"That's Kael getting out, must be an Action Team problem?"
"Except Ajha, and there's Izzo . . . "
Nighthawk trotted forward.
By the time the three of them had made it up the stairs of Disco, Wolfson was waiting for them.
They walked up behind them in time to hear Ajha saying they needed Q.
"Or maybe both of you. We've marooned a large scientific project, over a hundred people."
Ajha nodded to Q as she joined them. "That dead civilization world, where you installed some sort of gate closer. Apparently there was some sort of biological emergency. Four months ago. And . . . Paer is over there."
Paer? Not Paer! My first friend, in this weird future . . . and Ebsa, he was assigned to the project as well. They can't be . . . injured. Lost. Or worse.
Ra'd suppressed sudden memories of Rangpur, the Warriors who'd trained him and taught him to fight. The ordinary soldiers, so determined to keep the Chinese from engulfing the world, determined to keep them away from their families.
All dead. Don't tell me it can't happen.
"So we need a gate, probably through an empty world. If you can find that world again."
Q nodded. "No problem. Let's go." She eeled past them and out the front doors. "I'll start with a very barren world, then make a gate to Dystopia."
She sat down facing an empty arch. Wolfson joined her. A spark of light spread, cleared to show them a new world.
"Barren rock. Nothing alive." Ra'd had been around Nighthawk opening gates often enough to know that the dimensionally able couldn't see past the energies of the gate to see what lay on the far side.
Q and Wolfson rose and walked through
"I think a corridor, in case it's an airborne contagion." Q walked off to the side.
Wolfson paused long enough to press the gate into the ground so it could be driven through, then gestured and rock flowed like putty to form an arch over the gate.
Q had an even larger arch of rocks framing a bronze surface. She stepped into it, shrinking in a few steps to a dot, making his brain hurt while his eyes tried to work out the perspective. A bright light, suddenly expanding, with a full sized Q silhouetted against it.
"She can throw the far end of a bubble a couple hundred miles without raising a sweat. I'm lucky to get half that." Wolfson shook his head and stepped through.
Ra'd stared from gate to corridor.
Nighthawk raised an eyebrow.
"It feels slick, magically, but for all I can see it might as well be a glass window."
Nighthawk smiled. "Good. All I can see is the gate energy. A swirling white sideways whirlpool. I should keep you around, just to warn me when there's a hungry T-Rex on the other side."
They walked through the corridor. Q and Wolfson were again sitting cross-legged on the ground.
A golden spark in midair expanded and hot air blasted through. Ra'd bumped Nighthawk back and to the side, pulling power to cool the air as he backed further.
The Comet Fall pair had also scrambled away.
"Hundred and forty degrees, easily."
Ra'd blinked . . . wait, that old stuff . . . "Fahrenheit."
Ajha nodded. "What we'd call sixty degrees, I think. Centigrade."
Too hot to live in, unprotected.
"Oh crap. This is not good."
Nighthawk blinked in the hot drying wind. "What do you see?"
"Rocks, fallen stone work . . . "
Ajha squinted. "Something's moving . . . a crawler!"
Wolfson and Q glittered with sudden shields as they grabbed the insubstantial sides of the gate and shoved it into the ground, so the wheels had clearance. Leaped through and . . . probably did the same. They staggered back through, and stepped out of the way as the crawler lined up and drove through.
A familiar face in the driver's seat. Ebsa. And if he's all right, then . . . .
The metal sides of the big cylindrical vehicle radiated heat. It turned to get out of the approach, and the side door popped open.
Paer! "Close the gate! We've got everyone else bagged up."
She jumped out without touching the outside of the crawler. Sweaty and sunburned. Grinning as she swept hair out of her face and tucked it behind an ear. "We figured any gate connection would be here, at the old gate site. We were just wondering if it was time to bubble the whole crawler and hope anyone who came would be able to see the bubble, when we spotted the gate opening."
Ebsa jumped out, two bottles in hand. He handed one to Paer. "We've been rationing water. And . . . we've got a couple dozen buildings holding over a hundred people all of which need decontamination."
"Oh, yes. I didn't hear any details about this biological emergency." Ajha raised his eyebrows.
"Insects and arachnids. Size large to Oh-my-One!!!!! And any eggs they might have laid. The reptiles, amphibians, and rodents were all large enough that I doubt any have hitchhiked along with us." Ebsa grinned. "And the Elves went home before the heatwave hit."
"Elves?" Three voices.
"They had dimensional gates. We encountered, I think, a policeman searching for his two kidnapped children, whom we had rescued." Ebsa snickered, probably at their expressions. "Why yes, we have been writing reports, while waiting to be rescued. As soon as I get a nice cool shower, drink a couple of gallons of water and . . . " Ebsa sighed. "Yes, Boss. I'll get right on it."
Ajha and Izzo swapped glances.
"Umm, it's been a busy few months, on our side. Ajki is now Director of Interior, Izzo is Director of External Relations, and I'm subdirector of Exploration. Do you know Kael Withione? She is subdirector of Action."
Ebsa looked at the older woman and nodded his recognition.
"Excellent." Paer looked around. "Empty World? Good. She pulled a metal bar out of her pocket. "So, where do you want a slab of concrete with a dozen squishies, and a hundred and twelve people? Twenty of them with critical burn injuries." She sobered. "We have thirteen fatalities, and I'm not sure some of the burn victims are going to make it. Or want to."
Ajha blinked. Pointed. "We'll put them right there. But wait until we get medical staff and a field hospital set up. Director? I think I'd better call for a biological inspection team and then find some transportation, and . . . "
"Ajha, you're the subdirector. Step through the corridors and tell your underlings to get it done."
Ajha nodded. "Right. Q? Xen? I'd kiss your feet but I'll bet that'd get me into even more trouble than leaping to do the scut work. Ra'd? Are you working for intel? Yes? Well, my advice is intel the hell out of this, especially the part about the Elf policeman. Please try to remain uncontaminated so you can carry reports through to us. I'll send . . . I'll delegate someone to send medical, transport, supplies and so forth."
Paer was explaining everything to the boss types.
Ra'd sauntered over to Ebsa. "So. Getting into trouble without me?"
"Yep. After your tutelage, I find I'm quite good at it."
Snort. "Let's just see about that." He stepped aboard the crawler, checked the gun safe. "What happened to the ammo I loaded in here?"
"Used it all."
"And you lost a shotgun."
Ebsa shook his head. "It's in the other bubble, with a fellow who's really good with it. And I hate to tell you this, but I let Ogly use the BA 20. He wasn't as good with it as you, but he beat the heck out of me."
"Ogly from school?" Nighthawk was frowning at the crawler. "You rolled it again, didn't you?"
"No! And I only added a couple of scrapes."
Ra'd shook his head. "No ammo at all? No warrior should ever let that happen. Did you just coincidentally shoot the last whatever with your last bullet?"
"Rats the size of elephants. Nope. We had to go to crowbars and magic. Slice worked quite well. More impressive than the guns, frankly. But I wouldn't have wanted to try it without Speed."
Nighthawk snorted. "You need a sword."
"Yeah, one of those heavy types you guys use. Although when it comes to giant rats, I'd just as soon have had an ax."
"Out of ammo." Ra'd crossed his arms and glared. "Crowbars! You maniac. And I'll bet Paer was in the middle of it with you."
"Of course. Henceforth, not only will I stop complaining about your ridiculous over-stocking of ammo, I'm likely to add to it. Until I get over the memory of facing a hundred giant rats with only eighteen rounds for the BFG." Ebsa started taping at his comp. "In fact, since I'm probably going to be in quarantine, here's a couple of lists for you to forward to facilities, supplies. Yes, including ammo. Sounds like we'll be going through Ajha for it all."
"That's not enough ammo."
"I don't want to give them a heart attack. I'll build up a backlog gradually." Ebsa looked over his shoulder. "Looks like they're going to unbubble the camp. C'mon, there will no doubt be other people wanting to add to the supply list."
Ra'd followed, looking at the list. "A lot of cooking equipment. What did you do to your kitchen, Kitchen?"
Ebsa grinned at the old nickname. "My assistant cooks blew it up."
"Umm . . . "
"They're two of the critical burn patients. Poor kids. I kind of liked them. Like them. Dammit. Not sure even the infamous Xen Wolfson can save them."
The Comet Fall wizard looked over his shoulder. "I've sent Q to fetch the best medgicians she can shanghai. We'll try to save them all."
"They're in a bubble inside the other bubble. May we get everyone else out?"
"Sure. Let's see what we're dealing with."
Paer held the handles vertically and spread them.
Two men were standing there, chatting . . . they spun around and started to grin.
"Well. Here we are. Rescued." Ebsa took one handle from Paer and headed to the side. "This is an Empty World, and we're quarantined until they're sure we don't have giant bug eggs in our laundry."
Ra'd grinned. "Wxxo, good to see you again."
Introductions started circling as more and more people emerged from buildings.
A pack of scientists, excited and chattering. Or complaining. "All that fuss for less than ten minutes in a bubble. Honestly, they could have just waited . . . "
"Six weeks, Dr. Leaf." Paer's raised voice, from somewhere on the far side of the crowd. "The Subdirector of Exploration is sending in a quarantine and decontamination squad, and Disco is calling in some really good medgicians for the burn victims."
An old man looked their way. "How long before we're out of here?"
Ebsa fielded that one. "About long enough to get your papers ready, all about the First diaspora Eden Colony."
Another man grinned. "And the unusual solar activity there."
"And the Elf children."
"The language." Paer prompted.
"First Contact. And very well done, youngsters." The old man beamed at them, then turned suddenly to hug the woman beside him.
Thoughtful looks were exchanged among the scientists, a subtle shift in clumps, from social groups to work associates. Or, from the sharp looks, away from professional rivals.
Ra'd and Nighthawk exchanged glances. "I'll bet that if we could find some food, we could make Ebsa cook it and distract all these guys."
Wolfson overheard that and laughed.
Have at it. I'm aiming at publishing it 4/29 ish.
Ugh. Another cover to do.