Ice wolfed down what was left of his breakfast and lunch, and got up to leave. Found Benedikt Mikhailov in the way.
"So. Fell out of favor pretty fast, didn't you?"
"As soon as they get a taste of doing the dirty work themselves, they'll be wanting me back." Ice eyed the man. "How are you at fitting in with the Livestock?"
A spark of anger in narrowing eyes. A moment of defocus.
Ice shot a look toward the wall of Cyborgs, where one was stepping forward.
"Think you're hot stuff because you managed to steal a Cyborg? Steal this one. I dare you to try."
Ice turned to study the Cyborg. Standard on the outside, of course. Never saw any innovation there, but on the inside, he's a big mess. His brains are . . . scarred. He fought his masters and was punished.
I wonder what the Wine does to old scar tissue?
And just exactly how did Dryagin try to take Bob, that first day . . . A control spell behind an anti-control spell. Of course. Shake loose the old, and slid in the new. Just a bit different twist to it from what I learned back home.
Ice pushed an anti-control spell hard. Got far enough to feel the Cyborg's resignation subduing fury . . .
And Benedikt's shock and frantic bolstering of his control.
Ice turned his head to meet Benedikt's furious gaze. And relaxed the anti-control spell. :: Don't challenge me again . . . and you'd be well advised to stay away from me. :: He held Benedikt's gaze for another moment, then walked past him and out the door.
A laugh behind him. "Guess you showed that asshole who was boss around here, Benedikt."
"Shut up, Rodion."
Ice detoured to the inexpensive clothing store they'd been patronizing and after a baffled look around the girl's department grabbed three t-shirts and three stretchy pairs of pants, in a range of sizes, a packet of socks and, and, hopefully panties that would fit and hustled back to the hotel.
Frantic helplessness all around. The child was sort of cleaned up, wearing a very oversized t-shirt, the food untouched, Lada and Bob hovering.
"There's something wrong with her breathing," Lada gave him the full force of her pleading eyes. "She coughed and, and, I thought she was going to die!"
The child pushed back in her chair as Ice knelt beside her. With the dirt off, the bruises on her throat were obvious.
One! I swear, when I get back, I'm going to take more magic medicine lessons with Dr. Heath!
"I need to touch your neck, to see what's wrong there."
Panic flared in the child's mind.
Ice held up his index finger. "Just one finger. I'll be very careful."
Less panic. A tear.
He touched, just barely making contact. Closed his eyed. Inflammation, broken capillaries. The trachea . . . were those fractures or just crimp marks? It's cartilage, not bone after all. And up to the larnyx and there was the main problem, right there. The hyoid bone was fractured, not too badly displaced though.
"It's mostly bruising, but I can fix the worst of it."
"Lada, could you get me a glass?"
He got out his pocket flask. "This medicine will make it feel better, but I'll need to help it along a bit" He poured a finger's worth in the glass Lada brought.
"I know it hurts to swallow, so just dip a finger in and touch your tongue." He did it as he spoke.
The girl eyed him, then dipped a mostly clean finger in and touched her tongue. She blinked, relaxed a tiny bit. Did it again.
"Now I'm going to touch your neck again, where I need to get a little bone back in place."
Two index fingers and two tiny pulls to edge the bone bits into place. He held it for a long moment. When he let go, it stayed in place. He sat back with a huff of relief. "All done. Keep working on that medicine and I'll see what I've got that might be easier for you to eat."
He stood up . . . realized Rafail was just inside the door.
The young man ducked his head and squirmed a bit. "I . . . was going to try to reason with you, to not hurt her. I . . ."
"Rafail!" Lada sounded outraged.
Ice sighed. "I try to not hurt children. Although yesterday I certainly tried to scare some into not trying something very dangerous again. But it didn't involve sex!" He ducked into the bathroom long enough to dig out a bottle of chocolate Totalmeal from one of the bags.
The child was eyeing Rafail, pressed back in her chair. Empty glass in hand.
"Good. Can you swallow?" Ice elbowed. Rafail out of the way. "That was very clever the way you got her away from that gang, but you kind of scared her."
He twisted the top off the bobble and set it on the table. "Try this. Lada? I bought some clothes on the way back, but I have no idea if they will fit."
Lada gave Rafail a dirty look but grabbed the bags. "Well the smaller sizes look about right, and she can grow into the rest."
Ice knelt down beside the child. "How's your voice doing? Can you tell us your name?"
She eyed him, then a tiny smile crept out. A faint hoarse whisper. "Animal."
"Um, how about Annabel?"
Lips firmed up, a microscopic shake of her head, and wince.
"All right. Animal. Until you change your mind." He stood back up and steered Rafail away. "Listen up, Rafail. I'm playing a dangerous game here. You may want to stay completely out of it."
He shook his head. "No. I can't . . ." He glanced at the child. "I . . . they were, they might have . . ."
"Rafail. Look at me. Be. Careful. You are part of a pack of Russian killers, surrounded by a much bigger bunch of German killers. We are getting desperate, and this is when things get very dangerous. Frightened men often strike out at the easy targets, like Animal, there."
"Like me, you mean."
"Yeah. Shed attention, but don't look weak."
The boy slumped. "By tomorrow, I'll be lucky to eat."
"Ah. Money problems? Give me your money card." Ice took the slip of paper and ran his finger up the magnetic strip. "Could you feel what I was doing? Do you have another?"
"It's zeroed . . . you're forging the balances? That's, that's . . ."
"Illegal? Rafail . . . Think! We are going to find a nice civilized World, and invade it. Do you understand what that means? The first people through will kill anyone who tries to resist. Policemen, for the most part. Good honest men with wives and children, mowed down without remorse. And any armed citizens who jump in to help. We'll probably have killed a couple thousand people before we take control of the first city. Then the army will arrive and we'll start killing them . . . we will kill millions and enslave billions.
"Why are you worried about a little bit of counterfeiting?"
"Oh . . . I ought to have just stayed on Novaya Moskva."
"Once the plague's run through the True Men, the Livestock are going to kill all of them. It's going to happen here, too. I've noticed a few of the old guys being very . . . sparing of noticeable Mentalist acts."
"Oh. We're all screwed, aren't we?"
"Pretty much. So make the rest of your life something to be proud of." Ice nodded back into the room. "Save a few more people. Be proud of the right things."
A wry smile. "I'm beginning to think the best method will be to follow you and help."
A snort from Bob. "Smart man. So, Khar, what are we going to do for the rest of the day?"
"I'm going to go find coins and make a bunch more glyphs. And tonight I'm going to hang around the Paradies and find out what today's mission has found." Ice eyed Rafail. "You could just hang around there and perhaps find out when they're scheduled to return . . ."
"Twenty-two hundred hours, just like your trip." Rafail put in.
"Pick up gossip, watch who hangs around with whom and so forth. I'll slide in around nineteen hundred and see if I can wiggle my way into the information loop."
"I can do that." He sounded relieved.
"But before you go, did you get anything to eat?" Ice walked back to the table. "Since Animal is sensibly leery of hard foods, I've probably managed to sneak out enough for you three."
"I'll get my chairs."