Axel eyed him. "You have already broken the Empire. You poisoned the Three Hundred and the Empire is now in the process of collapsing into individual worlds, raiding each other for the zivvy that is all that keeps the Families of the True Men in control."
A razor edged flash of teeth. "Good."
Axel bit his lip. "You might pass on to your masters, that the Plague destroys the Mental abilities of elite and servants alike. Of course, if you intend to follow up with a conquest, this is all to the good--for you. But if you wish to change our culture--weaponize that zivvy dissolver. Knock the props out from under the elite, by giving the lower classes back the abilities and intelligence they were born with."
A twitch from the flat.
"Now if you'll excuse me, I need to finish rescueing these idiots . . ." He looked at the wall. "And I think I'll take their portalmaker along with me."
"So you can wire him up to yours?"
"Actually we been experimenting, helmets, not wires and so forth."
"How . . . interesting." The Enemy stared at the wall for a moment, took a half step to the side and sliced a tall arch, and back across the bottom, stepped back as the slab tilted outward and crashed to the ground between them. A thin smile as the light from inside gleamed off hazel eyes, then the man was just . . . gone.
"Damn . . ." Axel bolted through the hole, shields up hard and threw a stun spell in a stream across the far side of the room. Four men collapsed across their controls and Axel leaped to slap the emergency shutdown button. Lock the door. Shove a desk in front of it.
He flipped open the latches sealing the coffin-like sturcture in the middle of the room and hauled the lid open. "Hi. I'm Igor, and I'm kidnapping you."
"Oh . . . Okay." Pale, bald, muscles badly atrophied, blinking in the lights . . . Axel sliced tubes and wires, helped the man sit up, everything but his face coated with nasty looking goo that probably kept his skin from dissolving. Which made him a slippery, but he was light enough to heave over his shoulder and carry out the hole in the wall. Axel laid him down on the moaning body bags and brought up a hard dome shield.
The guard Cyborgs wasted ammunition while Axel turned the flat away from the hole in the wall . . . paced out twelve feet in front of it and sliced out a hole in the pavement. Set the beacon in the hole and turned it on. He trotted back to the flat, peeling out of his shirt.
"You need this worse than me."
"Oh, right . . . I remember . . ." The portalmaker helped get himself into the shirt Axled jerked the hood out of the collar, covered the man's head pulled the shirt tails down as far as they'd go and pulled a couple of body bags over his legs.
Then he got behind the controls and fished the spattercloth sack out of the tote and hauled it over his head as the portal opened and he gunned the flat through.
They were all set up for decontamination and ignored all his pained yelps as he got hosed down with a nasty salt brine before, during, and after he undressed, then helped with the others, as they hadn't been expecting six extras . . .
Then a fresh water rinse and bath robe and they got hauled though empty corridors to the isolation ward in the medical center.
Where he got to explain it all to the Boss and the Inquisitor through a glass wall with a speaker.
They were both grinning.
"You snatched their portalmaker! That'll keep them grounded." The Boss sobered. "Now we'll have to first grab the other imposters, and then . . . figure out what to do with the chipped originals."
Axel shook his head. "They were raiding for zivvy. I really doubt they wasted chips on people they were planning to execute."
"What?" Councilman Kovalev staggered up to the window, a hand hovering over the scab on his bare scalp.
"A cheap, easy way to demoralize you, make you easier to question, control." Axel looked past him to the Medic. "Scan them. Let's find out."
The medic frowned "I have a meter to check the function of chips as they grow in. I was just going to check . . ." He pulled out a little screened box and placed it against the Councilman's head. "Nothing. If there's a chip in there, it's not working at all."
Kovalev grabbed the window frame to support suddenly weak legs. Axel and the Medic grabbed him and walked him back to his bed.
"Scan everyone else." Axel looked around at all the rest of the patients, bright-eyed and hopeful. "In fact a full scan, to see if they put anything in their heads, would be a good idea."
The portalmaker let his head drop back. "Doesn't matter to me. I'll be wired back up soon enough. Just for a minute there . . . I sort of hoped . . ."
Axel walked over to him. "This is Siberia Max. We've been experimenting with less brutal methods of controlling portals." He looked back at the Boss. "Could be really interesting, with a full blown, experienced portalmaker."
"Another report I need to make . . . where it can't be overheard."
"No rush. You'll probably want to shoot me after you hear it."
:: All right. I'm braced for the worst. Tell. ::
:: I encountered one of the Enemy. :: He closed his eyes and remembered the whole encounter.
The Inquisitor was shaking his head. :: You . . . suggested a different tactic? And told them the Empire was broken? ::
:: One suspects they know. But a chance to get them to stop speading the Plague was not to be missed. ::
:: I've always wondered when they'd invade. :: The Boss eyed him.
:: From what I overheard on Neu Frankfurt . . . I think they want peace, and for us to stop killing each other. ::
They gave him disbelieving looks.
The Boss shrugged. :: Relax. We'll probably let you out tomorrow. I'll send Murphy up to tell you what comes of our hunt for the imposters . . . in fact, we need the names and addresses for the other two. ::
Axel eyed the two unknown men, both sitting up and looking around. "I was planning to rescue those two," he waved at his cousins, still not quite with it, "and grabbed you other three just because you were there. Kovalev I recognized. Who are you two?"
"Lord Hans Mansfeld, Stuttgart." A heavy German accent. "And Lord Gunter Colloredo, who is our President's right hand man. Where are we?"
Axel paused to change languages. "This is Siberia Max. We're a reasearch World, with a small population. Budapest Reborn has twice attacked us, and replaced at least three people here . . . were there more people where they were holding you?"
"No!" He sat up in alarm. "Replaced?"
"If they have replaced me . . ." Lord Gunter paled.
"We will check for a path back to Stuttgart."
"We are Tier Two! If they have . . . we will destroy them for this!" Gunther was recovered enough to start getting mad.
Axel nodded at the portalmaker. "We've made a start. They're grounded until they get a portalmaker trained up. In the mean time . . . we'd best hope you six grow some hair."