She eyed the guards, looking around, alert, definitely worried, facing out as they protected their charge. She could see Poobah between two of them, fingers clenched on his staff and chair arm.
Ignoring the diplomats. He’s lost. Perhaps a more visceral approach will get a reaction.
She jumped up and headed for Xen’s house. First, she was going to get out of this ridiculous suit, then a few requisitions . . .
She was back inside of an hour. In very civilian garb, pulling a cart.
“Excuse me, gentlemen.” Rael cheerfully displaced a couple of intel types. They glared . . . paused as they recognized her, and stepped away. She unfolded a perfectly normal table and standing on stone, reached out and placed the table on the carpet. All seven chairs.
Then she reached into to the last box and brought out bottled water. Inside the box, she opened her bubble and pulled out seven boxed dinners, still hot and leaking delicious odors. She set them on the table and stepped back. “Dinner, if you’re hungry, sirs. And the small blue building you can see down that diagonal road is a public toilet and shower. Please feel free to come and go from there as you desire.” She inclined her head minimally and stepped away.
She had definitely caught their attention.
But she walked away anyway.
Ambassador Ashe turned and joined her. “Trust you to get a response out of them.”
“Well, frankly they’re so damaged I’m not sure they can relate normally. Especially Poobah. The guards aren’t quite so programmed. Just rigidly loyal to their charge, and unable to not obey orders. If this goes on very long, if Poobah gets desperate and gives them order to kill. It’s going to be messy.”
On the other hand, if they’ll eat our food, I just might dope it with the joy juice and see if it can heal them of malign influences. Although I doubt there’s any physical brain damage.
“I’ll get guards out who have good shields.” Ashe split off for the Oner embassy. Rael walked back to Disco and found some shade to sit in.
After awhile Lala joined her, and handed over a plate.
Real blinked at it. “Oops! My lack of parenting skills is showing.”
Lala giggled. “We all ate at the restaurant. Don’t worry about us, we’re practically grown up.”
“Heh. When I was sixteen, I thought sixteen was grown up too. One! Was I ever wrong.” Rael giggled. “Not that I want to act like an adult, most of the time.”
Lala snickered. “You act like an adult. And you enjoy life. It’s that last part that most adults mess up. We’ve all been talking, and we’ve decided to do adulting like you do it.”
“Ooooh! I’m a bad influence. So have you decided?”
“Yeah. Business school, so I can run my own dimensional engineering company.”
Rael blinked. “I thought you were going for biology?”
“No, that was what I thought I ought to take. Dad talked to me about it, about how since I didn’t seem really interested in it why not do something that would help with the dimensional stuff.”
“Corridors sell for half a million apiece.”
“Yep. I’m going to be a contract worker, and just do dimensional stuff. And I can hire a secretary and an accountant and someone to deal with finding the jobs and contracts and such.” She squirmed a bit. “After I get paid for the first one.”
Rael grinned. “Relax. You’ll be showered with job offers. And you’re only competitors will be your siblings.”
“Ugh! But close to half of them have applied to the Directorate School, so they won’t actually be competition.” Lala eyed her. “Was it weird, finding out you have kids? Xen’s kids?”
“It’s still weird. I love those kids so much, but I’m not really their Mom. Didn’t do the work, don’t get the title.”
“Oh . . . I didn’t think about it like that. They brag about you all the time, you know?”
Rael nodded. “But just about as much as they bragged about their aunt a few years ago. I just . . . have to build on from here. And get ready for a good adult relationship.”
“Because we’re all practically grown up. But we still need parents. So don’t do anything crazy and get yourself killed before Dad gets back. And he will get back. He’s very clever.” Lala took the plate she’d somehow managed to empty, and slipped quietly away.
Everyone had quit trying to talk to them after two days of feeding the poor automatons, and watching them rush to and from the public bathroom.
Rael did most of the meal deliveries, and slipped a bit of that wine into their morning orange juice the third day. It had no obvious effect, not even a hint of the aphrodisiac effect.
Sommer Albrecht shook her head. “It that stuff can’t get through to them, nothing will. I got drunk as a sailor on one swallow, and even with a broken leg, I wanted to drag myself out of the woods to find some man to pounce on. Good thing I was alone.”
“What was an FBI Agent doing out in the woods?”
“Fell off a helicopter.” The woman grinned, bright teeth against dark skin. “It wasn’t very high, it had just taken off, with a suspect in it and I jumped and grabbed a skid . . . suddenly realized what a stupid thing I’d done . . . as my grip slipped.”
“Umm . . .”
“Yeah. And all for a drug dealer with cross-dimensional aspirations.” She shrugged. “I dragged my ass home and got lectured about asking for help from the master lone wolf . . .” She leaned forward and squinted upward.
Rael followed her gaze. A rippling rainbow shimmer . . . “Damn. This might be it.”
Sommer bolted for the front door. Rael trotted closer, but stayed well back as the shimmer floated, expanding and contracting. Drifted over the copper carpet and dropped.
Rainbows all around . . . “Oh shit!”
A wrenching horrible gate transit. Rael warped light, crashed down, rolled off rubble that bore a strong resemblance to a sidewalk and the black basalt steps . . . judging by the symmetry of the heap, the gate effect must have snatched a sphere of space, maybe a third of it underground.
The whole had crumpled, big slabs of the plaza’s magically metamorphosed stone angled down from the apex, where the copper carpet draped limply over it all.
They were inside a circular fretwork of metal rods, close to a hundred meters across at the base spreading wider as it rose.
Like stadium scaffolding, or a radar dish or, of course, some sort of dimensional ranging equipment. I wonder what’s underground? The solid wall surrounding it all was about twenty meters high, blocking sight of anything beyond.
No skyscrapers, but then who’d put a dimensional . . . thing . . . in a city, anyway?
Rael climbed to her feet and started trotting around the mound. Poobah and company were on the other side . . . She slowed as she spotted the people entering the bowl.
A man and a woman striding forward, then stopping to look around.
The man was medium height, slender, Asian, young . . . although the way he was glowing with power, he could be a lot older. Same with the woman, a blonde Caucasian, frowning around the bowl.
Rael tightened her shields. Nobody here but your puppets.
Poobah was climbing slowly to his feet. He must have rolled down the slope. Three of his guards hustled over . . . to ignore him and stand at attention before the new pair. The other three . . . one was trapped under a chunk of plaza, one was laying limp and the sixth was dragging himself out clear of the debris.
Poobah staggered closer, and dropped to lay prone before the man and woman.
His glittering jacket was torn and filthy.
The two looking down on him were dressed in black. Jackets to mid-thigh, some minor embroidery in gold, loose pants, belt.
Fancied up karate gear.
“Look at me!” The Asian squatted and looked Poobah in the eyes.
The women was looking at the guards. Done with the standing three, she walked over to the crawler as he tried to stand on a broken leg. She turned away, stepped closer to the trapped man . . . stepped back, glanced at the limp form and shrugged. She pointed to the side and made a summoning gesture. Men scrambled in, stretchers, prybars.
“A waste of time. We should just kill them.”
The woman shrugged. “Why destroy our mystique of generosity? Transport them. They can die there slowly, contemplating their failure.” She frowned again. Looking around. “Guards, sweep the area, we may have collected a native.”
The three guards turned and started toward her.
Crap . . . Not that I can’t outrun them . . . She looked up, jumped to grab the first bar and swung up on top of it, grabbed the next. Let’s just see what sort of view I can get from the top.