“Ooo! What’s on the other side of it?”
“A couple of housing clusters, but they never brought in the city center business squishies. A couple of mining companies looked it over and didn’t bid,” Aunt Rael shrugged. “No one wants it, so it’s perfect for my needs.” She slowed and turned. “If you could pop out and move that barrier?”
Arno jumped out and grabbed the red plastic barrier and swiveled it out of the way. She drove past him and disappeared into the white cyclone of the gate. Arno swung the barrier back into place and jumped into the whirlpool.
And out onto a gravel road fast being reclaimed by tough grasses.
Aunt Rael stepped out of the car and looked around. “I think you should stay here at the gate. I’m going to dump these . . . damaged humans out twenty kilometers at a housing cluster.”
Arno looked around. “Any large predators around?” He squinted at movement in the distance. “Cattle? Bison?”
“Yes, and wolves and bears and so forth.”
Arno looked back at the gate. “I need to take a look at the inbetween, and see if I can figure out where this world is.”
“Right.” She bit her lip, in indecision. “So do that and . . . then we’ll drive on to where I’m leaving these guys, and . . .can you that light warp?
“Oh, umm, Pretty much. You don’t want them to see me?”
Arno grinned. “No problem. Just . . . give me a minute here, first.”
He sat on the gravel and closed his eyes. The fizzing blue was getting disturbingly easy to see. What if sometime I can’t stop seeing it?
He shoved the thought aside and pulled back until he could see all the worlds around this one, and see all the silvery lines of the permanent gates, see the One World, the source of the lines, the hub worlds, that hub world, and the pattern that swirled around and up to them. Past them.
Right. When I close the gate, there will be a gap in the pattern. I think I will be able to find this world.
He opened his eyes and stretched. “I think I can find this world again, if you don’t want to involve Disco or Master Xen.”
He grabbed a bubble as he walked to the ute. Stepped up and stuck it on the roof, opened it up and heaved himself up and rolled into it. Turned around and stuck his head out. “I’ll just leave a tiny hole, so I don’t lose time, and no one will know I’m here.”
Aunt Rael sighed. “And with any luck, you won’t see your Biomom doing things she hopes she doesn’t wind up doing. All right. Hold on, or . . . whatever.”
Arno kept his head out as the ute drove at a fairly sedate pace . . . after the second time a pothole resulted in him thumping his head against the roof he withdrew a bit further. They passed pair of squishie houses, and presumably another pair across the street.
One water well for four houses, on the corner where their two-kilometer-by-two-kilometer farms meet. I should run the numbers, see how many people they were going to have to squeeze into these houses. Might be interesting for sociology next semester, to consider what family or unrelated-group dynamics the government might have been forced to impose in order to get every single person on the home world under a roof.
Hmm. Mom, Dad, four kids, Grandmother and Grandfather. Possibly Aunt Rael and—eek!—Aunt Kael. For our extended family. With Rael and Kael probably elsewhere, on the job.
Would eight people be considered “full” or would they have shoehorned in more people? Orphans? Old people without families? Or, maybe Ebsa and his mom? Not that Ebsa wouldn’t have also been on the job.
Yeah, I think I’ll run the numbers. I’ll bet they’d have been telling people to bring their tents. Or they’d have been sleeping in their cars.
They drove past a second pair of houses, then his narrow view swung around and he spotted, as expected, two more houses.
“Stay hidden.” Rael met his gaze firmly. “This could be a little dangerous, and I’d really prefer to not have to wonder where you are if I start throwing spells and what not. And eventually these people will get back to the One World, and I don’t want them looking for you.”
“Right.” Arno let the opening close up a bit more, then shifted it around to follow her as she walked back behind the ute.
She pulled out three metal bars, read the tags on them and opened one.
Two people fell out. Limp, barely moving, not quite unconscious. A man and a woman.
Aunt Rael leaned over the woman. “You have a broken jaw. Hmm . . . Drink this, and I’ll get the bone bits back where they belong, so it heals right.”
Arno couldn’t see what she actually did, but the woman choked out some words that were probably obscene, then scooted away from Rael as Rael straightened.
Another set of bars. A man leaped out, pancaked on the gravel and grass road, rolled over, looking around in disbelief. “What, what, where . . . who . . . oh shit!”
“Indeed.” Rael opened the last handles and dumped a flopping cursing man on the road. “Peeve? You and your buddies here are on an evac world. Stay here, and there’s a chance you’ll live long enough for people to forget they want you dead.”
She turned her back on them and walked away. Arno spotted several flashes of power. They all splashed off the shield Rael held behind herself. She climbed into the ute and drove off quickly.
She stopped again on the far side of the first houses they’d passed.
The first bag yielded three people, two men and a woman. The woman had a gun in hand, and fired once before she collapsed on the ground. One of the men screamed and grabbed his side. The other dived for the gun . . . and dropped limply to the ground. So did the man who’d been shot. Aunt Rael pulled out a flask as she poked at the injured man. “Nothing critical.” She dripped something—Wine of the Gods! The Joy Juice!—into the man’s mouth and walked to the side to open another bag. Two women, backing away as they looked around. Another bag, three men. Belligerent, uncertain.
“If I had any sense at all, I’d just kill all four of you. Instead, I’m leaving you here on an Evac world. Learn to like it. You won’t like what happens if you return to the One World.”
She walked back to the ute. One man started forward, but another grabbed him. “That’s her! Rael!”
The ute moved out again and Arno stayed hidden until Rael turned and stopped in front of the gate. Then he rolled out and jumped through to check that no one was in sight on this side, and shift the barrier. Rael drove through, and he replaced it. Sat down and searched the inbetween. Found a spinning cone and bumped it over to crash into the two cones that formed the gate and break them loose.
He opened his eyes. No white whirlpool.
Arno looked back at Rael. “Would it be less noticeable if I put up a gate to a different Empty World?”
She grinned. “Go for it!”
He sank back into the inbetween. The Patern, now with a gap. There was the Evac World, and right next to it . . . a nice dull world. Not a lot of life, but more than an algae world. Two cones, and he was holding up his comm in camera function to admire rather sparse greenery, but even the bare gaps, worked, as one could easily imagine it to be a neglected gravel road.
He scrambled up and hopped into the ute.
“Well, that was tidy.” Aunt Rael grinned. “How about some lunch?”