"So instead of looking for inhabited Worlds that might be where I lost my boss, I'm going to look for a World with very little life at all." Gail frowned back at her audience. "From there I will relocate that dinosaur world--which will be easy because of the existing gate."
"Then you can do anything you'd like, with endangering any one except yourselves." She decided to toss them a cookie. "And I can open gates to other Worlds of Geologic or Anthropologic interest."
"What do you mean?"
"How about some Mammoths? Or studying Ice Age Weather?" Gior grinned. Got them. "Or the Cretaceous? Really, these Late Creatceous dinosaurs are spectacular, but how about the earlier ones? the Archeosaurs?"
She turned and sat down. "So leave me alone, and I'll see if I can find a World with nothing going for it except breathable air."
"Gior . . . Why can't you find your way home?" Furkan sat down beside her.
"Because I just learned how. I was getting lessons from Q, Dr. Quail Quiksilver, she's the top expert in the whole Multiverse." Gior squirmed. "See? Oners don't have the dimensional ability. Only a few who have a parent from one of the Exile Worlds. Mostly Comet Fall, but Purple, and Arbolia have the genes for it, too."
"So, you have Wolf for a grandparent?"
"Yeah, His son, Xen Wolfson is my father. He came to our One World to spy on us, because we attacked his World. And, well, he seduced the wives of a bunch of government officials, disgracing them by getting their wives pregnant, when they couldn't and . . ."
"I'm almost afraid to ask how many kids he's got." Furkan's voice sounded odd. Appalled? Amused? Both?
He fell over laughing.
"Anyway. I'm only the third of them who can open gates at all. I can't do these long distant gates at all. I was mostly on the team in case there was an emergency and the gate needed to be closed. Which it did, but I was on the wrong side."
Gior clutched her head. "And I'd say I was sorry, but if Ice hadn't needed to rescue me from their Cybernetics Center, he wouldn't have rescued everyone else too."
"Cyber . . . what were they going to do to you?" A deep growl from Furkan.
"Put a chip in my brain, so I'd be controlled by them."
A hiss from Furkan, and he scooted closer to put an arm around her shoulders. Stiff muscled and protective, rather than sympathetic. Then he shrugged. "So I'll have to be jealous of him, when you find him?"
She snorted. "Pretty boy Ice? I know he's married, but I still think he's a homo."
"Ah, well, in that case, you ought to go back to finding him pretty soon."
Gior snickered and straightened up. "First I'll find a couple of Worlds to keep these scientists from bothering me. Then I'll see if I can find Ice. I'm getting better with practice, and, umm, I think losing my virginity doubled my range. No telling how good I'll be after I have a baby."
A faint choking noise from Furkan . . . a pause . . . "Oh. I should have noticed that double glow. Will you marry me?"
"What? Don't be silly, we don't even live on the same World."
"That can be fixed."
"Let's worry about it after I've found Home. And that idiot Ice."
Time for a test. I just need an Empty World.
And there's something that looks pretty empty. A grassy meadow, pine trees to either side. A vista dropping away to a valley, fading into the dark distance.
Subtle. Be subtle at first.
Ice leaned and squinted. "Are those lights down in the valley?" The illusion was transparent, in front of the gate. A hint of lights, in the dim predawn. Maybe some geometric patches? Farms? A line of lights almost guessed at, then bright lights moving, accelerating, climbing . . .
"A plane! Yes!" Matveev leaned forward, pulling up his collar.
"It's awfully far from those lights. Should we take a vehicle?" Federov frowned around at the total lack of a suitable vehicle.
"No time! Go, go, go!"
Ice rushed the gate, a few steps behind the lead man and threw his illusions a couple hundred meters off. By the time everyone was through and steady enough on their feet to look around the distant lights were in place and Ice added another plane flying at a high altitude. He walked down the slightly sloped meadow, leaving the group behind.
A pretty little meadow in a pine forest, to his magically enhanced vision.
A slice, low to the ground, three meters wide, as hard and long as he could manage. A sideways push spell to clear the grass, then turn and do it again the other direction. A pull spell, and density attraction, and the ground heaved a bit, leaving a fair amount of gravel on the surface.
But does it look at all like a road? Ice walked out to end of his gravel. Ten meters . . . that's going to be tough to do much of, to say the least. Five meters on he repeated it, but lightly, saving his energy.
He could hear the others arguing, Benedikt Mikhailov's voice rising. "By the constellations, it's not even midnight here. We're four hours west of Neu Berlin."
Ah! Four or five hours of darkness for my attempted . . . whatever.
Ice kept working while the Russians got the complaints out of their system, then he walked quietly back to the group, not one of whom had noticed he wasn't there. He eased the big backpack tote carrying the beacon and a few other interesting things, to the ground and searched through it. Pulled out a battery flashlight.
"Ah, here it is." He flicked on the light and swept it around.
Federov growled. "Give me that. I don't know why we even came through, so far from anything.
Ice added another illusion. A fast plane climbing, a boom that rattled the trees.
"Supersonic! That's an excellent sign." Volkov headed down the slope and the group migrated after him. Ice headed toward the other end of his road and started extending it northward while the Russians ruined their night sight.
"A road! Excellent!"
"Bah! It's just a mown strip."
"No it's raised a bit, and graveled. Probably graveled and plowed. Looks new."
Excellent, they're making up their own explanations. Ice eyed the jagged stump of a huge tree. West Coast, Eh? Let's try this . . .
The others were excited when they found the sign he'd carved.
"Tahoe National Forest!"
"Gold Strike Campground!"
"The exit's this way!"
He was well ahead by then, and not surprised when eleven men with a single light among them decided to wait for dawn to explore deeper into the forest. He got five kilometers of road done, winding through the trees before he found a deep stream and looped westward, then south and back east for four kilometers.
A shortcut through the forest and he was back with the others before it was light. He stopped a bit away from their clump and stretched out in the grass, head on the tote bag. Pretending to sleep, while reinforcing his illusions, distance headlights on distant highways. Regular plane flights . . .
Matveev walked over and kicked him. "There you are. Sleeping on duty? If you weren't such a monkey-boy with your gate retrieval flip, we wouldn't have anything to do with a low class thug like you!"
Ice scowled. "Why not rest? We're probably going to be hiking all day." He looked east and upward at the mountains and climbing clouds. "And probably get soaking wet."
He spotted people studying the "distant city" as the sky brightened, and added tall buildings, a ultra modern train coming in from one side and disappearing behind buildings.
Can they even magnify their vision to see details? Am I insane trying to fit in with people I know so damned little about?
Well, if this works, maybe I can quit being Khar.
Then they all tromped into the forest, determined to find the road to the city.
Thunder and lightening proceeded the rain, and they took shelter in the trees, fancy coats over their heads, scowling and arguing about whether it was riskier to shelter under a tree, or find an open space where they could be sopping wet and the only thing sticking up locally. Since the nearest clearing was either two kilometers behind them, or an unknown distance ahead, they stuck to the trees, shifting with the wind and getting wet.
Ice hung the beacon tote on the stump of a branch against the mostly dry side of a tree, and covered it with his coat. No one cared, so he strolled off as they argued in the gloomy rain. Carver a sign pointing to the side and labeled "Camps 140-149."
No one was following him so he hiked uphill, cutting brush and disturbing the ground. Well up slope he cleared ten "camping spots" and numbered them.
He strolled back.
"There you are! What were you doing?" Federov was obviously agitated.
Ice rolled his eyes. "I needed to poop, what do you care?" He glanced at the tote. "Afraid you'd have to carry it yourself?"
That got him eleven glares.
"Mind your place, Khar!" Lord Krupin glared.
They were all pretty grumpy by the time they got back on the road . . . and spotted the sign. A ten minute debate about whether they should see what it was, then they all trooped up the path.
Ice went a hundred meters then cleared a passage down slope and bending out of sight. Carved another marker. Strolled on, getting three more suggestive road starts and signposts in before the others caught up to him.
A lot of mutters about bloody National Forests, but no one checked the other camp sites to see if they even existed. About the time they got to the stream and the turn in the road, the rain let up enough to give a steamy indistinct view of the valley. Ice sent a plane illusion scudding north and looked down the ravine . . . "Is that a bridge way down there?"
A sketchy illusion.
"The road must turn back and cross the stream down there." Matveev looked at his watch in frustration. Then around at Ice. "Khar, since you like running around alone, leave the beacon and run down the road. I need to know if there's an exit to civilization before that bridge."
Ice handed the beacon to Benedikt and trotted off down the slippery muddy road. I ought to have done a better job on the gravel thing.
Once out of sight, he stepped into the trees and grabbed a recognition point, and then cut some thick branches for sign posts. Can I actually pull this off?
Five more "campsite clusters" before he got to the end of his mowed road. He swung it west, just mowing, and then north for the illusionary bridge. He stuck a good solid illusion there, grabbed another recognition point, then headed back. The group had migrated another two kilometers while he'd covered nearly twenty.
But Mateveev had come up with a brilliant scheme. "The gate will open in another hour. Khar. You are going to stay here all night. We will get everything ready and return with vehicles for a proper expedition." They all looked up as a fast flying plane broke the sound barrier above their heads. Matveev smiled thinly. "At eight tomorrow morning, you will turn on the beacon again and we will come through."
Ice paused . . . "Uh . . . did anyone bring any food?"
Noses rose. Benedikt grinned. "You won't starve by tomorrow."
"But . . ."
"Yes, sir. Eight in the morning." Ice shot his cuff. "I have three fifty-five. Umm, fifteen fifty -five, Neu Berlin time."
He turned away, extending a listening spell.
"Can everyone get ready overnight?" Volkov, fussing.
"Why not? We're all living in hotel rooms, with what we packed for what we thought might be two weeks." Matveev didn't sound like he wanted his plan questioned.
"And it hasn't been much more than that--for the last comers." Federov sounded impatient. "I've been here for a month, trying to negotiate with those stubborn Germans. My wife and the servants can pack in a hour."
"That was an excellent idea . . . to have most of the group camp here while we scout the city and find the best way to integrate ourselves into the leadership." Ignatov, kisssing up to Matveev.
Matveev nodded. "And not a whiff of any other True Men. We may need to be a bit diplomatic at first, but a civilization with supersonic aircraft will have the sort of tech we need."
Oh fuck. This has worked too well. Why are they in such a hurry to leave? Are the German's losing patience? Or has the plague stuck in Nue Berlin?
And what will Lada, Bob and Animal do if I don't come back?
And what about Gior? Can she find Bob, and get him, Lada and Animal someplace safe?