"Do it!" The Inquisitor snapped.
Murphy and Ape leaped against the far wall and slid behind the beacon. The others hustled out and the door swung almost closed.
Axel brushed down his coat and sat on the throne. Leaned back, crossed his ankles, and spread his hands, palms up, on the arms of the chair. Hoped he looked confident and arrogant enough to lounge.
The crackling lightening ball spread into a wreath framing a picture of the two Cyborgs who jumped through, weapons ready as they surveyed the room.
Idiots, not checking behind the portal.
They stepped, one to each side, and a man in a black uniform stepped through. Stopping as Axel registered.
"I regret to inform you that Dear Uncle Vladimir suffered a fatal stroke late last night. So you'll be dealing with me now."
The man's eyes narrowed. "And you are?"
"Mentalist Lord Axel Ivan Vinogradov, the oldest great grandson of Ivan the Founder."
The man's eyes narrowed. "I think you'd better talk to the General."
Axel cocked his head. Nodded. "I suppose so." He got up and picked up the cape. Slung it over his shoulders. Pulled up the hood and wrapped it around himself. Wish I had my spatter boots! Followed the man and his guards through.
Standard set up. The crackling gate behind him as he stood at the top of the ramp up to it. a big circular room, with maneuvering room for vehicles.
Draperies hid a sign on the wall, placed where it ought to be seen through the portal.
The World's local name and the official catalog number.
A couple dozen men standing at ease in a neat array to the left. On the right, a big man in a uniform festooned with metals and ribbons, talking to a thin man in a different uniform who looked more like a portal tech than a soldier.
Axel's escort trotted down the ramp as the big man spotted Axel and frowned. The man in the black uniform talked, the General's frown deepened.
"And why should I take orders from a Young Mentalist."
"Because you haven't been paid the full amount yet." I hope! Surely Dear Uncle isn't stupid enough to pay mercenaries the whole amount in advance.
Axel walked down the ramp until he was close enough to reach out mentally with a long hard slash. The draperies fell.
"Budapest Reborn, dear me. That's going to be a little awkward." Axel strolled back up the ramp. So I can run for it when the shooting starts. Turned. "Are you certain you don't want to just . . . slink off and hope the authorities don't notice?"
"Just kill him and be done with it!" A man stepped out of the shadows. Purple velvet jacket with extensive gold embroidery. The dress of someone very high in the government. "We'll take the beacon outside and roll the army. Siberia Max is nothing but a single large city . . . shit!"
Axel glanced over his shoulder. The Inquisitor was staring daggers through the portal.
Axel shrugged off the cape, bundled it hastily and threw it through the portal.
The inquisitor snagged it, wrapped up and stalked through the portal. Dropped the cape to display his scarlet robes.
"Vice President Dorofey Anton Sokolovsky. By attacking a World with working portals, a member in good standing with the Alliance and the Three Hundred, your World is at risk of being isolated unless you back down immediately and pay repatriations to the Family whose reputation you have besmirched."
Sokolovsky laughed. "So Tier five hasn't heard the rumors, let alone the news? The Enemy found the Three Hundred and infected them all. Every. Single. One of them. The Home World hasn't opened a portal in days."
The Inquisitor snorted. "As if I believe you! No, you were planning to attack a hub World. And now you're going to back down and make a valuable apology to Siberia Max and Family Vinogradov."
"No, you are going to pay us to leave you alone. Because there won't be any more zivvy . . . but we know you researchers have a hoard on hand. We want it. Hand it over and keep yourselves safe."
The Inquisitor snorted in contempt. "No one does that sort of research. Stop trying to shit talk your way out of it." He looked over at Axel. "What is the price?"
Axel paused. Oh shit, what do I really want? "Three thousand head of cattle. Two thousand five hundred cows, five hundred bulls."
The Vice President boggled at him.
"I will move this beacon to where I want them delivered. Spray them down with spatter and drive them through. I'll give you three days. The nineteenth of November, 3738. Around noon."
He looked at the sputtering politician. "Will you cease this attempt to capture us, and pay this honor debt?"
Sokolovsky turned to the General. "Kill them. Now!"
"Close the portal!"
Axel brought up a shield, grabbed the cape, wrapped it around the Inquisitor, and threw them both through the portal. Through the pain of his over-stimulated nervous system he heard the racket of gunfire. Then silence. He rolled off the Inquisitor.
"Sorry!" In a rough croak. Face down in the carpet. Burning
A snort as the Inquisitor climbed to his feet. "For getting me out of there before they closed the portal? But . . . Cows?"
Axel cleared his throat. Propped himself up on his elbows to get his face out of the carpet nap so he could speak. "If, due to plague or hostile action, Siberia Max were to be isolated . . . we'd starve to death. If the cattle go feral, we might have a chance."
"Lord Axel . . . sometimes you terrify me." The Inquisitor's shoes retreated.
Armored hands grabbed his arms and hauled him up.
"C'mon, Igor, buck up. What's a little nerve scorch to a tough fellow like you?" Murphy sounded like he was trying to not laugh."
A snicker from Ape. "Murph! Be gentle, the poor boy's not only a fragile little Lord, he's had a hard day, you know, murdering his Uncle and all."
"Oh god, surely it's finally past midnight?" Axel wavered on his stinging feet and staggered over to the throne and sat carefully, so as to not jar anything. "Even I don't deserve to have that much fun rolled into twenty-four hours. And anyway, you know Murph can't read."
"Yeah, but he looked at the pictures."
"The amount of trouble you get into we ought to have guessed you were a redhead." Murphy was shaking his head. "I feel so stoopid, to have failed to realize that."
"Oh, you guys are so funny! Can I get that beacon out of here before they set up some artillery, open the portal and just blast away at this wretched house from the inside?"
His boss walked in. "Good idea. What was that about cows?"
"Honor debt, for besmirching my Family Name. Three thousand head. Serious over payment, in my opinion. No wonder they started shooting."
"And . . . you were just going to turn these cows loose to see what happened?"
"Pretty much. I mean, head southeast and you've got grass and fresh water coming down from the Libyan highlands, but very mild winters."
His boss eyed him for a long moment. "Pig, Tiger, get the beacon out of here. Take it southeast a couple hundred miles and and set it up by a river. Back up a couple hundred feet and be prepared to shoot and break the beacon if anything but cows come through. I'll figure out who's going to relieve you for cattle watching . . . later today. Murphy, take Igor and his two buddies out there, home. He'll tell you where it is, and then you will promptly forget it.
"Axel? Catch up on your sleep, don't show up here until afternoon. Impress upon your friends that they will forget all this until they have permission to remember."
"Ape, go find a shorter way to get in and out of here."