Of course he didn't use the knife. A tiny numbing spell, on slice to remove a thumbnail sized patch, a careful slice . . . sterilizing spells before and after . . . a healing spell.
And while her eyes were closed, he swooped up Khar the Original into his old dimensional bag. I wonder, if I get caught, if they'll realize what this little carved block of wood is, and release the schmuck? Nikita Khariton Morozov. I'd better get used to it.
"All done. You can open your eyes now."
She patted her head, winced.
"So, Miss McDonald, if you could show us this hotel?"
She nodded jerkily. "Lada. I'm just Lada, now. Property."
"Hmm . . . is everyone who isn't a strong Mentalist a slave?"
She glanced at Bob. "Didn't he tell you?"
"We're from a different World, if there are differences here, we need to find them before we trip over them in public."
She eyed him, wary again, then turned and walked back the way she'd run from. "Everyone but the Top Mentalists, who have passed their challenge and kept themselves protected . . . Is either the property of the State or has been purchased by a Mentalist. Khar, when he bought me, bought me legally from the state with the addendum from her parents that I was sufficiently mature. Then he also paid my parents."
"So . . . parents can pretty much do anything they wish with their children. Even if they're really strong mentally."
Bob snorted. "Yep. Anything."
Three blocks away, Lada pointed at a sprawling five story building. "That's the hotel that the older Hundreds are staying in. It's got some big meeting rooms, where everything will be happening. Everyone else is split between two older hotels on the other side." She shivered as she got closer. Ice stepped up beside her, studying the people on the street. About a quarter of them glowing, the rest Cyborgs or pretty women walking half a step behind their Masters.
Ice studied their glow, frequencies, strength, and slowly lowered his shields to match. "Just scurry along after me, like all the women here. I'll just stroll along with my nose in the air . . ." He shut up as an older man stepped in front of him, frowning.
A bare breath from the girl. "Lord Evgeny Dryagin."
Ice stopped and raised his brows. "Dryagin."
That got a narrow-eyed glare.
"Better watch yourself, Khar."
Oooo! Didn't like me using the bare surname. And probably a return insult with the short name."
The old man looked around at Bob. "What you steal, can be taken away in turn."
Ice felt the power gather and partially blocked an odd spell, read it. Control. Sort of. Probably tailored to people with chips. He shifted his mental shield to block it completely.
Dryagin rocked back glowering at Ice. "So . . . you hid a lot of power at your presentation. That's a dangerous game for a man with no sponsor to play."
Ice gave the man a thin smile. "But it's going to prove critical in the next few weeks." He circled around the man, and kept going.
Lada scurried, and Bob strode, only the nervous clenching of his fist showing his emotions.
No one else accosted them until they reached the furthest hotel, a smallish three story building. Not so much run down as not clean.
The elevators were out of order, and from the stale air, whatever environmental system they has was out as well.
Litter around the edges of the reception area. Ice strolled past the stairs and glanced into a small dining area. Filthy. A dozen small tables, cheap chairs, a buffet table, stripped of anything loose.
I hope it was the owners saving what they could, not looters.
"So . . . refresh my memory, how long ago was this world found?" Ice opened the door to the stair well. Utilitarian metal. Looked to be in reasonable repair. He headed up.
"Thirty years ago. If they hadn't just had a war of their own and made conquest easy, we probably would have passed them up." Bob took a peek out at the second level. "Pretty grubby up here, too. We'll have to be careful. Any older Cyborgs probably remember being free men."
Lada nodded. "They finally subdued the last civilized holdouts ten years ago. Chancelor Eckbert von Bismarck lucked out with a gate maker in their first crop, but that was the only one, so far." She hunched her shoulders. "Dad said when they wore that one out, we'd invade and take over. I don't know why they decided to take refuge here."
Bob snickered. "Or did the Hundred use the plague as an excuse to dump troublemakers in 'the vanguard' and cut them off?"
Lada nodded. "This would be a good throw-away World, but it does have a gate, which none of our other branches have."
"Wait, Bob, are you saying Lada's from your World?"
Bob snickered. "How many Cybernetics Centers do you think had explosions a couple of months ago?"
"Oh." Ice turned and opened the door to the third floor.
Long halls either direction, lined with doors. Grubby carpet, originally some sort of blue pattern. Ice stepped out and checked the nearest door number. Bob looked the other direction. Lada walked around Ice and headed south. Oh, right, she's been here.
She stalled out at a door on the right, and Ice fished out the key.
The room, while not as dirty as the rest of the hotel, was definitely in need of a cleaning. Pretty standard setup. Bathroom and a bedroom, a desk shoe horned into one corner. A small round table and two chairs in the other.
Two big suitcases, free of dust. Khar and lada's entire worldly possessions. And I'll bet at least three-fourths are his.
Right. Never looted . . . rarely cleaned. Whoever was running the place must have been renting to bums and day workers, or some such.
I wonder if the Russians killed him when they decided they wanted the building?
Ice walked over to the window and pulled back the drapes, with billows of dust. Pried open the window. The hot dry air with a hint of exhaust was an improvement.
"So . . . I believe it is time to awe you two with my wickedly powerful magic. Let me show you how to clean . . ."
They were properly awed, especially when, after everything was out the window, he put one of Xen's weird shields over it, creating a cool breeze.