Harp eyed the big concrete circle of the gate. The view of rain, the muddy road, swirled away.
I hope it’s not raining, where we’re headed. We’re counting on the rising sun hiding the gate from anyone on the road, which is supposed to be west of the gate location.
And I realize they couldn’t possibly send us through with a vehicle, because we have no data on their vehicles, but . . . He looked down at the mountain bike he was straddling. We don’t even know about bicycles. But they’ll be easy to lose, disassembled, or tossed whole into a lake if they won’t fit in.
The yellow light lit. He pulled the thin mesh over his head. Metal to shield them from the effects of gate travel, cloth streamers for camouflage. Sitting on two corners, to keep the mesh out of the gears, tented over his head, holding the other corners in his hands.
There’s no anchor, but their steering has gotten reliable enough that they can hit within a kilometer or so of their aim point. They say.
And they also say that the clothes will fit in. And Mom agrees.
Oh God! My Mom the Oner spy, turned Earth agent.
She says the clothes will work, the bikes will pass casual inspection, and the gold in the jewelry will be salable. She taught me some special techniques, and drilled me on accents. Told me about registering. About prejudices I’ll encounter, being an Upcomer with Native ancestors.
The only thing she couldn’t give me was a native language, as she only knew a few words.
He glanced around at the other three. Darin Denta, the team leader. Gungho pro-Earth patriot. My step-sister Mandolin. I wish Mom would have told her more, taught her . . . And Peter Golden Badger, the pyromaniac.
Flag waving, a circle of grass and sky opening.
Darin started moving. Mandy a meter behind, Peter, then Harp.
Green flag. Darin hit the gate aiming slightly right. Mandy left. Peter straight ahead. Harp eyed Darin crashing in tall grass and swerved left. A wrenching twist and he bounced over rough ground, dodged Mandy, spotted a narrow track, and veered onto it. Stopped. Fluffed out his camouflage mesh to cover the whole bike and looked around.
Darin cussing under his breath, Peter and Mandy looking around, grinning. Spotting him and hastily getting their meshes over everything.
No sign of the gate.
Grassy field, unmown, but the stubble at the base of the grasses looked like it had been cut sometime not too recently. Hay field, perhaps?
A sparse line of trees, along a line that was probably the road.
“There’s a track here that will get us down to the road. Are you mobile, Darin?”
A growled yes. “Didn’t do the bike any good.” He heaved it up and started Harp’s direction.
A faint sound. “I think a car’s coming.” Harp tipped his bike, flattened. Camo over most of it.
A car, rather more angular than an Earth car, rolled past. A second one, not too far behind. Much the same. Harp magnified his vision . . .Two people, neither of them looked their direction. Excellent!
Darin limped over to the track and sniffed. “Better than nothing. Let’s go.”
Only one more car passed, before they reached the road.
“Right. We need to get away from the gate site in case it was detected, so let’s haul ass down the road. And, I’ll assume the cars were people going to work, so we’ll head that direction.”
They were all in good shape, and settled down to their long distance speed strung out a bit, but staying within sight of each other.
The first car that passed them swerved and drove them into the ditch. After that, they got off the road as soon as they spotted a car. Got honked at, hand gestures were made.
“Nice people around here.” Mandy growled. “And did you notice they come in all colors? I think those are either Oners or Halfers.”
Darin scowled down at his “authentic-looking native garb.” Shook his head. “I think we’ll need to get local clothes quickly.”
Harp nodded with the others.
It was another hour before their road met another, larger, road. With more traffic. They parked in the shade of some trees for a breather, and to watch the traffic.
“We’re going to get slaughtered if those drivers are as nasty as the locals.” Darin looked over Harp’s shoulder. “And there’s exactly what we need.”
Harp turned to look. A boy on a bike. Scowling at them and slowing down.
Time to use something Mom taught me . . . He opened his mental shields and looked for language . . .
“Hach eyah . . . Northerners! Nothing but thieving Sycamores and Sequoias! You ought to go back where you belong and not steal jobs from honest Oaks!”
Harp blinked as his brain turned the boy’s language into . . . not English, it was the other way around. Harp was understanding what he was saying, right down to identifying the tree types, that were Tribal names.
The boy made another gesture and rode on. He stuck to the edge of the road and the cars ignored him.
“Right, did you guys try to catch that?”
Mandy nodded. “Not much, something about trees?”
“Yeah.” Peter snorted. “He thought we were from the north, Sycamore and Sequoia Tribes.”
Darin grinned. “A bit of useful information. Peter? You and I are brothers from the Sequoia Tribe, Harp and Mandy are cousins from the Sycamore Tribe.”
Harp frowned. “The tribe names are Jifect for Sequoia. Bobnify for Sycamore. Remember to say that first, then in English.”
Darin nodded. “Because we’re fluent English speakers. Let’s go.”
Another hour got them to the outskirts of a large town. They coasted, looking around . . . A black and white car pulled over ahead of them. Rack of lights on top.
“Just like home.” Harp rolled closer as a big heavyset man climbed out, adjusted his belt and walked out to meet him.
“Shouldn’t you kids be in school?”
Harp made himself squirm. “We jus’ got here. The Elders said we had to come an’ get registered. Since we were Oners.”
“Halfers, son. Yeah. Go straight ahead three more blocks. Turn left without getting run over, and go two more blocks. There’s a registry on the right side.”
“Jor . . . Thank You.”
“You got good English. You’ll do fine here.” The cop nodded and walked back to his car.
The four of them rode past and they pretended to not spot him following, as they turned and spotted the sign for “Registry Bureau #6” and more alarmingly, Native School #5 was apparently just around the corner.
Mom “speculated” that if we claimed to be under eighteen, they’d stick us in a school. “You all look younger than your actual ages. Use it. Get documentation” she said. “The One is a fairly close parallel Earth, that’s why they speak mostly English, and they have high schools and colleges. Get a high school diploma. Hock all the jewelry we’re loading you down with to live on while you job hunt. Don’t rush to get to the Home World. Get a history that they can trace, make yourself a part of the Empire for a few years.”
Harp braced himself. Parked the bike, with a “Don’t Touch!” spell on it, and walked in.
A bored looking middle-aged woman eyed them. “Can I help you?”
Darin pushed forward. “We need ta get registered ta be Oners.”
She rolled her eyes and got up from the desk and opened a door behind her. “Doctor Oh Kay Gee? We got four Nats straight out of the trees, wanting to get registered and magically turned into Oners.”
“One! Why’d I ever want this job?” A big fat man in a grubby white button down shirt and khaki slacks stepped to the doorway and looked them over. “Well, c’mon in, might as well do all of you together.”
Alcohol on his breath. The tag he wore said Dr. Okge. They didn’t even need to try, just rattled off their supposed tribes and nonsense names. They all claimed to be sixteen years old. The man eyed Peter, who hunched his shoulders. “Oh, all right. I’m fifteen.”
Exact dates . . . Harp opened up and read the sort of answers the man expected. Three days after the Wolf Moon, for Darin. The night of the Mammoth Moon, for Harp. Last day of the Harvest Moon for Mandy and The Frost Moon for Peter. Dr. Okge looked up when those fell those years on his computer, according to their weird calendar. Which was also lunar . . . They probably had the dates within a week or so of correct, apart from the six or seven years they were lying off their ages.
Then a swab of the insides of their cheeks and more information listed.
The doctor pointed at Darin. “You’re a good strong Upcomer. One hundred and twenty. Clostuone, and here are the letters you can pick a Oner name from.”
Darin scowled. “D for sure. Nothing else like my real name.”
Harp leaned to look. “Use the s, for two dees. Then remember the rules? Two vowels on the outside.”
“Edsi? That’s stupid.” Darin scowled. “I guess that’s the best I can do.”
“So, who’s next?”
Peter got an eighty-six. Servaone. Started grinning when he looked at the letters. “W. F. F. Y. Just call me Woof.”
Peter and the Woof? Oh good grief!
Mandy, Clostuone with a “count of one hundred and sixty-four.”
She looked at her letters in dismay.
Peter peeked and started snickering. “Boop?”
“Well, that’s better than Paab.”
Harp got a frown and retested.
“Well, you lot sure are strong. Must be three generations at least for you three.” The doctor looked at the new results, and shrugged. “Two hundred sixteen, Withione. These letters.”
Harp eyed the string of letters. Well, I got Mom’s K, T, and A, she said she had doubles. And the C is hers. Then W, E, or I for the other vowel. X, H, Q, or R . . . Mom said she had a Q . . .
Mandy looked over his shoulder. “Ic, and we can call you Ice because of your blue eyes.”
As good a reason as any. “Right I. C. K. A.”
The doctor clicked at his computer, and it spit out four plastic cards. “These are your ID cards. Please do not lose them. What is on there now, cannot be changed. As you add high school graduation, training certificates and so forth, those will also be unchangeable.
“The rewritable portions will hold you current address and your bank balance. Now. Do you have family in town? No? Well the Native school down the street has bunk houses. You can work for them to pay for room and board, or you can get part time work outside the school.
“The school itself is free.” He sat back and eyed them.
Harp’s beaded necklace was under his shirt. He pulled it into sight. “We’ve been saving up.”
Dr. Okge pinched his nose. “I’d better walk you down to the pawnshop, so you get a fair price. And the bank.” He tapped at the computer. “And the school will be expecting you in an hour.”
He heaved himself up. “Come along.”
They got more for the “nice fancy bikes” than they did for the low grade gold beads. Darin—Ed—and Ice were assigned to the Junior Boys bunkhouse. Woof to the First Year Boys, Mandy to the Junior Girls.
The gray hair old guy raised an eyebrow at the canvas paniers they toted in. “It all has to fit into your locker.”
Ice looked at the lockers and shrugged. “We’ll make it fit.”
Good thing they were squishy. Then it was off to testing.
Which they could have aced. Except for history. Ice kept his basic math solid, moderately good in geometry. And started messing up with algebra. Weak in Science, as he actually wanted to know what they thought upcomer natives ought to know. Good in languages.
The test lady looked pleased and escorted them to the right classes, “No use hanging around and starting tomorrow.”
A year or two here. A couple in a local college, and then I’ll start looking further abroad. Maybe that Directorate School Mom recommended.