6a : NOTP -- "Not Of This Planet"
Xanthe strolled back into my life on a wet evening at the middle of the following week. She had nothing to say, initially, about where she had been or what she had been up to since our last meeting. Clearly, she had caught General Frosch's mysteriousness virus.
Eventually, softened up by a display of apparent indifference, she was unable to resist passing on some news about Frosch. Xanthe had been snooping and she had found out that Frosch has been X-rayed by the North Road Mob.
"This was part of their health plan for potential associates?" I said in a sceptical tone. We were sitting in the television room but with blank screens.
Xanthe put on a tolerant smile. "They were very surprised by what they got on their films when they developed them."
"You're saying Frosch stood in front of an X-ray machine for them?" I said with a frown. I knew that it was a daft question but I had to ask it.
"Hardly," laughed Xanthe. "No, they had an airport type system set up in a corridor. Frosch walked past three X-ray scanners."
"Do we show up on X-rays?"
"Yes, but as just a dark grey blob. They were expecting to see three shots of a skeleton with watches and belt buckles and keys around it. As well as Frosch's gadgets that stop anyone shooting him."
"I bet that confused them."
"They spent hours testing the system after they got their films back. Making their people walk along the corridor. Then they did all sorts of other scans on him by getting him to go to meetings over the next couple of days and doing scans with whatever medical equipment they could get into the room. In disguise, of course."
"Which all left them none the wiser, I suppose?"
Xanthe nodded. "All the scans were inconclusive. But they didn't detect any normal human responses. So Frosch is now busy building a presumption that we're aliens into his script."
"Okay, they think we're aliens now," I said with a shrug. "But as Frosch was always heading in that direction, it's not a disaster. In fact, it's nothing much. No change."
The man himself chose that moment to arrive in the TV room. "So this is where you're lurking," Frosch remarked.
"Are your ears burning?" said Xanthe. "Because we've been talking about you."
"Oh, that's what it is?" laughed Frosch. "Ah, the Fourth Musketeer."
Iktar had arrived and she was bursting to tell us something. I could tell that from the look of disapproval which she gave to Frosch to tell him to shut up.
"This is good," Iktar announced. "Watch." She became misty and semi-transparent, then she seemed to contract inward until she became a long, thin, vertical rod of yellow light, which contracted with a rush from either end and vanished.
"Great, great, what that all about?" said Frosch.
"It's a beam-out," Iktar said as she reappeared. "Only with a difference so it doesn't look like a Star Trek rip-off."
"And what's it for?" Frosch asked in a 'so what?' tone.
"You use it in situations in which someone pre-dead would feel threatened ..."
"You mean, like guys pointing guns at me?" laughed Frosch.
"Or something the post-dead find utterly tedious," Iktar added.
"Been there, done that," Xanthe remarked.
"So what you do is de-densify to invisibility and either stay there and watch their reactions or go somewhere more interesting," Iktar added. She sat down in the chair beside mine and looked at my glass. I fetched her some blue curacao and bitter lemon, which was our favourite drink of the moment.
"Cool," said Frosch, showing off some retro-slang.
"And you don't explain it. Got that?" Iktar insisted. "You just do it and behave as if it's a usual thing that happens, like breathing for the pre-dead, and not something worth mentioning."
"More technology the Earthers could buy?" said Frosch. "Works for me. A great idea, Ik. Has everyone heard about the X-rays and stuff?"
"Xanthe was just telling me," I mentioned as Iktar was nodding. She smiled at me when I handed her a glass of blue liquid.
"Are we all cool with being aliens?" Frosch added. "Drinking stuff that looks like what you get in Quark's Bar on Deep Space Nine?"
"Well, we're certainly nothing like the Earthers any more," said Xanthe, who had a modest glass of conventional champagne brandy at her side. "So it's what we are, for all intents and purposes."
"Unless we're a subsequent form of existence and still Earthers because this is where a fraction of them end up post-death," Iktar said.
"Yes, well, we can put that level of philosophical discussion on hold for the moment," said Frosch. "As far as the North Road Mob is concerned, we're aliens, we have technology far in advance of anything the Earthers have got -- we must have if we're here on their grotty little planet after travelling zillions of light years from our homeworld ..."
"Unless we're from parallel dimensions where we have pretty much the same level of technology but with a shift to areas the Earthers haven't developed yet," Iktar said.
"You've joined his science fiction film club, haven't you?" laughed Frosch.
"Might have," Iktar said defensively.
"But coming back to the aliens thing," Frosch continued, "It would be better psychology not to come right out with it and tell anyone we're aliens. And to deny it if anyone asks us. Let them reach the conclusion without our help by building up evidence and finding that they have no other place to go other than to believe we're not from this planet."
"Well, it's certainly true that we're not 'Life as we know it, Jim'," said Xanthe. "Although Iktar's right when she says we must be a subsequent form of life for humans with a certain genetic disposition."
"I've just been thinking about these tests they've been doing on Frosch," Iktar said. "All the X-rays prove is that X-rays can't tell anything useful about you."
"Would you necessarily expect them to work on an alien?" Frosch asked.
"No, you're missing the point," said Iktar. "Their test was inconclusive. You could as easily be a human with a PPS as an alien."
"What, a Parliamentary Private Secretary?" I remarked, knowing that I had missed the point.
"A Personal Protection Screen," Iktar said patiently. "Which is obviously radiation proof, including X-rays. Which could have been invented by the Americans or the Russians as easily as aliens. And you've already told the North Road Mob you've got one."
"Yes, I was there when he did it," I realized.
"The lady's got a point," Frosch admitted. "We're back to square one. Is it technology or are we aliens?"
"And does anyone care?" said Xanthe.
"Possibly not," said Frosch. "So has anyone had any other brilliant idea about things we can do that the Earthers can't?"
"Levitation?" suggested Xanthe. "It would have to be yourself only. Walking through walls? No, that's too much like ghosts. Telepathy?"
"Get real!" laughed Iktar.
"Telekinesis?" Xanthe said, directing a look of indignation at Iktar. "Maybe if two of us get together and move things, one visible, one not?"
"That has possibilities," said Frosch.
"Pyrokinesis?" Xanthe added.
"One of us running around invisibly with an invisible box of matches, you mean?" said Frosch.
"It's not such daft idea, you know," said Iktar. "It could be an extension of the hralchiv weapon ..."
"The what?" said Frosch.
"It's what the scrill weapon's called in our alien language."
"Oh, right, I'll have to remember that. Hralchiv. Sounds very alien."
"It's supposed to," Iktar said patiently. "And if we need to kill someone, how about a quick drain of their life-force to drop-down-dead?"
"Can anyone do it that quickly?" Xanthe asked with a frown.
"Probably not," Iktar admitted. "What else can aliens do?"
"Mind control?" I said.
"Now, you're really getting desperate!" laughed Frosch. "Pity we can't conjure up a five-mile-long spaceship."
"And he calls me desperate!" I said indignantly.
"On the other hand, we can just look down our noses when someone mentions conventional space travel," Frosch realized. "And say we wouldn't waste our time on something so slow."
"While being very careful not to say what we'd use as an alternative?" I said.
"Got it in one, me old son," Frosch approved. "And there should be some scope for playing up the PPS idea."
"What if they don't connect the PPS idea with their X-rays?" I wondered. "What if they just assume that we're aliens? And don't pursue the matter any further?"
"I don't see how they couldn't," Iktar said with a frown. "Pursue it. I mean, what sort of a life form is just an even blur with no structure?"
"An alien life form."
"A bloody alien life form."
"Which is what they must think we are."
"What about a pan-dimensional being with all the important bits in other dimensions?" Frosch suggested with a grin.
Iktar sighed heavily and abandoned what she could see was going to be an increasingly pointless discussion. "What we need to do," she told us, "is to forget this Aristotlean approach of illogical deduction and go and listen in on what the North Road Gang are up to so that we'll know what they really think."
"Time spent in reconnaissance is never wasted," Frosch quoted with a nod of agreement.
6b : Divide & Conquer
A week later, on the first Wednesday in March, Frosch was the first to arrive at the Churchill Square house for a conference. We both had something to tell but Frosch was bursting more than me. I soon learned that the North Road Mob had made separate approaches to us via intermediaries.
"They've been aiming this bimbo at me since last Friday," Frosch told me with a grin of pure delight. He tossed down a measure of the best champagne brandy and refilled his glass. We were using the library as our conference room.
"Blonde or brunette?" I asked.
"Definitely blonde," laughed Frosch. "Their strategy is to compromise me or get some useful information out of me at the very least. They're convinced whatever they get will have some blackmail potential -- info or compromising photos."
"Not a strategy that's going to work on us aliens, though."
"Right. Problem Number One for the bimbo is she can't undress me as my 'clothes' are just part of my substance."
"And if you won't let her, they're going to think you're not interested in women and start aiming blokes at you."
"They've not got round to that yet," laughed Frosch. "She's a nice enough girl, my bimbo, but she's incredibly anxious to get something for her bosses and she keeps showing up at the most inconvenient times. I actually reshaped myself to look like Xanthe when the bimbo turned up uninvited on Monday. And of course, Xanthe only had to turn up just as I was getting rid of her."
"How did you handle that?" I asked with a laugh.
"Simple," Frosch said with an air of excessive self-satisfaction. "I just introduced her as my twin sister."
"Good thinking, Batman. Was Xanthe able to suggest anything good to make the bimbo back off?"
"Oh, I've sorted that out already. Yesterday. When I found out that Roger is the one in charge of bimbo operations."
"Roger?" I said with a frown. I had not come across a Roger in the ranks of the senior members of the North Road Mob
"He's a sub-boss working directly to Charlie's orders."
"He's a new one on me. I've heard of Mike and Don but not this Roger."
"Roger takes care of executive hospitality and he doesn't associate much with the others. He looks like the younger son of a lord -- all silk shirts, posh suits and an even posher accent."
"I've just been chatted up by a bloke who looked like that. And sounded just like that, too. He didn't introduce himself but one of his pals called him 'Podge'."
"That sounds like the same bloke. He's also known as Podger to his close mates. Anyway," Frosch got back to his own attempted seduction before I could get started on mine, "to cut a long story short, I told him, 'Actually, we don't go in for that sort of thing with representatives of less advanced species. We generally find they're unable to come to terms with our arousal protocols and the liaison rarely reaches a satisfying conclusion.' I read that in a science fiction story on the Internet."
"So you're definitely going with the alien story?" I asked with a frown.
Frosch shook his head. "Not necessarily. I could still be an Earther with some stolen technology pretending to be an alien so they think it's more advanced than anything they can find out about."
"One only hopes the North Road Mob are bright enough to pick up all your sub-text, Frosch."
"If they don't get it, I can always drop a few more explicit hints. So what did you get?"
"Podge homed in on me on Monday evening and offered me the use of a holiday villa in Italy or Greece with 'full services', whatever that means."
"Probably hot and cold running bimbos in every room," laughed Frosh. "The bastards. All they offered me was one lousy bimbo."
"Looks like they think I have a higher status than you."
"Probably because I'm doing all the work," Frosch said sourly. "Have they offered Iktar anything, do you know?"
"She hasn't said anything to me."
"And she would if they had?"
"I should think so. I was going to tell her after I'd told you."
"Tell me what?" said Iktar, ghosting through a section of wall to join us.
Frosch brought her up to date with the latest machinations of the North Road Mob.
"Bastards!" was Iktar's conclusion -- from which, we deduced that she had, indeed, been offered nothing.
"These Earthers seem to have a primitive male-dominated culture," I remarked. "Quite unlike the feminarchy which we enjoy so much at home."
Iktar pulled an unladylike face at me.
"Someone get stuck in a fierce face?" laughed another female voice. Xanthe had arrived.
"What did the North Road Mob offer you?" Iktar demanded.
"When?" said Xanthe, flicking her eyes between the bar and me.
"They've been offering these two the services of hot and cold bimbos and a holiday villa," Iktar said in a hostile tone.
"The villa sounds nice. Thank you, darling," Xanthe added when I did my duty and provided her with a generous gin and tonic.
"So they've not been in touch with you?" said Frosch.
"Not yet, but one lives in hope," said Xanthe.
"Don't hold your breath," said Iktar. "They're only offering stuff to the men."
"That's a bit of a fat dunk." Xanthe glowered at Frosch.
"A what?" he said, eager to add some happening slang to his repertoire.
"It's something to do with basketball. They have a slim dunk, which is very good. So a fat dunk must be the opposite."
"I think you'll find it's a slam dunk, cloth ears," laughed Frosch.
"Whatever," Xanthe said dismissively. "Where's the villa they're giving us?"
Frosch provided her with a quick summary of Roger's efforts.
"Is this anything to do with you pretending to be my twin sister?" Xanthe asked. "And was that your bimbo who was on her way out?"
"Has he told you about that?" Xanthe added. "Pretending to be me?"
"Not yet." Iktar put on a receptive expression.
Frosch rehashed another part of his tale.
"So if we're aliens, they're not going to be aiming any himbos at us?" Iktar said with mock regret.
"We're not necessarily aliens," I pointed out.
The ladies were unimpressed by Frosch's sophistry.
"I think we should have some sort of agreed story," Iktar decided. "So we don't start telling different ones and get in a tangle. I mean, what are a bunch of aliens doing running a security business here in London? Doing winkling and stuff like that?"
"Things which a bunch of Earther gangsters would get up to?" I added. "Like, say, the North Road Mob?"
"Simple," General Frosch returned, aiming a smile appropriate for an idiot nephew at me. "We're studying the native population by engaging with them closely at a number of levels. Social, business, and so on."
"I bet that came out of the same science fiction story," scoffed Iktar.
"It's a bit thin, Frosch. Pretty much a fat dunk," I said.
"Thick and thin have nothing to do with it, Preth." Frosch ignored Iktar's crack. "If you believe we're aliens, you believe the explanation. If you don't believe we're aliens, if you think we're just exploiting stolen technology, it's how we make our living and aliens don't come in to it."
"I suppose your argument has its own internal logic," I admitted.
"Apology accepted," Frosch said with a smile of victory.
"Yes, but if we are aliens, why are we here in the first place?" said Xanthe. "I mean, here in this totally insignificant part of the galaxy?"
"We could be making a stop-over on the way to somewhere else," said Frosch.
"That's not very good. Who'd want to waste time on a fat dunk of a planet like this one?"
"I don't know," I said, "given the choice of the entire solar system, where else would you go for drinks, cable TV and a library?"
"That's a good point," said Iktar.
"Another reason for being here could be that we're stranded and amusing ourselves while we're waiting for a pickup," said Frosch. "Sort of the galactic equivalent of the AA rescue service."
"That's more believeable," Xanthe said with a nod of approval.
"Another reason could be that we're here as observers," I offered. "One of our automatic probes picked up structured radio signals from this system and we're here as observers. Which gives us two options. We could be benevolent, seeking to give a cautious helping hand to an inferior civilization, or we could be looking for signs that these Earthers could become a threat to us in the future."
"Yeah, paranoia, I like that," laughed Frosch. "Sounds like a good first draft to me. We're observers. Anyone got any problems with that?"
"Works for me," said Iktar.
"It's better than being stranded," said Xanthe. "It gives us more options. Such as dumping this fat dunk of a planet as not worth bothering about and going elsewhere."
"Yes," said Frosch, "be nice to us or we'll go somewhere else. More leverage. So we're going with that scenario?"
The rest of us, the newly commissioned alien observer corps, nodded our agreement.
Over the next week, Frosch and Iktar got stuck in to the task of inventing an alien language at a furious pace. If we were from somewhere else, Iktar felt, then we should be able to be incomprehensible. Her favourite new words in the alien language soon became Drem!, which meant Watch out!; and 'San makhaivo?, which was pretty much of a complete concept with the general meaning of either What the bloody hell is that all about? or What's the big deal about that?
Iktar also decided that our Personal Protection was to be called a hral and the command hralvacht was to be a general warning to all aliens present to raise all available protection screens and be on their guard.
Frosch, in his turn, came up with a gesture. It was a diagonal lifting gesture of the head, usually going up and to the left at forty-five degrees. The meaning varied according to the circumstances, and it could be What the bloody hell is this all about? or What the bloody hell do these Earthers think they're up to? or even Why do these Earthers think we'd be dumb enough to believe that? An expression of scepticism was the keynote of the gesture.
At our contacts-in-passing during the week, Frosch kept insisting that we had to adopt a consistently hard-nosed attitude to who and what we were. We were to give nothing away deliberately. Everything that the Earthers learned about us had to come from observation and deduction. We were seasoned visitors to less advanced planets and we didn't make mistakes -- other than very slight ones.
Building on our role as observers, Frosch was seeking to leave our options open. We could be either benevolent aliens observing a version of the Star Trek Prime Directive on non-interference or members of a paranoid, militaristic culture which guarded its secrets jealously and demanded a high fee for the little which it divulged.
Three of us met for a review at One Churchill Square on another Wednesday. Xanthe had something else to do. Iktar had been dropping heavy hints about holding a meeting at wherever Frosch was living but he kept turning a deaf ear to her suggestions. Possibly as a distraction, Frosch had brought a pizza and a bottle of Chianti. We settled down to a summary session with our food and drink among the blank screens of the TV room.
"Okay," Frosch said through a mouthful of pizza, "what have we got?"
"We all have a Personal Protection Screen," said Iktar. "They can't X-ray us. They can't kill us -- not with bullets, anyway. And we speak bits and pieces of an unknown language."
"But the really big deal is we have a weapon that they can't explain," said Frosch. "The good old hralchiv."
"We can also do the Goa'uld thing with our eyes and our voices without the benefit of a special effects unit," I added.
"Yes, that's a big visible difference," said Frosch.
"We're totally different from these pre-dead Earthers," Iktar continued. "We have access to technology which their leaders wouldn't be able to account for if they did a full survey of what their research institutions know and what their intelligence agencies have stolen from abroad."
"And the real killer point is that it's all real," said Frosch. "We can do our tricks to order. And the only way to get our secrets is to bribe us with more cash than you can shake a stick at."
"Maybe we should be taking some trips abroad to get a bidding process going?" I suggested. "Collect bribes like the ones offered for an Olympic Games. Only on a really serious scale. Certainly more serious than a bunch of London gangsters."
"Hey, I like this man's thinking," beamed General Frosch.
"And do what with the money?" said Iktar, striking a practical note. "Bearing in mind that we don't really need to eat, drink, buy clothes or pay for accommodation. Anything we want, we can have. Within the limitations of being post-dead, of course."
"It's always better to have money than not have money," said Frosch. "Whether you need it or not."
"So we're living by the Ferengi First Law of Acquisition, are we?" said Iktar.
"We're living by the first law of the galaxy, namely it's better to have as many options as possible and the means to achieve them," Frosch returned.
I frowned at Iktar. "Since when did you join the non-materialist society?"
"Since I realized the little people aren't getting to see the books," Iktar said with a level stare at Frosch.
"There aren't any," he said. "Not for our dealings with the North Road Mob and their associates."
"Their social and political contacts."
"It would be nice to hear all about them some day."
"Maybe if some people weren't larking about, repossessing cars and things, they'd have time to become a bit more involved in the administration side of things."
"Okay," there was a distinct challenge in Iktar's voice, "I'm up for it, when's your next meeting with the associates?"
"Nine-thirty on Friday evening," Frosch admitted.
"Right, pick me up here in time to be there," said Iktar.
"Right, I will," said Frosch. "Are you coming too, Preth?" he added to me in a tone which contained a note of discouragement.
"Friday? No, I'm busy," I said, realizing that Frosch would not appreciate two of us slowing him down.
"Doing what?" Iktar kept the challenging note in her voice.
"Things," I returned.
"Oh, right. Well, I'll probably see you when I get back."
I could tell from Iktar's half-smile that she had realized that I had a heavy night at the science fiction film club on Friday.
"Yes, probably. Have a good time," I added.
"You'll have to dress up posh." Frosch looked with disapproval at the street clothes of a repo-woman.
"I can do posh," Iktar told him indignantly.
"All right, then." General Frosch put on a thoughtful smile, behind which he was clearly planning an evening's work for his new adjutant.