“Exactly.” Ajha looked over his shoulder. “You lot do know that you’re going to be completely out of touch with the One, right?”
“We are the One. Think of it as a test of your reef analogy . . . which has stirred up a lot of discussion in Makkah.” Ytry shook his head. “Hopefully not to the point of breaking up the Philosophy again. All these changes!”
Ajha sighed. “I don’t think I mentioned that to a single soul.”
A cackle from Ytry. “Didn’t need to. You are one of the loud points in the Collective Subconscious which is the true One.”
Ajha sighed and flipped switched on his controls. “I’ve got four powerful assholes, how about you, Fiend.”
“Four. Very powerful . . . people, Boss.” Fean managed to sound both breathless and reproving.
“Right. El Zee, lead off.” The crawler rolled forward and quickly demonstrated it’s top speed. Which was unimpressive.
Rael looked back at the priests. “Crawlers can go almost anywhere, but they don’t do it at high speeds. And they barely fit through the gates, hence the experienced drivers.”
Jeb looked around . . . “Exploring with all the comforts of home?”
Rael grinned. “I have it on good authority that he always made his teams hunt and eat whatever they killed.”
“Ah. Better than home.”
Rael giggled, but turned in the seat and watched the man carefully as Ajha drove through the gate to Embassy.
Jeb blinked, breathing in short quick gaps . . . Closed his mouth and took a deep breath. “That’s . . . very odd . . . so very quiet.”
Epoxy sat down, looking pale and shaken. Ooze was sweating and had a death grip on the table edge.
Ytry sighed. “They’re the youngest of us eight . . . and not volunteers. I, of course, have been Across before. I know how it feels.”
Rael raised an eyebrow. “Yeah. Tough old man.” She reached up into the high mental frequencies. :: Xen? :: Nothing. Drat. :: Q? :: Still nothing.
“Cross in front of Disco. Q put the first gate around in back, close to her house.”
And from the radio, “Yeah, I checked it out an hour ago.”
Ajha grinned. “El Zee is one of dozens of people Izzo sent to Ebsa and Ra’d to train. He’s developed a nasty tendency to think ahead.”
“I got that from hanging around with Izzo. That man thinks too much.”
Rael blinked, then leaned and covered up the mike grid. “Is that Izzo’s cute blond bodyguard?”
Rael settled back. “I see. And there’s the first gate. Brace yourselves, the gates are about a hundred meters apart. It’s not very comfortable.”
Not to mention the weird effect of looking through a line of a dozen gates until they curve out of sight.
“Rough road?” Jeb hunched his shoulders as they drove through . . . and through another gate . . . and another . . . “Oh . . . this is a little tough on the digestion, and balance.”
Ytry turned and carefully walked down the four steps to the main deck. “I think I’ll just sit down here where I don’t have to look at it.”
Epoxy grinned. “It’s taking my mind off the horrors of only having you lot’s stray thoughts in my head.”
Ooze snorted. “How true. I guess five or six hundred people’s random thoughts just sort of blend into white noise.”
Rael eyed them. “Can you shield?”
Shaken heads. Epoxy swallowed at another gate. “Most of our training is specifically in not shielding.”
Ytry snorted. “We can. But most of us are completely out of practice. I leave Makkah often enough that I shield easily. You seven may have problems. Oooo! There’s a thousand gates? And we’re going to cross them in an hour?”
“We’ll take more time than a smaller vehicle would.” Ajha didn’t seem the least bit bothered . . . in fact, he sounded cheerful. “So we’ll take an hour and a half or so to get to the end.”
“Are you enjoying this?” Jeb glared.
A feminine laugh from the radio. “No, he’s always happy out in the field. Or rather, yes, even if this part isn’t particularly enjoyable. He’s not enjoying your discomfort.”
A hundred gates later Rael was feeling a bit bilious herself.
By half way, there was competition for the lav. All the windows and the main hatch were open.
With Ajha cheerfully calling back to not stick their heads out as they came up on the gate. “Really, vomit is much easier to clean than blood and involves much less in the way of explanations and recriminations.”
Another gate. Jeb rushed the door and heaved, pulled back. “You sadist. I ought to jump out,” another gate, “and let you explain that to Emre.”
“As slow as I’m going? You can explain your minor bruises to Emre yourself.”
“One! You’re a pack of teenage boys goofing off on a field trip aren’t you?” Rael rubbed her temples. I will not barf. I will not barf.
Another gate. She bolted for the door and spewed. Jerked back inside. “Daddy? Are we there yet?”
And finally a gate without a gate showing on the other side. Two big stone frames, angling a bit away from straight ahead. The utes stopped back from them as the drivers peered through.
A man hopped out of the one on the left. Is that Ebsa? He pointed left, and the utes zipped through the corridor.
Ajha followed them. Pulled up and parked beside a parked crawler.
Rael jumped out and staggered on the nice clean lumpy ground. “Can I walk, next time?”
A laugh from the trees. Ra’d walked out and shook his head at the sad state of the people staggering out of the crawler. Fean pulled up beside them. Also with all the windows open.
Ra’d looked them over, froze for a moment as he realized who the men were. “Q said she’d ask about priests. I didn’t expect . . . this.”
Jeb eyed him. Shrugged and looked away.
“I recommend we take a half hour or so and clean up a bit before we meet the Judge.” Rael walked around to the other crawler. A worse mess then hers.
Fean took a deep breath of fresh air. “You know, Rael, We should guard the Priests and let the specifically assigned and trained guards clean the crawlers.”
Ebsa strolled up and looked her over, shaking his head. “I thought you were made of stronger stuff. I will undertake to clean the crawlers. Watch this.”
The brat had something like a soft pull spell. With a garbage bag over his hands, it worked like a charm. And it was fast. By the time the priests were recovered enough to wash up and change clothes, the crawlers were clean enough to get clean in.
Then it was time to meet the Judge.