The world was going to end, but, predictably, there were more pressing matters to deal with.
“How is the food distribution going?” Jen asked. From the back of the gymnasium’s stage she couldn’t make out much that was happening in the throng of people who’d spread out over the hastily put together cots and blankets that filled the space.
“Slowly,” Connie said. “Jimmy B has people bringing in the basics like water and some simple meals that we’ve been able to confirm are compatible with their diet but we have to be careful. Turns out they’re all allergic to peanut butter. And nuts in general.”
“How did we find that out?” Jen asked, hoping the answer wasn’t going to be via the most obvious and painful manner.
“One of the kids,” Connie began and Jen’s heart sank in concern. “They popped open a pack from one of the vending machines and complained that it smelled like a skunk’s butt.”
“Are they ok?” Jen asked, clinging to hope that the smell would have prevented any further contact.
“Yeah,” Connie said. “They threw the pack away and grossed out some of the others. We had to have that area sanitized with bleach, which they love the smell of by the way, and the people who were near it are still feeling a bit queasy but no one’s broken out in hives or had trouble breathing.”
“Did they have anything like peanuts on their homeworld?” Jen asked. That people from another planet had become her primary concern seemed somehow less strange than that even transdimensional aliens could have peanut allergies, but it was also more or less the life she knew she was signing up for when she joined the Second Chance Club, so Jen just rolled with it.
“I guess they do,” Connie said. “When we described what kind of food peanuts are and how they’re grown, it rang a bell with one of the Ulitani biologists.”
The Ulitani weren’t human and their planet wasn’t a different Earth. Despite that though, the similarities between the two species of sapient life were unbelievably numerous.
Physically the Ulitani were indistinguishable from Earth’s humans unless you looked down into their DNA. Culturally they were as diverse as any metropolitan city on Earth and despite the small number which Jen and Val had been able to save from the warzone there was still a wide variety of body types and ethnicities present. That they should be affected by some of the same issues as Earthlings were made sense when viewed from that angle.
None of that changed the fact that it was statistically implausible that life had somehow managed to evolve so near to identical under the different environments presented by Earth and Ultil.
“The last of the portals are sealed tight,” Sarah said, joining her team as a small pack of Ulitani headed past them to the restrooms.
“Will that be enough to keep any counter attacks from coming through entirely, or will it just slow them down some?” Connie asked.
“For the present, they’re bottled up,” Sarah said. “Probably.”
“That’s only possibly terrifying then,” Connie said, looking up from the paperwork she’d been filling out.
“What options do the Law Binders have for reaching us here?” Jen asked.
“On their own? None. At least as far as James and I have been able to determine,” Sarah said. “The problem’s going to be when someone else decides to lend them a hand like we helped these people.”
“We knew that would be a possibility going into this though, didn’t we?” Connie said.
“It’s not just a possibility,” Jen said. “It’s going to happen. If not with the Law Binders at first then with someone else.”
“We were talking about plans to pre-empt that though I thought?” Connie said.
“We were,” Sarah said. “Still are in fact. You can put that down as a work-in-progress. James has some ideas he wants to try, a few of which even sound like they could work.”
“Expect them not to,” Jen said.
“Can we afford to be that negative?” Connie asked.
“I’m sorry,” Jen said. “I should be more specific. Expect them to accomplish a different goal than the obvious one that’s tied to them.”
“Meaning what?” Connie asked.
“Meaning anyone who knows how to move an army from one world to the next is going to be aware of the kind of traps and defenses we can set up to block their efforts,” Sarah said. “We’re pretty good, but there are people and powers out there that are a lot older and a lot more specialized than we are.”
“Some of them might wind up on our side, but we’re just as likely to make even more of them into enemies,” Jen said.
“Does that mean we’re going to need to run away again?” Elteri, a young Ulitani who was passing by asked. Her older sister paused with her and looked eager to know the answer as well.
“No,” Sarah said. “We’ve got what’s called the homefield advantage here. If anyone comes to get you here they’re going to have to get through us. They might know more about moving from one world to the next, but no one knows more about this world than we do.”
“Us and our friends at least,” Jen said. “That’s the reason we brought you here and that we’re going to bring all the other people who need help to this world.”
“Someone might be able to follow you, but if they do they’re not going to be very happy about it,” Sarah said.
“What do you mean?” Elteri asked.
“Let’s say some of the Law Binders showed up here now. Do you know what would happen to them?” Sarah asked.
“You’d blast them?” Elteri guessed.
“I wouldn’t even have to,” Sarah said. “Here try to shoot that crate with this.”
She handed the girl one of the Law Binder’s disruption pistols. The girl checked the safety on the pistol, verified it was loaded, and turned to Sarah after assuming a firing stance with the weapon pointed at the ground and her finger resting away from the trigger.
“Is there anyone over there?” Elteri asked.
“No, that’s just a box of old flyers for last year’s play,” Connie said.
“Clear, clear, clear,” Elteri said, and when no response was forthcoming, sighted down the pistols barrel and then squeezed off a single shot.
There was no bang or flash of light. The only change was a translucent bubble which formed a few millimeters out and all around the girl.
Sarah reached forward and touched the bubble, popping it with an audible snap.
“I couldn’t move,” the Elteri said. “But it didn’t hurt. It was like everything was frozen.”
“That’s exactly what will happen to any Law Binder’s who try to attack us here,” Sarah said.
“Why would anyone try to bring them over then?” Grashia, Elteri’s older sister, asked.
“Many reasons, most of them bad,” Jen said. “In part it would make the frozen Law Binders a problem we’d have to deal with eventually. When you assault a fortress you usually want to plan for a number of different offensive options, some of which will be designed to work together.”
“What can we do about that?” Elteri asked.
“Like Sarah said, we have the home field advantage,” Jen said. “So there’s a lot we can do to set up the conditions for any battle before an attack even begins.”
“What about us though?” Grashia asked. “What can we do? Probably nothing right?”
Jen could hear the pain and weakness in Grashia’s voice. Losing not just a home but a homeworld left deep wounds in any psyche and these were children who’d grown up being persecuted since they were born, for no other reason than the beliefs their parent’s held. Elteri’s familiarity with the Law Bringer’s disruptor was probably only part of a wide knowledge of stolen weaponry. It wasn’t the sort of thing a girl her age should have been force to learn.
“Right now, there are some things you can do,” Connie said. “If you’re settled in, I can take you over to JB and get you into one of the volunteer brigades. We didn’t know we’d need to extract you as quickly as we did so there’s a ton of logistical stuff that we’re behind on.”
“Longer term, there’s something even more important you can do though,” Sarah said.
“Like a mission?” Elteri asked, offering the disruptor back to Sarah. Jen noticed that Elteri had placed the weapon’s safety back on and had disconnected it ammo pack, performing both actions without apparently being consciously aware of what she was doing.
“Yeah, it’s fairly long term,” Sarah said. “And a lot more crucial than you’re going to believe.”
“What is it?” Grashia asked, doubt clouding her features.
“We need you to make this place your home,” Sarah said. “You and the others.”
“Why?” Elteri asked.
“The spell that froze you? That’s a blanket restriction that exists here and applies to everything from your world,” Sarah said. “If a bunny rabbit tried to nibble on someone, it would get frozen. If you can become a part of our world though, we can start setting up even stronger defenses that will affect only new arrivals like the Law Bringers. We need to be able to tell you apart from them, magically speaking that is.”
“What do we need to do to do that?” Elteri asked.
“Meet people here, form relationships with them, even something simple like ‘that bus driver that I say ‘Hi’ to every morning helps, and get to know the place well enough that you just know where things are and who lives around you,” Sarah said.
“But that is a bit longer term,” Jen said. “We’ve got you setup here for tonight, and maybe a few days longer, but we’re going to need to find you all a real place to live before too long.”
“And for that to happen, we need to get everyone squared away with a place to sleep, their food plans, and any medical care they need,” Connie said. “The volunteer squad is handling those things, but we have over three hundred Ulitani and about a dozen Earthlings, so they can definitely use some help.”
“We’ll get to it!” Grashia said, and lead Elteri away towards where JB was gathering a small crowd.
“I’m glad there’s something for them to do,” Connie said after the girls had left.
“Yeah, this is a big change for them. Keeping active should help give them time to process it better,” Sarah said.
“It does leave open the question of where we’re going to find for them to live though,” Jen said. “We had to get them away from the Law Binders. That’s certain.”
“But this is earlier than we’d planned to start taking in mass refugees from other worlds,” Connie said.
“And this is only the tip of the iceberg,” Sarah said. “On Ultil there are still thousands of people hiding from the Law Binders, and Ultil is small potatoes compared to some other worlds.”
“A lot of those worlds we can’t do anything about though. They’re too distant for us to reach yet, right?” Connie asked.
“But they won’t be forever,” Jen said.
“Yeah, over time our celestial position will drift and new worlds will come in range,” Sarah said. “Some of which we know are locked away for very good reasons.”
“We can’t hide what we’re doing either,” Jen said. “For people to know we can offer them sanctuary, we need to be seen taking people in and protecting them. That kind of information spreads, usually to all of the places you don’t want it to.”
“The worlds we most want to save people from, they’re going to be the most ready for us aren’t they?”
“Not at first, but over time, yes,” Jen said. “They’ll learn all of our tactics, our strengths and our weaknesses. They’ll learn how to plan around what we can do and how to exploit the things we can’t.”
“That doesn’t sound like a recipe for long term success,” Connie said. “How do you fight a war like that?”
Jen smiled and nodded towards the Ulitani.
“Simple. You don’t fight it alone.”