Xen raised his arms, wide apart, fingers spread, and swept them closer together. The rainbow shrunk . . . dropped down to cover the carpet . . . the guards leaped to get on the carpet . . . and it all disappeared, leaving a hole in the ground.
Xen staggered, hands going to his head. “Oh, ouch. That was . . . interesting. Hi, Boss, I’m home.”
Lon grinned. “Well, what took you so long?”
“Stopped to smell the roses.” Xen wobbled over to the hole in the ground. “Have they been doing this every time?”
“No. Just the last two. And the other was much larger.”
Xen turned and studied the damage to the Comet Fall embassy, the fence around the Earth embassy. “Yeah, Rael said something about standing on the steps, well out of the way.”
He looked back at the hole. “Fifty meters deep, maybe? I think they were trying for another big one. Bet that was a bit wobbly when it arrived”
Lon bit his lip . . . “Am I correct in assuming that you controlled that grab?”
“Only the size of it. I couldn’t stop it.” Xen turned away. “Lon, I think we need to cut the power to their dimensional apparatus. Hard to call that carpet thing a gate.”
Lon nodded. “I take it Q found you?”
“No, she found Xin Zhongguo, their home planet. They ‘transport’ undesirables to another world, with a solid slug of magical blocker in their backs, injured, no medicine, food or tools. As Urbanized as they are, pretty much a death sentence.”
“I . . . see. Inso . . . where did Inso go?”
“Probably off to find Jiol.” Xen looked around.
Among the crowd a clump of smaller people—kids, teenagers—looking happy and hopeful.
“Mom’s all right, right?” Poin, the girl twin.
“Yes.” Xen raised his voice. “And Karl and Rael. And Q is with them now.”
Lala’s grin broke loose.
“In fact, I need to take a whole bunch of survival supplies back to a dozen other people there. Lala? You know where the funds are? Food, seeds, hand tools. Lots of nails. Lots! Go!”
The kids scattered.
“Xen . . .”
He nodded. “I know. Talk first, kick ass later. I am going to eat, shave, shower, and sleep. More or less in that order, but I’ll do the sleeping in a fast bubble, so if you can round up a bunch of reps in a couple of hours, I’ll tell them what’s up, and they can decide if Disco should cut the power to keep the Renshe home while we scare up a diplomatic mission.”
“Right.” Lon watched him stride off toward his house, then looked around at the spectators. Cleared his throat and projected his voice. “Two hours from now—let’s call it fifteen hundred hours—there will be a meeting at the Disco main assembly room.”
A glance around. “Dagger? You have the list of who to call at each embassy? Grab helpers . . .”
She darted off, still grinning.
Yeah, I’m probably grinning like an idiot, too. The Master of the Multiverse is back in town.
“Albrecht? Hanger? Find vehicles, fetch everyone from wherever Q’s gate chain ends. I want them here to tell us what they saw.” Lon looked around at a wave from Ra’d.
“Ebsa’s bringing the crawler, the boss wants us to drag Rael back before she gets into more trouble. We’ll take anyone or anything you want to send.”
“Excellent. Hanger? Make that a gyp. Camping supplies, you two stay out there and keep an eye on the gate to this Zeen place, if Q says it’s advisable.”
Ra’d grinned. “Sounded like Mandarin. Xin Zhongguo would be New China.”
“Oh? A lost colony, perhaps? This would be the first time we’ve had a world where China was the country that discovered gate travel.” Lon looked around. “Dammit, I need Chang. Why the hell did they recall him now?”
“Never mind, it’s an old joke.” Ra’d turned and flagged down the crawler leaving the Oner embassy compound. A metal cylinder, the Oner’s largest exploration vehicle. Not unlike a motorized holiday camper. Presumably tougher, although they always looked a bit unstable, to Lon. The wheelbase narrow, to get through gates, the body ballooning out to get as much room inside as possible.
And of course, everyone wanted to talk to him immediately, so Xen diverted to the restaurant and talked around chicken alfredo with extra broccoli, extra garlic bread, a glass of merlot and talked between bites.
A giggling Lala showed up and handed him a shirt. “So the ladies can stop drooling. We’ve got a ton of stuff in the crawler, shall we take it?”
“Yes. At the last gate turn right for a corridor that ends a mile east of our camp. Watch out for the wolf, he’s only half tame.”
She ran off, and the questions flooded in.
He tried answering what a majority of them seemed to involve.
“No, I don’t remember being questioned. Could have been the electrical shock, or drugs or mental memory suppression. I suspect they got all the information they wanted.”
“The first month I was sick as a dog. Infected third degree burns and a magic suppressant that I had to dig out of my back by feel and guess work.”
“Well, if you don’t count orange overalls, nothing.”
“There were five people from Xin Zhongguo, as well as us three, then Rael was Transported with the original Judge and his six guards, last month.”
“No. Rael was running around loose for a month, before they caught her.”
The questions multiplied, slowed his eating down enough that Rael and Q arrived.
“We stole Inso’s Ute.” Rael snitched his last piece of garlic bread. “Ebsa and Ra’d can bring them all back, yes, we passed them enroute, and Chris and Sommer too.”
“Hey! You were only on the mostly meat diet for a few weeks!”
“You wouldn’t believe the bland stuff they eat on Sing Singo.”
“Sing Singo. I decided to start insulting them.” Rael crunched into his garlic bread. “I couldn’t decide whether to kill Sam, Jerry, or Connor, so I let them all live.”
Q eyed him. “There’s a new hole in the plaza.”
Xen swallowed. “I got here shortly after they arrived. I popped some of the new assemblers into all the guards, gave the New Pooh a message with enough mental force that I think it will be delivered—They’ll probably transport the poor schmuck—then they went away.”
“And now I think I need to stop babbling, and Disco needs to get together and talk to you two, and decided if there’s anything we don’t want to be public knowledge.” He pushed back from the table. “I’m going to get cleaned up.”
Lon’s voice from the back of the fascinated crowd. “All Disco personnel, big conference room, half an hour.”
One look in the mirror confirmed the decision. A quick sheep shearing spell took care of the beard, a less draconian clip of the head. Ah! Hot water and decadent modern soap. He hated cutting the shower short, but . . . into Disco gray uniform . . .
Rael dashed in. “Ooo! Much better, I was about to tell you the experiment in kissing a bearded man was over.” She was stripping as she headed for the shower.
Xen refrained from joining her.
Next month . . . or after Lady Gisele says the blockers are a hundred percent gone. Speaking of whom . . .
He felt for the familiar spot across the plaza. Ridiculous to not walk. Stepped there and walked in, feeling the goddess up a level.
“Well, made it back did you? Everyone was starting to get worried.” She was in her maiden aspect. “And such an entrance! Half the women on the world are suffering from unrequited lust.”
Xen pulled a bubble off his arm. “This is one of the original guards. Compressed skull fracture—minimal. Anti-magic pellet in his back. A ribozyme, very like the ones we make, very absorptive, be careful. Mental modeling for obedience. And this is the ribozyme I made to eat it.”
Her eyebrows rose.
“And some big assemblers I’ve added it to.”
She pulled a small bottle out of nowhere, and he oozed a couple of the assemblers out through his skin.
He eyed her carefully. “They’re from Exile World Three. Think. Try to remember. Do the names Jaejong Chou or Annakarina Thorne mean anything to you?”
A sharp intake of breath. “AnnaKarina Walton . . . it’s been a long time since . . . she was shot. Dying . . . They ambulanced her away, but I didn’t think . . . We didn’t have any experience with our healing abilities. I assumed she died. That was just days before the Exile . . .”
She sat down abruptly. “Chou? Jaejong Chou? He owned TransWorld, well, he and his family. Turns out they were engineered too . . . yes. Exile Three.”
She was silent. Thinking. “But how did AnnaKarina get there?”
“With the Eden refugees. Come over to Disco. Big meeting . . . right about now.” Xen felt for his office, and stepped there. Trotted out and down the back steps and into the big conference room.
Rael was talking away. “. . . Eden colony, led by AnnaKarina—one word, capital K in the middle— was evacuated to there. With her assistance they could steer the dimensional transporters and visit wherever they wish, and recruit immigrants to offset their low birthrate.
“Well, that’s the official history. I dare say finding worlds they’ve visited may revise our understanding of what they mean by recruiting.”
Lon glanced at his watch. “Is there anything you don’t want made public?”
Q sighed. “The private reaming I’m going to get for charging in like I did?”
Xen tapped her head with his knuckles. “Dad is probably going to want to talk to you about your utter lack of strategic planning.”
He looked up the table at Lon. “The five Renshe I found, were four scientists who’d been caught doing unauthorized experiments, and a seven year old girl and her robot dog who rushed in to be with her Dad. I’m . . . finding them very interesting, and would like to not . . . give out too many details just yet.”
Julianne frowned at him. “What sort of experiments?”
“Robot dogs and genetically engineered children, to wit, the girl. They transported the two scientists responsible and two lab assistants, just on general principles.”
Lon nodded. “Right. We’ll just call them unauthorized experiments, no idea what. Now, we need to get out there and talk.”
They trooped down the hall to the rear doors of the big assembly room.
The room was packed. Lots of vidcams running.
“. . . a month later, we refused to get on the carpet and they went away. The third month, late July—Rael’s lightening rod was effective in corralling the first two shocks, then the Judge and company departed as we scrambled to get off the carpet. Jiol Withione and Karl Mantigo went with them.
“They did not come in August. Q rigged an apparatus to ground their electrical field. It worked very well, and gave her time to travel out the end of the chain of gates she’s making and try to spot the exact world that is . . . snatching people.
“Three days later, they rescued their people by transporting away a huge sphere, including the carpet, and everything else. Fortunately Rael Withione was the sole person within the space that was taken. She warped light, and was undetected. She managed to fake some identification and wandered about for nearly a month before she was arrested for altering ID, and apparently received the standard punishment—transported to an Empty World with no tools, food or medicine for the injuries she’d accumulated.
“The first judge and all six of his guards were also transported, for their failure.
“So, that was Late October, during which we received no visit.”
Lon glanced over at them. “I’ll be brief, the parties can give you more details themselves.
“Xen was watching for other gate touch downs, and found first Jiol, then five people—four political dissidents, and the seven year old daughter of one of them. And Karl Mantigo. Two months later, Rael, the Judge and six guards were transported.
“They were found quickly. And three weeks later, Xen was finally well enough to make a gate.”
Lon half turned to eye Q. Sighed. “In the mean time, Q had finally reach the home world of the trouble makers. And decided to take a quick look. I’m afraid that the capital city of Xin Zhongguo has some purple bunnies and multi-colored goats running around.”
That got snickers from the half of the delegations that knew what the Fallen magicians were capable of, and baffled incomprehension from the rest.
“Xen got a gate there, grabbed her and hauled her out of danger, and closed the gates. Opened a new gate to Q’s chain of gates and returned a few hours ago.”
Lon eyed the room. “The reason we’ve invited you here today is to disseminate information. We need to decide quickly whether to take action against them—probably just sabotaging their power lines to the dimensional apparatus—at this point.”
An uneasy stir.
Lon nodded in sympathy. “Yes, I know your budding Council of Worlds would rather deal with exchange rates and import-export regulations, but things like this do seem to come up regularly. Consider yourselves fortunate in that this is apparently a single world with a small population. They are a considerable nuisance, and could get worse. But there aren’t many of them, and there was no sign of a standing army.”
A low level murmur as ambassadors and aides conferred.
A faint thump behind him, Rael in her black and purple presidential directorate uniform. She stepped up to Lon and said something in a low voice. He nodded and turned back to the assembly.
“Agent Rael Withione has a quick edit of her body camm recordings, so let’s take a look.”