Axel picked up the jacket and walked back out. Kicked himself for not noticing that Murphy and Ape had both removed the lasers that usually perched on their left forearms.
"I would have paid to see the expressions on your faces . . ."
Murphy made a rude gesture.
Ape snickered, "So tell us, Mentalist Lord Igor, what do you think of that?" he pointed at the four men, all now with helmets, the techs standing back.
"I hope it works better this time. Anything is better than a guy hard-wired into a coffin, so I'm all for it." Axel looked over at the quad. "I wonder if they're all portal makers, or . . ."
One of the techs looked over. "They're below the threshold, but together they can do it.. Most of the time. So they're not as reliable, but . . ."
Axel closed his eyes and looked at the quad as they started collecting power, lumpy and uneven the most powerful trying to make up for the weaker two . . . Axel opened his eyes. Pointed. "Those two need to swap places. The leader needs to mellow out and not push too hard, too fast."
The techs glowered at him.
He shrugged. "I have a fair amount of quad experience."
The head one shrugged. "Give it a try."
The youngsters let the power fade. The leader gave Axel a glare. "I have to push, or there won't be enough power!"
"There will be. Stay out and just watch this."
The boy glared. Frightened. If this fails, they chip him and he loses everything.
Axel reached out to touch the shoulders of the boys on each side. :: Relax. this will just be a little power, this time. Let me do all the power additions. :: He could feel their trepidation, and sent a tiny bit of power to the left. :: just pass it around, let it smear out. ::
He added power slowly showed them how to pass it through without it touching their core, spun it slowly up to a beautiful spinning ring . . . then let the power fade, warming the air, floor . . . He released the shallow merge, and stepped back.
Spoke to the left out leader. "This time you lead, and I'll help with a few techniques."
Axel stepped over behind the boy to the left. And watched. :: Slower, let it smooth out and hear it sing. Feel that? Hear that? Now build on it. Good. Now the Portal . . . ::
He backed away, spotted the wavering light, the sparks . . . sprinted for the Battle Limo.
Murphy started inching forward as an icy scene swung around jerked down to a road . . . icy and empty. Murph gunned it and they flew through, thumped down hard.
Slid, slithered . . . straightened.
"Picking up satellite triangulation . . ." Ape grinned. "We're three miles from your Family Estate, Inquisitor. A bit more by road."
Axel looked from the empty road to the few houses in sight. Large, palatial. "Local time fifteen thirty five? I'm surprised there's so little traffic. Any local new broadcasts?"
The Inquisitor was fiddling with the electronics in the back as he spoke. Picked up music . . . plenty of music . . . no advertisements? . . . A religious sermon . . . more music . . . And finally, news.
". . . refuse to give an estimate for when portal travel will resume. Twenty-four protesters were arrested for breaking the curfew when they refused to disperse when ordered. As the Plague continues its inexorably advance on other Worlds, so far the Home World has remained relatively untouched, with only thirty-eight cases. The quarantine is working and will continue until the threat is over . . ."
"Damn." Axel sat back. "Nothing about the 300 . . ." He shut up to listen again.
"Only known cases were exposed elsewhere, and they took precautions to not spread the contagion they came to warn us about."
The Inquisitor leaned forward. "Take the next left. At the fork, veer right."
He sat back shaking his head. "We could probably turn around and leave now. But I want details. And I have information for them. They need to know some things."
The Gorbachev Family Estate . . . was actually smaller than Vinogradov House. But definitely in the same class. And four times older, the roof pierced by multiple chimneys, three of them showing smoke in twilight as they turned up the drive. The gate was open, but swung shut behind them.
Guards--Military Cyborgs--converged on the Battle Limo and stopped it well short of the building. The Inquisitor lowered his window. Held out a hand and gathered power.
Checking that we aren't plague carriers.
The attention shifted to Axel. He collected power. Murph and Ape did the same.
The nearest Cyborg relaxed, marginally. "Welcome home, Fourth Mentalist. Second wishes to know why you are here."
Holy . . . fourth in line to hold the Gorbachev Chair in the Three Hundred? I hadn't realized he was so high . . .
"To collect news, confirm rumors, and deliver some information that may not be known here."
"Please proceed." He stepped back and Murph drove up to the broad entry. A swarm of servants to open the doors, some of them rather muscular and fit-looking.
They eyed Murph, Ape, and Axel.
The Inquisitor waved the Cyborgs back. "I need Axel. You two stay here."
Two of the muscular types accompanied them, eyes on Axel.
It was an office, not a throne room. Barely. Two men . . . One appeared elderly, the other in his middle years. Axel was not surprised when the Inquisitor bowed to the younger looking one, and followed suit.
Life Extension. I'm surprised they haven't both had it.
It was all very formal for a second. Then the older man thumped his desk and yelled. "Grigori what the BLOODY HELL are you doing here!"
The Inquisitor cleared his throat. "Are you aware that the plague is actually a poison, being deliberately introduced into the water system by the Enemy? That it is a nano enzyme that changes the gene that pulls power, disabling it?"
"What!" A chorus.
"They are disseminating two poisons. 'The Plague' to take our power, and another that dissolves the zivvy."
The old men exchanged worried glances.
"Either would end our culture. Together they are devastating." The Inquisitor nodded to Axel. "My agent has experienced several worlds with widespread usage of both. Axel?"
Axel bowed. "Neu Frankfort was conquered just thirty-five years ago, so even the halfer Cybogs were still in touch with the older culture. The Enemy contacted the Rebel Underground and gave them both poisons. They started their rebellion with the Army bases in a coordinated attack. They got the plague into the officers' water supply, and the zivvy eater into the Cyborg soldiers food. Three days later, our armies were theirs. The enemy opened portals to Worlds with no intelligent life, and all the True Men were exiled. The halfers, even the Cyborgs, remained behind, accepted by their families.
"On Novaya Moskva, with a three hundred year history, the rebellion was brutal.
"As far as I can tell, so brutal the Enemy rescued a lot of our people, True or not. Multiple large cities were dosed with the Plague. The Families fled to the cities, especially Kiev, to flee through a portal to escape the Plague. The portal maker failed, dead or poisoned, the center of the city turned into a death trap, and only the Enermy opening portals to other worlds prevented all of them from being killed. The new government first dosed everyone with the dissolver, to get rid of the zivvy, then decided that wasn't good enough. They wanted all the True Genes gone. Millions have been killed, so far." Axel winced. "Most other Worlds are falling in between."
The Inquisitor nodded. "If I may show you a short recording?"
The one Axel had made. Two of he Enemy chatting with the new Government. Hisses as one of them was called "Ice."
The Inquisitor looked at his father and grandfather. "So at the first indication of the Plague here, you must drain all municipal water systems, treat the entire system with salt brine. Then restart it."
"But . . ."
"You need to give orders to everyone to store water. Now. When the first case appears it will be too late." Axel looked around. "If these old estates have wells, now is the time to bring them back into use."
The Inquisitor nodded. "The information I seek is simple. Have the Three Hundred been disabled? Will they be able to teach the next tier," a bow to his grandfather. "To make zivvy? Or are we done with that, and must adapt?"
A deep sigh. "Yes. All Three Hundred are powerless. And . . . we will find out if we can make zivvy, when by their last order, we open a portal to them, next year."
The old man shrugged that away. "So . . . what is the situation on Siberia Max?"
"Not bad." The Inqusitor shrugged. "We've heard rumors of the Plague, and reduced portal travel, while increasing our surveillance. This visit was triggered by Tier Four Hub Budapest Reborn attempting to invade, thinking the Research Center must have a large stock of zivvy. That was the first we'd heard of the Three Hundred being attacked, and the supply of zivvy cut off."
Axel took over. "I suspect the Enemy is randomly finding Alliance Worlds and poisoning them. That would explain how the Plague has jumped around so oddly, skipping worlds that ought to have been affected. So Tier six and seven, out of Siberia Max have been attacked, but we have had no problem. Several Tier threes and fours, but not connecting to us.
"Of the twenty-two worlds I've checked since mid-summer, the affected worlds are a scatter of all types and stages, all three of the Allied Families, many without connections to any other Plague Worlds. But once started, the pattern of the spread of the plague is the same. One or more large cities, generally starting in the Imperial district and then in large areas of the city, but affecting very few rural areas. People fleeing, even the ones who've lost their Power, do not infect other people. People who remain in the infected areas keep falling ill."
The old men exchanged glances. "That does explain a lot. Especially how the Plague spreads so poorly in the countryside. All right son. I'll forgive you for treason, this once, now can you get home?"
"Yes. We'll drive off . . ."
"Don't bother. We'll take all this to the Council in the morning. But you'd better be gone by then."
Axel glanced at his watch. "Half an hour until our first possible pickup time."
"We'll walk you out then. So, Grigori, how are my great grandchildren these days?"
A two foot and a bit deep hole just off the driveway, with the heavy Cyborgs closing in to loom when he used power to make the narrow trench . . . "It'll self destruct fifteen minutes after I turn it on. I suspect that'll involve a lot of nasty acid, so I'd recommend against digging it up any time soon."
That got him even more dubious looks, and at nine, when he turned it on and lowered it carefully into the hole . . . Numbers Two and Three Gorbachev had been hustled back inside. He filled in the hole and trotted back to the Battle Limo, delighted to see the wavering lights and sparks.
And a familiar scene on the other side. A forty foot drive and they were home.
The Inquisitor sighed and headed for the Governor and the Boss.
Grinning techs pounced on Axel. "Can you come work with us?
"Ah, success, then . . . as time and bosses allow, I would love to."
So long as Budapest Reborn behaves and no one else thinks we have zivvy just sitting around.