Eldon was meditating. Not doing anything with the fizzing electric blue that existed in between the universes. Just watching the flow, trying to understand, trying to see some structure, some way to find specific Worlds.
There were bubbles everywhere, of course. Very useful things, bubbles. Other things were hidden amongst them. Much more rare phenomenon. The longer he looked, the more things he found. Like the cones he and others like him used to create Gates between the Worlds, and the cylinders that they could use to make temporary connections between Worlds, and that occasionally bridged spontaneously.
Which no doubt explained a lot of the common myths and anachronistic critters one tripped over, here and there.
A surge in the rhythms of the inbetween caught his attention. A silver line, hard and sharp, whipping about where there should be drift. He reached out mentally to touch it, examine it, and it snapped to face him, to hunt him. He jerked out of his meditative trance and leaped to his feet. His townhouse quivered, no, just the local 'inbetween' quivered. The shock was psychic, not physical. The shaking—that silver serpent clamping its jaws on his adopted World—was close.
He bolted out his front door and listened carefully. The ubiquitous noises of a city of millions surrounded him. Lots of car alarms were sounding to the south. Lots. He dodged back through the door and grabbed his car keys as he loped into the garage. He passed up the Mercedes, and jumped into the old Studebaker Suburban. Closest thing to a street legal tank, in his opinion. As he backed out of the garage he heard the sirens, also to the south, and an orange glow that looked pretty alarming. Three blocks south, the traffic was stopped dead and starting to divert itself to either side. Eldon crept up another block as cars turned and abandoned the route. Then he gave up, hopped out, grabbed a bubble and flipped it around the Suburban. He caught a few startled double takes from the people nearby, but ignored them. Two blocks at a brisk walk and he could see the fire. A six story office building, the windows blown out and the contents on fire. Second floor through fourth, and climbing. Eldon squinted at the sidewalk below. Very little glass. The windows had been blown in, not out. Across the street and more than halfway down the block, a hole in the pavement. He pulled power from the fire, and channeled it into the ground. The flames dropped rapidly. He tried to slow the draw, to not make the dowsing of the flames look too odd. A quick glance at the inbetween, and he could see the crimp in the World. Hell of a Gate Scar! But that was the only thing it resembled. Did the Earth and Oner powered Gates produce major scars like that? The co-incidental hole in the pavement was ragged, pieces strewn about. An explosion of some sort. He bent to scoop up a chunk of tarry gravel. It had half melted, and a string of recently molten metal was frozen in mid-drip on one side. He'd never heard of anything of this sort. But being a wanted criminal he didn't exactly hang out with the D-cops and catch all the shop talk.
He did know things couldn't pass in the gates. Generally speaking. The "natural" Gates the Comet Fall magicians could make were more forgiving, but the Earth Gates weren't. He'd heard that collisions were "energetic." Did that encompass holes and explosions? Or at least over pressure and high temperatures? He edged nearer and frowned at the hole. The silver serpent was long gone.
Whatever it had been.
A police car beat the first fire engine by seconds and the two officers started ordering the crowd away. Eldon gave the scar one last frown, then walked away. The last few flames were dying under the building sprinklers.
"I saw it all! It was like a flame thrower!"
He slowed at the woman's voice, trying to talk to the policeman. Several other people chimed in.
"It looked like one of those amphibious assault vehicles."
"A woman with a couple of kids got out, then it backed up and exploded!" They were all pointing at the hole.
Eldon froze, and tried to listen to the interwoven voices.
Some witnesses argued that it had been a teenage boy, with a shaven head. Others insisted on female and short dark hair. One of the officers walked them aside and started taking notes, while his partner backed everyone else off. Eldon gave ground reluctantly, then finally decided he'd heard all he was going to be allowed. It was much too crowded and chaotic to try warping light. He'd just get squashed by a large vehicle.
He watched from a block away, scanning the crowds for a short haired woman, with or without children. None present that could possibly be mistaken for a teenaged boy. He finally turned and hoofed it all the way home.
Betelgeuse threw herself out the front door at him. "What was that? I felt it all the way upstate. I thought you must have done something awful."
"Not me. But it might have happened right here because of me poking at it."
His cell phone, abandoned on the counter started chiming at him.
"Obi Wan, there was a great disturbance in the Force!"
"Xtreme, I am not a Jedi. I am a wizard. And yes, there was something magical happening, and no, I don't know what it was, yet. Go do your homework."
"It's summer vacation." The kid clicked off, though.
He had three messages. G., Jack, and Lyle all wanted to talk to him Right Now.
He called Lyle. "No, I don't know what it was. It might have been a powered Gate that malfunctioned. Or a cross dimensional weapon that worked, but the aim was bad. I'll try to find out, and talk to your bosses. Maybe I should talk to those scientists, too. Maybe one of them did something weird."
"Talk to my boss, I've already told him something weird has happened."
"Waste of time, he's at least got my phone tapped and may be listening in live for all I know. I'll do a bit of meditation and so forth and see if anything comes of it—oh—you might want to be looking for a woman with short dark hair or possibly a teenage boy, with two smaller children. A witness said they got out of a big vehicle that backed away and exploded. I expect the police will be on it, that's all I over heard before they sent all us ooglers away."
"Sent you ooglers away from what?"
"The fire. Six story office building on Dostoro Drive. You Feds may want to get a whole investigative team in there."
Eldon punched the phone off and eyed Betelgeuse. "I think you should head home, and then collapse the Corridor. I don't want anything or anyone tracing it and getting at the kids."
"Yeah." She sounded a bit doubtful. "Except that traps you here. I'll move the end a few dozen miles. Can I take your car?"
"Sure. Good plan."
She headed for the garage and Eldon sank back down to meditate and see what was swimming around the inbetween.
Rista cursed silently. She'd set the controls for no known destination, and at the maximum power of the portal machinery. What were the odds she'd land on a World with a Cyborg spy in place? Had she unknowingly encountered some protective program that corrected operator errors? That had changed her random entries to the nearest known destination?
Nothing she could do about it now. Hopefully backing the carrier into her pursuers had damaged the portal apparatus. Stranded was much better than pursued. And the Cy had been easy to follow. Arrogant, inhuman bastard. Like all of them. Like my father.
The Bündniss soldiers, whichever of the Drei Mächte they came from, were more alike than different, because of the programming of their electromechanical parts. And raping "Native" women to start the spread of their genes – every bit as engineered as their bodies – was common. Her mother had escaped before she'd given birth, so Rista had been spared the rest of the package -- childhood indoctrination and mechanical augmentation. She'd followed in her mother's footsteps instead, using her superior physique for the Empire and at the last, the protection of the royal family.
She tucked the sleeping Princess Seti behind some smelly equipment in the metal shed. Prince Jau, wide-eyed and silent slipped over beside her. By now they were probably all that remained of the royal family.
"Remember. If I haven't come back by dawn, walk as far as you can before asking for help."
He nodded solemnly. Ten years old and he already understood too much.
She stepped away from the shed and trotted four blocks to the row house the Cy had entered. He'd shown no signs of mechanical enhancement, so perhaps she could kill him and survive. But if there were more cyborgs there, she'd just have to damage as many as possible, and hope that by her sacrifice, the children could slip away unnoticed. A no-show Cy meant this World was being studied, not actively taken over. So perhaps this World would not suffer the fate her own was facing. Perhaps the loss of a survey team would help solidify that decision.
She approached from the rear, counting off vehicle bays until she'd found the right one. She jumped and grabbed the overhanging eaves and flipped silently to the roof. The domicile was well built, bearing her weight with only the faintest give. The bay connected to the house through a small extension. A landscaped courtyard between must be the work of the woman she'd seen flinging her arms around the emotionless Cy. Poor girl, used as window dressing.
"Please, let this be the only spy on the planet." She barely breathed the words, then eeled silently across the extension to a second floor window. It was wide open, a simple screen, probably to keep out insects, was the only barrier. There was no alarm system. The Cy was as good as dead.