The Plaza looked empty, and they ventured out bravely. No rude One Worlders were going to stop them. Not that Jill minded that the rude duo seemed to have departed.
A man walked out of one of the Gates, and looked around for a second before circling the Gate and walking off.
"He's heading for the Comet Fall Embassy." Kelly hissed. "Do you think he's a wizard?"
Shirley snorted. "Don't fall for that nonsense. It's just nano scale tech, and they manipulate it subconsciously. In fact it's probably _relic_ tech and they have no understanding of it."
"I like the idea of magic." Jill sighed. "Although I suppose like anything else, it has both good and bad things about it. It must be impossible for everyone to be equal, when some people have such a huge advantage."
Kelly circled the Gate to Earth, a big granite arch, filled with light and fog.
Jill was careful to not say too much. She'd learned early to not describe things. She just didn't see some things the way other people did. All the literature had described the Arches as 'empty', but they most certainly were not.
The man, wizard or not, had disappeared into the Comet Fall Embassy. Jill noted the carved 'EARTH' on their own arch, and walked along the line of arches. They truly were empty. The sixteenth was full of fog and also had a carved name. It was apparently from someplace called Arbolia.
"That's another of the Magic Worlds." Kelly said, eyes bright.
"It's a separate country on the same World as one called Arrival." Jill said. She'd studied long and hard to win this position. "Arbola is over here on the neutral side of Earth, Arrival is over there with Comet Fall."
They circled the Plaza, with Kelly chattering away and telling them things they already knew, and the gossip that was apparently making the rounds on Mars.
Black Hector and Blond Greg sauntered out of the featureless glass cube of their Embassy building. Jill eyed them nervously, and tried to chivvy the others along faster.
Kelly stared up at the One World Arch. "They enslave the people of other worlds, use the women as brood stock."
"Of course we do. Why, I personally have been looking forward to impregnating my designated four Earth Women for years." Hector leered. "You three would be such a good start."
"And you two would be such excellent plant fertilizer."
They all turned in surprise. The Comet Fall man walked up, smiling innocently. "Hi. I'm Xen Wolfson. I take it you're part of the new bunch of interns? Welcome to Crossroads."
Kelly beamed at him. "I'm Kelly Tharsis. From Mars."
"Mars? Mars the planet? Really?" He looked delighted. "May I buy you all some coffee? Tea? Yes, even the Bad Boys can come."
He was very tall, two meters easily, broad shouldered, narrow waisted and muscular. Deep dark eyes showed a blue rim and his brown hair was fluffy and curly, cut about three centimeters long all over. His nose had just enough arch to be both elegant and masculine. Strong chin. Broad shoulders. Dear god he was cute.
Jill found herself following him automatically as she stammered out an introduction. Shirley looked equally smitten, and the One Worlders followed, muttering about charisma and charm spells, and how they shouldn't trust a wizard . . .
Jill had spotted the tarp roofed booths as they circled the Plaza, now she saw that they held produce and various manufactured goods.
"We're trying to get up some trade, but no one seems to want to sell someone something that could be used against them. It 's a bit frustrating."
He led them to an outdoor pastry shop and after checking their preferences, got both a pot of coffee and a pot of tea, along with a plate of pastries.
"Now tell me all about Mars? Is it was dry and deserty as it looks through a telescope?"
"Oh yes, and it doesn't have much air, although we're trying to build it up by bringing in comets, but that's dangerous."
"I should think so! You have permanent colonies there, I take it?"
"Oh yes. The population is well over a million. I'm third generation Martian."
Xen grinned. "After all the tall tales of Monstrous Martian invaders, it comes down to pretty blondes? Dear me. I'd be disappointed if it didn't sound so insulting. No monsters at all?"
Kelly was giggling. "Sorry, nary a one."
"By the One, Xen. Must you be such an obvious womanizer?"
"Oh, Hector, the reason for my success with women lies in the fact that I like them, and enjoy talking to them." He twinkled at Kelly. "And yes, I am an appalling womanizer, so watch yourself. It is appropriate in my society for a woman to haul off and slap a man who has offended her. Feel free to do so at any time."
"Oh, Good Grief . . . " Greg glared at him.
Xen's grin widened. "Miss Fenris, hmm interesting name, mythical wolf or something?"
"Err, You're thinking Fenrir, a Scandinavian mythical monster." Jill blushed. "I didn't really study very much ancient mythology."
Shirley nodded. "Our schools have started focusing more on ancient history since, err."
"Yes. Something about getting your ass whipped that tends to focus the mind." Xen said.
Hector laughed out loud at that. "I'll bet."
Xen raised his eyebrows. "Didn't they tell you about the One World invasion of Comet Fall? Your troops got all of . . . two kilometers perhaps from the Gate. And when they saw that the Gate was taken down and they'd lost, they all committed suicide. Two hundred of them. Utterly appalling."
"Well, what do you expect, after your spy mission."
"Actually it was about two years before. We had to do a lot of searching to find you."
"We didn't start a war."
"Well, yeah, took us a couple of hours of hard labor to stop you dead, so, no. You weren't able to start a war." Xen shook his head. "And here I had you two figured as at least Neartuone. Surely the government stops lying at your level? No?"
They were both glaring.
"Ah well. Don't mind them, m'ladies, Oners invest heavily in their hierarchy of power and casting aspersions is very rude of me."
The Fallen steered the conversation back to Earth, and what they had studied in school, and did they like dogs and horses?
At some point the old man who'd welcomed them to the Crossroads tracked them down.
Xen, of course, greeted him with a grin and by name. "Mr. Jenkins! Won't you join us? No? I suppose you are here to shut down my information pipeline into the Earth's secret program of secondary education?"
"Yes, and the sooner the better." He eyed the three women. "We were concerned when you didn't show up for lunch. I didn't expect you to have found all three of the worst influences on the planet so quickly. There's an orientation meeting starting in half an hour." He stood waiting.
"He's not going to go away." Xen informed them. "Stubborn fellow. Will you let me walk you back to the Embassy? Oh, one thing first." He turned and looked back at the counter. "Yahlou, what are the prices for stuff here in Earth currency? What are you accepting these days?"
"We haven't had any luck getting card sales to work, so what we prefer are the tokens Mr. Jenkins will no doubt be telling you about really soon. A pot of tea half the size this Bottomless Pit ordered is one dollar, two pastries for a dollar. We try to keep things in whole numbers because keeping change in thirty-five currencies is a real problem. Come back any time, bring friends. I have a bouncer in the back, and he swears he can even get rid of Xen." She grinned, spectacularly good looking with even white teeth in a tanned face, and red hair braided around her head.
"What about us?" Greg smirked.
She lifted an elegant eyebrow. "I doubt I'd have to disturb him." Something beeped in the back and she flashed them a smile and retreated to take something out of a stove.
"Electric stoves and ovens are _so_ popular." Xen said. "You, either of you, really ought to sell them. Now, do let me escort you home. Mr. Jenkins wants you out of my clutches quickly."
He walked them back to the street in front of the Embassy, and turned away with the two trailing One Worlders.
The old man shook his head. "That young man is too charming for words. Ladies, one of the things we do is keep track of conversations with the Comet Fall people. Captain Xen Wolfson of the King's Own Intelligence Division is very high on our priority list. Do not talk about this with each other, yet. After the meeting you three split up, and each write out as exactly as possible everything that was said by anyone, including yourselves. Then we'll compare versions and jiggle your memories a bit."
They all nodded and Kelly sighed. "Is he really a horrible womanizer?"
"Yes and no. Women will tell him anything apparently because he'll sit and chat for hours. Sex? Not that anyone has admitted to. He's in a very odd position in the government of the West. I'll send his bio – what we know of it – to you three to share."