Bonus Scene One (before major edits)
So different from our first and second trips here!
Ebsa Clostuone Montevideo shook his head. "How long does it take to build volcanoes that size?"
Dr. Whti whistled. "Well that sure messed up the study area."
Dr. Irgo nodded. "I'd have to check the distance, for a good estimate on the height, but cinder cones can get quite tall in a few years."
Dr. Yffi shook his head. "What a mess! And we've no experience with near-merges to know just how the two worlds interacted. This could have been a spectacular one-time effect, that cooled down withing a few years, as the exciting factor was of brief duration." The old guy looked around. "Still pretty sooty. There may be eruptions every few years that burns off the grass . . . oh, look, there's Fort Dinosaur. I'll bet it's buried in ash."
"Best base ever, I think half of all the new ones are built on this model." Ra'd glanced at it. "Let's take a look, see how it held up--or more likely didn't--to a volcanic eruption."
Ebsa got the crawler back in motion, off this hill and over to the taller one. Frowned at what could easily be taken as vehicle tracks.
He leaned to open a bin. Rummaged and pulled out a remote.
Ra'd snorted. "Without electricity, and a hell of a lot of lubricants the ramps never going to . . . Huh, didn't expect that."
The ramp swung down, stopping at gentler angle than before, on the ash that had built up around the base.
And suddenly there were people looking over the edge.
Ebsa headed up the ramp while Ra'd unlocked the gun cabinet.
As the crawler topped the ramp, Ebsa turned and got a good look at the people. "I don't think we're going to need guns. It's mostly women and children."
"That's the most dangerous kind." Nighthawk frowned out at them. "But they are clearly not used to carrying arms."
A cautious looking redhead approached, a man and a teen age boy trotting to catch up.
Ebsa backed and turned, so the Crawler was pointed back at the ramp.
Paer popped the side hatch open and hopped out.
"Hello. We didn't expect anyone to be here."
The redhead nodded, "We've been living here for ten years. Is it yours?"
Ebsa joined them. "Oh, legally it belongs to the Empire. That sounds like an Earth Accent, but you've got glow."
The teenage boy stepped up. "We're all from Earth. Escaping from Earth. I'm Kit Antoine."
Nighthawk frowned. "You must have been very young when you found it."
"Umm . . ." The boy eyed them, shrugged. "About half of us bubbled for most of the last ten years. I figured the Army would have either given up finding us, or would be looking for people ten years older than we are."
Ebsa glanced over at the seer landscape. "How are you surviving out here?"
"The fab's running, and we're connected to the Maze. We trade, hunt and fish." The boy shrugged. "And NO! He's a pet!" a shield flashing out . . . to protect the dinosaur up on the roof of the closest squishy.
Ra'd lowered the rifle he hadn't fired and eyed the critter. A raptor, pony-sized, with gaudy feathers accenting black and white scale patterns.
A pretty blonde woman scurried over to the squishy. "Knock Knock! Come!" The dinosaur leaped off the roof, flapping a bit to cushion his landing. "Good Boy!" the woman scratched the dinosaur's head.
"Oh, a living specimen!" and the scientists were out and getting into the act. "We didn't see any dinosaurs on the drive in."
"There aren't many near here. Nothing to eat. You've got to go nearly a hundred kilometers south to find any, and we haven't seen any live big ones. Plenty of skeletons once you get past the lava fields."
"So what are you running from?" Ebsa eyed a boy, maybe eighteen or so. Who does he remind me of?
"We're clones, most of us. As we got older, they started getting scared. Plus they thought there might be diplomatic issues, because some of us are cloned from Oners and Fallen. Umm, do you know anyone named Inso?"
"Yeah. Inso's the former IR director, and currently one of the top echelon at Disco . . . I don't think the Empire'll go to war over it, but they may be steamed . . . how many other people have they cloned?"
That one looks like Wolfson . . . could that little girl be a clone of Jiol? And those little girls look a whole lot like Q! Holy Crap! I don't know who the others are, no doubt highly placed Fallen . . .
"We're all the ones I know of . . . that they didn't kill. I'm Ian, by the way."
"Ebsa." Kill? If we find out that they've cloned and killed, oh, say, Orde, Izzo, Urfa . . . Rael? I wouldn't like to see what Wolfson would do . . .
"We've talked to people from Limbo." Ian glanced over his shoulder at two very attractive ladies. "Some of the women didn't bubble with us, because they wanted to get old enough to marry some of those guys."
Ebsa suppressed a whimper.
I really hope whoever that was has checked up the chain at least as far as Ajha.
Speaking of whom, I'll call as soon as I've collected just a bit more information . . .
"Umm, did you guy talk to anyone about legal entry?"
"Governor Offe and Subdirector Ajha? Yeah. Umm, we just got out of a long stay, and have gotten back to check on any one, yet."
Ebsa nodded, relieved. "If Ajha approved, you're good."
So long as those wives have been good . . .
Bonus Scene Four
Paris, Empire of the One
18 Qadah 1423 yp
External Relations Director Ajha eyed Presidential Director Ahxe. A cousin, but enough younger that he wasn't well known. The members of his in-group, sitting around the table, were mostly unknown to him.
"We've knew that the Smugglers had opened a gate to Limbo fifteen years ago. It was a handy back door to minor trade and excellent for picking up gossip that the official channels might miss. Ten years ago some of the guys met some pretty women, seven sixteen-year-olds, plus a half dozen younger kids.
"They were wary, as well as too young, but they met at the Trading Post fairly often. We dropped a few tasty tidbits of information that never showed up elsewhere. So we registered five of the women, gave them limited access passes, and they've been happily married, with large families, ever since.
"The registry results on these women, was interesting. Three women are a mixture of Earth, Fallen and Oner, and two are part Purps. One of each group are dimensionals."
Yeah, that caught their attention!
"Of their eighteen children, six have the inactive purple gene that is strongly associated with dimensional ability."
Ajha plowed on. "Two weeks ago, Team Fifty, escorted scientists for a quick look at the Dinosaur World that was devastated by the near-merge with Helios, and found the rest of that group living in Fort Dinosaur.
"They decided to be frank with us.
"They are a product of the Earth's experimental cloning project who escaped twelve years ago and have been hiding in the Maze ever since, with Fort Dinosaur as their main base. The ones who didn't move to Limbo have been bubbling themselves for about three-quarters of the time, figuring they'd be hard to find, plus ten years later, no one would think they were those fugitive kids who would be late teens to twenty-eight years old by now."
"Team Fifty was lucky and caught them during one of their brief out times. Ebsa suggested they stop and rejoin the rest of the Multiverse, because practically no one remembers them, any more."
Ajha opened his hand, palms up. "Then he called me. Because of the kids' ages, I've been very easy on questioning them, but more than one said the project had been running for seventy-five years, so I think we've found the source of the Erdu clone."
"Ah. We knew it was unlikely they'd stopped at one."
Ajha shrugged. "What I need to know is whether there would be a problem with any of these youngsters also moving to Limbo, or elsewhere in the Empire. They haven't been tested, but they were told the names of the people they were cloned from. Three of them are cloned Oners, three Fallen."
Ox raised a brow. "Anyone we know."
"Among the younger set, we have clones of Inso, Jiol and a part Oner cloned from someone named Harp."
He paused as Ox twitched. "Do you know who they're talking about?"
"Yes. No, it will not be discussed."
"Well, then the other three kids are from Comet Fall."
"Their escape was facilitated by Christophe Antoine, the boy the Earth has had warrants out for, for the last ten years, who is apparently a son of Xen Wolfson, engendered while Wolfson was spying on Earth.
"The boy's Earther uncle, who is a police detective, and an army officer, a deserter, from Earth apparently joined them six months after the escape."
Ajha shrugged. "All those last are welcome on Embassy, according to Xen, and possibly on Comet Fall. Not our problem."
"The last two women?"
"They're married to the two Earthers, and hoping to stay in Fort Dinosaur."
"I see." Ox tipped back in his chair and looked down the table at his in group. "Comments?"
"How do we figure out if they are or aren't spying for Earth?" A man in the Black Horse uniform.
"I have considered bringing in a priest." Ajha shrugged. "The oldest of the women were just sixteen when they escaped."
"The Purps? Do they have the power genes? Which ones?"
"All of them have power genes. We collected samples ten years ago when we let the first five women move to Limbo, and Paer collected more fro the rest of them.
"The part Oners all have the Oner X--it looks like the women they were cloned from are the result of rape by Oners and Native Halfer soldiers in the army we took through the stolen Earth gate on Comet Fall in 1377.
"I think the Joy Juice must have been in wide circulation, as they have an unexpectedly high count, for being half-Earthers. So we have an interesting mix of Oner X, and Comet Fall Wizard X. And they all fall in the medium high Clostuone range. The half-Purps have their Wizard X---same as the Fallen's--One woman has double, the others have single copies and are only weakly magic. The Harp clone has the One X, the Priest Y, a couple of Fallen genes and insertions, a full 216 count, and scattered ordinary genes found only on Tall Trees."
A woman down the table lifted a finger."How old are they?"
Ajha snorted. "Roughly, by appearance, the Limbo Wives are twenty-eight, the other two look like early twenties. Two of the boys look about eighteen--Inso's clone and the clone of Comet Fall's Prince Garit wanted to be tall enough to reach the pedals of their stolen vehicles, so they stayed out of the bubbles for longer periods than the others.
"The rest aged even less. The two six-year-old girls--clones of Q . . ."
Ajha paused for the shocked reaction to that. "The Harp boy looks about eight, Jessica the Jiol-clone is ten. The ring leader, Kit, is probably sixteen. His uncle is pushing fifty, and being an Earther it shows. The Deserter is still thirtyish."
"So they've been living in Fort Dinosaur for ten years?"
Ajha subdued a smile. "With gate access to multiple worlds, including Trading Post, a tropical beach, a prairie full of bison, Long Lake, Embassy--they've gone there twice--and well, pretty much the whole Multiverse."
"One!" Ox thought about it. "I really like the dimensional genes. Why don't you register the rest of them, with limited permits for travel beyond Limbo for the two Earther men. Have Inso and Jiol been told about their clones?"
"Not yet. I wanted to know their legal status with us, before I told them. Umm, Nighthawk was with the Team, and notified her family.
"Rumors that Q and Xen's parents had to be talked down from hunting down the people who treated their daughters like experimental animals are hopefully exaggerated.
"Prince Garit, after conferring with his family, declared the young man to be a bastard son, completely outside the line of royal inheritance."
Ajha scratched his chin. "Kit Antoine, the hero of the story, is rumored to be already opening gates."
Ox nodded. "I see. Definitely get our three registered with unlimited travel permits. This son of Xen's as well, couch it in terms of, 'so you can check on anyone you need to if the others go to college. Or if you want to attend University on the One World, yourself.' something like that."
"And send another Gate Maker off to Rael at the Directorate School?"
"Exactly." Ox looked around the table. "Any more business? No? Dismissed, then. Ajha, stay a minute."
Ajha sat, watching his cousin curiously, as he flipped on the electronic seal behind the last man to leave.
And walked back. "I hadn't realized you weren't aware of Ice's antecedents."
Oh really? Ajha blinked. "Wait . . . Ice is an Earther?"
"No. His mother is Kaat Withione Sideris Kriti."
Ajha whistled. "Killer Kaat. Who is high on the list of missing-presumed-dead at XR."
"And who will stay on the list. She was caught in that damned raid we pulled. Named her son Harp, who escaped Earth by joining their espionage program.
"I am now officially boggled. Dammit. I don't want to add him to the list, but it's going to have to happen soon. And now there's Henry. Damn."
"Keep me updated on the kid. And what he wants to do. Depending on that, I'll decide when to talk to Ice's wife about him."
Ajha got up . . . "What about Princess Kaat? She hasn't communicated through XR."
"She's been marooned for almost fifty years. We made a single attempt to give her an escape hatch. And we had Ice contact them once. They sent back a 'Stay hidden, get as close to the President as possible, and don't contact us short of war' type message. They clearly know who he is."
"A Warrior and an Agent of the One?"
Ox sighed. "Maybe not that. Dammit. I shouldn't have let that man out of Paris."
Ajha nodded. "The only good thing about the debacle is that Gior did manage to close the gate, and there's been no sign that the Bunnies have permanent gates. That we can see. We've barely explored the fringe of their sprawl."
Ox nodded, as he reached for the switch again. "And no indication that the big hub worlds we hit were anything important, let alone their home world."
"I'll keep an eye on the kid, well, all of them, but . . . an eight-year-old Ice? That could be amazing."
"Yeah, train his magic properly, right from the start. Not the minimum his mother dared. I wish he was even younger, without such a horrible start."
He shook Ox's hand and headed for the front entrance of Versalle.
Not as packed as it was a few months ago. All those squishies we've had stockpiled for decades are finally coming in handy as offices for the people who used to work in Government House.
Well, good news for me. Three kids with families on Comet Fall. Thirteen registrations coming up, even if two are restricted to Limbo.
An old agent found, even if I can't mention it.
Gior and Ice? There's still hope.