The alley was just an alley.
The street it let out on was something else.
Towering skyscrapers in bright colors where the low sun still caught them, dark in the depths of the urban canyon. A few cars rolled silently by, a scrap of paper blew past on the deserted sidewalk.
“This doesn’t look good.” Eldon glanced back at Rista.
“Der should be peoples all over. Dis is bad.”
Eldon narrowed his eyes and enhanced his vision to read the signs on the shops on the lower floors of most of the buildings. Not that it did him any good. I need to learn their language. Fast. Rista would kill me if I tried to pick her brain . . .
He stepped back into the alley. “I’m going to take a stroll and see if I can find someone who can tell us what’s going on.”
“Eldon!” Lyle bit his lip. “All right, but don’t get yourself killed!”
Rista looked at the Fed in disbelief. “Jou, you are going to allows dis?”
Ernie Fielding snickered. “Eldon’s . . . good at this stuff. Hell, He ran around our world for almost a year, telling people he was a wizard from another world and no one believed him until things got really weird.”
“You are a crasy as he iz.”
Eldon slipped around the corner, ignoring the voices behind him.
“No, Eldon is uniquely crazy.”
And called up an unnoticeable spell, because he could feel people in the buildings, as he opened his mental shields to incoming thoughts. A small group up ahead . . . and two coming from the cross street and heading his direction . . .
A stray sunbeam sneaking between buildings shone off brass and steel. Googles . . . no monocles, one each. And their left arms . . . plates on their bald heads.
Old Gods! Real cyborgs!
Eldon sauntered along . . . and they were definitely looking at him.
Oops! Unnoticeable doesn’t work on cameras or whatever. And does all that iron mongery have a radio in it, and do they have any magic? He tossed out a wide energy shield and a mental shield.
“Du! Zeigen Sie uns Ihre Papiere!”
Eldon waft out a bit of calm . . . added some gullibility.
“Sorry, just got back in from the field, and I’m dying for a drink. Is that a bar? Buy you boys a beer?”
The boys’ brains barely even resisted that suggestion. The door to the small group was indeed a bar. The patrons froze as the cyborgs walked in . . . and watched in silence as they bracketed Eldon at the bar.
Eldon caught the eye of the bartender. And more important, a whiff of language. “Tres beers, placet!”
He fished in his “pocket” and pulled out a chunk of quartz with a clean vein of gold running through it. “Look at this would you!”
“Aurum!” The Cy on his right looked at it with what was all too obviously an eye implant. “Das ist tausend Mark wert!” And that language slid into Eldon’s brain.
The bartender boggled. “Quod valet mille . . . ?” Eldon snatched that language as well.
The Cy on his left just whistled. “Before . . . I thought about going to Neronia . . . farming or gold mining, or just . . . it doesn’t matter.”
Which language was that in? “Oh, you’re from here?”
The Cy flicked a glance at his arm, and away. “It doesn’t matter, any more.”
“Buck up! You are now part of the glory of the Drei Mächte Bündniss.” The Cy on the right leaned and glared. “Don’t make me report you.”
“Glory.” Left Cy downed his beer, and the bartender replaced it without a word.
Eldon ignored all the attention they were suddenly getting from the other drinkers, and turned to the right Cy. “So you’re one of the invaders.” Calm, calm, chatty. He took a sip of beer, and a long pull. “Good beer.”
The Cy tasted it, nodded. “I am from a world they conquered decades ago. I’m . . . three quarters Russian Family.” Pride in his voice as he chugged the beer.
“Family?” Eldon reinforced the chatty spell.
“My father of record is one of the Russian Hundred Families.” A slight lowering of pride. “My grandfather was just a soldier from somewhere.”
“They rape all the women.” Left Cy was halfway through his second beer. “So the babies are ‘useful.’ The boys get taken for soldiers.” He flexed his mechanical arm. “The girls are just broodmares for the next generation, deliberately bred to the elite. My mother tried to protect me, but . . .”
“It is an honor.” Right Cy was getting loud.
On one beer? Don’t they ever drink? Or did I use the wrong word and get something stronger?
“What they want is ‘magic.’ Stupid barbarians.” Left Cy started his third beer.
Eldon covered the quartz and gold with his hand, and slid it across the bar and the bartender casually swept it out of sight as he picked up the empties.
“Bah. You have tech.” Right Cy waved up and back, presumably at the buildings around them. “We have the Universum.”
Eldon nodded. “Universe. You got space ships?”
Supercilious snort. “Dimensional Portals. We control over a thousand different Earths.” Eyes narrowing suspiciously. “Are you making fun of the Drei Mächte Bündniss?”
“Wha?” Eldon tried to look drunk. Eyed his half a glass of beer. “This stuff iz makin’ me stoopid. I knew there was portals, I’m not that big of a hick!”
“Yes you are.” Left Cy was getting a little wobbly on his stool. “We kicked them out of Germania fifteen years ago, then they came back with the Chinese army turned into Cyborgs and scooped it all up in a few weeks. Well, I heard there was still fighting on Iberia . . . those people always were crazy . . .”
Right Cy was frowning through the alcohol haze. “If you’re from North America . . . how did you just get here? And know nothing?”
“Hey, do you guys have regular beats? Do you have to check in? Maybe we’d better go.” Eldon stepped off his stool and paused to grab both Cys and support them out the door. He helped them stagger half a block then leaned them on the wall.
Concentrated on them. “You didn’t see anyone. Nothing happened. Completely ordinary shift.” That forgetting spell, something about short to long term memory . . . He spun that one out too.
Then the anti-alcohol spell, the hangover spell . . . “And you both are thirsty and need to drink some water. Now go about your beat, nothing happened.”
Eldon turned to walk away, and almost walked into two men from the bar. Narrow eyed and poised to attack. Eldon put a finger to his lips and gestured them away. Walked back past the bar and down to the alley,
Where he was grabbed and slammed against the wall. “I don’t believe you did that!” Lyle, despite being shorter and lighter weight managed to shake him a couple more times, before the standoff between Ernie and the two strangers registered.
Except the strangers were focused on Rista. Who stared back, then walked around Ernie.
“Rista!” Breathless astonishment from the man who lurched forward and threw his arms around her.
Aw! Rista has a boyfriend!
Who jerked back and straightened. “Center Em! We thought you dead, and . . .” he stopped dead, looking around.
“The children are safe.” Rista looked at the other man. “Barcellious Metre, right?”
The young man managed to get even straighter and stiffer. “Yes, Center.”
Eldon scratched his beard. Looked at Lyle. “I think she ranks them. Maybe this would be a good time to head home for a long talk. I got tons of info from the Cys, including some language stuff.” He tipped his head at Rista’s pair. “And I think we’ve just made contact with the underground resistance.”