Bonus Scene Three
Paer stopped the Crawler a few meters beyond the gate, while Nighthawk raised an arch of stone to mark the gate. And frowned at the sere landscape.
Somehow I think my plan to release my very oversized pets isn't going to work.
Dr. Whti whistled. "Well that sure messed up the study area."
Nighthawk swung the hatch closed and latched it. "How long does it take to build volcanoes that size?"
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."
"Ebsa says it was the best base ever, and I think half of all the new ones are built on this model." Paer glanced at it. "Let's take a look, see how it held up--or more likely didn't--to a volcanic eruption."
She 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.
She reached over to open a bin. Rummaged and pulled out a remote with an old faded label.
Dr. Yffi snorted. "Without electricity, and a hell of a lot of lubricants the ramp is 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.
Paer turned and drove up the ramp while El Zee unlocked the gun cabinet.
As the crawler topped the ramp, Paer 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.
Paer backed and turned, so the Crawler was pointed back at the ramp.
Milo 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?"
Paer 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."
Nighthawk 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.
El Zee 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?" Paer eyed a boy, maybe eighteen or so. Who does he remind me of?
"We're experiments. 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 Kit boy looks like Wolfson . . . could that little girl be a clone of Jiol? And those little girls look a whole lot like Q! Holy One! 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."
"Paer." Kill? If we find out that they've cloned and killed, oh, say, my dad, Izzo, Urfa . . . Rael? I wouldn't like to see what Xen would do . . . Actually I'd probably help him . . .
"We've talked to people from Limbo." Ian glanced over his shoulder at the very attractive ladies. "Some of the women didn't bubble with us, because they wanted to get old enough to marry some of those Limbo guys."
Paer 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 guys 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."
Paer nodded, relieved. "If Ajha approved, you're good."
So long as those wives have been good . . .
"So, a hundred klicks south to the nearest, umm, wild dinosaur?"
"Or more." The shield boy--Kit--shrugged. "We don't go looking for them. The Maze connects to a Dino World, four gates away, if you like living dangerously. Once was enough, for us."
Whti winced. "Any T-Rexes in sight?"
The four boys nodded. The youngest grinned. "Much too close-up and almost personal."
"Probably the other World we're studying." Dr. Wffi frowned. "But it connects through a hub World, not the Maze. Hmm . . ."
Paer cleared her throat. "Let's check out this one first. Remember all your plans for documenting the demise of the dinosaurs?"
The kids exchanged glances, and a hint of mental communications.
Kit smiled at her. One! He looks so much like Xen!
"We'd be glad to ride along and show you where we found dinosaurs."
Ian nodded. "Would you like to see some of the skeletal remains? There are examples of tons of critters."
There was a conversation going on at the back of the group, ". . . plenty of gas to get there and back to the Trading Post . . ."
So it turned into a two vehicle safari, with a green and blue iridescent bus leading the way . . . and slowing as they realized the Crawler's limitations. Which made it easy for the raptor running along with them, and occasionally sprinting ahead.
They drove southwest for fifty kilometers, to a broad ford across what, in the right season must be a small river, but was a bare trickle now. The bus, which really wasn't designed for cross country travel, trundled across with no problem. Paer followed in their tire tracks, glancing up stream.
There was a line of angular boulders across the entire stream bed, actually a rather large field of them.
Henry, who looked to be nine or so, had volunteered to ride with them. He waved at the boulders. "That's to break up the leading edge of flash floods so we don't have to work over the ford every time we come this way."
Nighthawk eyed him. "How did you kids move them?"
"Kit can do dimensional bubbles. And he's teaching Quick and Quirk." The boy scowled. "I can't, even though the Smugglers said I was pretty strong mentally."
Paer glanced his direction. "Yes, you've got a good shield, but you feel like a Oner."
He shrugged. "I guess the guy I was cloned from was mostly Oner. So I want to find out about you guys."
Whti frowned at him. "Who are these smugglers?"
Paer laughed. "Three sisters from Comet Fall. Xen swears they've built half the gates in the Maze. But as long as they don't smuggle drugs he doesn't really care."
An indignant sputter.
"Disco figures every polity can figure out trade restrictions and how to enforce them on their own." Paer kept a straight face. I won't shock the poor fellow by pointing out that we have, so far, failed to catch them.
"Well . . . "
Paer eased up the slope on the far side, and glanced back at the whole boulder field.
Kit looks about fifteen. Can do bubbles. I need to talk to Ajha about having people visit regularly and recruiting as many of these kids as possible.
Then she got her eyes forward and followed the bus through a thin line of trees and out onto the dying grounds of the dinosaurs.
Where the academic types went crazy over the fantastic specimens.
And talked Kit into bubbling them.
"I think it's pretty damned eerie, myself." Paer kept the 20mm slung over her shoulder, and the shotgun in hand. Because there will be live dinosaurs somewhere.
And watched Kit making bags for the scientists, and using the work to teach the others.
"Huh." Nighthawk watched the boy coaching the rest in sensing density changes.
"There's about two meters of ash here, so while it's easy to see the big skeletons, the smaller dinosaurs were completely buried. So let's look for them, magically . . ."
Kit's uncle walked up. "I wish my sister had lived long enough to see him now. He was always a great kid . . . Now he's incredible."
Paer eyed him. "He looks like Xen Wolfson. I didn't realize he'd spent enough time there to, umm."
Martin snickered. "I don't think the Government realizes that he was there at all, let alone for several months I know about. Well, it's been ten years since Kit came to their attention, so they may have figured it out by now, but . . ."
Which was a funny enough story even for anyone who didn't know Xen.
Nighthawk just shook her head. "We declassified the report, but it somehow failed to mention Dad locked up in a room full of history and political books, a TV and spa tub. Now I know why he didn't just leave. And somehow the sex didn't get into the report either." She sighed. "That was when he thought Rael was dead. He was . . . hurting and lonely."
Paer nodded. "It was a strange couple of years for all of us, too. At least I knew she wasn't dead. I sort of split my focus between horse shows and thinking up ways to cheer up Rael, once she came back to work. It took her over a year, and she still wasn't . . . bouncy."
"Ouch!" Nighthawk winced. "It's hard to imagine her not bouncing."
Martin had been listening quietly. "So you're Wolfson's daughter, and, Paer, you know him well?"
"Yep." Paer grinned, "Do you need a briefing?"
"How about a quick list of the high points of the last ten years?"
"Ah . . . In the Empire, Izzo Withione Al Cairo was elected President, a Modern Federalist, very much not a hawk. On Embassy, a new aggressive polity kidnapped Xen in broad daylight and it took six months to get him back and a few more to well, we still don't have any diplomatic contacts with the Zingos, but they're not attacking us at the moment." Paer frowned.
"The Cyborgs." Nighthawk grinned. "They attacked a World that is not contacted, but Eldon Kissison, one of the . . . Black Island Gang, who has decided to go straight, was living on that World. He kicked butt and started the Free Cyborg Rebellion."
"I really want to meet that guy!" Paer said. "Because since then we've realized that the Cyborgs have undercover agents on One. They have messed with our elections and tried to invade the One World twice. We retaliated, and now we're checking them out with prejudice. Don't know what we'll do long term, right now we're sort of reevaluating our procedures after losing some people."
Martin nodded. "Cyborgs . . . yeah, the Earth has had issues with them. They attacked the Hague in . . . Let's see . . . 1395 Year of the Prophets, if I'm converting it right." He pinched the bridge of his nose. "Dare I hope we're helping, and not hindering?"
"Hard to tell. Your government still hasn't admitted that that wasn't us attacking you."
"Ah. Ten years and we'll still being idiots. Who's President of Earth now?"
"Oh, Salvador Espinosa but he's a . . . lame duck?"
"Yeah, it just means he can't run again."
"Oh. Well, everyone's talking about this Yijun Lim."
"Ugh. Not that I know him, but the Chinese tend to be prejudiced against everything, including and especially, genetic engineering. These kids are well out of it." He turned and watched the kids slice out a chunk of the hardened ash and levitate it. Kit whipped a bubble around it. Stuck it on a piece of paper and wrote something on it.
Paer grinned. "The Profs are going to have to hire someone to come pop these bubbles."
Martin nodded. "I can see why. If he put handles on them they'd be reusable, which would be handy for smuggling. Must be a real pain, trying to keep these things under control."
"Heh. No kidding. I love the modern world, but there are a few drawbacks." She grinned over at the Earther. "Welcome to Now."
"I suspect I'll like it." He grinned. "Once I slow down and adjust to it."