Then a synthesized voice from the hill. “Miss Cali? I have located a human.”
A head popped up from the broad body. Human. Messy brown hair.
“Is it Daddy? Did you find him?” A little girl voice, barely heard.
“No Miss Cali, it is a stranger.”
Xen stood up and banished his possible-illusion. He raised his voice. “Hello. I’m Xen Wolfson.”
The little girl conferred with her robodog in a low voice. The robot’s replies, urging caution, were clear. And finally.
“Accepting order, Miss Cali.”
The robodog walked down the hill toward them, and odd sliding gait with a bit of a jolt to it between steps.
The Master Hunter backed away growling, then turned tail and bolted.
“Oh!” Miss Cali stood up inside the dog’s body and watch the fleeing wolf. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare your doggie.”
“It’s just as well he ran off.” Xen studied the robot as it neared. The wide body was an oval bowl, about right for the kid to curl up in. “Hunter’s actually a wild wolf and not completely safe to be around.”
The robodog stopped a few feet in front of him.
If it attacks now, I’ve got no time to see what works.
The girl climbed out a side that suddenly bent outward, then snapped back into place and the whole body scrunched up into a nice slender robodog body.
Xen decided to start the ball rolling. “A man came to my world, on a throne, with guards, sitting on a throne, on a copper carpet.”
The girl hunched her shoulders. “That’s the judge.”
Xen touched the ugly barely healed scar on his chest. “He hit me with an electrical current, and I woke up here, three months ago.”
The girl nodded. “They were going to transport Daddy, and Uncle Connor, and Uncle Jerry, and Uncle Sam. I ordered Killerbite to run and jump onto the Carpet of Judgement right when they transported . . . he had to go so fast . . . then they transported . . . and he ran right off the other side. He turned around to run back . . . and they transported again.
“Now I don’t know where they sent Daddy.”
“Kill . . . o-byte . . .” Xen cleared his throat. “How far have you come from where you arrived here?”
The robot dog looked up at him. “Fifty-eight kilometers, Mr. Wolfson.”
“And I’m at least twenty kilometers from my arrival point. So they drop people ever hundred kilometers? Every couple of months?”
Cali shook her head. “On the last day of every month. They transport the Outcasts right at noon. So I knew when to get there.” Her lip quivered.
“But they didn’t drop the other people off?”
“Every Outcast is alone. They go back and forth and drop one off each time. In the movies it’s really, really fast, so we had to get there the first time. Now how do I find Daddy?”
Xen bit his lip. “I don’t know how they do things, if they drop people off at random. Umm, before we go any further, perhaps I should ask if your people have any prejudices about genetic engineering?”
She nodded. “The Genies run everything. Daddy’s half Genie, so he was allow to be a scientist. But he . . . he said something wrong, and the police came and took them all away. Daddy ordered Killerbite to run away and hide me. We saw in the news that Daddy was going to be transported in two days.”
“No trial, but that’s no surprise. So . . . where did you stay for two days?”
“Inside Killerbite. He found a public access plug and got a good charge before the police got close.”
“I see. And what did you eat?”
“I had some creds. I . . . had breakfast yesterday.”
Xen pulled a strip of jerky out of his pack. “It’s pretty chewy, but better than nothing. Charging Killerbite is going to be more challenging. What voltage do you take?”
“Twelve to forty volts, Mr. Wolfson. Do you have a generator?” The synthesized voice managed to sound dubious.
“I’m probably something like one of your Genies. And one thing I can do is convert light to electron movement in a wire.” He touched the scar on his chest. “At least I used to be able to. I’m still sort of relearning stuff as that nasty stuff they stuck in my back breaks down.”
The girl hunched her shoulders. “The Death of Magic. You’ll never do magic again. Ever.”
“For some definitions of ever.” He grinned. “So, why don’t you come home with me, and we’ll see if I can charge Killerbite, feed you something a little less chewy, and figure out how to look for your Dad?”
The robo dog looked down. “I am currently at five percent of battery capacity.”
“Ah, well, let’s find out if I’m recovered enough to do this. Where’s your plug?”
The girl giggled and blushed.
“Oh. Butt hole, right?” Xen sat down cross-legged and examined the robot’s rear, touched the contacts with his left hand, and gathered sunlight in his right. Thought about the electrons flowing . . .
“Mr. Wolfson, I detect a fast drain on my battery reserves.”
He reversed the flow.
“Good. So, Cali, is your mom going to be worried ab . . . no?”
She studied her feet and mumbled. “I’m a ‘speriment.”
“An experiment? Are we back to genetic engineering again?”
Nod. Shoulders hunched, staring holes in the ground.
“That not a big deal where I come from. We do genetic changes in grownups all the time. So, your daddy’s raising you?”
Nod, a peek in his direction. “When they ‘speriment, they get the Halfgenies to raise the babies.” A stubborn lip stuck out and something close to a glare slid his direction. “He’s my DADDY!”
“Yes. Did he make you?”
“No. He makes things with the magic metal. He made Killerbite.”
“And now we need to find him. And all your uncles. How you doing, Killerbite?”
“I am at thirty percent charge. Thank you. Mr. Wolfson. I can now carry Miss Cali twenty kilometers to your home.”
“Excellent. Let’s get you some extra, in case of emergencies, then we’ll go.”
Hunter had beaten them home, and stood in front of Jiol, snarling at Killerbite, and backing into her, trying to get her to run away from the monster.
“Stop that you idiot!” Jiol nudged him, then tried a gentle kick.
Xen laughed. “He’s protecting you from this fierce little girl!”
“Mr. Wolfson, I believe I may be the problem.”
At the sound of Killerbite’s voice, poor Hunter turned tail and fled.
“Well, Xen. You appear to have found something more interesting than another forest fire.”
Xen raise his gaze. In the twilight the column of smoke was nearly invisible, but the glow below it was brightening. “Someone is setting fires.”
“DADDY!” Cali leaped out of the robodog. “We have to go find Daddy!”