Wine of the Gods 26: Embassy (8 page)

***

Napoleon Zambrano stared upward at the wavering lightshow, the rainbow heat distortion . . . and followed it.

"That's . . . not a gate." Ridley Chandalahar had griped the whole week as Napoleon had crisscrossed the Gate Security Area/// looking for the first sign of this so-called permanent gate.

"It may be a precursor. Keep up."
Idiot ought to exercise more.

The gate guards were taking notice, now, as the dancing flick of lights settled to the ground a couple hundred meters beyond the ruins of the old gate.

Napoleon turned his back on it. "Start recording. This is Napoleon Zambrano reporting live from Nowhereistan. The gate from the Department of Interdimensional Cooperation and Security may be about to form. I'm not sure what the camera can show, but here on the ground we see a patch of multicolored flickering lights. It took a sweep across the grounds and is now settling down at ground level. It's a couple of hundred meters from the old gate that was destroyed three years ago, and about two kilometers from the new gate."

Ridley took one hand off the big shoulder-mounted vid cam and pointed.

Napoleon turned sideways, and stepped a bit further to the side. "The light patch is firming up into a bright white spot, and now it's swirling open to show stone pavement, green grass, and two people sitting on the ground."

Standing sideways, he could see the fast approaching troops. Armored troop carriers in the lead, tanks behind.

"We've got the Army closing in now that we've got an exact location for this alien gate." A quick glance around. "We're going to back off a bit and find a good spot to watch this historic occasion,"
or bloody massacre,
"from. Ridley, keep shooting."

Napoleon stepped past him, put a hand on his shoulder, and pulling him back slowly and carefully. The rubble had been only roughly cleared, but that was actually to their advantage, as Napoleon steadied the vidcam as Ridley backed up a pile that had . . . probably . . . once been a large building.

Even out of the camera frame, Napoleon kept up a running commentary. "The troops have dismounted from the carriers and are arraying themselves around the tanks. Now the two people on the far side of that gate are standing up and stepping through. They have no obvious weapons, and look like ordinary human beings."

He stepped briefly into the frame and spoke to the cam. "For you coming new to the scene, this is Napoleon Zambrano live in Nowheristanwhere this 'Disco' has opened a new kind of gate to the so-called Embassy World." A glance to the side. Big black car approaching. "So far we have two people, a man and a woman, who have stepped through, and are waiting, probably for the officials, who are now approaching."

He named all the officials as they left the car, but only Senate Leader Po approached the waiting pair.

"Let's see if we can pick up their conversation . . . "

***

They attached the gate to Earth a few hundred feet beyond the ruins of their original powered gate. The Earth's new powered gate had been built on the far side of the building complex. Xen stepped through, stopping to watch the speeding vehicles slamming to a stop and disgorging infantry. The tanks rolled up behind them.

I wonder how many people we killed, when we destroyed their gate? Lots, the way they're scrambling to move heavy weaponry this direction.

Xen sauntered out and stood in a relaxed pose, non-threatening, and in the eyes of an Earther, unarmed. Q stepped up beside him. Hands open and empty. A broad low dome of layered shields over both of them. In theory the angle of impact would deflect any incoming projectiles, minimizing the kinetic energy the physical shield would have to handle.

:: Do they realize how dangerous Wizards and Witches are? ::

:: Doubt they believe in magic. Odd, considering this is where the genetic engineering that started it all took place. :: Xen watched the tanks taking aim at them, and wondered if this attempt at diplomacy was doomed to failure from the first.

But however ready, the tanks didn't fire. The soldiers surrounding them, tested their shields with a few pokes and prods, but no shooting.

Men in suits showed up eventually, and Q softened the shields, pulled them in close.

One man advanced on them, looked them over for a long moment.

"We do not allow anyone to control us."

Xen nodded. "We have no desire to control you, as such. We merely want you to stop attacking inhabited worlds. You can do anything you want on uninhabited worlds. Anything you want, on your own world and your colonies that don't have an indigenous population. Our goal is to stop interdimensional war. We'll leave this gate here, for your inspection. Four days from today, the Empire of the One will be sending an official delegation to Embassy World, to open communications. I invite the Earth to do the same."

A second inclination of his head, then he and Q turned and walked through the gate. In a burst of common sense, they'd put the Earther gate on the opposite side of the plaza from the Oners. Xen rather hoped they'd build a bit south and further from the Disco building.

"Well . . . they didn't shoot at us."

Xen nodded. "It would take an Earther to be ruder and more dismissive than Agni."

***

"And there you have it. Four days from now we'll be face-to-face with the Empire of the One. From Nowhereistan, this is Napoleon Zambrano."

***

The entirety of Disco—all three of them—ignored the tanks pointing their main guns through the gate, and the security people stepping through to glare around at nothing, and then the scientists who popped though and aimed instruments back at the gate. Both the Earthers and the Oners stayed near "their" gate, and didn't stay long.

Four days later, the first official delegation came through.

The first man through the Oner gate was moderately tall, middle-aged, with the look of a fairly fit office dweller.

Garit caught a faint whisper from Xen. "Director Urfa Withione, their president's right hand man."

Six more people followed. The two guard types each took a quick sweeping look around, eyed the black building, then focused on the three of them. The other four eyed the empty miles of grasslands then focused on the building, the fountain, the three of them.

This Director Urfa's flicked glance had been so fast it was nearly imagined, then he focused on them and stepped forward.

"Director Urfa." Garit barely inclined his head. Damned court etiquette might finally be useful. "I am Prince Garit Negue of the Kingdom of the West, assigned by my government to the Department of Interdimensional Security and Cooperation. You have met, but perhaps I should reintroduce Captain Xen Wolfson, head of Interdimensional Security. And Doctor Quail Quicksilver, head of the science section."

Garit had grown up with the royal family's version of a mage power gene. As far as he'd ever been able to see it had given him the "magical glow" and the ability to shield his thoughts and maybe do a better than average job of guessing what someone else was thinking. After drinking that hideous hodgepodge of spells, he'd sort of had a lot of stuff pasted on, including more power genes, but less than a year of practice with them. Xen had drilled him in how much glow to show and toughened up his shields.

He still had a nasty feeling of being naked in public around these old experienced magic users.

"Prince Garit, a pleasure to meet you. Captain Wolfson," A twitch of a smile, "Doctor Quicksilver. A pleasure. May I introduce Dr. Etli, Dr. Wrla, Inre, Ydro, Arbe and Ifpw."

"A mutual pleasure. May I show you our headquarters? It's . . . recently constructed and a few finishing touches are still in progress." Garit half turned and stepped away and they all shifted into motion.
Interesting, that he even introduced the ones that appear to be straightforward guards.

Q grinned cheerfully at the two guards. "Hey, Yid, Inre, long time and all that." But then her attention switched to the two with the degrees. "Dr. Etli, Dr. Wrla, a pleasure to meet you. I'm a transdimensional physicist, what are your specialties?"

"I'm a geneticist. I work for the Interior Directorate." The slightly paler colored Oner eyed her dubiously. "Dr. Wrla is a research physicist, with the Exterior Directorate."

"We'll have to talk, Dr. Wrla. Umm, I don't know how good your intel on us is. Xen is a geneticist and a genetic engineer. Such a pity he's stuck squashing entire armies."

Garit fought down an impulse to smirk as the Oner scientists eyed them, rather dubiously.

"Are you also a scholar, Prince Garit?" Urfa paced beside him.

"Umm, no. Thank the Old Gods. I'm a career soldier."

Xen snorted. "Political science, History, Pre-law. Mind you they did have to drag him kicking and arguing off to class. Prince Garit is King Leano's youngest son, and currently, probably the Spear Heir. That is, in line to inherit command of the military."

"Ah, yes. That . . . interesting two brothers inheritance scheme." Urfa eyed him.

"I appreciate your not calling it insane." Garit grinned. "It's worked for four and a half centuries, and the current mess is the first serious bobble."

Urfa grimaced. "Yes. Assassinations, or even just attempts have such long tails of consequences."

Garit bit his lip. "Well, our troubles started with a really . . . unsuitable Crown Heir. The current uncertainties would be there, even if he'd survived long enough for the king's decision to disinherit him had been carried out."

Ydro snickered. "Going to work it up into a fairy tale?"

Q looked around with a grin. "It's already gone totally fairy tale on us. A secret wedding, a revenge driven wounded Prince, half brother of the assassinated Crown Prince, bastard twins raised in a country village . . ."

"Ooo! The last act ought to be a beauty."

Garit couldn't help but grin. "We sincerely hope not. My . . . well, technically my nephew, but Staven's about six months older than me . . . "

"Also known as the wounded prince." Q put in.

". . . is currently being the good uncle and lobbying for Rebo's marriage to be declared legal, for which he has my entire and total support." Garit grinned. "Fortunately my father is healthy, my older brothers well known and respected. So there's plenty of time to sort out the potential heirs and pick a couple of good ones."

Urfa cleared his throat. "Depending on who does the picking and their definition of 'good.' Elections are useful that way."

Garit couldn't help but grin. "Riiight. Less insider politics than keeping it in the family." He stopped at the transition from the melded gravel of the road to the black basalt stairs climbing up ten feet from road to front doors. Q and Xen had worked over the steps. They were now broad and even, only giving way to random jumbled cubes well to either side.

He saw the Oners eyeing the building.

"The architects and builders got a little . . . carried away."

Xen turned abruptly. "The Earther's are arriving."

Ydro leaned over toward Inre. "Five rials says shots are fired."

"Done. It'll be knives in the back after all the preliminary diplomacy is done."

Right. No wonder Xen and Q sort of like the Oners. They're real people, not boogeymen. Now let's see about the Earthers.

"If you'll excuse us just a moment, we'll see if their intentions are also peaceful, then perhaps we can all sit down and talk." Garit nodded politely to Urfa then strode down the street toward the small group assembling around the gate a few hundred feet away.

A thin man in a finely tailored charcoal grey suit stepped out of the crowd to meet him. Fit, large men in black suits flanked him, half a step behind, hands hovering and ready to go for weapons.

Knives, or more probably guns like Staven's got. Rather obvious bodyguards. Six of them, plus eight civilians, so to speak. Bureaucrats, that'll be a secretary, there's a pushy member of a different political clique. Not sure about the ones spreading out with those machines . . . oh, of course. News reporters, with voice recorders and movie cameras.

Garit pulled his attention back to the man in front.

"Welcome to Embassy. I am Prince Garit Negue, assigned to the Department of Interdimensional Security and Cooperation from the Kingdom of the West on Comet Fall, as we've started calling our world."

The thin man eyed them. "No elves, eh? Good. I am Jacob Montgomery, Ambassador to Embassy, representing Earth, the World Council, and the President of the World."

"A pleasure. This is Captain Wolfson, and Dr. Quicksilver. They are heads of security and science, and I am, at the moment the overall administrator of Disco, here."

A few snickered from the civilians.

No sign that the ambassador intended to introduce anyone else.

"The delegation from the Empire of the One arrived a few minutes ago. Why don't we join them. We can discuss the basics, and see where we need to go from there."

***

"One of the things we need to make clear is what crimes we will and won't investigate." Prince Garit had taken the head of the table. Xen and Q flanked him, with all the Earthers on the right, one of the bodyguards crowding Xen aggressively, and all the Oners on the left, Urfa a respectful, or perhaps cautious foot away from Q.

"It is our job to stop wars. All three of our planets have been attacking and spying on each other. Those attacks need to stop. Espionage . . . Crimes committed by the spies are not our business."

Garit shrugged. "To give three examples, Utto Clostuone organized raids against our civilian gold mining operations. That is a diplomatic matter between The One World and the Kingdom of the West. The Dimensional Police are not going to arrest and try him for conspiracy and murder. Although if the Western Army catches him in the Kingdom, he's toast.

"Second example, the Kingdom of the West and Earth are in a state of declared war. We will stop all fighting we encounter, but we will not act against things such as the Westerners' counterfeiting scheme.

"And then, agents of One World attempted to assassinate General Rufi Negue.

"It is not our job to pursue or prosecute those individuals. One hopes that diplomacy can prevent another attempt.

"But we need to decide if we are going to pursue institutional or governmental responsibility for government sanctioned actions of these types. Or leave it entirely to diplomacy."

Garit looked between the two sides of the table. "On this planet, everyone has diplomatic immunity. If there's a criminal matter on one of your worlds, you can go the diplomatic route, request the other government turn the accused over to your justice system, but if the suspects comes here, you cannot snatch them while they're reading a book at the library. Comments?"

Ambassador Montgomery frowned at him. "What do you mean, counterfeiting scheme? And we didn't declare war."

Xen snorted. "No, you simply invaded. We openly and formally declared war on you, as soon as that started. I'm surprised that wasn't included in your brief. Not to mention the sprayer truck."

"Insecticides. We do not engage in biowarfare. Now this counterfeiting?"

Garit shook his head. "I wouldn't have used it as an example if I had realized you hadn't discovered it. We'll have to consider what civilian crimes we'll investigate. And how we define a civilian as opposed to a foreign agent."

Urfa drummed his fingers. "See who profits? Now. What about our colonies?"

"We will put up a permanent gate between any two Worlds if both sides want one, or between any inhabited World and any empty World. We have ceased our operations against your gates, both of you, and won't interfere so long as no military actions are taken through them. Example, Earth and Planet Purple had a friendly trade relationship prior to, first the One World, and then twenty years later, Comet Fall damaging Earth's gate machinery. If both Worlds want a gate, no problem. If Earth decides to invade Purple, we will shut the gate down whether it is yours or ours.

"Now, you both have a number of Worlds that had no indigenous population, and to which you moved your own people and also people from yet other Worlds. The current populations, without regard to origin can vote on what gates they want. We will open a gate between your home world and that colony, or if they request it, we will establish a gate to here, and you can negotiate a new relationship, or lack thereof.

"Both of you have exploited Worlds with native populations. Those Worlds will also be allowed to choose what gates, if any, they wish."

"And you're going to put these gates up out of the goodness of your heart?" Jacob Montgomery was apparently the only spokesman for the Earthers.

"Actually we figured we'd put up gates to here for free and charge for any more. The cost will depend upon the ability of the World to pay, and will most likely finance this attempt at cross-dimensional civility."

"We can put up our own, you won't be able to hold us up for much." Urfa placed his elbows on the table and looked stubborn.

Garit nodded. "We are not planning to field an army to keep the peace. We'll add investigators, negotiators and observers as we need them. So far our monetary needs are few, thus the gates will be inexpensive."

"And all of your agents will be from Comet Fall?"

Garit shook his head. "No. At the moment we are all seconded from The Kingdom of the West. King Leano made it clear that while we are assigned here, this was where our loyalty is, even when he is in the wrong. We hope that you will both agree that a mixed force is a good idea and that all agents must be able to operate independently. Including the ones you assign here."

Xen nodded as he met their eyes. "Yes, that was an invitation. Right now there's just the three of us. Garit Negue in charge, myself and Quail Quicksilver. So to start, why don't you each send two people. People whose integrity you trust. People who, if they come to your ambassador and tell them that your World has screwed up, you will trust them to be telling the truth. But please realize that we will know if they gloss over their home's errors or try to make one of the other Worlds look bad. We want real, honest, agents."

Garit flashed a grin. "And don't rush. At the moment we're pretty much twiddling our thumbs with nothing to do. But we would like to have them in place before we start placing gates, as observers to, hopefully, all parties agreeing and keeping the peace."

Urfa nodded. "And what about these 'corridors'? Wolfson has hinted that they could be thrown in to sweeten the pot."

Garit looked at Q, who met Urfa's gaze. "There are four engineering firms in the Kingdom of the West that can set up corridors. No doubt a bunch of freelancers as well. So long as you are not engaging in cross-dimensional war, we will not interfere with anyone hiring them." Her mouth quirked slightly at his skeptical look. "I own one of the companies, Oldham Engineering. They're very busy, what with me defecting to the D-cops. I'll be glad to introduce your people to both them and my rivals."

Garit took over smoothly. "This brings up the matter of cross dimensional financing. No doubt our bankers will enjoy figuring out our exchange rates. For the short term we will establish accounts on all three Worlds, so we can buy, sell, and pay in whatever currency our agents and various employees, desire."

"What about those Von Neumann magic potions you lot so cavalierly sling around?" Dr. Etli frowned across the table at Xen.

"Import and export controls will be a matter for the diplomats." Garit shrugged. "I understand your caution. We haven't had any sort of problem, and tend to be, as you imply, quite casual about the joy juice. We will be establishing both a hospital and a library here. You will be able to send people here for treatment, and they can stay until the nanos have completed their work and disassembled themselves."

Xen caught the Oner's attention. "Have you seen any long term problems with the nanos I distributed, umm, four years ago?"

The man glowered. "No. Your safeguards have held so far."

Q leaned to look down the table at him. "We can manufacture medicines with the nano repair molecules already in it, but no assemblers, no Von Neumanns. Would that be acceptable to you?"

"I would need to be certain of the filtering. The danger of Von Neumanns is that a single one can destroy a World."

"In theory. I suppose that if the bulk chemical makeup of the machine was very similar to the bulk makeup of a planetary crust that could happen, although the fuel source . . . hmm, perhaps solar powered?"

"Q, please. Don't sit there and plot how to destroy Worlds." Garit repressed a grin.

She blushed. "It's not something I'd actually do. I'm not sure it would work, anyway, the chemical differences just between granite and limestone are sufficient to require at least two different machines, not to mention the uneven distribution of water. Nanos are
little
they can't actually move around collecting goodies. I have no idea of their actual range, I'll have to test that. I suspect unless they're suspended in moving water, it'll be measured in centimeters. Oh. Sorry."

The Oner scientist, rather than upset was looking thoughtful. "I really hadn't thought about bulk chemistry and travel limitations. Sea water . . . "

Urfa snorted. "Scientists!"

Xen grinned. "Umm, medical spells can be made at four levels. We can wrap spells around people, manufacturing what they need out of the chemicals of their own bodies, or we can manufacture those molecules, generally ribozymes, elsewhere. Encase them in delivery packages to resist digestion, to get them taken up in the blood stream, and then pulled into the cells. Or we can make assemblers to do it, and they are sufficiently larger than the encased ribozymes so they can be easily filtered. Then, as we have done with a very few things, we can also have the assembler reproduce itself, make it a Von Neumann. Would manufacture by any means other than the last be acceptable to you?"

The Oner doctor nodded, obviously still thinking.

They looked at the Earth ambassador, but he'd apparently come without science advisors. He sniffed. "Magic. It's just nanotech."

Q and Xen both grinned and nodded.

Urfa growled faintly. "All right. I will send two agents, with the understanding that they work for you, not the One World, but I'm going to stipulate that they will not act against the One—but equally, not against any other polity."

Garit nodded, "We'll work up a good definition of working against a world's interests, versus stopping their military." He looked over at the Earthers.

Montgomery nodded reluctantly. "I will pass your comments on. I would like more details as to your schedule for setting up gates."

Garit put his elbows on the table. "We have, in our explorations, located Planet Purple. They are quite angry with us and are demanding we allow them to re-establish trade with Earth. If you also wish this, we could open a gate inside of a few days. We can get together with your gate techs and hopefully figure out how each other's coordinate systems work and start opening gates to colony Worlds nearly as quickly." He added a nod to Urfa.

Q looked across the table at Montgomery. "Your new gate Engine in Santiago could keep up your usual traffic, and we could put the Earth end of the permanent gates either there or in your old Asian gate complex. Or anywhere else you'd like them. If nothing else, I can trace any pathway you open and then establish a permanent gate. You might suggest to your people that they decide where on each World they would like the gates to open. Near mines on one World to near smelters on yours, for instance, or in fact a corridor from, say, a metal mine to a coal mining area for a smelter and then a gate from there to anywhere on Earth would be easy enough."

"Your engineering firm will be making the gates?" Urfa was studying her again.

"No. Disco will be placing the gates. For corridors, the civilian engineering firms will be the best. I think that I'm going to be fully engaged here, and that I need this position to be separate from my, umm, civilian company, in fact I may sell the business to my employees. I'll keep the gate machinery and, if necessary, pull in personnel as needed, from all the firms." Q was looking calmly amused.

Garit suspected the first few gates would be made in conjunction with a great deal of smoke and mirrors. And fast talk, which was his job. "We use two types of gates. Short term exploratory gates, and permanent gates. The Kingdom of the West is keeping an eye on gate making by, to use your term, the Fallen, and limiting our creation of them in the Kingdom."

"How many Worlds do the Fallen control?" One of the Earther's far down the table chimed in for the first time.

Xen fielded that one. "We have, at the moment, twelve permanent gates. Eight are to Empty Worlds, five of which are being colonized, and one is the start of a maze of gates and corridors through Empty Worlds and Dinosaur Worlds. We have two-way trade through one gate to another Exile World with magic. One has an industrial age civilization that we are studying, but have not yet officially contacted. Two are to Worlds inhabited by primitives. We are leaving them alone. Our current gates to Earth and One World connect through the maze. This was a precaution against your discovering your end of the gates."

"That sounds a bit extreme." Urfa looked amused.

Q looked across her shoulder at him. "When we first started making gates, we, umm, couldn't figure out how to close them. Hence the precautions. We have since learned how to make temporary gates, and how to dismantle our 'permanent' gates. So the maze is no longer needed. I suppose though, it counts as thirty-five Worlds we've explored, one of which the One has also discovered. Likewise Earth found one of the maze worlds." She tapped her fingers thoughtfully. "I expect we'll cede any claim to those two worlds, to Earth and to your Empire, in the hopes of encouraging your use of Empty Worlds."

Xen cleared his throat. "Do I need to mention that by Empty Worlds we mean worlds with no intelligent species? It encompasses everything from Algae Worlds to dinosaurs and Pleistocene megafauna."

"Are you continuing to explore?" Finally, a different Earther speaking.

Q looked to Garit.

"Yes, the Kingdom will continue to explore. Disco as well, but not for the purposes of claim or use. For research, to try and understand the Multiverse. And, umm, a stockpile of the coordinates of Empty Worlds will be useful for bribing other Worlds to not invade inhabited Worlds. Plus we're just naturally curious."

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