The pressure of the powered gate faded abruptly.
“They are rats!” Lyons turned and climbed back into his gyp, and Exzy returned to his rock ledge. And started pulling power.
He heard faint voices from below . . . “Every ten miles another damned rats’ nest . . .”
It’s not just Outlook Keep, they’re going to try to kill all the rats.
Exzy got up and started walking down the hill.
“. . . wind’s good, we’ll take care of this one first . . .” The men turned to the last whatever it was called. Cannon was close enough. Exzy got a glimpse of a shell that looked about ten centimeters in diameter as they loaded the gun, then swiveled it around.
Exzy raised a shield . . . Why is the gun pointing so high? Can they see my shield, and think they can lob it over? He raised the shield higher, trying to calculate an angle that would defect the shell back over them, but higher and . . .
The gun roared and jumped. Exzy fell flat as the momentum of the shell transferred through the push spell he was bracing it with. The shell soared higher and back across the camp and exploded. White smoke blew in all directions.
Cursing from below as they scrambled for cover.
Poison. Some sort of powdered poison.
“You deserve your poison you, you . . .” Exzy yelled down the hill. “You . . . you deserve to die.”
The cloud was settling fast, but blowing this way. It might get to the keep, but it would definitely settle over their foraging territory. And . . . and . . . perhaps those people did not deserve to die.
He reached for a bubble, saw it large. Huge. He reached mentally to open it wide, to swoop it under the settling dust, up to get the finer particles. He closed the bubble and slapped it to his arm. Grabbed another and repeated the sweep, even though he couldn’t see anything. Closed that one and added it to his collection.
Frowned down at the camp, where the baffled jerks were wondering where their poison cloud had gone, peering out of their buildings with respirators and goggles over their faces.
“That. Is. It!” He yelled down at them.
One more huge bubble, and this swoop he pushed underground and ran the whole length of the camp, and up. And closed it. Stuck it on his arm.
Oops. He’d missed two of them. Mr. Lyons and the woman.
Well, not a problem, unless they chose to make it one.
If I let them out, they’ll just try to kill the rats. If I let them out here.
I could dump them in dad’s lap. Or . . . since I know where they came from . . .
He sat down and looked at the inbetween. Heard the rustling and opened his eyes. Rats to both sides, looking at the hole down in the valley, looking back at him.
“I am going to send them somewhere else. I think then they will leave you alone.”
High pitched squeaks, and probably a lot more being said well out of his hearing range.
Hood trotted through the spectators, and climbed to his shoulder. “I saw bubbles. They shrank when you put them on your arm. Are the humans small now?”
“No. They’re all in a place where size doesn’t matter.” He eyed the two people walking up the hill. “Your colleagues are fine. Now don’t disturb me, or I won’t give them back.”
He closed his eyes and looked for another world. Looked closely and spotted the bright sparks of intelligence. Moved on to a different world. Just scattered sparks . . . next world, and the next. The eighth had plenty of life but none of the sparks.
He grabbed a cone, bumped it into position on that world, found another, connected their tails and let it set down in front of him.
“Rats? That world is probably very dangerous for you, and possibly for humans. I am going to go take a look. You rats should stay here.”
Hood sniffed. “Onward Red God! I want to see this other world!”
Exzy grinned and looked around for his back pack. Pulled out a mirror and took a look through. The gate appeared to be down in a gully, with brushy slopes and forest above, a small stream behind the gate.
He stepped through, teetered on the round cobbles of the streambed, and over to the steep slope.
“Berries?” Hood took a flying leap into the brush. “Berries!”
Exzy eyed the thorny tangle. Only a rat would fit into that mess! “Watch out for snakes and things!” He looked back to where it looked like the entire population of the Keep was pouring through the gate and spreading out.
“There will be snakes! There will be big birds that eat rat-sized animals! There will be things like cats!” Foxes, Racoons, Hawks . . .
He pulled his big clunky radio out of his backpack and checked the standard wavelengths. Nothing. Good. It would be irritating to have found a claimed world.
And then the two humans stumbled through. Looking around.
The woman eyed all the rats and shuddered. “Where are we, and you had better give us the rest of our personnel. And the portal beacon.”
Exzy looked around. “Here? Let’s take a look around for a better site.”
He scrambled up the ten feet of brush and crumbling dirt and ducked under branches. Mostly pine of some sort, and once away from the creek, the shade kept the brush down.
He spotted brighter light and headed for it. Found a burn scar, not more than a year old, several hundred acres in size, and giving a good view all around. Mostly of mountains.
The largest gap between mountains roughly coincided with the direction of the stream flow. Exzy grabbed a bubble, attached it between trees and threw the other end.
Four corridors later the humans were looking a bit shell shocked, and he found a broad meadow with a wandering stream and lower hills but no mountains visible over the trees on the other side of the meadow.
“This looks pretty good.” Exzy walked over to the meadow edge. A grove of young pines and oaks, berry brambles. He closed his eyes. Lots of small animals. He rolled a fear spell through . . . small animals and birds fled in every direction. He scooped up the whole little grove, going deep for the roots.
Then he pulled out the bubble with the human camp, positioned it carefully, and popped the bubble. Ignored all the excited chatter and sat down to make a permanent gate back to their home. It was easy to spot the gate scar, and dropped the cone into an open area nearby.
When he stood up, a couple dozen people were staring through the gate. “That’s the parking lot of the grocery store!”
“Hey! That’s Mike! He took an office job last year!”
Exzy walked over to the old guy and the woman, since they seemed to be in charge.
“I’ll round up the rats and get them home. You guys need to leave their world alone. No doubt someone from Disco will show up eventually. I’d advise against attacking them.” He eyed them. “And a solar powered shortwave radio broadcasting your claim to this world would be a good idea. I suspect you know the frequencies to use.”
They were standing a wary distance away from him and managed to look a little guilty.
He left the corridors up behind him, as a reminder of his abilities.
The rats had collected an impressive number of pine nuts and acorns and every single rat was stained with berry juice.
“We have fought off killer birds and legless, Red God!” Hood was damp with what might have been an attempt to get the berry juice off. Not terribly successful. The puff tails were stripping the seeds out of the spiny things, so we copied them.”
“Excellent.” Exzy grabbed some driftwood and formed in into a rather lopsided box. “Put everything you want in here, and I will carry it back to Outlook Keep.”
Hood looked wishfully around.
“No, this is their world now, and must be left to them.” Exzy grinned. “But I have a nice grove to fill in the hole I left and there’s no reason to not take some more berry bushes and tree seedlings to your home. I think perhaps you rats are ready for a more varied biota.”
"You missed three days of class in a row."
Exzy tried to look contrite. "Sorry, an Uncontacted Earth tried to claim my experimental world, and I had trouble getting them to move to another."
"Your experimental world." Professor Ivy looked like he was bracing himself. "All your own, no doubt. And what sort of experiments do you conduct there?"
"Oh, just one. It's a long running study of genetically engineered intelligent rats."
“Where did you get intelligent rats, when you were, well . . .”
“Eight. My granddad stole them from an experimental lab in Russia on Earth a long time ago. I talked him into letting me give them a whole world.”
“ . . .”
“Yes, Wolfgang Oldham. Didn’t you know he was my granddad?”
Professor Ivy straightened. “Of course I knew. I want a report on the history of those rats on my desk by Tuesday.”