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29 May 2018 @ 06:41 am
_Witch and Mercenary_ part 4  

He knew it was risky, but . . . “Maybe we should just take this World. It’s got a nice climate and all. If you could close the Gates to One and Earth, we could probably use Disco to keep them from being reopened. Trade through there."

Higgins inhaled sharply behind him.

Dammit! I forgot about him. Well if he causes trouble . . . there will be an unfortunate accident.

“No. Everyone’s paying attention to Granite Peak.” Arrow frowned. "You'd probably be better off claiming one of those Worlds—I suppose the problem is that you don't want to do the farming yourself?"

"You got it. A World with some stranded farmers would be perfect. And yeah, we ought to experiment away from where everyone is watching." He glanced back at the gate and frowned. "I still don't believe you told me to drink that. Why?"

Arrow smiled. "Along with the unfortunate side effects, the Hex installs several magic and power collecting genes. Congratulations, you are almost a magician."

"What!" He stumbled back. "What do you mean 'installs' genes?"

She rolled her eyes. "Just what it sounds like. You want a magic user? You're going to be one, real soon now."

Jack's vision tunneled, and he clamped his hands over his mouth to control the hyperventilation. Genetic engineering! Why didn't someone tell me! The memory of all those little bottles on Susto's shelves . . . and scattered about the floor and table, drained . . .

He managed to get back in control and the Lieutenant drove them back to HQ. Grinning.

“Why are you so happy?”

“A chance to tell both the government and the Oners to go screw themselves?” Higgin’s grin widened. “Fuck yeah I’m happy.”

Scratch the accident. I think Higgins may be quite useful.

But it only got his mind off the genetic engineering for a few minutes. Jack locked himself in his office and spent the next hour in the executive bathroom upchucking everything he'd eaten today, and what felt like everything taken in since he'd first met Arrow. Genetic Engineering, the boogey man of the modern world. What was he going to do?


Jack drove casually back to Embassy, and around to the maze. The first four worlds were too populated for what they needed. Not, he thought, permanent residents, but the Newsies from a couple dozen worlds who’s employers were too chintzy to pay for lodgings . . . somewhere. No hotels here. So they camped. And half the newsies were probably freelance anyway. Mostly from Earth or the Oner empire.

And he definitely wanted to be past the cutoff to Comet Fall. Two gates past that, he took a side gate to barren empty world. An Algae World, technically.

The gate was high on a hill, looking over barren desert, red rocks and mesas, a river winding across the flats.

Arrow looked around, straightened her shoulders and walked away from the gyp.

“Where are you going?”

She looked over her shoulder. “Far enough from that gate to open another—if I can. Otherwise, we’ll need to go somewhere else before I try to close the only gate to the world.”

Jack looked back at the gate. “Oh. I didn’t think . . .”

“I noticed. Look . . . go over there someplace and meditate. I mean it. Sit down. Close your eyes and empty your mind. Just, just feel the world, absorb the sunshine. That’s where we all start learning magic.”

Learn Magic? Jack swallowed.

And walked away and sat. And . . . failed entirely to empty his mind.

I need to talk to the Oners . . . but I also need at least some of my fellow Earthers on my side. The Natives? No, I think not. They’d just run off to Disco and tattle on us.

So, assuming I can find common ground on both sides, What do I need to do then . . .


Jack hated politics, but right now he rather thought he could use them to his advantage.

Joyce Hall had lost the last two Mayoral elections. And the old lady was still holding a grudge about it. “There’s no way he got seventy percent. No. Way. But what the hell can I prove? Electronic voting with no way to recount? No way to verify how many people really voted? I mean, all the outlying farmers are his constituents.”

Jack nodded. “The roads we have? We’re to believe all his people drove hundreds of kilometers to vote? And then turn around and drive back for more hours over potholed roads so they could feed their livestock?”

“Exactly!” She tossed her gray hair. And leaned toward him. “So . . . why are you here talking to me?”

“Between Earth and the Ones . . . it hardly matters who wins. Neither of them will get us legal access to things like the Comet Fall life extension therapy.”

She recoiled. “That’s genetic engineering!”

“Yeah. We’re brainwashed into that automatic rejection. Because they don’t want us to live forever. Tweak a few genes to improve telomere repair? Fire up the mitochondria?” A flick of a glance up toward her hair. “Get rid of the grey, cure baldness. What the hell, change hair color.”

He sat back and crossed his arms. “What’s so ‘Evil’ about actual changes to things like cancer risk genes?”

She lowered her brows and glared at him.

“A blanket ban on any and all genetic engineering is insane.”

“And how the hell do we change that?”

“We declare independence and cut the gate to Earth.”

“Leaving us at the mercy of the Oners?”

“I’m going to go talk to them tomorrow. Think about it. An independent World, trading through Embassy for those few things we still can’t make ourselves . . . yet.”

“And what about Disco?”

“They have to follow the laws they’ve made for themselves. They won’t allow either Earth or One to invade us. Won’t open permanent gates without our approval.”

“I . . . see. You don’t think they’re going to . . . remove us . . . Hmm, a hundred thousand of us and four times as many Oners? They’ll have to invade themselves . . . run us down and drag screaming and crying women and children across their precious plaza and forcing us through the gate to Earth?” She leaned back, a thin smile spreading. “And if we had a scattering of genetic engineering, Earth would probably just toss the lot of us back out.”

Jack smiled back. “And since Disco has barely a hundred employees, including secretaries and scientists . . .”

“There’s not a damned thing they could do.” She eyed him. “Come talk to me again, when you get back from meeting the Oners. If you survive.”

(Anonymous) on May 29th, 2018 07:40 pm (UTC)
I find myself wondering how much of Jack's actions now are part of his original plan, and how much is due to the hex.

On my first read through of what was posted of External Relations, I was left puzzled about a number of aspects of the Earth mercs' side of the plot. This seems to be fleshing things out and clarifying them a bit more.

Zan Lynxzlynx on May 29th, 2018 09:16 pm (UTC)
Yeah. This is sort of the same arrogance and megalomania that spurred that attack on the King and got whatshisname exiled. It might also be related to the Oner aggression and rape genes?
(Anonymous) on May 29th, 2018 09:45 pm (UTC)
Jack's paranoia, megalomania, hair loss, and insertion of power genes is pretty much the same thing that happened to Garit Negue when he took a slurp from the hex jug in Corridors chapter 1 (Cascades).

(Anonymous) on May 29th, 2018 10:04 pm (UTC)
Indeed. The difference here is that Jack was already running some sort of bold but shady plan that he needed Arrow for - which is why I'm having a bit more trouble separating Jack and the hex. With Garit we'd seen things through his POV in several novels before we even come to "Cascades" which made it fairly simple to keep straight, since it was so abruptly different. With Jack, it is a bit harder.
(Anonymous) on May 30th, 2018 12:12 am (UTC)
Since he now has magic genes, how much is the collective subconcious of Granite Peak? He's probably the first dual source magician to spend any significant time on the planet who wasn't part of the One. The God of Independence?

matapampamuphoff on May 30th, 2018 02:00 am (UTC)
But he has none of the non-insertion genes that modified and magnified the effects of a lot of the insertion genes.

And Teri's potions tend to put the genes in any old where, not in neat tidy insertion packages.

The potions Question and Never made, under the tutelage of Lady Gisele, look for a specific chromosome. Then they add or modify what's there, fixing bad genes, changing or adding new genes to an insertion, or in the absence of an insertion, they make one.

Jack thus has a scattering of genes crammed in here and there, and then the Mage and Wizard power genes. _If_ he figures out how to use the mage gene, he still will be very under powered, due to a lack of almost all the rest of what makes a mage.

IRL, this would create some interesting mix-and-matches in the following generations.

I may go into this sort of thing later, with Jaejong's power gene which is not on the sex genes, and the mix of everything else.
(Anonymous) on May 31st, 2018 03:15 am (UTC)
Poor Jack. Maybe running into Rior or Eldon could sort him out.
matapampamuphoff on June 2nd, 2018 04:33 pm (UTC)
:: Snicker :: I'll think about that.
(Anonymous) on May 31st, 2018 06:12 pm (UTC)
The first four worlds were too populated ... [with] Newsies
I'm trying to figure out why poorly-funded Newsies would camp out in the maze. Why would they do this? Why not rather camp out somewhere around Embassy City, say near the beach (10 miles away), or back in the hills?

News is almost certainly going to happen in or near Embassy City. Camping out in the maze means that when something happens, all the Newsies will have to crowd through the gates to get to the story.

If instead the Newsie was camping on Embassy a couple of miles away from the city, he might be able to start covering the story just by dashing to the nearest hilltop and aiming his telephoto lens at, say, the invading army.

matapampamuphoff on June 2nd, 2018 04:30 pm (UTC)
Re: The first four worlds were too populated ... [with] Newsies
But the Maze is so fun! Too cold, pop over to tropical island. Too hot? Ah, the brisk mountain air. Feel like a swim? Warm, cold, salt water or fresh? Moderate surf or something more challenging?
By now the few dozen gates probably have comm repeaters, so they won't miss much. And can yell for help. I don't think they've lost too many newsies . . . yet.

And they return for the morning brief at Disco (usually short and boring), grab a meal or two, and the go spend the afternoon in the environment of their choice.

It must be immensely freeing, for reporters from the strict controlling sorts of worlds. I wonder how many people have gotten lost on purpose?
(Anonymous) on June 2nd, 2018 05:45 pm (UTC)
Re: The first four worlds were too populated ... [with] Newsies
That's actually plausible, especially if we posit the effects of escape from strict control and that, like any other group, many Newies would tend more to be slackers than hyper-dedicated to their profession.

I'm impressed by the inventiveness of the author.

Now ... if only that explanation could be woven into the saga somewhere ... Maybe a chapter or two that follows a Newsie as his mental equilibrium is unbalanced with the freedom of the maze. Maybe some Newsies could decide to report on wonders in the maze and, gasp, run into something bad -- if you want really bad, the Drei Mächte Bündnis -- or, maybe, gasp, some elves. There's already one sneaky, named Newsie from Warmonger Earth, maybe there could be more ... he says, wistfully. (grin)

matapampamuphoff on June 3rd, 2018 04:52 am (UTC)
Re: The first four worlds were too populated ... [with] Newsies
When I get back and fill in the holes, I'll make a note to, when I fill in the Renshe pretend reporters, have then astonished that they're, well, sitting the fishing and drinking beer.

"Oh, you guys must be new here. Long stretches of boredom and then suddenly those Disco maniacs are in a bloody fight to save the Universe." The thin one waved at the fat one. "More more fun to sit here gossiping then . . . what? Sit in the library and read? Blow our stipends on a rousing good party? Bah."

The fat one stirred himself enough to raise his hat brim. "It is fun to casually ask questions of our colleagues, nice background when anything happens on their world."

"Ha. As if that happens."

The spy frowned. "We heard they destroyed an entire world."

The thin one snorted.

The fat one shrugged. "Helios. Whatever Wolfson did to it, they deserved it."

The spies exchanged glances.

So . . . you just camp out here?"

"Here, there, anywhere. Hunting, fishing, checking in, we sort of have informal groups who rotate who has to go listen to the boring morning brief. And calls their buddies when it suddenly stops being boring."

"They call? But the gates . . . "

"Lasar repeaters. Handy."

The fat man let his hat brim droop.

The spies turned toward the next arch of stone. As they left, the fishermen's voices carried . . . "Newbies, probably runaway screaming the first time they meet him."