“I see. About the time I adjust to the future, it will all change.”
Dave watched the road signs, as the car changed lanes. “What’s the SGA?”
“Secured Gate Area.” Izzo shrugged. “We’re moving the Colony Gates to a less secure area, to speed up commerce and commuting, but we’re still more than a little jumpy about invasion, after the Helios encounter.”
He glanced at his comm and sighed. “One! The Ambassador from the Nuked One is apparently accusing us of kidnapping your counterparts from their World.” He glanced at the chauffeur. “El Zee? We’ll go straight to Embassy.”
“I though the Bag had disintegrated? Over there?”
Izzo nodded, eyes on the scrolling words. “Apparently not. Apparently it was delivered to the Comet Fall hospital just a few days after Rael and you had that public fight at the hospital. Anonymously.”
“Are they still there?”
“Nope they’re all on Tyrant’s World now, with their families. Have been for a month. The Nuked One people just realized who some of the new people were and their Hive Mind is pissed.”
Dave snickered. “They ought to be glad. Look what happened when my Nicholas went to Makkah.” He squirmed at snickers from Izzo and his driver. “Right. But don’t think that other me wouldn’t have done something . . . well, depending on how healthy I was at the time.”
“Lucky Dave . . . given the seriousness of your injuries, and Davos’s, I’m not sure either of you would have survived without both the joy juice and the personal attention of Xen Wolfson.” Izzo looked him straight in the eye. “And you certainly couldn’t have protected him at the start. They’d have taken him away from you.”
Dave’s breath caught. “Right. If we’d been found by priests searching for a prophet, rather than a top government agent masquerading as a ditzy . . .”
Izzo snickered. “That woman terrifies me. Partly because of what she’s capable of, and partly because I don’t know who she actually takes orders from.” Sigh. “Not that she doesn’t question orders. But when the One told her to obey the Interim Committee to the letter . . . she did.”
“Umm . . . Okay. Next question. What the Hell is Tyrant’s World?”
Izzo started laughing. “One of the other nine worlds in that multidimensional whirlpool. Have you read . . . Good. The Ra’d from Nuked One wound up on a world with a belligerent Earth Army General and with a couple of companies of soldiers on one side, and the belligerent Minster of War with a couple hundred ministry guards on the other. That Ra’d—who calls himself Nick—found it necessary to beat the crap out of both would-be tyrants, and be the tyrant himself for two months until he could arrange an election.
“In the election they voted to make the title of Tyrant official, and elected Nick.” Izzo snickered. “He’s doing quite a good job. Married a Presidential Directorate Princess, has a son, almost two years old. And now his father.”
“Huh. Right. That sounds . . . like something my other self can deal with.”
Izzo grinned. “We’ll see if as many people try to recruit him as will shortly be besieging you. If any of those three don’t like pioneering, they may well move elsewhere.”
The car decelerated smoothly, and pulled up to a heavy metal gate, the guard gave them a good hard look, nodded politely, and the gate rolled out of the way.
“The Head Quarters Building is outside the SGA so visitors—mostly politicians and newsies—don’t have to go through the check point.”
The car turned away from the high rise office buildings inside the SGA and drove down a long row of warehouses.
Izzo glanced back toward the gate. “The security’s not for show, but it’s mostly in place in case of an invasion through the permanent gates.”
“Which you’ve never had?”
“It was close both when Earth took Granite Peak, and again when the Helios came calling. We never have figured out how they found us. They emplaced beacons in at least five places—college campuses—and raided for merge victims.” Izzo sighed. “We got back ninety percent of the students they kidnapped, most of the soldiers who merged on the battlefield. We had a spell net, to reinforce the original genes, the original personality of a lot of soldier who rotated through our surveillance camp. So they recover fully, eventually.”
“Psychologically?” Dave knew he sounded dubious.
“Umm, it was definitely a life-changing event. A lot of divorces, and sometimes even their parents rejected them. Limbo started as a halfway point, a place to recover before they came home. Three-fourths of them stayed and Limbo’s now an official colony. Beautiful place, in case you were wondering. It was one of the Evacuation Worlds so a lot of basic facilities were already in place.”
“I don’t know if I’m glad I missed it, or sorry. War is at least something I understand.” Dave eyed the last warehouses, the scanned the open area . . . several hundred acres with roads leading to metal arches. “Well . . . I suppose with tens of thousands of worlds . . .”
“Most of which had a single brief study and haven’t been visited since.” Izzo grinned. “There are five hundred gates here. Seventy of them go to the colonies, paired gates for traffic both coming and going, to several different places on each colony. Twenty hub worlds, that branch out to other worlds with infrequent traffic or potentially hazardous conditions that need a buffer between us and them.”
“Like aggressive natives?”
“Umm, no. We don’t go to inhabited worlds anymore. When we find one, we mark it as such and leave it. Those, by-the-way, are worlds we find with our powered gates. If the world looks promising, we pay Disco for a permanent gate. Two million rials, approximately the cost in electricity and personnel and such for a one minute powered gate.”
“Huh. You’d think they’d charge more, wouldn’t you?”
Izzo started laughing. “Oh One! It’s insane. Now that they’ve opened offices on other worlds, and hired locals to staff them, Disco has maybe two hundred people working for them. Thirty core people. And they . . . keep us all in line.” He nodded at the gate they were approaching. “Eight or nine worlds who can make gates.”
“Thirty of them?” Lucky Dave grabbed the seat as a nasty twist.
“Two, if we’re going to be brutally frank. Xen Wolfson, and his sister Dr. Quail Quicksilver.”
The car drove through a courtyard and turned out onto a road . . . on a central plaza with a fountain . . . and an angry crowd.
“One! There’s Ambassador Ashe. Let me out at the fight.”
“Sir!” The chauffeur, sounded more affronted than alarmed.
“Relax, El Zee, I’ll be fine.” Izzo groaned. “And there’s Ra’d. I have a nasty suspicion the accusations have moved from the forum to the . . . less regulated arena.”
Lucky Dave stepped out first and stayed between Izzo and the crowd, while he got out. Walked slightly in front of his right shoulder, while El Zee walked to the left.
Ra’d looked around, looking amused. He nodded to Izzo. “I have explained that I have never set foot on their world, cannot open gates, nor see bubbles. With shields down enough that they know I am not lying. I have refused to speculate on who else might be responsible.”
Izzo sighed. “I have just been told that you’re version of the Prophets, and two of his fellow soldiers are on Tyrant’s World. Have you asked if you can send someone across to be sure that they are there of their own free will?”
Three people glared. The big one stepped up, glowing hard. A Priest. “We will go there and get our prophet.”
Lucky Dave stepped into the space between Izzo and the big guy. “Commander Nicholas One is not property. Not my Nicholas, and not your’s.”
“And who are you?” Brighter glow. Looming.
“I am Captain Dave ibn Daiki ibn William, head of Commander Nicholas One’s bodyguard detachment.” He met the priest’s gaze. “From Director Izzo’s One World. You can call me Lucky Dave, if you wish.”