Wine of the Gods 26: Embassy (9 page)

"You're not going to use them?" Montgomery looked skeptical.

"Comet Fall's population is roughly five hundred million. We don't even fill our own World. Five Colony Worlds are a bit much. I don't think any of them have a population over five thousand." Garit smiled a bit at their perplexed expressions. "I suppose the other polities on Comet Fall will eventually want Colony Worlds, and we'll establish gates for them.

"Which brings up another matter. Establishing claims. Our three Worlds need to agree on something along the lines of a solar powered short wave radio set up that we can place on Empty Worlds to let each other know when they've been beaten to the punch."

"Why short wave?"

"Because of the excellent bounce off the ionosphere. Better planet-wide reception." Garit managed to say that without boggling, and hopefully without showing his lack of comprehension.

Several people on each side nodded, while the rest looked like diplomats who didn't want to admit it meant nothing to them. Garit sympathized.

"Something of that nature would be easy enough for us to make." The Oner scientist showed his teeth. "And Earth as well. But how will you manage."

"If neither of you will sell them to us, we'll find a near-Earth and have one built to our specs." Q shrugged.

Montgomery frowned. "What do you mean a near-Earth?"

She blinked. "Haven't you checked out the Worlds closest to you? There are tons of tiny splits right around Earth, caused apparently by all the possible ways the Tunguska Event could have gone."

"The what?"

"In your history, a small carbonaceous chondrite exploded over Siberia in 1908. It flattened hundreds of square kilometers of forest. All the various possible slight orbital changes have produced hundreds of barely separated Worlds. I've been studying how they re-merge. It's fascinating." She looked bright-eyed and eager now.

Garit sighed.
I am such an idiot.
"No doubt both Earth and One World will be interested in exploring the phenomenon. You will probably both want to refer your dimensional experts to Doctor Quicksilver."
Ha! Let them try to patronize the only person in the multiverse who could actually see the multiverse.

Montgomery was staring narrow eyed at her. "Are you saying the Earth is merging with these other Worlds?"

"Not your Earth, sir. Apparently the discovery of dimensional travel has created another major crack in Earth's connectivity. That is, your Earth has split off very solidly from the rest of what I call the Tunguska Branch. The same holds for One World and Comet Fall, and as we connect to other Worlds we put kinks in the other side. I think our travels are changing the structure of the multiverse. What the effects will be, whether there will be repercussions, is, at this point, impossible to say."

The two groups muttered a bit among themselves. Urfa caught Garit's eye. "We would like to send some dimensional experts here. Physicists."

Montgomery snapped around at that.

"All scientists are welcome." Q switched her attention between the sides. "How about two weeks from now you both send a half dozen and we'll see what we have to show each other, and how we can co-operate in our research.

Chapter Fourteen
25 September 1398
Embassy World



Napoleon Zambrano glared at the bloody gawdawful black cubist's nightmare of a building. He had, finally, managed to find a spot on the monstrosity that transmitted voice vibrations.


And of course, by then he'd missed half the meeting.

One of the bloody most important meetings this decade . . . this century . . . and it isn't being recorded? Not by any independent agent, at any rate. And whatever this "Disco" releases will be edited for the effect they want.


When they'd been turned away by the ambassador's guards, he'd slipped away to the side and left the rest of the fools to mill around waiting for a statement. Thank God for miniaturization. Everyone was so used to the big shoulder mount vidcams, that the tiny system he had distributed among his pockets had not been noticed. Or at least not commented upon. He'd circumnavigated the building, staying low and aiming his pickup at every window.

He'd just about finished circling the building when he finally got something.

Something about books and phenomenon . . . he crawled up and over some cockeyed black cubes and hunched down, slid right up under the window.

He was recording, and listening in live, so he caught all the details of the proposed science meeting.

Two weeks. I need to get back here in two weeks . . . damn it, I ought to have brought camping gear. And the next time I get through, I damn well will!

He drummed his fingers on the black rock.
Or I could try and charm that woman who was speaking. I hope to hell she's not some fat old biddy. I hate seducing old women


Q eyed the man who'd popped up from behind the Disco building. "A news reporter from Earth?"

What a charming shark smile, you have, Mr. Zambrano! And much as I'd sort of hoped my curse wouldn't work on the non-magical, I can feel your motives in speaking to me have nothing to do with lust.

"Yes, and a very curious one. What did you discuss in this meeting? It was rather brief."

"We generated more questions than answers. Basically we need to set limits on Disco. We will stop interdimensional wars, but what about espionage, assassinations, and more ordinary crimes?"

"Ordinary . . . Good grief! Do you have cross dimensional burglars?"

"Not yet. And hopefully we never will." She glanced around. "You appear to have been left behind."

A bright grin. He really was fairly attractive, despite the lack of glow. Dark hair and eyes, warm olive complexion.
I wonder if he can dance? Being pumped for information beats being ignored. I might even manage a few dates out of it.

"I managed to stay behind. But I suppose I'll have to go back, since there's no place to stay, and I didn't bring food for camping."

"Oh, the temperatures are nice. You can sleep in the grass or hike down to the beach if you prefer sand." She pointed southeast, to the coast. "It's ten miles . . . umm, sixteen kilometers that way. And that building behind headquarters is a restaurant . . . but there's no staff . . . and no place for the scientists I'm expecting in two weeks to sleep either. Oh heck. Excuse me I need to get some more rocks."

She teleported ten miles north, to a little valley the horses liked to hang out in. They raised their heads when she appeared. She whistled—much though she hated to admit it, neither Stripy nor Galena were "talkers" like Pyrite.

She pulled her tack out of a bubble and saddled up.
I can do a dozen small houses myself, no trouble. And perhaps I ought to make some for the three of us as well.


Napoleon stared at the empty space. Shook himself. "Damn. Teleportation on top of permanent gates. Wish I'd had the mini cam running." He turned, taking a long slow sweep of the panorama.

Pulled out the components of the mini cam and slotted them together. "Right. Some shots from up on that hill there, then I'll hike down to the beach. Get some shots there, sleep in the sand. Tomorrow I'll see if this restaurant is working yet. Then I suppose I'll have to go home. And hope to hell I can come back soon. With a lot more gear."

He turned at eyed the arches.
A regular utility vehicle could pass through. Set it up with a bed, camp stove for cooking, shovel for sanitary matters, hmm, weren't there shower set ups? Lots of clothes because he sure wasn't going to wash things in a stream somewhere. Speaking of which, water and food. Lots of food . . .

Chapter Fifteen
3 Hija 1400 yp
Gate City, One World



Rael eyed Director of External Relations Agni Withione Gerund Canary, who was, in turn, looking her over with a decidedly skeptical expression.

"I'm going to assume that you will be reporting everything to Urfa, and that if his orders contradict mine, his win." Agni was middle-aged, tall and broad, but fit. Dark brown hair, blue eyes. Body language as aggressive as always but with a bit of openness being enforced on top of it.

Rael opted for openness in return. "My main purpose here is to provide insights into . . . Xen Wolfson. In theory I'll have a better idea of his purpose, or what he's thinking behind what he's actually saying."

The skeptical look deepened.

"And if I see someone about to do something massively stupid, like about to start a war, yes. I'll call Urfa—or the President—and hopefully get it stopped fast. Also . . . if there's a need to seriously distract Captain Wolfson . . . I just might be just what is needed."

Director Agni nodded. "Hence the policy of not mentioning your name, ever. Divert his attention at just the right time. I don't suppose you'd kill him?"

"Not without an order from the President."
Will he make a crack about 'which president' or has he resigned himself to Orde's huge lead in the polls?

Agni leaned back, nodded at some internal decision. "Go talk to Ajki. He'll no doubt send you to the most irritating man in the multiverse."

Rael raised an eyebrow, and headed for the sixth floor.

Where Ajki grinned. "I just won about five bets with the other subdirectors. They all thought Agni would toss you right back out."

"I'll admit he was surprisingly mellow. For Agni." She giggled. "Someone dope his coffee this morning?"

Ajki just grinned. "No need. You've impressed him . . . and he's probably plotting out just how to use you."

He sobered. "I think you should work with a man who's just back from Comet Fall. He's got enough recordings to keep us busy for years. He's put together a group to analyze it all—but right now they're split between picking out the important stuff for immediate attention, and combing through the new data from the Embassy Planet."

"Sounds good." Rael wondered at the slight tensing of the man's shoulders.
Does he not like the man? Not trust him?

"So, report to Ajha Clostuone in Building Twenty-two, inside the Secured Gate Area. Room two hundred eighty." He stared steadily at her.

"Oh, good choice to be in charge of studying Comet Fall and Disco. I've attended some of his briefs to the president." Rael gave him a cheerful grin and walked out while he was still blinking.

Surprised him. So . . . How closely is Ajha related to the subdirector? Closely, I think. Because I think he expected me to throw a fit over working for a Clostuone. She thought it over and shrugged. Somewhere along the line I seem to have gotten over the usual High Oner snobbery. If I ever had any, which I doubt, now that I look back at the men I chased after in high school.

The weather was fine, so she stayed on the surface walks. The guarded gates to the secured area were just two blocks away. She smiled at the guard, as he recognized her.

"So, what's the best way to get to Building Twenty-two?"

"Straight ahead three blocks. It's that one with the bluish glass."


Room Two-eighty turned out to be a large workroom. Three tables and one wall a bank of computers and screens. One wall with pictures pinned across it.

The man who straightened from something on a table did bear a strong resemblance to the Subdirector. A bit taller, wiry rather than bulky, the brown hair thinning and receding. Green eyes instead of hazel.

"Ajha? Err, Administrator?"

He winced. "Senior Analyst. They haven't made a bureaucrat out of me yet."

"Sorry. For all the briefings I've attended, I don't think we were ever formally introduced."

He grinned, transforming a rather plain face into a warm and intelligent one. "I did manage to dodge all social entanglements. The biggest advantage to being a Clostuone."

The woman walking up behind him stiffened in offence.

Ajha shot her a quelling glance. "Anyway. Welcome to the club. This is Fean Withione, Hob-Obhi—Neartuone, our computer guru. Enda Withione and Baik Neartuone."

Rael nodded . "So you guys are more of an Info Team than a group of analysts? And you've been all over Comet Fall."

Grins and nods.

"Yes. I was recalled to look over the Embassy situation." He nodded at the others. "And pulled my usual team out with me, to get this underway. We're mostly still sorting the data that we collected on Comet Fall. I'm afraid it's not going to be a lot of use for the Embassy analysis. Their government buildings are loaded with magic detectors. I could not get past the front door without tripping an alarm. I suspect Disco will be the same."

Rael nodded. "In retrospect, Endi . . . Captain Wolfson . . . was testing our magic talents. And toward the end, he was getting less subtle about it. I'm of the opinion that their magic is considerably advanced over ours."

Hob spun his chair back and forth. "I keep looking at that battle. Shields, both physical and energy. Power drain. Slice, stun . . . it was impressive. Or maybe terrifying."

"I was present when Endi drained multiple power packs, some of them five meters away. I didn't detect a thing until a bunch of idiots were trying to shoot us, and getting nothing but clicks. He was shocked when I told him I couldn't telepath another guard a couple of kilometers away. I . . . have always wondered what other tests we failed . . . or worse, didn't even notice."

Fean nodded. "They're strong. But as best we can tell, there aren't actually all that many of them." She nodded at the picture wall. Printouts for the most part.

Rael walked over. People, with arrows pointing from one to another.

"Did we ever pass on the contents of Endi's computer? I recognize some of these people from his pictures . . ."


It was several hours before they got back to the Embassy recordings.

"Right, so this Dr. Quail Quicksilver is Xen Wolfson's sister. And as far as we can tell, they're the most talented makers of these permanent gates." Ajha tapped a pen on the table. "The God of War—who is a vintner in his day job, makes outstanding wine—is probably their father, and this witch their mother, and I think she's this teenager whom I saw in, umm, 1367. Almost thirty years ago. At which time I also saw the other pair in the other picture. I think the man's name is Dydit, and the blonde woman answered to Never."

Fean grinned. "The dark old man is the God of Travelers?"

"Yep. And there are a number of women I suspect are his daughters or granddaughters in the village." He waved at the wall. "I've got them grouped. You can see the women who got the dark skin genes, and also the Dominant Blonde gene complex, which is identical to the Oner Dominant Blonde."

Rael eyed the pictures. "So . . . this village, which is the strongest concentration of magic users you've found, is the home of two of their Old Gods, who apparently interbreed regularly with the witches."

Ajha shrugged. "I collected enough DNA that it doesn't look like there's too much inbreeding there. Mind you, also not what I'd call a robust amount of diversity, but that's true everywhere on the world. And it's three or four gods. I
the old lady in the herb garden is one, and their mayor another."

Rael studied the pictures that were not from that village. "The city pictures are interesting. A small overlap with the Ash people, but most a whole different group. Looking at the background, there are repeated appearances of the same few. Probably the royal guards, or . . ." she trailed off a bit. Tapped two figures. "These two show up in a lot of General Rufi's pics."

Ajha eyed them then, consulted his comp. Produced enlargements of the pair. "I never really noticed them. And I took most of these pictures."

"They're only in the old pics." Hob called over his shoulder. "After that total debacle of an attack through the Earther's gate . . . well it was several years before we got anyone back into Target Forty-two. But my facial match isn't finding them in any of the newer recordings. Retired? Died? Who knows."

Rael turned back to the recordings of the gate . . . emplacement. "The lack of obvious machinery is . . . bothersome."

Fean shrugged. "Underground perhaps. Ajha? Was the stone of the pavement recrystalized like that bridge?"

Ajha nodded. "The grain patterns didn't have the extreme warping of the bridge, nor the patchwork of the roads that we figured were caused by gravel melting. It looked like slabs of stone melted together. I wish I could have gone out further, though."

He glanced at his comp. "We'll be getting more information all the time. The plans for the first embassy building have been approved. Very plain office tower, but they didn't want to wait for design bids from Architects. They're sticking it in the back of the plot, and soliciting suggestions for the second building, so they will eventually get something . . . special . . . out front. We're getting ready to move some temporary buildings over already, but mostly for the construction crew. I'd love to get an Intel team over to interact with both Earthers and whatever you call someone from a place with a name like Comet Fall."

"Fallen?" Rael giggled. "I've heard several people use it."

"As in Angels?" Fean grinned. "Disobedient children of the One True God?"

Rael winced. "Ouch. Maybe that's a bad idea. I don't think demonizing them will be at all helpful. Capitalizing on Endi's popularity . . . probably won't keep the War Party from trying to foment war, but I can always dream."

Baik snickered. "It's remembering Endi's real name that's the problem. And I really want to meet him. Some of those Fallen had incredible glows. Maybe with so few people on this Embassy world I could unshield and . . . well, all right. Not seduce him."

Rael giggled. "You're blushing. And much too nice to play the seductress."

"I could go." Dan grinned. "No, not to seduce him. I could carry on like a construction worker. Pop into that big black building and ask things like where they got the rock and how they processed it and so forth."

They all looked at him. Perfectly ordinary Oner.

Ajha nodded. "We'll give it a try. Rael . . . "

"I know. Stay home. I'm the secret weapon, or something."

Terrified? Eager? A stupid emotional mess?


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