The Voyages of the PS Nones
Chapter 20, Tracing the Theft.
When last we left our heroes, Dafnord and Markel were aboard the Nones, where Dafnord had just noticed that Umbra, the Sword of Chaos Twilight, was missing from its scabbard. The rest of the crew were relaxing in Elias' Place, a tavern with a slime bar recommended to us by Keefkeef, one of the Jai at the KaiSenese Consulate to the Conventional Port of Martshayla Port.
Salimar is contemplating a large tub just outside the entrance to the slime baths. Droplets of some sort of liquid are effervescing and skittering across the surface like drops of water in on a hot skillet. Suddenly Dafnord's voice growls in her head. <Salimar...>
Salimar continues to watch the tub. The liquid is crystal clear, aside from the droplets racing about the surface. <Yes, Dafnord? You don't usually ping me. What's wrong?>
<Something has been stolen. I need you. At the Nones.>
Salimar frowns and grumps over the net, <Will a second sight do?>
<No. I need retrocognition.>
Occasional droplets seem to be trying to climb up the side of the tub. <You expect me to wander back by myself?>
The only answer is a grunt. Salimar turns her attention back to the pool and addresses it, "Greeting, sentient." There's no response.
Dafnord has the Nones contact Gannar over an encrypted radio link. When Gannar responds, he says, "I need you to send one of the platforms out to accompany Salimar."
"Would you prefer me to escort her myself?"
"That might be better."
Gannar walks over to join Salimar, who's still staring into the tub. Flecks of color are starting to appear. They might be mistaken for reflections, except they are developing in the depths of the tub, instead of on the surface.
As the flecks of color slowly get more saturated, Salimar senses a buildup of psi. She steps back and pulls Gannar with her. The contents of the tub are getting more excited, as if it had come to a rolling boil. The droplets are now leaping several inches above the surface. Though it's now harder to see into the tub, it appears that the flecks of color are coalescing into some sort of image.
Suddenly a shape rises out of the tub, as a crystal forms from a super-saturated solution. The creature is vaguely like a preying-mantis, with a heart-shaped head and multiple eyes studding the upper portions of the heart, like multicolor jewels. It appears to be wearing many heavily jeweled collars. It steps out of the bucket, moving with a fluid grace.
Salimar can see droplets of the solution from the tub chasing themselves on the creature's skin. As she watches, the droplets seem to be absorbed into the creature's flesh. Dafnord sends a feeling of impatience over the net. Salimar ignores him and says, "Greetings, sentient," to the new creature.
The creature turns to face her. It moves its head in jerks, as if it's bringing different eyes to bear on her. After a moment of observation, it replies, "Greetings, sentient," in clear, though accented KaiSenese, then turns away and heads towards the bar.
As the creature strides away, Salimar moves back to the tub. It's now mostly empty, but it's refilling slowly as she watches. Very interesting...
Salimar pulls the Map of Here out of her backpack and unrolls it on a nearby table. Not very far away is a large marker which is labeled "Omniport." About where the Nones should be docked there's an entry for Markel's quiver. There are a few markers scattered through the station labeled "unknown." The transporters show up as "Hyperjumps." There's no notation on the map for the tub.
Curiouser and curiouser.
Salimar leads Gannar to the bar, where the creature has just ordered. As the bartender moves to fill its request, she says, "Greetings, sentient. Where do you hail from?"
The creature turns towards her again, and once more examines her from various angles. With no sign of recognizing her, it replies, "Greetings, sentient. Outward." Then it turns back to the bar.
Rebuffed a second time, Salimar decides to leave this mystery for later. She walks to the table where Brunalf is purring to himself as he laps up a bowl of warm milk. Brunalf looks up as they approach. Salimar tells him that she's on her way back to the ship with Gannar, but neglects to say why. Then she and Gannar leave the bar and head through the passing parade towards the Nones.
Satisfied that Salimar and Gannar are on their way, Dafnord checks the Nones' records of its external cameras at the end of the gangtube. He runs the record backward at high speed until he comes to the images of the group leaving the Nones. Umbra is clearly visible in its scabbard on his back. He then fast forwards to his return. The scabbard now has some sort of alien tool in it.
Dafnord frowns, rises from his chair and goes to the lower deck. Opening the weapons cabinet, he considers arming himself with his blaster rifle, but thinks better of it. He pulls out the goop gun instead and straps on its holster.
Returning to the upper deck, Dafnord waits for Salimar and Gannar at the end of the gangtube. When the arrive, he greets them by saying, "Someone has stolen my sword. I have to find it."
Salimar asks, "When?"
"After I left the ship, before I came back."
Salimar sighs. "How soon did you notice?"
"As soon as I got back. I'm going to retrace my steps." Dafnord holds out the scabbard. "I'll need you to use your retrocognition."
Taking the scabbard, Salimar retrocogs. The area around the entrance to the Nones is filled with an octarine glow, silencing all conversation in the area and irresistibly drawing all eyes. The viewpoint is looking at Dafnord's back as he leaves the Nones with Umbra in the scabbard. Salimar moves the retrocog forward through time at 4 x normal time. There are five flickers in the playback until Dafnord returns to the Nones. Salimar goes back and runs through them at normal speed. From the way the image cuts off sharply, Salimar identifies the first three as times when Dafnord walked near a psilencer. Besides, Umbra is still in its scabbard. The fourth time the image fades out instead of simply cutting off. Salimar identifies this as a naturally generated field of psilence. When the image fades back in, Umbra is gone.
Backing up once more, Salimar identifies four sentients who were near Dafnord either before or after the blackout; a Rioli, a Threenaleen, a Human and a Cheza. The incident occurred in the middle of the large concourse on level 5 of this pod. Gannar is able to identify the location in the concourse from the trader's booths that are visible before and after the theft.
Salimar releases the retrocog and the octarine glow fades as the three head towards the concourse where the sword was taken. The spectators are left staring in silence.
Arriving at the scene of the crime, Salimar once more retrocogs, much to the amazement of the 46 nearest sentients. A vast cloud of octarine glow appears in which past events start playing back. An image of Dafnord come walking through the zone, passing images of three of the suspects. In place of the Threenaleen, there's a hole moving through the glow.
As Salimar releases the retrocog and the glow fades, Dafnord walks up to the nearest vendor -- a 8-foot tall humanoid with no nose and fur around it's eye sockets -- and grunts.
The humanoid rips it's eyes away from the place where Salimar had cast her retrocog and stares, wordlessly at Dafnord.
The humanoid replies dazedly, "Greetings, sentient"
"I'm looking for a Threenaleen that stole an object of mine. Have you been in this area long?"
The humanoid rubs it's eyes, then says, "I've been here all day and haven't seen a Threenaleen."
"You're welcome, sentient."
Dafnord repeats his question to various shopkeepers. A Rioli recalls seeing a Threenaleen within a few periods.
"Did you notice anything interesting about it?"
"Do you know what direction it when?"
Arriving from the bar, Robbie walks up and asks the Rioli and asks if it has any security cameras that might have observed the Threenaleen.
"No, but the prospector over there has a security system."
Robbie and Dafnord thank the Rioli for it's help.
Robbie goes to the prospector. It's an Ohlram, a vaguely lionine centauroid covered with black fur. It quickly agrees to allow him to view its security recordings. As it beckons him into its encampment, Salimar joins him. Standing before the security console is its partner, a Drine. It's unusual to find Drine outside the Tamindarin enclave, but that's the way life is. The Drine enters the appropriate commands into the security console and a screen lights with a scene of shoppers browsing among the vendor's displays. At least, we think it's shoppers browsing. The Drine and Ohlram clearly see things using a different spectrum than Robbie does. Fortunately, there are enough clues to map the colors to the ones that we're used to. A timecode along the bottom of the display identifies the time as about three periods ago. As the recording plays, we see a Threenaleen coming from crossing Dafnord's path. We have a clear view of the creature, as it walks towards the gangtube. I! t doesn't appear to holding or hiding a sword. Unless Robbie has assigned the wrong color to that particular shade of olive green, the Threenaleen has yellow tentacles.
As they leave, Salimar says, "Thank you very much, sentient." in Drinish. It's pleased.
While Salimar and Robbie review the security recording, Dafnord asks Markel to ask the Nones to ask the KaiSenese Consulate for information on the Threenaleen on the station. After a moment, Dafnord's communicard beeps. It's the Nones. It announces, "The Consulate lists one encampment, in pod 2, level 4. There are seven Threenaleens registered at the Consulate."
Dafnord, Markel, Robbie and Salimar head off to the Threenaleen encampment. They meet Brunalf along the way and arrive without encountering any Threenaleens. The encampment appears to be in a residential area. The encampment consists of three prefab enclosures that look like RVs snugged up against one another.
Salimar uses her second sight to look into the enclosures for Threenaleens. Brunalf raises his egg so he can peer into the windows. They both see that it's rather dark in the enclosures. Salimar's second sight sees seven sleeping Threenaleen. Five of them are sleeping with their tentacles outside the blankets. None of them have yellow tentacles. She peaks under the blankets of the other two. Neither has yellow tentacles. An examination of the other two enclosures shows that one is a chemical lab, while the other is a combination of living space and workshop.
Dropping the second sight, Salimar takes the scabbard and tries dowsing for the sword. She gets no feeling for the location of the sword. Either it's totally destroyed, in psilence, or moved to another solar system. Dafnord triggers a Jack Cross-Time Office psi-opener. There's still no reading. If the sword is in psilence, it's not nearby.
Back at Elias' Place, Kate chats up the barkeep. "I'm new here. We need to find someone who's name we don't know. We only have the general appearance."
The bartender, Elias, looks up from the glass he's polishing and asks, "What sort of a someone?"
"A Threenaleen with yellow tentacles."
Elias puts down the glass and picks up the next. "Try the Consulate."
Kate persists, "No private detectives?"
Elias looks at her again, then gives her the names of two detectives, one in the TSTO enclave, one in the Philippian enclave.
Thanking Elias, Kate goes to a table where Katrina is talking with one of the other bar patrons. "Wanna stay here, Katrina?"
Engrossed in her conversation, Katrina hadn't heard Kate approach. She looks up, startled, "Huh?"
"Go or stay here?"
"Go? We're leaving now?"
"Yes. We're going to the KaiSenese Consulate."
Katrina says good-bye to her new friend. As she and Kate walk away, it puts away the "wallet holo" of its newly hatched larva.
The two meet the rest of the party in front of the KaiSenese Consulate. There are Jai constantly moving in and out of the Consulate, like an anthill that someone has kicked. Several stop to look at us as we enter, but only briefly. Walking up the receptionist, Salimar says, "Greetings, sentient."
The receptionist spares her the briefest of glances as it speaks to its screen in high speed KaiSenese. From its tone, its placating someone. It finishes with "Yes, yes, I'll be sure they get the message," and the disconnects before the sentient it's talking to can respond.
Salimar tries again, "Greetings. Busy day today?" The receptionist leans towards its flashing control pad to connect to the next call. "What is the problem?" Salimar persists.
Abruptly the Jai takes off it's headset and spits, "Blenari! They're all over each other, all over the port!"
In her best soothing voice, Salimar says, "I've come to report a stolen artifact."
"Oh. Well if that's all. Here." The receptionist gives Salimar a form to fill out. In triplicate. It is too harassed by Blenari calls to even take note of the eggs we offer it; it just dumps them in its "In" basket for later.
While we are filling out forms, the Nones pings Robbie. It has Consul Foozhap on the line, returning Robbie's call a short while earlier. When Foozhap learns we are loitering in the lobby, it invites us in.
We enter Foozhap's office. There's an image of a Blenari on a wall-screen. The Blenari is demanding that the KaiSenese consulate do something immediately. "Can you get me the identities of the casualties? Good. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a very important visitor." With that, Foozhap disconnects the connection as the Blenari is in mid-bluster.
Salimar glamours a blue egg with large pink spots and hands it to the agitated Jai. "Have an egg."
Foozhap takes it, closes its eyes and breaths deeply, "Thanks." (It's the first civilized gesture it's encountered in hours.) "What brings you here?" Foozhap asks.
Robbie responds, "We've heard that the Blenari have come into a large quantity of fractal metal..."
"How much?" Foozhap asks.
"Under 100 kilos."
"Ah. Maybe that's what they're fighting over."
"Who's fighting," we ask.
"The Blenari. Koranda clan vs. Algis clan. Down on pod 1, level 1. But what brings you here?"
Salimar answers, "We've had an artifact stolen. Here is the description."
Foozhap studies the report. "I see here you mention a safety hazard above a normal sword?"
"Yes. The sword is macrometal."
Dafnord asks, "Were any of the Blenari dismembered?"
Foozhap muses, "I hadn't thought to ask. I was expecting blaster burns or dagger thrusts. I'll tell some Naza to investigate as soon as I can pressure the Blenari chieftains to quash this problem."
Morniesul asks, "You need someone threatened? Can we help?"
"That could be entertaining." It pauses to consider, then continues, "The Naza security folk are currently trying to break it up. You are all collectively regarded as KaiSenese Associates, so I can authorize you to go down and assist them."
"Do you want them brought to the Consulate?" Morniesul asks.
Dafnord asks, "Is there anything that's off limits?"
"Don't raise the casualty count."
Morniesul is standing in the corner shaking stunners out of his book. He asks, "What frightens a Blenari?"
As Foozhap escorts us to the door, it replies, "Bankruptcy. And all the usual stuff."
We all go straight to pod 1, level 1, and pause just inside the gangtube to scope out the situation. There are hundreds of Blenari fighting with whatever is available, talons, knives, blasters. In the midst of them, there's a small cluster of Naza, their guns spraying sparks, hosing down whatever comes near. Some of the Blenari are attacking the Naza, but most are concentrating on each other.
We decide to levitate over the crowd of fleeing civilians, stun any Blenari that come toward us, and create a space for ourselves to land.
We fly out of the tube over a patch of fighting Blenari, fleeing bystanders, and a knot of Naza. We come in, stunners blazing. Once we're clear of the tube, Markel mounts the dragon, and flies over the Nazas, the dragon breathing fire. The combatants pause to determine what just happened. Into the lull steps a giant octarine Blenari -- Salimar. Once it has the attention of every Blenari within eyeshot. It Commands "Stop fighting!" That was a patharchic Command. They stop.
Mostly. One Blenari screams defiantly. Salimar points at it and fires a brain cocktail. It falls over.
The rest of us are busy stunning those who continued fighting and any that resume. Salimar glamours a set of cages, and Dafnord and the Naza start dumping unconscious Blenari into them, sorting them by the color of their outfits. One of the Blenari isn't quite out. It reaches to it's belt and activates a psilencer. Before it can move towards the opening it's created in the bars, Dafnord goops it, and threatens to goop its head unless it turns off the psilencer. It does.
Observing this, Morniesul comes over. Reaching into the cage, he momentarily triggers his psilencer, pulls the Blenari out, holds it (partially be levitating it) by the scruff of its neck with its feet dangling, and asks, "Why don't you tell me what this is all about?"
The Blenari glares at him and spits, "The Koranda have broken the truce! They've been murdering my clansmen!" Then it visibly wilts and continues with eyes downcast, "I don't know why, but they have."
"How were they murdered?"
"Two were stabbed, one was garroted, three were strangled. It's been happening over the past 2^10 periods."
A Blenari from the other cage screams, "They broke the truce! They've been assaulting us all over the enclave and spreading lies about us!"
Morniesul asks the Koranda, "None of your people have been killed?"
"Not until now."
Morniesul turns his attention back to the Blenari he's holding. "Is there anyone here who saw them kill your people, or did you only find the body?"
"I never heard of anyone seeing one of the deaths. Of the six I know of, they were all discovered, just dead."
Morniesul frog-marches his prisoner over to the nearest Naza, which is still mopping up the riot, and tells the Blenari to tell the nice Naza what it just told him. When it's finished, Morniesul adds, "I think they've been set up. These people are fighting because they think those people are killing their people, but they've never seen any of the attacks."
"Very interesting. We must inquire into who would have gain from strife between the two clans." (Besides, of course, one of the other clans...)
The Naza takes the Blenari that Morniesul has been holding and puts it back into its cage.
The Naza have things under control now, so we depart.
Last Updated: 7-Oct-06
©2004 Barry Tannenbaum, All Rights Reserved