re doing . . .”

Murphy snickered. “Go home, Igor. That nice wife of yours must feel like she married a traveling salesman.”

Pauli laughed and walked up. “Yeah. You can drop me off on the way. And explain just what you did to that sweet ride of yours.”

“I loaned it to a friend. There’s a very good chance I’ll get it back. C’mon, let’s go.”