It was large, with sixteen beds. The forty inhabitants made it seem small. It stunk. The other indigents eyed his height warily. His wallet with foreign ID and foreign currency had been viewed with suspicion, and taken away. He relaxed against the bars and tried to open up a bit. Shut down hastily. Too many wide-open disturbed magic users near by. A bored man with slick black hair glared at him. "I don't like gods. We ought to rip you to shreds."
Xen closed his eyes and wondered if they were going to be fed, or if the lights would be turned off so he could sneak some food out of a bubble.
Footsteps echoed on bare cement floor. "Wolfson, Xen!"
He straightened. "That's me."
"Look like you get first stab at the judge."
The judge was old and skinny, and looked impatient. "What is the prisoner charged with?"
"Counterfeiting. He had these in his pocket."
"That's not very much money, and the coins don't look at all like copies of coinage in circulation, nor these bills. The identification . . . Kingdom of the West? Department of Interdimensional Security and Cooperation?" The judge frowned at Xen. "What are these?"
"Money and ID from my home. I just today arrived from a parallel World, and have not yet looked into selling gold or diamonds for local currency."
"You have neither gold nor diamonds on you."
"I don't generally carry them when I'm just taking a first walk around a world."
"And he scans as a god."
The judge leaned back at that. "And have you called the Secret Service? You know everything to do with the gods is their business."
Xen was set in a corner and ordered to remain there while calls were made. He napped until two men in beautiful black suits showed up and pointed what he thought were instruments, not weapons at him.
"He's god level, all right, but he isn't one of them."
"Is it illegal to be a powerful magic user?" Xen asked. "I read up on history in the University library, and it didn't mention anything like that."
"It means that we're going to investigate you up one side and down the other. Come along." Papers were signed, official records of a change in custodial organization.
"The first thing we want from you is your real name."
"Umm, my World isn't as rigid as most high tech Worlds. In my mother's culture, I'm Xenotime Rustleson. In my father's I suppose I'd be Xenotime Oldham. I have never used that name. My army enlistment and such have all been as Xen Wolfson. My father being Wolfgang Oldham—on my World, not yours." And not a flicker of recognition.
"Of the Kingdom of the West. I served for fourteen years, prior to being secunded to the Department of Interdimensional Security."
"Great, a complete looney reading off the scale. We're going to have to call him aren't we?"
"That's above my pay grade. The boss can do it."
Xen's ears perked up. Him sounded important enough to possibly get him somewhere.
At the Federal building, Xen found himself the target of a large number of instruments.
"I've never seen anyone with a genetic reading so high that didn't have any magical potential at all." Dr. Franz Felderman was embroidered on the man's white lab coat.
"That's because I have it all tucked in tight after getting adverse attention strolling past the Cathedral this morning."
"Well, why don't you untuck it and let me get a decent reading, so I can classify you properly."
"I foresee a drawer and specimen number in my future." Xen untucked and wrestled down his barriers.
Dr. Felderman paled at whatever his instruments read and scuttled out of the room. Xen relaxed and let his barriers firm back up.
Less than a minute later his father walked through the door.
No. Not his father. Someone who used to be the same fellow, but with entirely different experiences the last thousand years of a fourteen hundred year lifespan. No laugh lines. He was older, silver haired and bearded, rather than Comet Fall's brown hair with silver streaks and brown beard with a bit heavier silvering. He was intense and nervy. Lacking something. Xen studied him. He's badly off his center.
"So. You are nearly as powerful as a god. Do you think you are a god? Do you think you can walk around creating trouble. That you are above the law?"
"Yes, yes, no, no. How do you do? Pleased to meet you. I'm Xen Wolfson of the Department of Interdimensional Security and Cooperation. I just arrived today, having used a trans-dimensional gate from Embassy. Embassy is an Empty World where all worlds are invited to build an embassy and argue instead of invade. Do you know who I need to talk to about it?"
The God of War frowned down on him. "And insane to-boot. What the hell are we going to do with you?"
Xen frowned right back. "You know, it isn't actually shocking that people have rediscovered dimensional travel after fourteen hundred years."
Harry walked in, with Richie on his heels.
Harry shook his head. "They'd need to redo an awful lot of genetic engineering as well."
"Or develop better computers? Harry Murchison. Wolfgang Oldham. Richie Xi."
The three of them froze, staring at him. Harry shook his head. "You read that somewhere."
"Sure did. Read all about Healthy Kids, New Gene, and Trans World Travel."
The Auld Wulf may have forgotten his Tao, but he remembered how to loom. "Where did you read that?"
"On your computer. Pie thirty-eight, unless this World diverged from mine before the Comet. We didn't manage to move the largest part and suffered much more damage than this World."
"How much more? You'll have to try hard to garner sympathy from us." Harry looked up as more gods crowded into the room. The two secret service agents were looking a bit panicky as a pair of men Xen didn't know walked in, followed by Michael with Red at heel.
"We figure less than a hundred thousand survivors." Xen shrugged. "It was a long time ago, and while our gods were once the same as you, they aren't you anymore. In my World, Art, Mercy and Peace decided the southern cities with their anti-magic fanaticism should be destroyed, so instead of helping they wrestled you for control of the comet."
That brought a bitter snort from the God of Just Deserts. "In this World I tried to help and screwed things up, killing millions."
"In mine you retreated under a weird spell, some sort of suspended animation that gave you a marble statue sort of look. Wish you had disrupted things."
"Ha. I tried to help them push it south. I suppose trying the opposite might have helped."
"We were pushing it north, Michael. You disrupted their mage and witch backups until they sent you away and we could try to bat away as many small ones as possible." Harry glared, old grief in his eyes.
"And . . . even that didn't go very well . . . " The Auld Wolf glared at Xen, then back at Michael. "Are you sure you were pushing south?"
"Away from our cities, Wolf. Not that I was ever welcome there, but they didn't try to burn all magic users. Were you actually pushing the comet pieces north?"
"It was going to hit north of the equator. Much easier to push it further north to miss."
The two other men, one blonde, one redheaded, were otherwise nearly identical. Barry Virtue and Edmund Vice most likely. They were watching, listening to the argument with ill concealed glee.
Mercy appeared in the space in front of The Auld Wulf and glared up at him. "What do you mean come here! You can't order me around like that."
"You, Peace, and Art. You had a grudge against the southern settlements. You tried to deliberately drop that comet on them, and when that failed you still tried to direct the small detritus at their cities."
"Says who? You can't prove a thing." She snapped her fingers under the Auld Wulf's nose and disappeared.
"They didn't." Richie was appalled. "They couldn't have."
The Auld Wulf disappeared, and Harry and Richie traded glances and traveled as well.
"You know, I wasn't actually trying to start a war." Xen said. "I just was trying to emphasize that our Worlds were different."
The twins snickered and disappeared, leaving him alone with Michael and the Hell Hound, who was looking at him with his hackles up. And the two cowering SS agents.
"Relax, Red. I'm a friend."
Michael shook his head. "I don't have friends."
"Ouch. No Tromp here, eh? In my World you've got a witch keeping you so mellow everyone likes you."
"Witches don't advertise here, and they don't marry, either." Michael looked at the oversized boxer. "And then there's the dogs. No one likes my dogs."
"Well, if this Red is any example, I can see why. Don't you have any friends at all?" Xen reached out and snagged a bubble. He was beginning to think he was going to need it.
Michael glared and the dog leaped. Xen swooped the bubble over him.
Michael leaned in close. "Are you sure you're ready to get into a fight?"
"I've always preferred the make love not war approach to conflict resolution. I'm sorry your friend has died."
"Oh, she's not dead yet, but it's only a matter of days, according to the doctors. I'm staying away for the benefit of the other patients." There were tears in his eyes as he glanced away.
Xen beamed. "Perfect. Take me to her, right now."
Michael glowered. "Good thing you stored the dog. Now don't provoke me."
"I'm not provoking you. I'm going to demonstrate the medical breakthroughs of my World. Where is she?" He stared into Michael's eyes and saw the Location clearly.