The cops, with their monocular implants, and the things in their ears and braces on their legs, gave her a bad case of the creeps. And she really didn't like having two in front and two behind her, and there was another . . .
:: Are you getting into trouble AGAIN? ::
It was him. "Son of a . . . " She muttered a curse under her breath. :: You going to help, or just watch? ::
Her eyes were drawn to the black limo pulling up beside her. A man got out. Business suit, very well tailored, implants subtle . . . And none of it was really there.
The man tsked. In his voice. "You should have called for a car. There's no need for you to walk in public."
The five cops had stopped to watch, and now were edging away. :: Didn't see anything. Wasn't there. ::
They all faded back and turned away.
Rael cooperated, following the illusionary Cyborg to the non-existent limo. Then a real hand settled on her shoulder and the street turned into a dark . . . basement stacked with crates and piles of magazines. Old furniture. Big clunky things that she recognized from her studies as this world's clothes washing and drying machines. Shelves. Rusty metal car parts. Mops and brooms. Xen stepped over the leaning mops, squeezed in between the washer machine and a shelf full of magazines and old books. And straight through the wall.
She followed, shivered through the faint wrench of one of those gates. An office. A desk and computer, some fancy communications gear. She turned around. The gate was attached to the wall, From this side, she could see back into the basement. A bit of the gate was behind the washer, and a bit more behind the shelves. Lights flashed on the shelves. She could only see the indirect glow as it was mostly obscured by a laser pickup on this side. So. Xen's sending data through. I wonder what, and who's on the receiving end?
"So, like some lunch?"
She gave the man a glare, and prowled out of the room. A sitting room, all the modern stuff, plus an actual fireplace. She walked out the front door. A placid meadow, knee deep in grass, flowers and bees buzzing everywhere. She looked back at the small stone house. It sat in the meadow, all by itself, no paths to or from, as if someone had just dropped it there.
Xen, no doubt.
She walked back in. "Sure. I'd love some lunch. And while we're eating you can tell me all about how you came to be in the right place to rescue me from an attempt to bug Councilman von Geuring's office."
"I felt your gate attach, and figured someone would show up to do something. At least it wasn't three truck loads of fellows wearing fake implants."
Rael subdued a sigh, and tried to get some enthusiasm behind a glare. "So . . . why did they all home in on me?"
He pulled a couple of sandwiches out of a cupboard. They were both chilly. Two cans. Even chillier. Zero time bubbles inside.
"Did you notice what the other women around were wearing?"
"Some bundly peasant work clothes, some nice business attire with skirts a bit long, and a few out-and-out sexy glam rags."
"Uh huh. And of the two later groups, what percentage of each would you guess had implants?"
She took a bite to give herself time to think. Studied a can, pried up the tab to open a hole for something fizzy to hiss at her. She took a sip. Very sweet. "They all had a little metal showing somewhere, didn't they?"
"Sometimes it's not very obvious. They just get what they need for their job. But they all have implanted ID. The peasants, as you call them, are beneath the Drei's notice, and mostly, the individual cyborgs' notice. And try to stay that way, with unattractive clothing and no makeup."
"Great. I get to be a peon. Again."
"The leaders of the Drei Mächte Bündniss are genetically engineered, and like some other interdimensional bullies, like to spread their superior genes around the old fashioned way, and recruit the results when they've grown up. So even with the bundly clothes, there's no guarantee of safety."
"We don't do that . . . any more."
"At least the women usually only get raped. If a man bothers them they'll either kill him or take him off to get some control implants." Xen munched and let her think it over.
"So . . . how do you get on, there?"
He fished in a pocket and pulled out a metal disk. "ID. Faked, of course. Five settings, for different people, with different security clearances and authority."
"And with something like that . . . I could get into the Councilman's office?"
"Yep. I'll give you some samples for Izzo to analyze." He glanced over his shoulder at the office. "Of course, it would be easier to just ask us for a copy of what we're picking up. From all sorts of interesting people's offices and homes. Including Councilman von Geuring."
"There are days when I could hate you."
He tsked, and took another bite.
"The problem is, that's just the colony that happens to be closest to us. There's a couple hundred others, about half-and-half Empty Worlds and Inhabited Worlds. They are so aggressive across dimensions we need to stop them, but they are so belligerent we haven't managed to infiltrate their society to any extent." Xen nodded toward the gate. "That's the best we got. Bugs in a dozen places and a little used basement where we could hide a gate."
Rael chewed thoughtfully. "I'll talk to Izzo and Omsi. I suspect they'll want your data . . . and possibly help getting an Info Team in, eventually."
"Right. But after they get a little walking around experience, they might want to start on one of the further worlds. Q has mapped out most of their web of worlds. Eighteen have powered gate makers. We don't know which one is their home world, we don't know what it will take to stop them."
"Other than destroying eighteen gate facilities?"
"It would be optimal if we could lure their armies home. Or to the Empty World colonies before we trashed their gates. Give the Natives a chance to recapture their own worlds."
"Umm. Was that a dig at us?"
"Oh, only a little. You lot don't treat your Natives with much respect, but there no systemic abuse. And the largest population, on Homestead, are enthusiastic citizens of the Empire. Granite Peak is a mess. Then there's only two others."
"So we're better than Earth."
"By two orders of magnitude. And now we've got these Cyborgs."