"LAPD has two kids, says they don't speak English, nor anything else they recognize. Shall we go see if they belong to that strange lady?"
Eldon looked away from the monitor and nodded. "Hopefully they're old enough to know something. Part of the reason I can't read her is that she's not fluent in Anglish. She's working at translating so hard I can't get to her deeper thoughts. And then like most LEOs, she's naturally closed up and private."
Lyle looked at him in surprise. "You think she's cop where she come from?"
"Yep. Possibly military type, possibly a body guard. The kids evoke extreme protectiveness and loyalty in her, but not the deep gooiness of motherhood. I think she's their guard."
Lyle snorted. "And if someone read you, while talking about that herd of kids, most of whom are not yours, would you be all gooey?"
"Oh yeah. I'm a sucker for any tyke, and they all know it." They'd walked down to the dimensional lab while talking. The Corridor to his townhouse now had a guard right on top of it, with a gun pointed into his garage. "Be a good fellow and don't shoot the car, Okay?"
The marine snorted as they walked around his bullet proof barrier and into LA.
"What did you do with your cars?"
"Oh. I forgot I was carrying the Suburban around with me." He always had some stuff with him, but the suburban was lined with bubbles, as well as being very handy all by itself. He pulled it back out and hopped in. "Betelgeuse's got the Mercedes. We moved the Corridor ends so we didn't lead anyone straight home."
He followed Lyle's directions and parked in the lot of a small police substation.
A policewoman met them, frowning. "They look about eight and ten."
"Their mother, or at any rate the woman they were with, speaks English with a German accent."
"The pair of them aren't talking to anyone but themselves. I don't know what language it is, the few words we manage to catch could be German, for all I know." She looked worried.
"Well, let's see if we can get them to talk well enough to identify what language they're using." Lyle shrugged. "We can at least get them back with their mom."
But where their 'mom' was slim and athletic, with a strong boned face, these two were cute little snugglers, with curly brown hair and big brown eyes in well tanned faces.
They were huddled together in a large chair. The girl was perhaps eight, with tear tracks, and the boy ten, trying to look fierce.
"Ah." Eldon sank down to the floor at their feet. "It's okay now. We don't hurt kids." He tried to radiate reassurance and confidence and caring. "I'm Eldon."
The little girl sniffled a bit. "Sati. Mo frat etre Jau."
"Sati and Jau. You are safe now."
"Opo non sermo. Is vultus amo unus of lemma." The boy tried to edge forward, to get between his sister and Eldon.
"Is nullus metal." Sati scowled at her brother.
"I don't have any metal?" Eldon tried to work that one out.
"That's almost Latin that they're speaking. Let me see if I can remember any." Lyle pulled out a picture of the woman. "Est is vestri matris?"
"Operor non sermo sibimet." The boy, Jau told the girl.
"Nil." Sati was looking sulky.
"Ignori suus." The boy looked away from the picture.
Lyle grinned. "They're pretending they don't know her."
Eldon shook his head. "It's not funny. They're in deep trouble, and scared sick. But they're not scared of the woman. I told you I thought she was more of a guard than a mother."
Lyle tried his Latin again. "Est is a tutela? Operor vos fides suus?"
Eldon nodded. "I dunno if that's 'ignore them' or 'play ignorant' but I think you've got it that time. Ask about their mother and father, and if it's safe for them to go home."
"Scisco super suum matris quod Abbas. Est is tutus pro lemma praecessi domus?"
The boy looked away, blinking at tears. "Domu est absenti."
"Absent home? Or you're absent from home?"
The girl started sniffling and Eldon pulled her into his lap. And spared an arm to hug the boy.
"Nos mos servo vos tutus." Lyle told them. "We'll keep you safe. Eldon, can we hide them in that commune of yours?"
"Ah. Good plan. Ask if they want their guard with them."
"Capiemus vos ut a domus per alius liberi. Operor vos volo vestri tutela advenio?"
They both nodded.
Lyle had to sign off on a bunch of paperwork, then they introduced the kids to the concept of seat belts. Lyle talked to his superiors, when they returned to the townhouse the guard, Rista, was there waiting tensely with a pair of Feds.
"We're all going." Perry climbed into the very back of the vehicle. "This is Fred Mitchell."
Fred joined him, and the woman sat in the middle, with the children. She was very tense, looking for a way out.
Eldon drove across town and up into the San Bernadino mountains. A dirt road to a small flash flood control dam, and a sudden turn into a cliff and they were popping out of a mountain side five hundred miles to the north. He drove down hill and a bit south to the hacienda. In anticipation of lots of kids, it was quite large.
Betelgeuse walked out to meet them, and then the little witches and wizards poured out to see the new kids.
The guard loosened her grip on the kids with an obvious effort of will, and they were pulled back into the house in an irresistible tide.
Betelgeuse looked the woman straight in the eyes. "If you bring any harm to any of these kids, I will kill you."
"I am here to protect Sati and Jau. And dat includes keeping dem safe from you."
"I don't break into people's homes and try to kill them. Now, why don't you tell these people exactly what it is that is chasing you?"
Rista scowled, then relaxed. A bit. "A Vorld ve call da Drei Mächte Bündniss. Dey found controlling their own world insufficient, and have since captured at leaz ten oders. They are currently moving in on at leaz five more. I vas an active spy, infiltrating deir portal ministry. Ve hoped to eider contact dose oder people, and make an allied opposition to the Drei, to learn how to travel between worlds ourselves, or to sabotage the Portal itzelf long enough to deal wid de forces in place on our Vorld already, before ve had to face de armies dey could import so quickly."
She hunched her shoulders. "None of it proffed practical. But I did learn enough to be able to zet the parameters for the destination. Vhen they overran the Imperial Palace, I took de children with me, to infiltrate one laz time. I hoped to use up deir power and slow dem, and simultaneously reach so far dey couldn't find uz. But ve set off an alarm, dey were right on my heels, so I sent the carrier back through the portal to hit any vehicles dat were traveling close behind. I didn't realize how fiolent de reaction would be. Vas anyone killed?"
"No. It was an office building, deserted except for cleaning staff at that hour, and they all got out all right."
She closed her eyes briefly. "Good. I do not know how to repay the damages I caused. But at leaz there are no deaths. I do not know anything about dis place."
"The kids speak something close kin to Latin." Lyle led the way inside. "So lets start with the Roman empire, and go from there. Here the unified empire was defunct from about oh, three hundred AD or so. And gone entirely less than two hundred years later."
Her brow wrinkled. "Three hundred AD? This is the year 3203, counting from the founding of Rome."
"Rome was founded in 753 BC. Umm, a bit under twenty-eight hundred years ago."
Eldon shrugged. "Time doesn't run at the same speed on separate Worlds. So don't sweat it. You sound like Rome never fell?"
"It fell several times, but always rebounded. The Empire conzistz of all of Europe, Indus, nordern Africa, and all of Neronia. The Chi-an Empire encompaszez the remainder."
"Neronia?" Lyle asked.
"Da two continents in da western hemizphere."
"Ah. North and South America. You are currently on the west coast of North America. Our countries are smaller and much more numerous. This is the United States of America. A federated democracy, well armed and over complacent."
"I see. Dank you. The differences, de split vill have been someding dat happened prior to the collapse of your Roman Empire."
Eldon nodded. "It sounds as if we're closer to the Drei-guys than you are. I'm not from here, so I've been studying the history. They had a war a bit more than a century ago. Germans under Hitler against the rest of Europe. They had a treaty with Russia. Japan was technically an ally, but located half a world away, it was a mere technicality. It sounds like the Drei came out of that. Here Hitler turned on Russia and attacked. There, it must not have happened."
Rista nodded. "Many of deir historians claim de turning point in deir war of conquest was de swarm of meteors that hit the North of Neronia, which was technically neutral, but tending toward allying against the Veirmacht. De disaster kept dem occupied at home, dere were horrible fires dat destroyed whole cities."
Lyle looked fascinated. "That would do it."
"Told you most splits were based on astronomical happenings." Eldon stepped over to check the kids' room. Nightmare, Oppression and Persuasion were showing Sati how to play a board game. The boys were building something in the corner. Three twelve year olds, Jau who was probably ten, and Rejection who was five. With only four boys to the twelve girls, Rej had always trailed after the older boys and been shut out of the girls games. It looked like the segregation was going to hold, with Jau bridging the age gap between older and younger boys.
Rista prowled to watch for a moment, then eyed him.
"Jou say jou are not from here? To me you look very like de cyborgs de Drei make to fill the ranks of deir armies. Genetically engineered, and den mechanically augmented." She brows creased. "I keep speaking as if ve, as iv Rome still stands. But vor two generations dey have been eating away at us. Ve beat dem back, and dey turned to consume Chi-an. Den dey returned to roll over us with all of Chi-an's army, and deir own combined. I vear it is all gone now."
"Well. Like I say, time moves differently in different places. On one world, time passed quickly, and they developed genetic engineering. They didn't like the results, and exiled the engineered to other Worlds, as they had discovered transdimensional travel. They chose Worlds with problems, worlds where we would most likely die, without them feeling any guilt. My world is called Comet Fall. The Earth we came from suffered from wars and rebuildings. They lost tech, but eventually re-discovered transdimensional travel and built an Empire of Worlds. Eventually they encountered the One World, which also traveled the Worlds. And then they re-discovered Comet Fall. After some unpleasantness, we have established a World where everyone can build an embassy and talk to all the other embassies. Where they, umm, have an organization that tries to keep the peace and investigates cross dimensional crime and so forth."
"Jou are a policeman?"
"Err, no actually I'm one of the criminals, hiding out here and trying to outlive my unfortunate youth."
She frowned. "How can a criminal organization grow so large that it can open portals?"
"There's more than one way to do that, and ours is . . . economical."
Lyle's phone buzzed. He listened for a moment.
"Eldon, we've got reports of something weird happening by the lab."