Chapter 11: Tying Things Up
Gannar flies us out of town for lunch, so we can enjoy our picnic
on the vast northern steppe of Varkard. Off in the distance we can
see flitting creatures and lumbering aircars, presumably all
Tlappina Aelth. We finish our repast, and turn our attention back
to our little problem.
Salimar tests the stain we scraped of Kroshy's wall. It's Blenari. In fact, it's a particular Blenari. We also know, from Salimar's retrocog, what the Blenari looks like. Gannar suggests sending the image to Licconeten and Batalto to see if either one of them can identify it. As Robbie relays the image to Gannar and Gannar relays it to Edvard, we all lay odds that it will be the Korando, Batalto, who recognizes the face.
"Why, that's Atronu, our psi master," exclaims Bethalto. We are unsurprised, but happy to have a name.
We return to the workshop of Ummni the Grob, and make arrangements for the evening. Salimar picks out the section of wall that had been broached the previous evening, and we select our hiding places based on that. Salimar sinks into the pile with the tempting segment on top. Robbie flies to the top of a pile overlooking our target heap, reshapes himself as an appropriate damaged segment, and settles in. Kate and Gannar simply stand behind a pile so that they cannot be seen from the wall or from the path leading to the target. Fallataal guards the office door, a tempting exit. Dafnord pulls on his new cloak of invisibility, and slips around to the outside of the wall, where he blends into the landscape. Soon he is joined by Daphne, who slips under his cloak. The Acro insists that she be still, and she complies about as well as a hummingbird would.
Time passes. Night falls. The vermin emerge for dinner. One creature, with sharp little claws and a long bony tail, steps in Salimar. It flees, shaking its contaminated paw. Dafnord watches the passing throng of pedestrians with wheels. Eventually, he notices a Plick with an apparent bounce to his roll. "Heads up, everyone," wafts over the net.
The strange Plick unobtrusively waits for a break in the traffic, then slips behind a boulder, and so along the wall. He climbs over the wall, his image changing to reveal a Blenari in tight black clothes. It is definitely the same individual, Atronu. Once inside the compound, the image returns, and he wheels away from the wall, and then freezes. We're on to him, but he's on to us.
The seeming Plick shrinks and disappears. Robbie will not let mere visual invisibility inhibit him; he pops out an eye sensitive to infrared and so continues to watch our quarry. The invisible agent suddenly flies about 20 meters straight up, and then arcs away. Robbie lofts first in pursuit, promptly followed by Daphne, who has had enough of hiding in a cloak, and then Gannar and Kate.
The IR-glowing image heads for a landing in a cabbage patch or public park (they like ornamental cabbages in their parks around here). Robbie zots him before he can land, and he turns visible again. Kate stuns him, and holds him with TK. Dafnord races up, and does the basic work of stripping the Blenari naked, disarming him, and securing his hands.
Gannar brings over our flying saucer, and we abduct an alien.
Salimar performs an audit on his brain. Yes, this is indeed Atronu of the Korando, and he is stealing these ganglia because they wear out, break, and get lost. He works for Topalku, their clan chief, and for Topalku's two captains. What we have been calling Hood Ornaments, he calls Reflectors. As we had hoped, he is their sole segment retrieval specialist.
Robbie calls Kritnikren. "We've apprehended the Blenari taking your ganglia." He asks Kritnikren about punishments, but the Tlappina is a bit vague on the subject of a police force, a judiciary, forced incarceration, etc., and Robbie suggests that we could just take care of this ourselves. It agrees.
By now Salimar has learned where the getaway car is stashed, and that Atronu has a Sossen frani driver. Fallataal races away at elven speed to the offroad location. He soon spots where the invisible car has to be parked (There's a dent in the grass looking like, well, a crop circle.) and then deduces that the invisible driver is leaning on it -- there. Fallataal slips up behind him, hits him to render him visible, and holds his dagger to the silvery humanoid's neck, drawing a single drop of purple blood.
"Greetings, sentient. You won't be making your rendzvous."
"We'll be asking you questions."
"Is that all?"
Our flying saucer lands, and a silvery, translucent humanoid emerges. Salimar seems to be enjoying this a lot. We visible the invisible car and bring the Sossen frani on board. He too is stripped of his clothing, which is mostly belts. Salimar sleeps him and then (of course) probes him. He is, as advertised, just the driver of the getaway car. He's very good at it because he can perform something like fairy flits to speed things up and evade pursuit and capture.
Salimar gives him amnesia about the most recent events, and memory holes covering his trips here over the last half year. Then we put him back in his car, with an octarine bow on his tail, and a picture of Atronu (whom he no longer remembers) with a big "X" across it. We flatten the vegetation around his car, not in the shape of a crop circle, but in the shape of a cloverleaf interchange.
With our Blenari prisoner, we head back for Requembel. Dafnord recommends that we tell Daracru everything. After that, we can either give Atronu to Jumping Jacks, perhaps persuading him to become our agent (perhaps on the Other Hellene), or we could give him to Daracru. We call TXT and get Eric. Dafnord begins the conversation with, "We have broken the case. They were stealing and using Tlappina Aelth technology." He continues with the full, detailed description of events around the ganglia, the Reflector seeds, and Atronu. He ends by asking which of his plans Eric favors.
Eric admits that the Algis might kill Atronu if they got their hands on him, but points out that they might simply ransom him back to the Korando, or he might commit suicide, a common action in such situations.
Oh. "Thank you for telling us."
Our next call is to Oreezanik, the Tlappina trade factor in Requembel, who gets all the particulars we think pertinent to the Tlappina Aelth. He thanks us, and assures us that he will Take Measures to make sure that nothing like this can happen again.
Finally we call Daracru. To the underling who answers the call, Dafnord announces, "I am the Tenth Dragon of the Auspicious Sunrise. I must speak with Daracru." Almost immediately, Daracru appears in the viewscreen, wearing a scarf or turban or perhaps a nightcap.
"I am sorry to disturb you at this hour, sentient. We have captured this Blenari of the Korando." He aims the pickup at our prisoner.
"Atronu? You've captured Atronu? We've been after him for years."
"Yes." Dafnord explains our activities, and suggests that the possession of Atronu is negotiable. Soon, we are gazing at a split screen, with an unfamiliar Blenari filling half of it. Fallataal moves behind Dafnord, so that we have two people on screen too.
"I have not had the honor," says Dafnord, nodding his head towards the new Blenari.
"I am Getnamen." This is the Algis clan chief on Varkard.
We offer to take Atronu off the game board, removing him permanently from the planet. They offer to ransom him from us. A few flicks of telepathy, and Salimar in her KaiSen cloak replaces Fallataal. "Our negotiator," says Dafnord blandly.
They offer us an amount that seems to be in the right ballpark for us, once we have translated it into lucre points. The Munch cost 650,000 lucre points; we owe Cantrell about 1,000,000 lucre points. We then mention our two Algis patients. They will be happy to take them as soon as they can be moved, and offer us another amount. We accept, and provide an account number.
They offer a location. We recognize the locale from which Licconeten came. We agree to it, but warn them that we will have to examine the area first. We don't mention that we will have to condition the area so that we can use our transilience driver for the delivery. They agree.
Even before we reach Requembel, Salimar has learned more from Atronu. He had been egg-rustling. He was planning on raising the baby Tlappina segments with robot brains, and then renting/"hiring" them out as "mercenaries." Topalku and his assistants knew of his plans. We take extra precautions to ensure that he cannot commit suicide. We call Vorzenvazz, our first contact among the Tlappina Aelth, and inform him of the egg-rustling. He too will Take Measures.
We decide to remain on the Munch for the duration of our stay on Varkard. Markel, his dragon, and our luggage return to our doorstep. We send them out again to condition the transfer area. Salimar visits the KaiSen embassy to report. KaiSen is very pleased. Both Blenari factions have been weakened by this, the egg-rustling gives him added leverage over the Korando, and the threat of INTER-species warfare makes their position even weaker. More lucre points are transferred into the Jumping Jacks account on Hellene.
The following day, Salimar joins the Algis at the exchange point to oversee the hand-off. Zot. A guppy appears in mid-air, in a small, sealed, water-filled bowl -- the test subject. Salimar catches it. Zot. The three Blenari arrive, lying down. The two Algis come with written instructions, and are immediately put under medical care. The other is Atronu. Zot. Salimar and the guppy are gone.
Nothing like making a mysterious exit. In about fifty years, someone will have the technology to duplicate that feat.
As Salimar heads purposefully towards her oaken bucket, Dafnord calls the spaceport authorities for the last time. We are instantly cleared for takeoff; perhaps we can here discreet rejoicing in the background. We head back to Hellene.
One day into our return trip, Edvard, using his old, military voice, summons Dafnord. "Captain, we have received a classified and encrypted message. It is for your eyes only."
It is a bit choppy. "FROM CANTRELL. TIME TO LEARN OF A NEW CLASSIFIED SYSTEM, USED ON THE JACK B. GO TO CO-ORDINATES 735.2, 6928.1, 330.3, 2546.21. BE NEITHER EARLY NOR LATE. THE MUNCH IS COMPUTED TO BE JUST CAPABLE OF ARRIVING ON TIME. DO NOT TAKE ACTION UNTIL THE ATTACK OCCURS."
©2002,2005 Ann Broomhead and Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.