The man in her heels vaulted over Ice and grabbed the girl's arm. Swung her around and slammed her into the wall. "I own you now. You have no place to go . . ."
Bob whacked him on the head and he collapsed.
Ice climbed to his feet, rubbing the back of his head. Ouch! He took a quick look at himself. Illusional clothes gone. Oops! And a bit late to worry about it . . . the girl seeing him rebuild the illusion would be even worse than seeing his work clothes. But . . .
"I wonder if this guy has a place to stay?"
Bob grinned and grabbed the man, hauling him up and slamming him ungently into the wall beside the girl, who sidled cautious away. Blocked by a big garbage cube. Which was handy for them, it partially blocked the view of anyone glancing down the alley.
Ice eyed the woozy Drei. "You know, apart from the black hair and facial tattoo . . ."
"He's your type, all cheekbone and nose." Bob put his hands on his hips and studied the Drei.
Ice pried the man's eye open. "Blue, that makes it easier . . . Hmm . . . Girl? What's his name? Who is he?"
The wide-eyed--One! Another damned teenager--girl swallowed. "Nikita Khariton Morozov? Lord Vitaly's son? The Lord, umm, he, umm, was very important on my world? But when they went to evacuate, Khar went early to prepare . . . then the gate collapsed . . ."
"The Plague." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "They said some people were loosing their magic. So a lot of the Hundred decided to flee. Khar . . ." She swiped tears. "He . . . my parents, my mom and my stepfather owed taxes, and since I wasn't really his child, and, and they sold me to Khar."
Ice snorted. "Out-and-out slavery, eh? Well, girl . . . what's your name, anyway?"
"Lada McDonald." Her eyes searched for a way to run.
"So this isn't you're home world, and Khar here . . . when did you two get here?"
"Eight hours ago?"
Does the girl ever not answer in questions?
"Hmm, and does he have a house? An apartment."
"Right." Ice started searching the man. Money cards and a metal key with a tag labeled 529. He stuck them in his pocket. "Well, Miss McDonald, we happen to be just about as desperate as you are. So . . . I'm going to pretend to be Khar, here for a hopefully short while. If you will show us the hotel, I'll give you half the cash cards, so hopefully you can find someplace safe here."
Khar moaned, and the girl paled.
"Are you going to kill him?" Her voice wobbled from horrified to hopeful.
"No. But he is going to disappear for awhile." Ice ran his free hand through his hair. Black, straight, unkempt at present.
The girl sucked in a shocked breath.
"You'll need his clothes." Bob put in. "Do you know how to act like a noble?"
"Not a problem. Get his clothes off him."
Ice stepped back and started undressing.
Khar's tattoo was a climbing thorn bush sort of thing, a tendril across the bridge of his nose, then across his right cheek and down his neck across the shoulder and ending at his bicep. Black and shades of orange. Without a mirror, Ice wasn't sure how well he'd copied it.
But Bob and the wide-eyed Lada both nodded approval.
"So, who does Khar look to? Serve? Obey?"
"No one. He's . . . it's like being orphaned, being cut off like this. If he doesn't find a sponsor soon . . . someone will kill him."
"I . . . see. And who is the most important man he is likely to encounter."
"He's dining tonight with the younger evaccuated nobles. Benedikt Mikhailov is the host, the oldest, demonstrating his supremacy among the next generation."
Ice "listened"carefully picking up faces to go with the names.
"The older men, the ones he needs to impress . . . Max Berezin and Vitaly Vasiliev were the Representatives of their Families on My World. Here . . . they only have power in this small group."
Ice eyed her. This girl is from one of the Hundred Families. She's grown up immersed in politics. And this idiot Nikita Khar whatever only saw a female to use for his pleasure?
He squeezed his feet into the too small boots. Leather spells. I'm not good at them but surely a weak stretch . . . The pain stopped.
"And the local Powers?"
"They're all from the German Hundred. Chancelor Eckbert von Bismarck is very old, and the other nobles have been maneuvering for the battle for supremacy when he dies. Berezin and Vasilev are planning on joining the fray. The only question is who will align with whom."
Ice eyed her thoughtfully. "So . . . your parents are are of the Russian Hundred?"
She froze. Swallowed. "My real father is. My mother is three-fourths and they are not married. So I cannot use the name Gagarin. Father says that is a shame. He said I was too smart to be just a woman and he'd take me into his staff when I turned eighteen. I lived in his house most of the time, but my mother and stepfather had the right to, to . . . sell me."
"And so you're a born and raised political analyst." Ice nodded. "I may hire you to advise me, if you don't have anywhere to run to . . . you don't look eighteen."
"Fifteen. My stepfather wanted me out of the house. And he deliberately didn't call my father. He didn't want me in a good place . . . and I think Khar offered him a lot of money."
Ice eyed her fluffy brown hair. "No brain chip?"
She shook her head. "There's a huge backlog, because there was an explosion in the Cybernetic Center that killed some critical staff. And then the plague just a few days after he bought me . . . and he said he'd get it done here. That's why I was running."
"Very sensible of you." Ice pulled a few things out of his own pockets to switch to his new (rather gaudy clothes) palmed the little plastic tab and stepped away to look up and down the alley and while turned slightly away to abstract the generic ID he'd used months and worlds away.
He stepped to his backpack and pulled out a knife. An indrawn breath from the girl. He displayed the tiny disk. "This is a forged ID. If I stick it under your scalp, right where a brain chip would be inserted, it will read as a brain chip to any cursory scan.
Her eyes widened and she swallowed, then nodded and pulled her hair back.
"I'm going to shave off a small spot, and make a cut. I'll numb it first.
She squeezed her eyes shut and braced herself.