It was a real pleasure to run into my old friend Valno at the Red Sun not long ago. We connected during the Slayer War, and wars against genocide tend to form firm friendships. So I hailed her. “Val! Over here!”
She grinned and came over to the bar, sitting beside me. We must have made a pretty odd couple: Val is drop-dead gorgeous with platinum hair, while I’m a plain Jane with sloppy short black hair. And she doesn’t care a whit what I look like. I like that in a person.
“Been a long time,” I said. “Whatcha been up to?”
“Killing,” she said, shrugging like it was nothing. Well, it is, for her. Val is a hell of an assassin. If you need somebody killed, hire Val. She’s nasty at work. She went on, “How’ve you been?”
“Ah, the usual. Spend my days killing rat-things, spend my evenings in a place where nobody knows me, then sleep.” Then I did sort of a double-take over what I’d left out. “Only thing wrong is, the local portal to Worlds’ Crossing is–” oh, HELLS! I quickly changed what I was going to say “–going wonky.”
She frowned slightly. “What’s ‘wonky’ mean in this case? I gotta tell you I barely remember the place.” Good. She’d taken my hesitation to be searching for the right word. “Wonky” had turned out to be good – distractingly obtuse.
“Well, it was a long time ago we were all there – after the Slayers drove us off Hellifyno. Anyway, the portal is mentally driven, meaning you have to think, ‘Worlds’ Crossing’ just before you step through, or on the other side, ‘Persistence’ or ‘Consequence’.” I sighed, thinking about Consequence, then went on, “and if you aren’t aware of the portal or don’t think about a specific place where you want to go that is served by that portal, you just walk right on and nothing happens. Got that?”
She gave me a Do you think I’m an idiot? look, said, “Why yes, sugar pie, I think I barely comprehend that,” and gave me a punch in the arm. See why Val and I are close friends?
“Mea culpa,” I said. One of those Latin phrases I’d learned from the Catholic Elexin. Would she remember him – my Lex? Things were so screwy with the dimensions now. But that was for another time – for all I knew, he really was dead now.
“Anyway, the Persistence portal is a quarter mile southeast of the Inn here, between the trees at the entry to the park. What’s happening is, people from Persistence are walking through the portal and winding up in Worlds’ Crossing instead of the park. As far as I know, it’s happened three times in the last two weeks.”
“Hell, that is not good,” said Val. “Got any idea why?”
I did, but it was so crazy-sounding that I wasn’t going to go into it, except for one little bit. “What I know is, there has been some destruction and recombination of dimensions. Most people can’t notice it, but I was kind of in the middle of it, and I can feel when there’s a dimensional shift. So I think this shifting is gradually pushing the portal out of tune.” Yeah, like that’s all there was to it.
“D’you know how to fix it?”
I scrunched up my face. “I have one idea. I’m about 75% sure it will work.”
“Not the best odds.” Still, she reached out and gave me a one-armed hug from the side. “Dal to the rescue, as usual.”
I had my own reasons for needing the portal fixed, but I just made an exaggerated gag, then got serious. “Thing is, I couldn’t repair it myself. It would take at least a dozen people going through one after the other to re-key it.”
“Count me in,” she said immediately.
Now I returned the one-armed hug. “That’s why I love you. Now I just have to find 10 more.”
We looked around. Neither of us knew anybody there. We looked at each other and sighed. “Well,” she said, “we can work on it.”
“And sooner rather than later,” I replied. “Meanwhile, don’t go near it, Val.”
There was so damn much I didn’t dare tell her. Like the fact that I was the one who’d found the three people who had crossed the portal by accident – all three dead on the other side. And that wasn’t the worst of it…