Summer Solstice 1395
Janic studied the young man in front of him. "You look better. Not good, but better." Anyone else would dead or crippled. Magic healing . . .magical spying. I need more magicians, need to find, recruit, more people. I can't run "Magic Central" like Rufi did with just Oscar Harryson and Bran Butcher. Old Gods help me, I need a full blown Magic Corps. "In any case, to bring you up to date on the various situations, Lady Heliotrope went to One world to buy equipment, and I've just sent Deena to set up a house to use for picking up news and future buying sprees. We have six students at college there now. All faked Idents, of course. Heliotrope, Deena, and Q are programming them now, so we don't have the same holes in our security that we did when we had to sell blanks."
"Excellent. Have we got a toe into Earth? Err, sorry. Never mind."
Janic snorted. "As if we don't realize your sister would probably tell you if you asked. Yes. Our dimensional research department, better known as your sister Quail Quicksilver has set up a hidden gate, and can nip out and pick up some news, but we haven't cracked the monetary system, or their identification system."
"Hmm, want me to . . . "
"Yes, but only if you'll behave sensibly."
Captain Xen Wolfson failed to suppress a smile. "Thank you, sir. I will try to keep myself out of trouble."
Janic gave him a dyspeptic glare. "Now, on the One World, I think we jumped in over our heads and were damned lucky. Either that, or as everyone tells me, you're just damned good at getting along with people. But that is not what we're going to do here. We are simply going to establish a listening post. Set up a spot for someone to regularly pick up newspapers, well, the electronic version, watch these Tee Vees, eavesdrop a bit in coffee shops. No real spying." He eyed the young man severely. "No calling attention to ourselves and worming in so close to the power structure."
Xen was nodding. "Our main problems will probably be similar to what we faced on the One World. Electronic identification, and money. And ways to get enough credit in our accounts to pay the rent. And yes, we were incredibly lucky. I see the Empire has opened an actual Embassy. Are they being reasonable?"
"Every since the state dinner where I surrounded them with gods and witches. Lady Gisele, umm, rather intimidated Ambassador Orsu." Janic let a smile slip in as he recalled the decreasing elevation of the Ambassador's nose, and gradual shrinking away . . . "At least on Earth they won't have the weird religion or that hive mind thing. Q claims that an agent could take a room through the gate, in a bubble, and hide it nearly anywhere. And trail a corridor along if they move, so they would always have easy access to the gate."
Xen nodded. "That would seriously reduce the monetary requirements for maintaining a post. Leaving the ID issues."
"Yes. I would like you to take a room to Earth and explore that specific issue. I'm not intending to leave you there, I have other people who can collect news and gossip. But they can't do the start up."
Xen hesitated. "How about the One World? Just because they're talking . . . "
"Captain Janic is in charge of a listening post in a distant and obscure small city, All discussions of war with Earth fail to involve 'Target World Forty-two' and further is none of your business."
"Sorry, sir. Of course. I'll go see about that room now, shall I?"
"Yes. And Captain? Stay remote and detached. I expect to see you back here every three months, and Sergeant Lovett will be relaying reports in between. I am attempting to not place Q at risk, in as much as she is apparently the only one who can see where her gates are going. You'll find her four doors down from Garit. She'll brief you on the gate and what she's found out so far."
"They call the city 'The Hague.' I have no idea why. But it's their World Capital." Q spread out photographs on her desk. "There are some very old parts, and some very new. Janic says we have to avoid it. So instead, I've attached the gate in this much smaller city way over here. It's nothing special, but it has lots of international business, so there are lots of strangers around with odd accents."
Xen listened with half an ear. Most of his attention was on Sergeant Jeff Lovett. A few years older than Xen, a few years more experienced, and just back from wizard school. Xen knew him, knew even more about him.
Xen flinched as Q poked him. "Pay attention. And the first thing you two need to do is go to Ash and ask father if he can teach you anything about driving the vehicles. Apparently personally owned vehicles are much more common there, and public transit less available than, umm, places we've explored before."
The sergeant sighed. "I know. I know. I can't ask. You know, gold wagon guard is a nice obvious straight forward job. I don't know if I'm going to like this spy stuff."
Q grinned. "No horse poop to worry about."
"That's what privates are for. And anyhow, I grew up cleaning stalls and driving wagons. I know horses, and fear no manure."
Xen grinned. "Well then, consider these cars just really stupid wagons. Unlike a horse, they have no sense. They don't decide to stop on their own because you're not paying attention to the cliff or wall ahead."
"Uncle Damien's horses could probably do half the deliveries all by themselves. Your carz sound like runaway sleds."
"They have quite good brakes though. So go learn how to drive." Q sounded waspish.
"I know how to drive, it's just a matter of learning new controls. You're just irked because you don't get to go too." Xen eyed her. :: Have you told him? ::
:: Not yet. He needs a bit of perspective, first. ::
"Good timing. I have two expectant mothers with their own ideas about where I ought to be."
Jeff gave him a rather jaundiced look, and might have muttered something under his breath about ". . . nobles . . ." But he followed Xen out of the office and joined him in a taxi to the half ruined Temple of Ba'al. From there, a corridor took them directly to Ash, and they hiked up the path. Jeff started looking a bit nervy as Xen took the right hand fork.
"I thought . . . I heard that it really was the God of War, that makes the wine here." He flushed and straightened. "I suppose I shouldn't listen to old myths."
"Well, in this case you are correct in just about everything except what you think a god is. Ahem. Try 'A very powerful magic user, genetically engineered on Earth over a thousand years ago, and exiled here.' Really, beside being old and having a whole bunch of junk he brought from Earth a thousand years ago, Dad's just a regular guy. Mostly."
Lovett stopped dead. "Dad?"
". . . and it's a boy." Xen put the pup down. "Good girl, Silky. That is a very cute pup and will no doubt be as smart as you are."
His mother snickered. "And Blackie only had three. Do you realize how lucky you are?"
"Yes. I had visions of them each having about thirteen."
Jeff snorted. "I had visions of your two mistresses both expecting at the same time."
Xen shook his head at his mother. "Don't. Don't tell him."
Jeff raised an eyebrow. "It can't be worse than the rumors. You wouldn't believe some of the stories they tell about this place with and without Xen. I was almost disappointed by the obvious normalcy when I passed through going to the Wizard's school."
"Normalcy." Xen started grinning. "Must have been an off day."
"Not that wizard school did me a whole lot of good." The sergeant shrugged. "Apparently I'm a mage and it works differently. Master Dydit worked with me after Master Nil gave up. I ought to be able to get any Earthers to trust me, believe me, and see nothing odd about me. And I can shield, and raise a bare puff of wind if I try really hard."
"I see. I know a bunch of strictly mage craft stuff. I'll start you on some of the memorized chants." He gave Silky a last stroke and stood up. "Now, having taken care of my midwifery, I believe it's time to break out the ZXZ580. It's what was called a 'sports car' a thousand years ago, on Earth. How much the controls resemble a modern car's, well, we'll find out real soon. We'll drive everything drivable that Dad's got, before we leave."
He drove his father's cherished bright red sports car carefully across the short cropped pasture and out onto the road. He explained the basics to Jeff, getting them out beyond the horse farm. Then he let Jeff give it a try. They managed to get it back home, six hours later, without a scratch on it.
"Pity there's not more corners around here. We probably could have used more practice." Jeff was grinning. "And I really need to find out how long a km is. All your joking aside, I really want to know how fast 160km/hr is."
"I'm not joking, a kilometer is about two thirds of a mile. We were going somewhere in the vicinity of a hundred miles an hour. Not that we went that fast for very long. Tomorrow, we'll try a thing called a Rolligon, and then there's the Armored Personnel Carrier . . . "
"They weren't kidding when they said they'd dump us in the bad part of town."
Xen nodded. The denizens of the city slums were getting his hackles up. Not to mention the noise. The constant background of vehicles, the closer chatter and clatter. Dogs barking, alarms and sirens. Loud bangs that might or might not be gunfire. "I'm not sure it was a good idea. The drugs make these people halfway resistant to suggestion. They'll leave us alone, but they do see us."
Lovett looked around. "Pity we couldn't bring the APC."
A solid month of practicing the local dialect, drilling Sergeant Lovett on Mage style magic, and learning the peculiarities of the Earther’s computers from the outdated versions they’d captured or stolen from the marooned Earth soldiers had prepared them as well as possible for this mission.
Sirens were starting to overwhelm the other noises. There was so much echo off the flat sides of these plain buildings he hadn't a clue which direction it was coming from. He started across a street but stepped hastily back as a car squealed around the corner and zipped past them.
"Damned electric motors, those things don't make enough noise to warn you that they're coming."
The black-and-white police car following it took the corner more circumspectly, loosing ground. There were other sirens coming from other directions as well.
"Bank Robbers?" Jeff looked carefully before following Xen across the street.
"From the newscasts, more likely they held up a store. I wish we had a better way to get information. Watching TVs in bars just isn't going to cut it, in the long run."
Jeff nodded. "We need to pick up some local contacts. Gods know we don't have a lack of obvious criminals around to approach." He spotted Xen's aborted move to touch his bruised cheekbone. "Sorry, sir. Picking up a whore to talk to seemed like a good idea. I didn't know about the drug addiction, and these pimps."
"I've seen it elsewhere. Should have expected that a chat for a drink wasn't going to work. Well, we can't sell gold without an ID. Can't sell gemstones at all, because they synthesize them. Can't import and sell any sort of alcohol."
The drunk on the sidewalk looked up at that. "Alcohol? You got any hootch?" The filthy reeking creature stood up on shaky legs, he wasn't as tall as Xen, but he came a lot closer than anyone they'd yet seen on this World.
Xen sighed, and pulled a bottle of wine out of a bubble. "You won't like the results, though. This stuff will cure you." He twisted the cork out and the wino snatched it from his hand.
"Woo, boy, smells like good stuff." He tipped the bottle and took a long pull, and staggered back into the path of the speeding car.
The impact threw him into Xen's arms. He backed up to the wall and checked the man. Jeff tried to find a pulse.
Police cars screamed by, no one paying any attention to a trio of scruffy men on the sidewalk. Xen snatched a bubble and whipped it over the body. The dimensional phenomena were invisible to all but a few of the magicians.
"What did you do that for?" Jeff looked alarmed. He couldn't see the bubbles, but he knew what they were.
"I'm going to search him at leisure and see if he's got any ID." Xen sighed. "I don't think anyone is going to miss him, and I doubt any other dead bodies will fall at our feet."
"God, I hope not." Jeff followed as Xen reversed course.