Rob interrogates his brother in law. Flix plans to steal some chickens.
Naval Ordnance Department, the Arsenal, Cleadsgate.
Lieutenant Commander Phraan Lightfinder was happily sketching out a design for a new torpedo fuse when a box of parts suddenly dropped all over the board. His brother in law’s voice growled, “How many?”
Phraan looked at Rob and said, “How many what?”
“How many of these did you have made?”
“What is it?”
“You know what it is. The question is how many are out there.”
“It was a private project with a confidentiality agreement.”
“If I don’t tell you?”
Some paper dropped on the board. “Effective immediately, you are demoted to lieutenant and assigned to radio watch on Ice.”
“You can’t do that.”
“I had the paper signed by the admiral before I left the Peninsula.”
“Since when have you been close enough to the admiral to get transfers and whatnot for the asking?”
“Since I dealt with over a hundred Scourge devises and sent ten to the deadlands. That was supposed to be all of them until one showed up right in front of all sorts of people, most of whom were heavyweights. We sent that one to the deadlands, where it went boom and found nine more. When I opened the Primaries, I discovered that they were made in my own shop. I’m giving you one last chance to come clean and tell me what you know.”
Rob pulled out a crystal and started it. The crystal panned over a village and Imperial estate, totally dead until it reached a series of huge funeral pyres, all being lit. “This was the Palen estate. It was the second of two funerals I attended. That was one Scourge devise, that malfunctioned, and the death toll was only two thousand and the lacquer cabinet trade. The devise that you were responsible for, the devise that was intercepted and dropped right in front of me and half the heads of state in the world, was on its way to the main portal in the Lower City. Fortunately, thanks to some fast thinking at the Portal Service, the devise was sent to the Mage Academy where a Scourge suppressor was active and we were able to send it to the deadlands, where it did not malfunction. Had the devise gone off in the Lower City, approximately 200,000 would have been killed immediately and thousands more poisoned and dying horrible deaths. Also, the Empire would have lost industrial businesses and cultural institutions and been severely damaged. The Empress was rather annoyed, as you can imagine.”
“Who cares about what happens in the Empire?”
“The papers kept a lid on it, but the Darkmage sent twenty one Scourge devises to various places in all three Blasted Lands countries, including down the street from your quarters. Fortunately, my people in the Empire had disarmed and rendered inert those devises. We obtained a list of all the devises that had been assembled before the mage wars and had accounted for all of them, dismantling them or sending them to the Deadlands. Then your toy showed up and it was back to the beginning, with devises that you insured would more than likely work. So how many are we dealing with here?”
“If I don’t tell you?”
“You will spend the rest of your short career in the navy on Ice, if a worse hellhole can’t be found and then I will make sure that you can’t get a job in any place that does more than floor sweeping in any of the Blasted Lands, the Empire, the mortal kingdoms and the Orcenlands. I will make what you did public, so everybody knows that you were responsible if more Scourges occur. After I do all that, my new friends will start in on you.”
“I think that you should calm down about this. Let’s be reasonable. Liddy will get upset if you go after me like that.”
“I talked to Liddy last evening when I arrived and she picked me up at the airport. She’s more upset about this than I am. She was going to see her mother today, so I imagine that she will be calling you when you get home.”
“You’re not going to put me in the brig?”
George came in and said, “We got everything we could find. We cleaned out his quarters and found a storage place he used to store his extracurricular things.”
“You need a warrant for that!”
George held up a sealed document with the seal of the Office of Inanimates on it. “Like this one? While I was chasing inert scourge devises, I made all sorts of friends, including the bosses at the Office of Inanimates, who have been managing the Scourge issues here in the Republic. As you can imagine they were not happy when I showed them Rob’s brief on the Primaries that Rob dismantled. The Office and some others are looking into you, sir, very closely. They haven’t found any crimes as yet, but they’re looking.”
“I can’t charge you with anything, Phraan, but you go home right now and be here, first thing in the morning. You and the rest of the office are going on a trip with me.”
“You’ll find out. I thought that you, and the entire office, for that matter, should see what your handiwork actually does, at least the boom part. I’m not going to actually Scourge a place. George, get this crap out of my shop.”
George hauled Phraan out of his seat and out the door. Rob started to go through things, and George returned a bit later. “Why did you let him go?”
“I’m almost sure that we didn’t get the files on the Primaries and he will want to destroy the evidence. He doesn’t know about your new friends on the streets and you told them to keep an eye on Phraan. He’s going to make calls, and then go to where his files are and burn them.” Rob held up a microportal. “He also doesn’t know that I planted one of these on him and on his jackets and civies pants in his quarters and one on his car before I even came to his office. Nor does he have a clue about Jorge. I wonder if he has seen a test of his fuse.”
“Do you think he has?”
“I’m not sure, because he would have to have been gone for at least a five day, or they had a portal set up to get him wherever and back. The funny thing was that I was going to take him up to the Empire and he didn’t want to drop his project to participate in dealing with the Scourge. That should have clued me in.”
“We were in a hurry and dealing with bigger things than your brother in law.”
Phraan hurried to his quarters. He was going to have to act fast and make sure that the office his clients had provided was not able to lead back to them before using the emergency portal and porting out. His goody goody brother in law didn’t understand. He couldn’t tell his brother in law what he wanted, and live. His brother in law didn’t have the Dancer working for him, and his clients did. This was never supposed to happen. The ancient devises were supposed to have been used first and the new devises hidden until the final steps of the Project. Apparently one had been launched and his brother in law and somebody who was working with him had detected the devise, redirected it, suppressed it’s operation long enough that the devise could be investigated and then sent it to the Deadlands to go off. That indicated that his brother in law and his team had developed a great deal of skill in handling Scourge devises. That alone would be worth much to his clients.
Reaching his quarters, Phraan quickly changed his clothes, returned outside and got in his car, his prize Tiger v12. He tore off the base and headed to Chatsrey. He watched through the mirror, but his clueless brother in law had apparently not set up a tail.
Ayduin Beinan looked at the portal trace map and the young half elf sharing the room with him and said, “My son didn’t waste his time in the Empire, Jorge. These work great. Why did you come up with them?”
“We needed a way to trace the balloons we were sending through to the Camp and the other places so that we could retrieve them before the master’s fae kids did. We wanted the tags to be invisible to the fae, yet something we could track. We thought about radios, but they would have been hard to fabricate in the Empire, possibly have gotten us in trouble with the Inquisition and been easy to spot. The microportals solved those problems. I brought a pile down with me when Rob recruited me for this.”
“That was not hard, apparently.”
“I needed to check out colleges in the Republic soon anyway, my family was planning to send me down here soon and a bunch of family members showed up in Zirgocoll, looking for me. So I came down with Rob and Shael while my mother and dad entertain the relatives at the estate and we find out just how many devises we are dealing with. Apparently Rob’s brother in law is so full of himself that he never considered that doing what he did put him and his entire family at risk.”
“I understand that you are attending a test at the Deadlands. My people down there want to talk with you.”
“We can do that. Not for too long, as my grandparents are expecting Shael and I the next day. My grandfather wants to get my dad down here for a visit or he wants to come up to the Empire. Py says that I should look into the old family House, because my grandfather is going to want to give it to me as a wedding present.”
Aydiun laughed. Jorge added, “Two years ago I was just another Lower City street kid, mouthing off to Adiun.”
“Did he deserve it?”
“Not really, but you know how street kids can be. The hustle was square and we found the portals for him. We didn’t tell him that we pretty much knew where they were already, since the Richflights used them.”
“Youngling, have you been told about Vikz’s yet?”
“You want in back? We couldn’t do that in Zirgoccol for lunch because we had too big a crowd. I have an open invite to the back at Wriangs.”
“I doubt that you will have any problems here, either.”
“It looks like he’s reached town and dumped the car.”
“He’s using the el. Thaetmaeg, tell your people that he’s heading to Industry City.”
Thaetmaeg picked up the phone and said, “That’s not much of a surprise.”
The ride on the el seemed interminable to Phraan, but he had finally reached his stop, where the office had been set up on the border of Industry city for him eleven years ago. He had decided to dump the car to break any tails and use the el. He was sure that the gate at the base had told his brother in law that he had left the base and the hunt was probably on for him. So he had a very brief time to get to the office, collect the file on the fuses, send it through the small portal, set the destruct and get away. As he walked quickly past the rather ratty buildings, he passed some kids in the street. He pulled his keys out and suddenly was bumped from behind. The keys dropped and a kid grabbed them. The rather ragged dragonkin smiled and said looking for these, mister?”
Phraan didn’t want to pull his gun out in daylight, so he said, “Just give them back kid.”
“Sure mister.” The kid moved to toss the keys, too hard. “Ozzie, get the keys for the guy.”
That started a game of keep away until Phrann held up a twenty gold piece and said, “How about I toss this into the game?”
He tossed the coin and the keys almost dropped into his hands. He opened the office and went inside.
Jorge looked at the scanner and said, “One small portal, detected. Now to play some Gracie games.”
“How much did Gracie teach you?”
“A lot, in the beginning. With small portals and things with large portals that carried over. Ok, he’s connected. Now to interrupt, so the portal thinks my portal is the one connected to it and get the packet to send to the other end.”
“What is the packet?”
“Not a primary. It’s a fuse that never worked. Rob handed it to me when I asked for something to replace the Primary file. And here it is.” Jorge pulled the rather large file and pushed the other packet through. The file was followed by a brief report in an envelope and Jorge passed another envelope through. “I wonder how long it will take them to figure out that having that report, in the envelope, is a very bad thing.”
“More microportals?” Thaetmaeg asked
“Yes. The Eiljeon know about them already, but I don’t think that the Darkmage ever figured them out and all his people that did know are dead or in custody. And there he leaves the office, going to the escape portal.”
Thaetmaeg grinned. “The same portal you have aleady played with, probably.”
“I hope so. Of course I’m fast enough that it really doesn’t matter, knowing that there is another portal in the city is a good thing and if nothing else, we will have a portal trace. It looks as if he’s back on the el, heading to the portal.”
The three watched Phraan on the scanner and he headed right to the portal. The portal activated, apparently and Jorge said, “And there he is, in the brig.”
Navy brig, the Arsenal, Cleadsgate.
Rob watched as his brother in law appeared and said, “That was all pointless.”
Phraan looked at him and said, “How did this happen?”
“When we go down to the Deadlands, I will introduce you to Jorge, the Portal Service’s top character for strange portals and using portals in strange ways. I will collect you in the morning.”
Rob was hardly out of sight when Phraan pulled his pistol out, put the barrel to the roof of his mouth and pulled the trigger.
Mórsairon looked at the files in Jassin Heifiel’s hands and said, “What is this, Jassin?”
“Some things that came through the small portal, Milord. The files seem to be a fuse, the Primary, perhaps. There was also this envelope. The envelope has Mr. Lightfinder’s name on it.”
“Have you looked at what was inside?”
“Not as yet.” Jassin opened the envelope, looked at the letter inside and said, “Somebody is jesting.” He handed the letter to Mórsairon. “This is my last report, Phraan Lightfinder. My nasty brother in law came home and said that the nasty things I made that were on Jorge’s stolen estate had been found. My brother in law was really mean to me and I escaped to my secret hideout where I sent my secret plans and this letter. I made a mistake and now Jorge knows where you live. That is Portal Jorge that is.”
“This is Jorge and if you are reading this, be prepared for all sorts of fun. If you don’t want the fun, send all related information on any Scourge devices, including their present locations that you may have or control back through this portal, in two five days. After that, I have all sorts of fun coming your way. By the way, don’t try a portal trace. I’ve coded this as a piggyback and other portal was yours. I would also be leery of using portals to go anywhere as your portals may no longer be reliable. Unfortunately, you arranged for the Darkmage to die, so he can’t tell you what may come your way.”
Mórsairon looked at Jassin. “Has Iolena left yet?”
“Not as yet.”
“Have her and Orrian join you and I immediately.”
“Not your sister?”
“I will speak to her later.”
Orrian Perlana and Iolena rejoined Jassin in Mórsairon office. Orrian was waving a portal scanner around and pointed it at the letter. “Ah hah! So that was what was doing it!” He reached for the letter and tore off a corner with a small wooden disk attached. “That was very clever.”
“What is it, Orrian?” Mórsairon asked.
“The portal scanner thinks that it is a portal. It keeps activating, shutting down and activating.”
“Why would somebody make something like that?” Iolena asked.
“So that anybody with a portal scanner can find out where it is. Do you know more about this Jorge?”
“He was on the dance card that Mórsairon wanted,” Iolena said. “The information I had so far said that he played with airplanes, jumped into Ishendell during the siege and came from the Umevan family, growing up in the Lower City.”
“Probably not too far from the Portal Service, where he probably works and is very good with portals.”
“What can he send at us?” Mórsairon asked.
“That depends on how good he is with one way ports and how many friends he has to play with portals. I imagine that with even a small part of the portal network available and access to the Lower City, things could get rather exciting, very fast.”
“Even through the shield,” Jassin asked.
“I’m not sure. My guess is that, yes, he can punch the shield. Since he obviously has the small portal code and perhaps our large portal code, he can use them to circumvent the shield.”
“That would be simple. The question is if he has one already. What is he asking for?”
“For us to surrender all our Scourge devises.”
“So he knows that you have devises. If he finds our portals, they would be useless anyway.”
“Should I move him up the list?” Iolena asked. “I was going to dance with the Justiciar first.”
“I think that we can survive. The problem is that we don’t know how much they know about Phraan’s activities. If the navy has our location and knows what Phraan knew, we could be in real trouble.”
“If he was captured, his compulsions should have kicked in.” Jassin said. “The fact that the letter was sent says that he was captured.”
“Who is his brother in law?” Orrian asked.
“Commander Rob Bronzerock,” Jassin said. “He heads ordnance and disposal for the Republican Navy. He was Phraan’s boss. Apparently he had been working on dealing with the Scourge devises. They found the devises at the estate in the bunker somehow and he realized where the fuses came from.”
Orrian looked at the cow pie on Mórsairon desk and said, “That answers the shield question.”
“And that is how you crack a shield.”
“Why did you bring that cow pie with you, in a stasis case, and send it through?” Aydiun asked.
“Somebody on their side should know and I’m going to save that story for in the back.”
“Where did the stasis case come from? They are very rare.”
“Tarranth’s barn, where he has a stack of them, some of which, like that one, actually still work. The cow pie came from a farm in the Empire. I made up some surprises in case I had to play portal games and made up a travel case after Paeris grabbed me for the Darkmage.”
The House Petris Estate.
Isarrel looked at the message and grinned. Jorge had apparently found Mórsairon at last and he was being struck. She called for Haladavar and said, “Bring the updated Jorge report.”
“Our associates have been struck, apparently.”
Haladavar started to laugh. “I suppose it was their turn. I will get the report.”
“Do so. This may be entertaining, regardless of what happens.
Hagre called out, “It’s Time! Goggles!”
Shortly afterwards the usual flash and mushroom cloud appeared. As the wind died down, Jorge said, “That’s two.”
“What do you mean, Jorge?” Ayduin said.
“That’s two of these that I have seen for myself. I launched one at Paeris’s Island and Sourged a patch of ocean and there is this.”
“Why did you Scourge a patch of ocean?”
“I needed to calibrate the Darkmage’s portal’s direction indicator so it didn’t send Scourge devises places that I didn’t want them to go.”
“Why were you working on the Darkmage’s portal?”
“Because he sent the Richflights to the Lower City to collect me and I was stuck on the island until I prepared the devises and the portal. The Darkmage never knew that the devises were empty cans and neither I nor the Great Captain were going to tell him, if I lit off one of the devises that did work, he would only have two and I could play with the Darkmage some more. So I fixed the portal, the Great Captain arranged it so I ended up in Oceanside, something that annoyed my lady as it was the last day of the Conclave and I was supposed to be at the Empress’s banquet and ball that evening. She came and got me, directly from the Empress’s tea, dragging poor Snowball and dressing appropriately for the tea and not the beach.”
“Where is she now?”
“Here at the beach, dressed appropriately, with some of my cousins, who are making sure that I do not get tangled in with the Beinans. They weren’t invited to the blockhouse, so Shael took them to the beach.”
Feno, Ayduin, Rob and the others all laughed.
The House Aezieros Estate.
Flix was enjoying a day off with Gwynnestri, playing some mischief on Gwynnestri’s brother and some transformation and Jump tag when he looked at the building seemingly across the border that was relatively new, but not seemingly used for very much. The fox Gwynnestri tagged him and said, “Caught you!”
He turned, picked her up and kissed her. “Yes you did. Now what is that building?”
“I don’t know. The Olona put it up about ten years ago. I don’t think it’s been opened since.”
Flix scanned the building and it was shielded. “Somebody is hiding something.” He scanned around for people and nobody was nearby on the other estate. “I’m going to take a peek through the window.”
He transformed and slunk across the border and toward the building. Reaching it, he peeked through a window and the building had a row of tarp covered round shapes in it. He ducked back down and there was the twang of a crossbow. Flix ran as a figure approached and snarled, “Damn foxes, always after the chickens!”
He was joined by a laughing Gwynnestri, who said, “What is in there?”
“Something that we need to talk to a pirate about. I think that they are Scourge devises.”
“Not in a vault? How did they get here?”
“Does that old man chase everybody away?”
“Odal? Yes he does.”
“Somebody knows about those things then.”
“Because your portal was shutdown and they were using the old lab to store the blight. Anybody looking for things would find the Blight and because the Blight is what it is, stop looking. Let’s port down to Innshys. Then I want to talk to my cousins. The old man is about to have a serious chicken theft problem.”