He sank into the bubbling blue. This time he could see more worlds . . . and a lash of energy coming from that one straight at him.
He pulled his awareness back, and felt the powered gate touch down.
Behind him and off to the east. A hundred kilometers north, fifty east.
A second touch, south of that one. Fifty north, fifty east.
A third touch. Fifty kilometers not quite due east.
And another . . . eight touches total.
Xen opened his eyes. “Well. That’s interesting.”
Xen looked up at his audience, shook his head. “Eight. Sounds like a crime spree back on Xin Zhongguo.”
The four men looked shocked.
Sam snorted. “Probably your people making nuisances of themselves.”
“Trust me, Sam. When my people find your world they will be much more than nuisances. Especially my little sister, if they don’t produce me ASAP.” Xen thought that over. “And Rael . . . well, playing with lightning and so forth.”
“Is that a girl’s name? We’re not afraid of a few women.” Connor crossed his arms. “Women’s magic is weak.”
Jerry snickered. “Says the man with none.”
“You don’t either!”
Xen stood up. “Guess I’d better go check. Anyone up for about five hundred miles of hiking?”
Karl whistled. “That’s going to be a trip. I’ll come and head one way, while you go the other.”
“You’re going to bring eight more people here?” Sam threw his hands up and walked off.
“He’s got a point.” Xen looked over the others. “Get that chimney up and as much of the roof as you have boards to do. Mike . . . be sure Cali’s never alone with Sam. Jiol . . . I think I’ll be able to talk to you at that distance, and yell for help, or send news.”
“Karl? Let’s go check out this river. I think they may be on the other side.” Xen stood up and grabbed his pack. Karl grabbed the water jugs and followed him eastward.
Once out of sight of the others, Xen grabbed a bubble. Held on and threw it. “Ten miles. Damn that Death of Magic.” He ducked through and opened the other side. Pulled it over to scraggly tree to pin it open.
Karl ducked through. “I keep wondering about getting those genes . . . but I suspect I’m too old to learn to use them.”
“Not to mention your superiors throwing conniption fits.”
“Yeah, I’d probably get court martialed and kicked out.” He shrugged. “I’m coming up on my twentieth . . . and having been skipped over for several promotions, I expect to be shown the door.”
Xen pinned another bubble, soaked up sunshine and threw it hard. “That’s better. Maybe thirty miles.” He ducked in, opened the other side. Oak forest. He pinned the bubble and Karl popped through.
“Well, if you are allowed, after you retire, Disco will be delighted to hire you directly, and you can experiment with your genetics all you want.”
“You sure? I mean . . . you guys just don’t hold grudges, do you?”
“Oh, if you’d succeeded in killing Q, you and a whole bunch of your high command would be dead. It’s like Rael being ordered to kill me. Trying doesn’t count. Unless someone tries again, no problem.” Xen spotted a faint game trail and wound through the trees to a meadow looking down on a narrow river winding through the bottom of a broad rocky riverbed.
“Good thing summers over. We really do need rain soon.”
Xen nodded. “Jiol feels a bit shy of fifty miles away. If I aim for that hilltop over there, we might be in sight of one of the transportees. Maybe.”
“And we don’t have to get our feet wet, or break an ankle on the rocks.”
Still cheerful. Not that I don’t like roughing it, but . . .
He collected sunshine and threw a corridor to the top of the barren hill across the river. They stepped through. A dozen feet from a figure curled up and sobbing in the grass.
Karl stopped dead. “Poobah? They transported their own judge?”
The man looked up. “You! You lot! You did this to me!”
Karl grinned. “I certainly hope so. I’ve been out here for three months now. Nice to know we’ve managed to do something to you lot.”
Xen walked closer as the short fat fellow climbed to his feet. He was much less imposing in an orange overall.
“Did they send your guards, too?” Poobah nodded. “I counted eight touch downs. Who was the last person?”
The judge scowled. “That idiot redheaded woman.”
Xen wheezed. “Redheaded . . . Rael? Rael’s here? Did they drop her off before or after you?”
Shrug. “I was unconscious.”
Xen forced himself to breath, chest tight. Gathered power, grabbed a bubble and threw it. Nothing much to pin it to, here. Two spots on the ground, two tall seed heads in the grass. He ducked through. A slow scan. A spot of orange a few miles away, unmoving.
Karl crawled out of the corridor, then Xen grabbed this end and started running.
And dropped to a walk as he realized it was one of the guards.
He stuck the corridor to a prickly bush and stepped away.
One more corridor north, then I’ll work south. I am not the least bit panicked.
Xen ignored Karl talking to the guard, and sopped up heat this time. Hard throw. A spike of pain through his head.
I don’t care. I’ll keep looking until I find her.
He stepped in and opened the corridor. A slow scan, no orange in sight. A line of trees to the northwest. He pulled the corridor along with him as he trotted downhill. A sizeable glow in the trees, but no spark of magic.
Of course not. If that’s a person, they’ve got the Death of Magic implant, damn these bloody Chinese Exile assholes.
He slowed as he got to the trees. Could be a bear, or another guard . . . Or a redhead curled up in a nest of leaves.
Reaching for a sharp pole even as she woke and opened her eyes.
“Hey, Spikey, long time no see.”
She grinned, winced and dabbed at a bleeding lip with a hand wrapped in long grass strands. “Ah, there you are. Been looking for you.”
He thumped down beside her reached to hug her . . . pausing.
“Yes you can hug me, it’s mostly hands and feet that hurt. And how come the joy juice isn’t working. I slugged some down pre-injury, in anticipation.”
“Eh, must be that implant in your back.” He hugged her gently, leaned a cheek on her hair. “Nasty stuff. They call it the death of magic. With cause. And the next thing I’m going to do is remove it.”
“Good idea. I was hoping it would wear off sooner or later.”
“Later. And it’ll be ten days or so before what you’ve already absorbed is sufficiently metabolized that you can do any magic at all.”
“Yikes.” She grinned, and winced again. “I like the beard and the hair. You make a great Wildman.” She picked tentatively at the Velcro.
“Allow me to undress you.” Xen failed to get his bubbling relief, his glee, under control. And winced himself as he sliced down to the pellet and flicked it out with the knife point. Grabbed a handful of leaves to catch the mess as he used the debriding spell and pull all the foreign matter out of the implant site. Added a healing spell. “All done. Now you have another sore spot.”
“Thank you. Are you running around here by yourself? They took . . . “
“Jiol and Karl. Found them.”
“And I think they Transported Poobah the Judge and his six guards.”
“Yes, I found Poobah and one guard. And I suppose I’d better let Karl know I’ve found you.” Xen took her hand and frowned to see the slow healing. Pulled heat and looked small. Smaller. There was a big assembler right there, churning out nanos—micros would be more accurate. Ribozymes. A bit of RNA with instructions, attached to an enzyme to do the work.
Or not. They were partially blocked, something on the exposed nerves . . . interfering with the nerve impulses . . . So that’s how the Death works. Now I need a unique identifier so I can target them . . . and that bit there, digging into the nerve sheath is unusual . . . the rest of it is, well, it’s pretty much a ribozyme like we make. So a disassembler that hunts for that and tears it down to simple molecules, then converts the rest to . . . ah. Alcohol.
He worked for a few minutes, turned loose a test model . . . that munched the nerve piercing end but lost the rest. Fixed that to hold on and eat it all . . . much better, and it wasn’t turning and attacking anything. Releasing alcohol, which fueled the asemblers.
Xen tracked down and assembler and added the new ribozyme to the stored patterns, and prioritized it.
Blinked back to consciousness of the real world.
Real was leaning comfortably on his shoulder. “Problem?”
“Just dealing with the nasty stuff. I made a nano to eat it, ought to clear things up faster.” He looked round. “Let me open the corridor and talk to Karl. Then I suppose I’d better find the other five guards.”
“Be careful, we studied them while we had them trapped, and they’re so mind modeled they aren’t predictable, or trustworthy. The guard will do anything they’re ordered to do by anyone with the authority.”
“Trapped them? Let me get Karl, then I want to hear all about it.”