Ice eyed the girl. "Do you really want to help?"
Lada swallowed. "You . . . really are against the Drei Mächte Bündnis."
"Yes. Lada, if you want to run, to try to avoid being caught and, and . . ."
"No." Her voice a whisper. "But I'll have to, if you get killed."
"I'll be . . . well, I can't be careful, but I promise to be clever. Remember the secret hideaway. Always take it with you. And hopefully Bob will be able to help." Ice bit his lip, and pulled out his bubbles.
The BA 20 and ammo, then two hand guns, and their ammo, half his clothes. He pulled them out of the weapons bag and closed it up. Handed it to Lada. "That one's full of weapons. I need to show Bob how they work, although I suspect he could figure it out."
She clutched it, eyes widening.
"And the food. I'll just keep a couple of sandwiches in my main bag. Go put them in the hideaway, and here's more money cards." He nudged her. "Go hide them. And no, I'm not planning on getting myself killed tonight, I'm just belatedly realizing how much trouble you'd be in if I don't come back from one of the exploration trips."
She looked around.
"Oh yeah, I'd better go get Bob before someone tries something." Ice sealed up his main bag and slipped it into an inside pocket.
"I want to come."
"All right. Hide those, and close up your hideaway."
Bob was still standing with the rest of the Cyborgs, but a couple of mentalists were frowning at him.
Ah, Benedikt's friends, Rodion Eduard Viktorov and Svyatoslav Osip Matveev.
Must be a relative of my dimensional scout companion. His son perhaps.
Ice tried to stroll instead of limp, stopped beside them. "Have they finished arguing yet?"
They startled slightly and got their attention off Bob. "The arguing has stopped, but there was little agreement." Matveev smiled. "My father's been placed in command. Aleksandrov is steamed."
"But silent." Victorov smirked, then glanced at Bob. "Damn good baffles you put on that one."
Ice smiled. "Thank you." He let the silence drag out a bit, to make it clear he wasn't going to give them a lesson in Cyborg control. He nodded and limped away. Poor toe! I'll dose you tonight before I go out again.
He maneuvered to wind up near Aleksandrov. Kept his voice low. "You might want to practice somersaulting through gates. Popov is a coward, and will probably try to get out of being the beacon carrier."
Aleksandrov turned his head enough to meet his eye. "Indeed."
Ice eased back and nudged Lada away from a man getting touchy. "Any one you want to talk to, or hear talk?"
She shook her head, glanced toward Bob.
"Right. Let's raid the buffet and get out of here." He glanced at Bob and jerked his head toward the door. A quick swoop for transportable edibles, and they headed for the Hotel's front entrance.
Bob met them there, and once out of sight accepted a shish-kebab sort of thing, and they ate as they walked slowly. Half a block down the street, Ice got tired of limping and pulled out his pocket flask. A tiny swallow, so hopefully it would attend to his suddenly not-hurting nose and toe and not, well, rev up his libido to the point he'd embarrass himself. He kept limping, in case they were being watched, and absolutely did not look at Lada.
Once behind closed doors, Ice checked for bugs and found none. Damn lucky! What was I thinking, bringing the mad bombers here?
"I'm going to do some sneaking around. And you two . . . I honestly don't know which of you is in the most danger, so if you must go somewhere, go together, please?"
Bob snorted. "You're pretty good at not giving orders while giving orders. Where shall we look for your battered, but hopefully not dead, body in the morning?"
"I'll start at Fifth and Elm, but that was my choice, not theirs. I have no idea where I'll wind up."
That got him double glares, so he escaped to the bathroom to change into casual darkish clothes.
Lada giggled. "You're still too recognizable, with that tattoo."
Ice grinned. "I'll put an illusion over my clothes walking out the door, and then an illusion over my face, until I need to be recognized."
They finally stopped fussing, and grumpily agreed to stay in the room.
A block away from Elm street, Ice dropped all illusions and strolled down the side walk. Close to half the street lights were out, but Ice passed through enough to be sure he'd be recognized, if anyone was interested in meeting him.
At the corner, a short form trotted across the intersection and turned to trot away. One of the Mad Bombers.
Ice crossed Elm, turned and crossed Fifth, turned and kept walking the direction the kid had gone.
Three and a half blocks on, a hand gestured from an open door. Grimy industrial looking door, so probably not a whore's come on . . .
Yeah, a lot of armed men. Masked. They ran instruments over him, then he was strip searched.
"So Nikita Khariton Morozov. You wanted to talk to someone?"
"Actually I'm not Khar. The tattoo made impersonation so easy. I am Ice-kah Withione Sycamore Tall Trees. I'm an agent of one of the other Worlds the Bunnies have invaded. We fought them off--twice, so far, and we're pissed. If you're the resistance here, I can help you. If you're from the German bunnies, things are about to get interesting."
"Bunnies? You call them Bunnies." The leader circled him. "I rather like that."
"It was that or crab grass. Have you picked up much information about them in the thirty-five years they've been here?"
"Why don't you assume not, and tell us about them." The leader glanced over at the people going through his clothes in detail. "Let him get dressed."
"We're not dead sure where they started. They grow like crab grass, or a tree, branching off rather irregularly due to the rarity oof Mentalists who can influence the dimensional gates. They clone the Gate Makers, but still only get one that works out of, well, five thousand is the figure I've heard I have no corroborating evidence on that." He picked up his pants, palming the little chip of plastic they'd dumped from the jacket's pocket.
"Anyway, we have trashed two very large DMB worlds, but we don't know if either was the Home World or merely old, very well established, nodes with multiple gate complexes.
"In total, they claim to have over a thousand Worlds. But there's very little control from the Center, so long as valuables trickle inward and build up to a flood by the time it reaches the old worlds.
"The World these Russians I'm pretending to be one of, came from, sold your world to a group of German Hundreds for a percent. They don't care what the Mentalists, the True People, do to your world or the people here, so long as they get a steady stream of goods."
An angry growl, then a tall thin man stepped closer. "Are they shorting the Russians? Is that why the Russians have come?"
"No." Ice smiled. "They've had a serious problem, and are fleeing their World."
He thought it over. "Right, let me back up a bit. Do you realize that all these Worlds are Earth? That their History split away from each other over and over? I haven't had time to check your history? Did you have Hitler? World War Two? No, Right. Well, on one of the Earths, Germany, Russia, and Japan were allies, attacking and conquering everything around them. There were various outcomes, each splitting off a new earth.
"On the World the Bunnies are from, there was--possibly--a natural mutation. Or perhaps a genetic engineering experiment. In Russia, that enabled a lot of weak mental abilities to suddenly evince. So now we've got these damned Mentalist infecting the whole Multiverse.
"Now, you've seen their Cyborgs, and you probably know all about their brain chipped spies." Another group growl. "On one Earth, we call it Earth Prime, these days, although it's now very clear that isn't where the Mentalist abilities started. On one Earth Prime, a marooned, stranded, explorer scout of theirs, driven by his orders to try to get home to report, started up a biotech company to try and engineer a gate maker.
"And that's the origin of my people. Jaejong Chou never did make it home, but we spread out over . . . eh, there are probably people with my kind of . . . well, we call it magic . . . over a couple hundred worlds. And now the spread of the Drei Mächte Bündnis has reached our Worlds, and we've decided to go world-to-world weakening them."
Lots of suspicious, dubious looks.
"Have you heard of the Plague the Russians are fleeing? That the True Men of the Hundred Families are losing their mentalist power?"
Ice pointed at the bag handles lying on the table. "May I?"
Narrow eyed suspicion. The tall man nodded.
Ice split the bars and reached in, pulled out a net bag of globules of the gene editors. "This is what's causing it. Not a disease . . . closer to a poison . . . but it doesn't kill. It targets that mutation, that genetic change that gives them power. And it changes it back to its former state. No more magic."
A stir through the group, a new person elbowing forward. "I want to study these. Perhaps we can duplicate them. How much per person, to work?"
Ice eyed the man. What is the state of science here? He shrugged. "Very little. I have been using one of these," he poked a baseball-sized glob, "per water tower, in the cities I've attacked. I'm hoping to use the local gate making ability to spread the 'plague' around before I poison them locally."
The new guy, head scientist, perhaps? Bit his lip. "We were hoping the Russians were infected and it would spread."
Ice pointed at the sack. "You'll have to spread it yourself." He pulled the sack open pulled out a glob. "This is just dissolvable packaging." He dug his fingers in and pulled it open, shook out some of the pinkie-nail-sized capsules. "Also dissolvable, but it'll go faster. One of these, if you could get one into a large building's water supply. Like, oh, the Governor's Palace, would be enough to 'fix' the mutated genes of everyone there. If not the water supply, cold foods. Cooking isn't good for it. But in a punch, a salad dressing, a carafe of wine or water . . ."
"You just have to be careful to not get any yourself." Tall thin reached and took the capsule from him.
"Meh, we're cautious, but the second round of genetic engineering moved the relevant genes elsewhere, so in theory my people aren't vulnerable to it." Ice reached for the bars. "Then there's the other problem. The Cyborgs and the Puppets. The people with brain chips."
He pulled out a bottle of Joy Juice and set it on the table. Looked at the scientist. "Do you know what a von Neumans is? No? All right. Think of a machine the size of a grain of sand that makes copies of itself. Perfect copies that also make copies of themselves. If not stopped, they could turn a whole world into nothing but copies of themselves."
"In theory. One suspects the things wouldn't find the right materials in the right amounts, however, not to mention the power needed and so forth. But that's the theory." He tinged the wine bottle with a finger nail. "What we have in here is a multipurpose healing . . . factory. It's almost big enough to see with the naked eye, and it turns out even smaller complex medicines for a wide variety of illnesses. Infections, cancers, infertility . . . Wonderful stuff. We discovered by trial that it attacks and dissolves the wires in the brain. A long enough course of treatment and it'll dissolve the chip, too."
Yeah. That got their attention.