Chapter 10: A Nicking in the Knackery
We make the calls to Edvard, and the spaceport, and get our breakfasts (and
packed lunches) delivered to us. After a filling meal of real Terrie food,
we head out to talk with Kroshy the Plick at work.
His business looks like a junkyard surrounded by a two meter wall, with a low, flat-roofed building in one corner of the property. There are a couple of Plicks, a Hrev, and a Veem at work in the yard, either sorting or eating; we would rather not know. We duck into the large, well-lit office, but our search does not turn up a Plick. We stream out into the yard again, and this time spot a supervisor-ish Plick, two arms on "hips," and one arm gesticulating authoritatively.
He spots us, and wheels around to face the group. "Are you Terries?"
Salimar, wearing her KaiSen liaison cloak, steps forward. "Yes," she lies. She identifies us, and learns that he is indeed Kroshy. She next explains that we are investigating the misappropriation of Tlappina Aelth material, which gives some Blenari an unfair advantage in their (crunch) competitions. Once he signals understanding and interest, she continues by asking him about the role of knackeries in Tlappina Aelth society.
He is happy to explain. Each household tries to raise all its own segments, although specialty segments can be bought from various workshops. Sometimes there is a vigorous argument, in the course of which some segments may be damaged beyond possibility of healing. Then the knacker is called in, to perform the surgery, and dispose of the damaged segment. Separate fees are charged for the two services.
Kroshy escorts us back inside the office, to show us some of the details. Salimar asks him the key question. "Do you ever have people coming by, asking for particular salvaged parts, or have you had trouble with scavenging done by night?"
Kroshy's response is instant. "How did you hear about that?"
"We deduced it," is Kate's contribution.
Fallataal shows him one of our salvaged medallions. "This is apparently a pickled ganglion. We believe the ganglia are being filched from knackers." Kroshy takes the disk and examines it closely.
"So," prods Kate. "You've been having trespassers for several months now?"
Kroshy is startled again. "Why, yes. But I haven't talked about it. How could you know?"
We describe how our investigations had led us to the Tlappina Aelth, and to the segment specialty workshops, from there to the segment users, and now to the knackers. Kroshy the Plick now explains that for some time now, people have been spotted going over his wall at night. He leads us back out and shows us a vandalized segment. Salimar picks it up. Meanwhile, Robbie asks the Veem where the trespassing seems to have occurred. The creature waves vaguely at a long stretch of wall. Well, work in a knackery is not mentally demanding.
Without warning, Salimar performs a retrocognition on the damaged segment. The Tlappina Aelth are startled by a sudden vision in octarine. The rest of us watch the vision intently. We see the segment resting in another part of the yard, and then a Plick, not Kroshy, approaching it with two knives and a hammer. As the Plick works on disassembling the segment, Dafnord spots that he is only using his two upper limbs, and then that the supposed Plick claws are just images overlaid over hands. A little closer examination confirms his suspicions: those are Blenari hands. The fake Plick completes his task, and heads towards the wall, carrying a bloody segment piece. The vision ends.
We head over to the segment of wall shown in the retrocog. Kroshy, wheeling along with us, gives vent to his indignation and outrage. On her second attempt, Salimar does a retrocognition of the only excitement this wall segment has ever seen. It is a continuation of the previous vision. The wheeled creature approaches the wall, then turns into a climbing Blenari. Salimar freezes the image, and we examine it closely. It's barefoot, wearing a snug black outfit, and sporting an elaborate utility belt, which probably holds its imaging hardware unless the illusions are done psychically. With a little wriggling, Dafnord gets a good look at the thief's face; we'll remember it.
Salimar lets the vision continue. It climbs over the wall, and Robbie, Daphne, and Kate rise to watch it scramble down the wall (and mouthing words that don't look polite). At the bottom, it turns back into a Plick and wheels away. They waft back over the wall, to confront the envious eyes of Kroshy and the Veem. Fallataal has located a smudge on the wall where the Blenari was, and collects a scraping from it.
After a moment's thought, Kate asks, "Kroshy, there was a big (crunch) yesterday. Have you gotten any experimental segments in from that?"
"Nothing that was marked as experimental."
"Well, could you look anyhow?" The Plick signals his assent. He is still one very angry Tlappina. "And who are the other knackers in town? We need to know who got the (crunch) segments, since..."
Kroshy is already wheeling into the office. He makes calls to the other four knackers, and learns that Ummni the Grob got most of the discarded parts, and that he had a break-in last night. He draws us a map to Ummni's knackery.
Naturally, it's on the other side of Tlinek, but Gannar gets us there with minimum bumps. We pull up to a neater knackery than Kroshy's, with uniform piles of segments, and well-built little sheds. Some Tlappina are busy sorting segments. Robbie makes a beeline for the appropriate pile of segments.
The Plick worker looks up. "Are you a Terry?"
"Yes. Are you Ummni the Grob?"
"No. He's in the office," it replies, pointing with a lower arm.
Robbie stays to watch and ask questions about the sorting process, while the rest of us troop over to the office. We introduce ourselves, and explain the situation. Then we explain why it's a problem. He finally grasps it, and leads us back out to the yard, where the Plick is trying to explain his job to Robbie. We search through the segment pile, and Robbie spots an experimental segment. Dafnord thoughtfully lays it on top of the pile. We make our arrangements with Ummni the Grob to come back in the evening, and watch for any trespassers. We assure him that we'll only follow the thief, not attack him on Ummni's property.
It's still morning, and it's a long time until dark. We decide that we can take this opportunity to investigate the Hood Ornament, and head back to Oreezanik, at the Vilcoort shop. As he had asked, we tell him what we've learned about the healing segments, and their presumed theft by a Blenari. He thanks us, his expression inscrutable.
We then ask him about the source for the Hood Ornament segments. He directs us to the Areekrok's shop, more properly known as Broknistilth Labs. Thus we find ourselves on another edge of this sprawling community, admiring a campus of spacious, two-story buildings interspersed with gardens of what seem to be ornamental cabbage.
In a body, we step up to what looks like a receptionist's desk, and wait politely. The Grob at the desk asks, "What can I do for you?"
Salimar, with a flourish of her cloak, explains briefly about the Blenari and their use of... a something, and shows the receptionist the picture of the Hood Ornament.
"Ah. You would like to speak with Eemrizz." It leads us down a corridor and into a spacious chamber with a Veem, Eemrizz. The receptionist introduces us, briefly explains our interest, and withdraws.
We now explain the situation at greater length. Eemrizz's antennae wave in a display of interest. "Well. Come, you might want to see this." He leads us to an enclosed garden, and gestures at the "plants" being grown there. "I think these are what you're asking about."
Each unit is made up of five segments, each one looking like a brown watermelon, and not at all flat and leathery. Eemrizz explains. "When each unit has reached maturity, we harvest it, and carefully dry it out. When it is completely desiccated, we run a strong electric current through it, and it works as a force field projector."
"Are you missing any units?" asks Robbie.
"Oh, no. Ahh! Last year. Yes, we noticed a bunch of seeds went missing about a year ago."
"Seeds? Ummm. How long does it take for a seed to become a mature unit?"
"About half a year."
We nod. That seems to be a plausible timeline. We finally show him our image of a Hood Ornament, and explain that it seems to be part of a teleportation system.
Eemrizz looks at the picture in displeasure. "They're not supposed to look like that. Hm. So this is working as a teleportation reflector?" We nod. Then we say "yes" since nodding is not part of Tlappina vocabulary.
We ask him to show us the area from which the seeds disappeared. He leads us to another, barren garden plot. "The growth medium for those is full of toxic metals. We don't grow anything else in these plots."
Salimar does a retrocog of the space, and we are treated to the third octarine vision of the day. It is nighttime, and a Blenari in snug black is hovering in mid-air. It's the same Blenari ninja as we saw at Kroshy the Plick's, and he's using a flight pack to keep from touching anything, as he harvests a stalk of seeds. The vision ends with the Blenari lifting up from the garden patch.
"We recommend that you install a shockfield for each garden, sentient," says Dafnord briskly.
Eeemrizz waves his antennae in agreement. "I think a shockfield generator plant... yes."
He escorts us out of the laboratories with his thanks, kindly providing Fallataal with a glossy press kit.
It is lunchtime, and darkness is still hours and hours away.
©2002,2005 Ann Broomhead and Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.