Ice was quiet all the way to Makkah.
They were in the fifth car of the train, the Earther assassins in the third.
The back ground rush of whispering voices grew, then fell away.
:: What an interesting selection you bring today, Grandson. Spies. ::
Oljo head jerked around to stare at Ice.
Ice shrugged. :: Assassins, I'm afraid. I don't know what weapons they have. We need to separate them from the other people. ::
:: My guards have that in hand. Stay on the train a moment. Join us after we've isolated them. ::
Ice shrugged back into his long sleeved shirt and buttoned it. Took off the cap and folded it down to pocket size. Finger combed his hair, as the train slid into the station and stopped.
The Wrecking Crew stayed seated as the train car emptied.
Oljo eyed Ice. Shook his head. "If you get any scarier, I'm going to run away screaming. Was that the Prophet Emre calling you grandson?"
Ice spread his hands. "Yes. I mean, it's not my fault. Nobody gets to pick their ancestors."
"Maybe . . . not screaming so the nightmares can't find me."
"Yeah, well, I think I'll be getting more nightmares out of this than you will." Ice stood and walked off the train, and around a few corners to a small courtyard.
The Ecclesiastical Guards had three of them flat on the ground.
Bill the Bear and Everitt Mickey were still fighting . . .
And The Prophet Emre walked in.
Mick grinned, his hand diving into his padded jacket . . .
He's wearing a damned big backpack!
"Bomb!" He threw up a shield as Mick pulled his hand back and squeezed.
Oljo dived and wrapped both hands around Whatever Mick was holding.
"Get Emre out of here!" Ice yelled at the guards as he tried to figure out how to shield Oljo
"No, this is about me, I should bear the risk. I can make him let go . . ."
"It's a dead man switch!" Oljo yelled. "We don't want him to let go!"
Emre stepped forward, appalled guards hovering, not dareing to lay hands on the last prophet . . .
Ice turned and clipped the Prophet on the jaw, grabbed him as he sagged, and tossed him at the guards. "Get him out of here. To the far side of the city, just in case. And I need a vehicle to take us way out in the desert."
His first stun spell bounced. Ice closed his eyes and felt Mick's shield, and popped him with a stun spell in the higher frequencies. Whipped a physical shield under him, around him, closed it down snug around his wrist. Then an energy shield. Way up into the dangerous wavelengths.
Oljo was sweating, but looked over at his team. "Search them. Make sure they haven't got anything else."
An electric cart cruised through the doorway. Ice waved directions and the cart swung around to face the doorway.
"You keep holding, I keep shielding. We lift Mick, here into the back while you sidestep into the front seat and kneel there, and I'll stand on the bumper and keep the shields up." He nodded to the guard. "We need to be at least five kilometers away from the city, between some sand dunes would be good. Or a rock ridge or something."
Oljo's head jerked around. "What sort of bomb do you think this is?"
"I don't know but there's a small globe of very heavy, dense material . . ."
"Shit. Boys, lift him up carefully, the shields are going to be slippery."
The Wrecking Crew looked very worried as they carefully scooped up the limp body, and shifted him to the back of the cart, keeping pace with Oljo and setting him down carefully.
"Boss, we could . . ."
"No. Stay here. I'll be right back."
Ice nodded. "Let's go, not too many bumps please."The Guard pullout slowly, turned carefully, and sped up gradually as they hit the road past the parking lot and head east. Then slowed gradually and turned toward a dune field. The broad tires crunched over the sand and climbed a dune at a low point. Down the other side and turn . . .
"Stop between the highest peaks, and turn around." Ice eyed the towering slope that was now between the bomb and Makkah. "Here is good. I'll need help getting him down, then I want you to drive off about ten meters and wait, ready to drive. Umm, don't look back, turn your mirrors down, in case there's a bad flash. I'd like you to be able to drive. In case we can't."
Oljo glared. "You are not filling me with confidence, Ice!"
"I'm just being over cautious. Now if you can step down . . . we'll just put good ol' Mick down right here . . . Good. Ohze, drive off, remember the mirrors."
Ice kept one hand on the shields where they pressed around Everitt's wrist, and stepped across to kneel beside Oljo.
"Yeah. Hey Mick? You back with us? Good. Now, you can't kill the Prophet Emre. So, would you like me to try to get you out of this mess?"
"Traitorous bastard. At least I can take you out . . ." He wrenched at Oljo's grip. "You slimy . . ."
"Ice . . ." Oljo braced himself.
"Yeah. Stand up, look away. Get ready to run." Ice sucked in the desert heat and fed his shields. This side harder. Energy shield as hard as I can make it.
Mick's hand twisted in Oljo's grip.
Ice got his feet under himself. Closed the hole in the shields and ran.
Probably only made a stride before the bomb blew. Overwleming light and heat and pain. He kept going, and dark thing staggering. He grabbed Oljo and hauled him along toward the feel of metal, the Guard's pain. Shoved Oljo into the front seat. Threw himself into the back.
"Go! I'll try to keep the shields up as long as I can . . ." He squirmed away from hot metal, pulled power form the heat and sent it back to the shields . . . such as they were, both blown out the other direction and still hot enough to burn. The cart turned, angled up and then down. The air temps dropped and ice pulled heat from the metal around him and send that back, but it was so far . . .
He gave up and raised an energy shield behind the cart.
Was it just heat? Or was there radiation? How much. It was practically a toy, by nuclear standards. Maybe it was just a big ordinary bomb.
The cart was wobbling, limping.
I wonder if the tires melted?
It wobbled to a stop and there were other voices. He blinked blury eyes at waving instruments. "Not as bad as we feared." "Strip them anyway."
Ice hastily grabbed his bag of non prophet and let the blurry people strip off his clothes and shoes.
"Drink this." A firm female voice.
It tasted like red wine and hit him with an avalanche of spells.
"Lean over, we need to wash your hair, and the back of your neck . . . and your hands were also exposed. At least you had sense enough to look away . . ."
And nearby an exasperated voice. "Oljo, will you please drop that disgusting thing?"
Ice looked over and blinked. the white spots were nearly gone . . .
Oljo looked down at what he was holding . . . "Oh . . . yeah." He tossed Mick's hand away. Looked over at Ice. "Thank you."
"I just wish I could have figured out how to get further away." Ice accepted a pair of baggy white pants and managed to not fall over while getting them on.
Someone--they were all in baggy white anti-contamination gear with face masks--sprayed his scalp and the back of his neck, the backs of his ears . . .
"Was there much radiation? Or just radioactive material scattered around?"
"Oh yes, it was definitely a nuclear explosion." The female behind the mask tapped it over her ear. "It was picked up by satellite, and everyone is . . . excited. And planning a response."
A masculine chuckle from behind another anonymous mask. "They're going to find little enough to do. While you shield blew out, it held that microsecond long enough to slow the blast front. The spread of radioactive particles should be limited, and only you three with direct exposure.
A muffled voice from Ohze, "His energy shield was dense and high into the ionizing radiation range. Quiet astounding. And strong, and he kept it up from three hundred meters away."
"At the expense of coverage of the longer wavelengths." Ice touched the back of his neck carefully. "My heat coverage was a bit thin."
"Held it to first and second degree burns." A third anonymous person. " so let's not add sunburn. Feif, take them to the hospital. We need to keep an eye on you at least over night."
Ice didn't argue, but once a team of doctorts had looked him over . . .
"Oljo? I'm getting the feeling they're disappointed we're are dying of radiation poisoning."
That got a laugh. "Yeah, damn and the burns are healing so fast you can damn near see the red fading and blisters shrinking. And damn, I want to get a couple of these female type priests out of their contamination suits so badly . . ."
Ice grinned. "Yeah. Damn, you say Keiq only cusses about me?"
"Oh, you have it so bad. Poor silly Warrior. She think you lie with every other sentence."
"Well . . . I sort of have to."
"Yeah, I'm beginning to see why." Oljo grinned as one of the Wrecking Crew stuck his head in. Held up both hands and wiggled his fingers. "Two hands! Five fingers on each. Now how about the other assassins?"
"They're in holding cells for the moment." Monty shrugged. "Emre gave the military permission to over-fly Makkah for three days. They've got cleanup crews on the way. Director Ink called. He sounded a bit peeved we hadn't informed him right from the start."
"I said we thought it was just Ice here being annoying, and how we'd been wrong about him." A wide grin. "He huffed an bit and wants you to call him. Then Subdirector Exxi called and yelled about how we were supposed to check in whenever we thought we need to leave Paris, and get permission."
Ice snickered. "Two level of micromanagement? Damn, being unemployed never looked better." He leaned his head back and somehow Oljo's reply faded . . .
In the morning he had a bit of stiffness, his skin was peeling a bit, his scalp itched horribly . . .
He took a shower, found new clothes waiting for him, and followed directions to have breakfast with Emry.
"It's been an interesting night."Emre looked at his breakfast and sighed.
Grits again. Poor man. Ice looked at his own plate. Grits, but also sausages eggs and toast. He slid the plate across the table and Emre grinned and didn't hesitate to accept the swap.
"The six of them were moved to an isolated spot 'for special training' and got a lot of highly biased information. Indoctrinated, on top of all the difficulties they'd had all their lives, and convinced that it was all because of the evil Oners." Emre half closed his eyes as he bit into a fat sausage. "Heaven!
"The assassins didn't understand was how poorly trained in Magic they were. They thought they could deal with anything. It's all rather sad.
Emre shook his head. "All four of them. No doubt in their minds, no remorse in their souls."
They ate in silence, Ice too tired to even attempt pleasantries.
Oh Mandy. I can't help you. I won't. You came to kill, indifferent to how many you might kill so long as you got the prophet.
Emre eyed him, and finished everything but the grits.
"Come with me."
A small room set up like a courtroom.
The four remaining would-be assassins shackled. Heads up. Defiant.
The oldest-looking priest in the room gave them a stern look. "You have been judged and found guilty of attempting to commit premeditated murder. An attempt on the life of a prophet. You are sentenced to death by beheading."
The belligerence collapsed, the Earthers leaned on each other for support.
Mandy blinked back tears. "Harp?"
"I can't help you, Mandy. You came here to commit cold blooded murder. You aren't the person I knew, so long ago. I offered a way out that would give you your freedom. And you came here instead. To kill."
He turned away, his heart frozen in pain. They will execute her. And I'll accept it, because she came here to kill.
He bowed to Emre and the older priests flanking him.
"I would have sent them somewhere where they could live in peace, make a life for themselves. Only one of them took it."
Ice looked back at Mandy and his heart chilled. “And perhaps I was wrong to offer it at all. I do not know why their controllers would want a war with the Empire. Or even who they are. Whether they are a trouble-making faction, or their government."
Emre nodded. "They are not well informed, they've spent the last two years isolated and getting carefully tailored news, to reinforce the danger we represent. And no doubt the timing is due to our . . . current political unrest. A President with so little backing, so little trust."
Ice could feel the agreement around him.
Even the Wrecking Crew knows what a disaster Afgu would have created, starting a war over the death of the Prophet.
"I helped Dog escape." Ice waited, and got no response from the Prophet. "Because he wasn’t trying to kill anyone. Because an illegal execution on the spot would have caused a diplomatic crisis. Because I think he was waffling on his loyalty. A bright young man doing good work, who, if we’d gone to war with Comet Fall, might have been able to warn them ahead of time, but who was not in a position to do much damage. But mostly . . . I helped because he was my friend.”
Emre nodded. “Agent of the One. We have trusted your judgement, and have been glad of it more than once now.” He looked at Oljo and gestured at the silent Earth Agents. “Get all the information you need out of them, then exile them to an Evac World. They may be useful diplomatically, sometime. Ice? Talk to that nice young Arno. Tell him we want them on Evac Twenty-three with the others, and the gate taken down again.”
Oljo bowed, and Ice joined the rest of the goons in bowing as well.