This was not at all the way she’d wanted to enter the government building, nor how she’d planned on finding the jail. Through the clear plast walls of the cells as she was hauled past, she spotted Poobah and his guards down a short aisle labeled “Transport.” A few other people, none even close to Xen in appearance, in the “Re Ed” and “Model” aisles.
Rael got the interrogation room.
Got a solid knock to the head when she tried to resist being strapped into the chair.
Hands and feet strapped down is not a good sign at all. Open metalwork chair. Yeah, Rael, you’d better start thinking.
The boss leaned over, definitely getting into her face. “So, you thought you could all over the world, eating and sleeping with a false code? Never have to work? Doesn’t work that way, Honey. Now how about you tell us who you got the falsie from, and maybe you’ll get reeducation instead of mental modeling.”
Rael blinked and produced tears. “I did it all myself. I just . . . thought it would be fun.”
She jerked and yipped at the flash of pain from her right index finger.
She stared at the drip of blood, the little sharp triangle of the razor in the man’s hand.
Well, that escalated fast!
“But, but, that’s what happened. I didn’t know anyone who could do it for me . . . Eep!” Left buttock, didn’t see that one coming, either. Scream better, next time, satisfy them. Cry. Snivel.
The other two men were walking around, in and out of her peripheral vision, as she watched the boss. Who pulled off her shoe and ran a finger along the bottom of her foot, stroking the arch.
She inhaled a scream, squirmed, jerked. No give at all in the straps.
Half an hour later, she was no longer faking the screams or tears.
They stepped away to confer.
Don’t relax. They’ll be right back.
They returned with a blonde woman . . . the woman from the gate bowl.
“ . . . stun spells and invisibility.” The boss glared at Rael.
“Really? The woman touched Rael’s hand. Snorted. “Not mine! Hard to believe she was strong enough to fight five of you.” The hand went to Rael’s head. “Show me putting in the code.”
Rael tried to blank her mind, to not remember sticking the little magnet chips under her skin.
“She did it herself.” The woman leaned closer. “But how did you know the pattern? Who told you about that?”
Blank, blank . . . a flash of picking up that young woman’s pattern . . .
“How did you learn to do that?” Speculation and thought in the woman’s expression.
Blank, dammit, blank . . . nothing about blank, nothing . . . piss her off . . .
Rael shuddered away from her, crying. “Please, please.” She made it a shaky whisper. “I’ll tell you anything, but please, I hate spiders, please, get that thing out of your hair! I can’t stand it!” Raising her voice, cringing.
The woman stepped back brushing quickly at her hair.
“Why you little . . .” The woman slapped her. Stepped back. “Transport her. I don’t want any chance of her passing on those techniques.”
“But we need to know who . . .” Bossman sounded irritated.
A snap of lightning between the woman’s fingers, thrown . . . a moment of pain . . .
Xen slotted the board into place. Tied it.
I would kill for a keg of nails!
“Right. That’s it for today. We’ll finish the roof tomorrow, unless I detect the gate.”
“Maybe there won’t be anyone this month.” Karl stepped back and admired the log cabin. “I’d hate to get the roof on just in time to get more people, so we need even more room.”
Sam stomped up and dropped another rock. “It’s rare. People only get transported a couple of times a year. Until now. They’ve already done six in four months. Ridiculous. Takes too much power. People hate the blackouts, it’s a big economic hit every time. Interrupts experiments!”
Karl looked interested. “There was one to Disco in June. But they didn’t snatch anyone.”
Mike Watson grabbed the rock and hauled it inside. “They must be really scared of you guys. Remember the double blackout in May? That must be when they grabbed Xen. Grab him, inject the Death, then transport him. Then there was another double in July.”
“For us.” Jiol sniffed, as she, Cali, and Killerbite walked past. All three loaded with acorns. “And we’ve run out of bear fat. I don’t suppose you’d like to hunt down a large dangerous animal and kill it, would you?”
“Yes ma’am. In fact I need to head east and see if there’s a river handy, in case the stream dries up entirely. Maybe I’ll head out in the morning, I can watch for gates from anywhere.”
Jerry snorted. “And then come back all that way to check out the gate in the west?”
“Point. Perhaps I’ll wait until noon.” Xen stretched and looked inside. “How’s the floor coming?”
“Almost done.” Watson looked at the half built fireplace. “Are you sure we need that?”
“It’s cooling off at night. Even if the winter is mild, you’ll need some heat. And you’ll want to cook inside.” Xen looked up. “I think we’re far enough south that we won’t get much snow.”
Karl sighed. “Depends on whether our people can find us.”
“Eh.” Sam walked back in with another rock. “They’ll take you. But we’re the enemy, aren’t we?”
“Yes. But we’ll try to end these raids and get friendly with your government. So I suspect that you’ll get off—if you want to. You might think about staying here, with trade and supplies through the Embassy World.”
Sam shook his head. “An Embassy World. That’s just insane. Worlds fight, they only play at diplomacy to maneuver and collect intelligence.”
Xen nodded. “And gain time to build up their militaries. But even the worst are coming to see the advantages of trade and cooperation.”
“Insane.” Sam stalked off toward the stream.
Xen followed. Jerry and Connor were hunting for cobbles with one flat side and carting them up the steep bank. Mike and Sam had bee trading off carrying the stone to the cabin and laying in the floor, but Mike had proven to have the better eye for laying them flat and fitting them as closely as possible.
Xen carried rocks for a bit then they all broke for dinner. Between Jiol’s acorn mush standing in for potatoes, and Karl’s Survival School edible plant recognition, it was starting to look like real food again.
The a good night's sleep, with too many people crammed into his tree house. Must finish the cabin soon!
An hour before noon he took himself off to a hill top and looked south. Will they keep on dropping people off every fifty kilometers? Why so close if they have a whole planet? Well, generally unanchored gates attach in the same hemisphere. Maybe this is a sign that even though they can touch down accurately, there’s still an area where that’s easiest?
Because it would be infuriating to detect a gate touchdown half the world away.