He glanced at the time. The days are getting longer, but it's still dark until . . . I'll need to park to the west of Number Four Portal when I snatch their portalmaker. They quit at six in the morning, about right for making the guards look into the rising sun by the time I'm trying to get him across the grounds in the long shadows of the tall buildings.
The other young one turns off at ten . . . I wonder if I can get him out before the alarm goes out?
He shook his head at the screen. "I should be back in a couple of hours."
Since he had the truck, he started with four matresses. A table with six chairs, some assembly required.
A medium sized TV, to keep the ladies happy for the next five days.
Clothes. No effing idea what sizes to buy. He got stretchy stuff, t-shirts, packets of undies and socks, and hoped for the best. Loaded up on groceries.
Unloaded everything but two of the matresses.
The ladies were delighted, and tactfully suggested more glasses, plates, and flatware.
"A small refrigerator and an electric skillet would be nice." Shy gave him the big eyed treatment.
Blondie sighed. "Towels and wash clothes? I'd kill for a shower, but any application of hot water would be nice."
Dear God! Am I going to wind up with them staying here? They don't have any money, can't work with the police no doubt looking for them.
"Right. I'll be back."
The megastore had everything. And when he got back he found the garage door wide open and the boys he'd given the wine to, and two other young men, busily assembling the table and chairs.
He winced, but backed halfway in so they could unload without exposing four wanted women to too much of the great outdoors.
"Das ist m'bruder." The boy with the cut hand waved at a young man standing up.
"I insisted he bring me. I spent the last year and a half sitting in a corner drooling. If there is anything you need, anything, I am at your disposal."
"Well, I'll be leaving in a week. I don't know when--or if--I'll be back." He eyed the group of young men. "I need this warehouse kept emptyish, but if you could come and go often enough that it doesn't look abandoned I'd appreciate it."
He eyed the younger brother. "And if Scar here, and his friends, need a place to manufacture that medicial wine, this'll work."
The other man stood up. Alarms went off in Axel's head. Police.
"We wanted to help you, but it sounds like you're helping us."
"Sounds like. That wine? It's going to change the whole Empire . . . whatever's left of it. And in my opinion, for the good."
The cop nodded. "Yeah." He touched his head. "I had a serious head injury. Medically retired, with a pension that barely covered my Mom feeding me. Now? Damn. Everything has changed again."
"What are you going to do about it?"
"That kind of depends on who you are. What you are."
Axel straightened and lowered his shield enough that the cop could see he was telling the truth. Might have overdone it, the man took a step back, paleing. "I am an Imperial Agent, investigating a complaint from Siberia Max that Stuttgart has invaded them.
"In five days I'll be shifting over to Siberia Max and observing this so-called invasion, and the local response to it." He shrugged. "While I'm here, I'm dispensing a healing potion, which admittedly has a few unwanted side effects. The advantages far outweight the negatives in this very difficult time. And may amelerorate the harm from being cut off from other medical assistance." He closed up his shield. "Sorry, I'm a bit pissed to find medical care rationed already. A tier two world should do better than this for its people."
The cop nodded toward the women.
Axel let his voice chill. "Your government gives the strong appearance of experimenting with zivvy."
The cop took another step back. "Yeah, they told me . . . Christus . . ."
"Indeed. Hopefully your government will back away from this mis-step. I'll be monitoring them for the next few days. And, as I say, leaving in a few days. I would like you gentlemen to stay away for two weeks, then you can use the warehouse however you wish. Once I have reported in I may return. Or my superiors will. And they won't be covert. At. All."
He led them to his computer, signed the two men onto the lease, and tapped the terms. "I've paid a year in advance and deposit. If I don't return, feel free to extend the lease, or not. It's of no matter to me or mine."
Shy had taken over the short counter beside the industrial sink and shortly fed everyone. Then Axel kicked out the male contingent. "Come back in two weeks."
He looked at the women who were back to eyeing him warily.
"On Siberia Max, rather than being wanted criminals, you will . . . well, I suppose by right of theft, be mine. While I do not approve of anyone being property, I'm as trapped by the laws as you are. But I will find you a place to live and you can work as you like."
He eyed the women. "It beats being a wanted criminal here. I think. Go or stay. It really is entirely up to you."
Just driving by on the highway, a glimpse showed a whole lot more lights on at Number Three. Mostly at the Museum end.
I hope they think that was a daring raid to rescue the Black Widows. Not a scouting trip to check out how to liberate a portalmaker . . . because what idiot scout would care about four women in a holding cell?
Portal Facility Four looked like business as usual. Not much cover on the south side where the trucks were departing, but on the west side, a narrow side street, with a not-really-a-park, just a roughly maintained bank of a concrete lined drainage with some trees sticking up out of the brush where they'd stopped mowing.
A quick slash and levitate, then he backed the car down the slope into the cleared spot and dropped the cut brush on the car
Probably just scratched my paint. He trotted up the slope to the road and walked to the road that paralleled the security fence, and along it to the point closest to the building. Closed his eyes so he could see the density points of pressureplates, the wire loops of circuit detectors . . . half of them not working.
Overconfident, lazy. Not keeping up the maintenance
He mapped a path through them, backed off to let a car drive past, stayed back to watch two patrol vehicles inside drive by, one each way. Used the time to set his camo to "medium mown grass."
Then he ran and jumped. Levitated. Rolled the landing and held still. No alarm, no under the surface detectors on this side. He trotted for the building spotting doors . . . a blank one over there . . . no outside handles. Well, finally an emergency exit! He leaned to feel for alarms . . . reached a hand up and rested it near the alarm on the other side of the wall . . . reached mentally and bent a few wires. Checked, no one near . . . he pulled out the worker's overalls he'd snagged from the first Portal, and climbed into them. Switched his camo to solid tan, and walked down the hall, heading toward the portal machinery.
Stepped into an empty office and opened his shields to feel for the portalmaker . . . close, good he was on this side of the big bay where the portal actually formed. And as the portal clased, he could feel the effort and mental reach for the next destination, the . . . challenge, the interest in seeing the multiverse . . . the pop of pain to remind the youngster to go to this specific place . . .
This kid's going to get along with Henrik just fine.
:: Who is Henrik? ::
Axel swallowed. :: A free portalist. Finish your shift. We'll talk then. ::
Axel closed his shield tight, and moved away. Found stairs and climbed a level, peeked out, too many people. He dropped down to the basement and a found the computers, a chemistry lab . . . A lavatory right under the control room. It looked unused.
Who wants to feel the mental screams of a portalmaker when they're sitting on the toilet?
A glance at his watch. Four hours and they should shut down.
Only two other people in the basement. Axel scouted out what he needed, then tucked himself out of sight and relaxed. Because the kidnapping of portal makers starts this morning.