When a mysterious somebody grabs the heroine from behind, the heroine uses a surprise martial arts throw to send the attacker flying. She then pulls out a very big gun and points it at the guy and says “Talk.”
Except that Jeanette didn’t know how to do that, and even though she had access to guns and even more impressive stuff, she was being held so tightly she couldn’t move. So she nodded her head.
The man let her go. She turned around to look at him. It was dark, with only a couple of lights in the whole base. It was hard to make out too much of him: he was wearing a uniform without a parka, he wasn’t particularly tall or huge, though a lot bigger than her. He was probably Asian, since everybody was. He was holstering his gun: he really had had it jammed in her back.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered, “but I’m not supposed to be out here any more than you are. I don’t know exactly what they’d do to you, but they’d execute me right on the spot.”
Jeanette nodded. “Okay. But what’s this all about? What do you want?” She whispered.
He bent down closer. “You’re from another world, right?”
“You didn’t come through one of those?”
“Ours is different.”
“Well, then, you’ve got to get me out of here. We’re all going to die here.”
Jeanette was relieved that he wasn’t going to kill her, but was just scared, but now she liked him a bit less. They were all going to die, but we should just save him? Kind of scummy.
But what was he talking about? “What do you mean, you’re all going to die here?”
“The higher-ups--the general’s OK, but won’t question orders--the higher ups, once this place was discovered, got it into their heads that this is going to give them an empire. Bigger than the world, they say. So they’ve just been sending troops out through those gates--and they never come back. I know this camp looks small, but tens of thousands of soldiers have gone through them. We’ve seen the things that come out to attack us--they’re nightmares, some we can’t kill except with experimental weapons--but they just keep getting sent through. They just don’t care.”
Jeanette was chilled to the bone by his speech. She found herself thinking that to go up against the things she’d seen with this level of technology? She’d seen monsters that would crush an entire starship with a single step, and to face that with machine guns and trucks? That was so crazy she couldn’t blame him.
She said “Listen. We can’t just go back the way we came--it doesn’t work that way. So we’re not sure where to go from here. But I’ll tell my friends and I promise you--we’ll try to figure out a way to save you--all of you.”
She couldn’t help the note that crept into the last part, and the guy stiffened. “Good god, I apologize. In my fear I abandoned the thoughts of my friends and comrades. You must think me an absolute slug. I apologize.”
“That’s OK. Now we’ve both got to get out of here.” And they parted.
She managed to get back into the barracks without much problem. She lay there in the bed, wondering and emotionally torn. The idea of a second, different network between universes was odd but not impossible; could it be the predecessor of something else? From all the talk of monsters, could it be a Deep Chaos network of some kind? But as for the guy’s story, she had few doubts that it could be true. The General could view what the Guy was so terrified of as just part of war. But if that were so, what could they do about it? Anything? And if they left with the one guy, would that even be right?
She fell asleep eventually, but her dreams were angry and confused.
She got up late, but nobody seemed to mind. As she walked from the barracks over to the general’s office, the soldiers greeted her with broad smiles and waves. She smiled and waved back, of course, and it made her feel better, but also worse: If they were nice people, as they seemed to be, sending them off into the worlds of monsters seemed all the more wrong.
Dada and the general were looking at a map of the world: Earth! “Yes, we definitely come from the same planet,” her father was saying, “although I think our histories diverge rather drastically. None of these political divisions make any sense--seem to correspond, rather, to ours. We--my daughter and I--come from here,” and he pointed at the United States.
The general looked at him. “So you’re Anasazi? That might explain the way you look. By the time we got there it was nothing but great crumbling cities taken over by tribesmen. Took us forever to subjugate them.”
“No, I think it’s more different than that--but let’s talk about the matter at hand.” Jeanette walked over to her father’s side, relieved not to be in trouble for being late.
The general turned to address the whole group. “When we first discovered the gates, we naturally sent out scientists. Xenobiologists, geologists--even linguists, optimistically. We got to this crossroads, and were excited at the prospect of a network across the universes. Even the monsters didn’t bother us all that much--at first.”
“But the fact that all the other worlds were like that, and so savage--gradually made us think that the whole ancient network had been somehow overrun. The overall biological similarity reinforced that idea--that a dark force had spread across it, destroying the builders, or at least making them flee. Our expeditions--at great loss of life--did take us to worlds with other crossroads, but we were forced to retreat before much progress could be made.”
“The gates themselves had barriers against big invasions: too much mass and they shut down. That complicated our reclamation projects: machinery has to be moved through the gates in small sections and assembled on the other side. We’ve made some progress, but it’s been slow and brutal.”
“Our theoreticians at home have said that the Builders must have turned to another method of travel. They don’t like the idea of simply being slaughtered, even though those of us with experience in the field think it all too likely. But your appearance tends to support their view. And since you don’t appear to be gods--” he made a slightly sardonic grin, “--we figure you might be travelers using that successor network.”
“That’s pretty close to the mark, General. These gates are completely new to us--but we didn’t build the portals we’ve been using, and they’re way beyond our scientific knowledge. In addition, they’re far more elusive than these devices, and since this world seems far off our beaten track, we’re going to have to work at finding another one. In the meantime, though, whatever help we can offer, we offer gladly.”
Jeanette knew that they had all worked on Dada’s speech carefully--it was all true, but left out a lot. But of course the General’s speech was probably the same thing.
They were about to shake hands or something, when sirens started going off. A soldier in a parka and heavy padding of some sort came into the office. He was carrying a cylinder he had opened. “Sir, it’s Task Force 18. They’re under attack. One ship down, two left, pinned down my a mjor force of bogeys.”
“Damn it! We’re undersupplied!” General Masamune burst out, quite honestly, Jeanette thought. He turned to Dr. Ransom, “Doctor, I’m going to have to take you up on your offer sooner than anticipated. I’d like you to accompany me on our rescue expedition and lend what help you can. I do have the suspicion it might be a lot.”
Terence Ransom made a point of looking around at the others, and then faced the general. “We’re in.”
“I’m coming too!” Jeanette cried.
“Of course you are,” her father said.
Jeanette was further concerned when the rescue expedition actually had jeeps in it. There were armored beetle-things, and other vehicles with dozens of big guns, but some were just cars with machine guns. All the more reason to help them, then, she said to herself.
They threaded through one of the gates, and were suddenly in steep, jagged mountains. There was still snow everywhere, but the air was clear and the sky was blue. From a vehicle ahead, big drones took off and flew forward.
They were roaring down a road that looked freshly graded, and has probably been made by the previous force. They came round the edge of a mountain, and a whole tableau was open to them.
There were two large black ships lodged on the side of the next mountain, with a third one smashed in the valley below. Over the two swarmed hundreds of figures. Bullets were flying from the ships at them.
Jeanette went cold, as no doubt her father and the others did.
Because the monsters were yetis. And the ships, while winged and with missiles on pylons, were of a design they had seen before. It all snapped together.
They were fighting alongside the Theravaders.