It was a fairly expectable city scene. Buildings of various ages, from the graceful marble cathedral on the hill that probably measured its age in centuries to the glass and chrome skyscrapers of an advanced tech civilization.
Xen strolled up to a sidewalk newspaper vendor and looked over the headlines. The West Bay Sentinel informed him that the President was threatening to veto a health care bill due to pork. The date was the twenty-third of August, 3531. All right, that anchored things a bit better. This World had split recently enough that there was only a few years temporal drift. Or it had been colonized, and the gates had equalized the time rate. The language of the paper was close enough to the dialects he was fluent in that he hadn't noticed a difference. He reached mentally for the coin box, to take a look at the currency, and met his first obstacle. The coin box was blocked, magically. Interesting. He strolled on, there would be plenty of other opportunities to see coins . . . he leaned down and picked a small copper off the ground. One cent. He stepped into the shade of a small tree and stopped to study the visage stamped on the coin. It was quite definitely his father.
After a long moment he nodded to himself. It was only logical that Comet Fall would have split multiple times, the number of impacts it had experienced. If the civilization had kept track of the Earth calendar, then perhaps the Comet had not fallen here. At home his fourteen centuries old father had retired from public view a long time ago. Here, he was apparently famous enough to wind up on a coin. I wonder if he's alive or dead?
He stepped out and looked around with a fresh eye. It would be interesting to see how his home world had developed without the worst catastrophe in its history. He worried down his normal automatic barriers, and listened to the World. Quite a few people were 'private', magic users with habitual shields up, but most were about like home—barely magical, with no power behind their thoughts. He strolled through the streets, heading for the cathedral as a first goal. It sat in the center of a block of parkland, well manicured lawns, flowerbeds in bloom. A wrought iron fence kept the lawns pristine and the flowers untouched. The big gate in front was manned, and Xen tried to look uninterested as the two men stood up and stepped out of their marble box with a machine in hand.
They pointed it at the passing people, and then down the sidewalk. A detector of some sort? The people around him were just ordinary . . . He pulled his awareness in tight, closed down completely. The men were frowning and looking down the street. He walked right past them. One scowled at him and muttered ". . . tall as a god . . ." and pointed his machine at him. Turned away. "It was registering something. Some damned witch walking at the end of the block maybe."
"But it was so strong. It had to be closer than that."
"Or someone very strong."
Xen walked on, a bit disturbed. Was a church that was anti-magic worse than the church of a magician who'd been called a god ? A cross street proclaimed itself University Boulevard, and he turned toward the city center. A University should have a library . . . The swale behind the Cathedral . . . he looked around, trying to see the contours of the ground under the buildings. I think I'm in Karista. Well. That's a change from New York or Paris. He hiked on and found the University a few blocks from the location of King's University in his Karista. A bit of a prowl located the main library, and he quickly settled in with a world history text.
The Church of God the Creator was very much anti-magic, and had risen in power from the twenty-ninth century onward, boosted by the partial failure to magically clear off the comet of 2854. The World had suffered over two million fatalities.
Their governmental form was a Democratic Federation, no sign of a nobility. Squabbles between regions were settled in the national assembly or courts, at the seat of government in Sahara. He prowled the stacks for information on the Gods, and found a lurid account of the Comet diversion, with an addendum about how the Gods claimed to have shifted all the large comets enough to prevent all future collisions. Nice. I'll have to ask them how they managed that. Another book talked about the Gods surrendering their magic and fading into the general population. Genetic transformation? But what if another problem came up? Surely they hadn't actually changed themselves.
Off to the reference books. Who's Who listed The Old Wolf, God of War as retired, address withheld for privacy. No reference for Wolfgang Oldham. Same for eleven of the others. The Goddess of Logic had committed suicide a few years after the comet disaster. Both interesting and disturbing.
No entries for Nihility, Rustle Neverdaut, or Xen under any of his names.
"Well, we've answered the main question. Just one government to negotiate with. Now off to Sahara." He blushed to catch the eye of a girl who overheard him, and hustled out. He didn't have any local ID or money, so no way to travel legitimately. He glumly concluded that it would probably be easiest to just bump the gate loose and try to reconnect closer.
"Oh, look at the tall guy. Does he think he's a God?"
Xen glanced over at the heckler. Unfortunately he had friends and they all looked belligerent, and were moving to block his exit.
He eyed them and shook his head. "This wasn't the way I wanted to collect information, but I suppose it will do. Tell me, where should your average dimensional traveler go to talk to a government official?"
"Take me to your leader."
"Fuck you!" The heckler raised his fists and closed in, his friends producing a nice variety of rocks and boards.
Xen looked at a spot thirty feet away and traveled there. And took off running. Last thing I need is to get into a public brawl. He dropped to a walk around a corner, and walked in and out of a few buildings to lose any followers. He diverted and took a different path back through the city. The gate had attached to the wall of a house perhaps five miles from the University. A car behind him slowed and started pacing him. He glanced back to see if they were any sort of official vehicle. No markings, but lots of antennae. Well, I am here to talk to the government. He turned around and approached the car. It jerked to a stop and two men got out, belligerence and willingness to draw weapons written all over their stance.
"Excuse me, gentlemen. Is there anything I can do to help you?" Xen kept his hands in plain sight and quite still.
"No, we're just keeping an eye on you while you're in town. We've had enough trouble with you lot already."
"Umm, I just got here, could you tell me who 'you lot' are?"
They both frowned at him.
"He's too young to be Chance," one of them muttered.
"Eternal Youth, do you think?"
Xen sighed. "Ah. I am not one of the thirteen gods. Umm, I don't suppose you could tell me where to find them? War or the Traveler, by preference."
"Well, he's not Virtue or Vice, at least. We know them all too well. Art, maybe?"
"Hello? I'm not any of them. I just got here, from a parallel world. Do you know who I should talk to? I was thinking I needed to get myself over to Sahara, is that right? Northwest Coast of Africa?"
They studied him some more, and he tried to not let his exasperation show through.
One of the men consulted something inside the car. "He's off the scale. He's got to be a God."
"I thought I was pretty tight."
The darker haired man snorted. "That'll fool the Church's magic scanners, but not god detectors."
"God detectors. You have actual detectors for gods? How much trouble have thirteen people caused?"
"A few of you are decent enough. But Vice, Virtue, Love, Chance, Traveler and Just Deserts are walking disasters. Art, Peace and Mercy are rabble rousers. We don't have any use for War, any more and most people prefer medicine, not hocus pocus, and no one needs Fertility. Eternal Youth is supposed to be a real party boy, and Logic was whiz at math and cold as ice. I figure you're either Eternal Youth, or trouble on the hoof."
"Um. Let me repeat. I just came here from another dimension, traveling through a dimensional gate. My World is somewhat similar to this one. It probably diverged from yours in 2854 when we failed altogether at diverting the Comet. Up till then it was probably the same World, same gods and so forth. So tell me. How do I find your government? Or your gods? They might be a useful place to start."
"Just got here, eh? Let's see your papers."
"I have no local identification."
"In that case, I think you'd better come with us."
"All right. Maybe this is progress."
The indigent's cell was not progress.