9a : Encroachment and Retribution
Another weekend arrived a couple of days later. April was two-thirds over and it was Shakespeare's birthday on the coming Monday. A chance encounter with Xanthe on the Saturday morning left me feeling like I was in one of the master's plays. I was out restocking the bar in a modest way and I happened to find myself standing next to Xanthe at the wine cellar's till. She was buying champagne.
To my surprise, Xanthe insisted on dragging me to a nearby café for frothy coffee and a chat. She wanted to hear about Iktar's and my round-the-world trip. When I had delivered my highlights and recommendations for must-see places, she got down to the real business of the meeting -- dealing scandal. Frosch, I learned to my great surprise, had been 'slagging me off something rotten' in my absence.
It was all part of his master plan for conquering the Earth -- or the bits with cash to burn, anyway. He had been developing his theme of a mission involving military and diplomatic staff. General Frosch was interested in making defensive alliances with suitable clients and he was well aware of the importance of finding dependable allies in this sector of the galaxy. The Amintosh or high-ranking civil servants, Iktar and Xanthe, were also reasonable people who shared his views. The main problem on the team was the Hadukar, i.e. myself, the roving ambassador with cabinet minister status.
Frosch had been had been moaning to the North Road Mob's political contacts. He had been portraying me as a skiver who didn't want to have to establish diplomatic relations with each of Earth's various governments as it would mean that he had to do some work. It was the EarthGov concept in action, the thesis that it is more efficient to do business with a unified planetary authority and that we aliens can afford to delay contact until the Earthers reach that stage of political development.
I was not too thrilled by the image which Frosch had wished on me. When I mentioned this to Xanthe, she told me that Frosch had not been too pleased that Iktar and I felt free to do a disappearing act whenever we felt like it -- even if we had provided him with the valuable news that our movements are not restricted to twilight hours and the night.
Xanthe also suspected that Frosch had a contingency plan. If he felt that we others were not pulling our weight, Frosch was going to carry on his manoeuvrings two-handed with his new recruit, Tolshivar, if he had to. I gathered from this last that Xanthe's own manoeuvrings with the diplomats at the French embassy were more substantial than figments of Frosch's overheated imagination.
When I brought my news home to Iktar, she just shrugged and told me that Frosch was just being Frosch and Xanthe was just being Xanthe. Which gave us a certain licence to be ourselves whenever we chose. After all, nobody had elected Frosch the leader of our group and nobody had voted to go along with his grand strategy. We had just drifted into it -- and we could just drift out of it without giving him three months' notice.
Tolshivar turned up during the afternoon. Frosch had mentioned my science fiction film club and Tolshivar wanted more details. Iktar was out doing an interview for another repo-woman job and we had the Churchill Square house to ourselves.
I looked out some old programmes and a prospectus for April to June. Tolshivar studied them and decided that there was a lot of stuff which he wanted to see again. Obviously not a man to let the grass grow under his feet, he called the phone number included with the contact details on the leaflet, supplied a credit card number and became a member on the spot.
"I never thought I'd have a credit card again. In this afterlife," Tolshivar remarked to me as he pressed the connect button on his mobile phone to drop the line.
"One of the perks of General Frosch's private army. Or what was it you called him? A Sucker?"
"A Sokar. Kotra-zhe 've sorgast'," Tolshivar added dismissively
"Whatever," I returned.
"Roughly translated, it means 'as if anyone here gives a shit about it'."
"You're really into this alien language lark, aren't you, me old Tolsh?"
"It's going to be quite fun, bamboozling these dumb Earthers when we get it together."
"As long as they don't set a professor of language on you and find out you're baffling them with bullshit."
"The trick will be to avoid giving them enough to get any sort of grip on the language."
"Which should be quite easy to do if you've not made up all that much of it."
"That would mean 'yes'?"
"More 'yes' in the sense of 'dead right'."
"Linguistic complexity! Don't you just love it?"
"Yeah, it's great fun. A lot more fun than I ever expected. About the best word is Makh-vosh! with the stress on the vosh."
"Sounds vaguely Klingon."
"Yes, it does a bit."
"What does it mean?"
"Get it bloody done."
"A very useful word to know," I said with a laugh. "I bet Frosch uses it a lot."
Events have a habit of ganging up on us. I certainly felt that at about the middle of the following week when two significant events went off within a few hours of each other.
Event number one was directed against Xanthe. Someone took a shot at her from a first-floor window while she was out window shopping on a major high street; and she got annoyed enough to use her hralchiv -- Iktar's scrill weapon -- in retaliation. In fact, she used it so well that she blew the side out of the decaying office building where the 'assassin' was lurking. Along with a heap of debris, he fell onto the road where he was promptly run over by a juggernaut, which made surviving the fall somewhat academic.
Police officers were on the scene within a matter of minutes, having fought their way through gangs of excited shoppers. Xanthe had de-densified to invisibility by then. She decided to stick around to see what the police could discover about the dead gunman. She was amused to hear witnesses tell the police that they thought that there had been a bomb in the building.
Every building around the damaged one was evacuated. The bomb squad arrived to eliminate the possibility of a second bomb. When they had searched the building, the scientists moved in. Pretty soon, the explosives experts were admitting that they could find no traces of explosives or the usual chemical-residue signatures from exploded explosives.
In addition, one expert decided that the pattern of damage showed that the force had been applied from outside the building. The evidence was very clear to him -- the face of the building had been blown inwards from the street not outwards from within. His police colleagues were sceptical but the expert stuck to his story.
An hour or so later, someone tried to shoot me with an assault rifle in an underground car park. I had not yet heard about the attack on Xanthe but I was getting quite used to being shot at and I knew what to do. I hralchived the guy back against a wall so hard that I drove the rifle right into his body across his chest, making a terrible mess of his ribcage. Then, unlike Xanthe, I quit the scene of the crime without waiting to see what the police did.
Frosch had nothing much to say about the attacks -- other than giving us his promise to investigate them. Meanwhile, the papers were going mad with excitement. As far as the attack on Xanthe was concerned, there were no credible claims from terrorist organizations and the police were unable to come up with a reason why that particular building should have been a target for a terrorist bomb. No criminal motive was available, either.
Of course, the news media speculated like mad and dealt out lots of nonsense from eye-witnesses -- none of it of any use to those charged with investigating the explosion and the death. The police had found the rifle, so the dead man was a killer thwarted rather than an innocent victim, but forensic experts were unable to explain what had happened to the building or what sort of weapon had been used against it.
In the case of the man who had shot at me, the pathologist was baffled. He had never seen anything like it in 17 years in the business and he was quite unable to explain how the man had died. All that he could do was list the injuries and put the cause of death down to heart failure as a result of extreme trauma caused by someone practically cutting him in half with his own rifle.
Naturally, some of us had prime suspects and the North Road Mob was top of our list. Xanthe, Iktar and I ignored Frosch's warnings to lay off and we did some serious eavesdropping. It was Iktar who was present when big boss Colin Breen told sub boss Don Garrison to forget about any more tests on the aliens. Iktar reported that the North Roaders seemed shaken by the severity of our retaliation and worried about what our next move would be if we had chosen to 'get the hump' about a few pot-shots.
Xanthe was still seething and she wanted to retaliate without delay. Frosch, who had happened to be at Churchill Square at the right time, told Xanthe that it would be a bad idea to go off at half cock. He got no change out of Xanthe, who was all set to go round the NRM's leaders and knock their houses down about their ears.
Frosch did a lot of talking and he seemed to have calmed Xanthe down at the end of it. Iktar was strangely silent but I knew that she had another interview for a repo job and I assumed that she was thinking about that. The ladies left the house on separate missions and I ended up being bitched at by Frosch, who seemed to think that I could control our hot-headed females. We discussed options for action but reach nothing useful in the way of conclusions. Then we watched England give Malta a good hiding in a World Cup qualifier on TV.
Iktar returned as Frosch was getting ready to leave. "You lot have been watching football," she said, making an accusation out of the statement.
"What are you moaning about? We didn't make you watch it," Frosch pointed out. "I'll see you guys later. Remember what I said, Preth."
"What did he say?" Iktar demanded when Frosch had beamed out, converting himself to a shrinking rod of yellow light in an excessively theatrical way.
"Don't let those bloody women do anything stupid," I said with what I hoped was a disarming smile.
"I was just thinking, Charlie Breen, the boss of bosses of the North Roaders, has a Rolls Royce which is his pride and joy."
"What, you're going to repo him?" I said with a laugh. "How did you get on, by the way? With your job?"
"They set me a practical test. Here's the keys, here's the address. Get the van and you've got a job."
"And you did?"
"The sneaky bastard had changed the ignition switch so I had to hot-wire it. But I was gone before he could get there." There was quiet professional pride in Iktar's voice.
"You should have told Frosch that. If he knows you're doing repo jobs, he'll know you're not out assassinating the North Road Mob."
"I don't think it's my mission in life to give Frosch peace of mind," Iktar said frostily. "Are we having a blue drink to celebrate?"
"Do you want to try blue curacao and champage so it's blue with a fizz?"
"Sounds interesting," laughed Iktar.
"I'm glad someone's happy." Xanthe was suddenly among us, looking like two million dollars well spent and still seething.
There was nothing in the way of a deliberate decision about what happened next. I handed Xanthe a glass of blue fizz, Iktar told her about her new job, Xanthe told us that she suspected Tolshivar of being a science-fiction addict like me, Iktar mentioned the Rolls-Royce in passing and we all settled down to watch a quite amusing horror film on one of the digital TV channels.
It was quite late by the time the film finished but no one was feeling particularly tired. And, more or less at random, we decided that it would be nice to go and have a look at where Colin Breen lived. Xanthe knew the address and it took her only about ten minutes to sort out which was the neighbouring golf course and which was Mr. Breen's country estate.
Just looking, mind, and definitely no touching, we checked out the security precautions. We had a bit of fun making the guard dogs bark their heads off. And after drifting around for a while, we end up on a section of flat roof, which was part of an extension to the main house. Our roof gave us a view of the garage where the Rolls-Royce was kept.
We discused ownership of a posh car for a while -- the sense of pride in possession which it provides, and so on. There was nothing particularly premeditated about what happened next but we sort of rose to our feet as one and we all hralchived together more or less spontaneously. Then we head back to Churchill Square for a night cap feeling proud of the restraint which we had shown and enormously pleased with ourselves.
9b : Further Manoeuvres
There were pictures of the garage on the TV news the next morning. It looked as if a bomb had landed on it -- except that it was flattened rather than blown apart. The story which the newsreader was trying to sell was that the garage had been hit by a meteorite. The only problem with that was there were no stray bits of nickel-iron or stone for eager planetary debris researchers to find.
Iktar was quite amused by another line of speculation -- that a comet fragment had done the damage and that the evidence had vaporized. Some of the experts were saying that the comet idea was absurd but it was clearly something that a lot of people found reasonable and credible.
We gathered that an army of police officers and firemen and an ambulance had arrived the night before in response to phone calls from the neighbours. We had not realized that our demolition job had been so loud or that the neighbours were so near. Then Xanthe arrived with a more definitive report on the situation.
The Breen family had been asked to leave the house by the emergency services. They had gone after a lot of argument, leaving behind a solicitor, who had been paid a fat fortune to make sure that the police did not carry out any illegal searches of the house.
A bunch of military types had taken over after the family had been persuaded to push off. According to Xanthe, they were still looking the place over, trying to find any clues as to the type of weapon used. Someone clearly suspected that something special had happened to Colin Breen's garage and the Roller formerly contained therein.
When Frosch turned up at Churchill Square a couple of days later, on Friday afternoon, he found us having a tea party -- the three garage-flatteners plus Tolshivar. We had nothing left to say on the subject of garages but we did smile rather a lot when Frosch mentioned the assault on Charlie Breen's property. Then he started to moan about unauthorized action.
"We need a co-ordinated policy," the General told us. "We can't just go around pulling stuff like that."
Iktar gave him a hint of a cynical smile. "I'll tell you what, if any bastard starts shooting at me, you're going to see a lot more than garages flattened."
"Hear, hear," said Xanthe.
"And the North Road Mob's neighbours are going to find themselves living on the edge of a criminal vacuum." Iktar added.
"And what happens to all my diplomatic work?" demanded Frosch.
"I suppose it goes up in smoke, Frosch," Iktar told him in a level tone.
"Or you could look on it as training for the next round," I mentioned.
"Yeah, thanks a whole heap, Ik." Frosch clearly found my suggestion too annoying to acknowledge.
"Nothing will happen unless someone shoots at us," Xanthe pointed out. "We're not the problem, Frosch. It's your gangster pals. If they behave nicely, they won't find themselves spitting bits of brick and plaster. But if they don't behave, the roof's going to come down on them. Literally."
"We don't know for sure it's the North Road Mob," Frosch said without much conviction.
"I think you'll find that they do know that for sure," Tolshivar offered.
"Why, what other deals have you got going that you've not told us about?" Iktar went for the throat as an active defence.
"Okay, I suppose it has to be them." General Frosch performed a minor tactical readjustment.
"Don't you care about these creeps trying to kill us, Frosch?" Xanthe added in a hostile tone.
"Point number one -- they can't kill us," Frosch said. "They're just testing us. To find out what we can take. To prove we have something special going for us."
"Yeah, well, they've proved we're special now," said Iktar.
"Specially pissed off," laughed Tolshivar.
"And they've had enough free samples," said Xanthe. "Yes, I admit it, I'm getting pissed off with being a target and if anyone else tries it, they're going to find out just how pissed off we can get. Not just me but Preth and Iktar, too. And I'm sure Tolshivar isn't going to stand for some idiot taking pot shots at him."
"Doubt it," said Tolshivar.
"I hear what you're saying, Xanth," said Frosch. "But we may have a few problems with long lines of communications. The guys pulling the triggers are a long way from the centre, as you can imagine."
"Sounds like a few insurance companies are going to be very unhappy and a few builders will be smiling," Xanthe remarked.
"Maybe it could improve our hand," Frosch admitted. "Let these people know that going too far is liable to have very personal consequences. Yes, it has possibilities."
"Maybe we should just take out this whole planet and move on," said Iktar.
"Hey, megalomania, love it," laughed Frosch.
Later on in the evening, as Iktar was about to go out on a repo job under the cover of darkness, she asked me, "What does B.W.A. mean?"
"I think Tolsh was tossing Bitch With Attitude around the other day," I said. "Why?"
"Frosch was muttering it about Xanthe and her suspected negotiations with the French."
"Well, he does have a point. But on the other hand, what gives General Frosch a monopoly on negotiations with the Earthers?"
"What's his point? The one you were about to expand on before you got politically correct?"
"Only that a co-ordinated effort makes more sense."
"On the other hand, if the Earthers think we're unco-ordinated, they might cough up a lot more for under the counter deals with one of the factions."
"Sounds like you've been studying political philosophy under Professor Frosch, Ik."
"Yes, well, Frosch has been around long enough to learn a lot of practical psychology," Iktar admitted. "I'm going for a drink with Xanthe after my job. I'm going to try and find out if she's getting anywhere with the French. What are you doing?"
"I'm going to the film club with Tolsh. They're having a Babylon Five night."
"I might see you there, then. Or not," Iktar added with a smile.
"Right. Enjoy yourself, sneaking around," I said as she beamed out.
We were doing a lot of beaming in and out. It seemed more conclusive, more purposeful than just de-densifying and drifting off somewhere. And if we were supposed to be aliens, we were allowed to use our advanced modes of being elsewhere.
I had introduced Tolshivar to Eric, the vampire, on his first visit to the SF film club. I was pleased to see Tolshivar take Eric in his stride, even when we went back to Eric's place for a drink and Eric showed off his coffin. But as Tolshivar mentioned to me later on, if we were pretending to be aliens, why couldn't Eric pretend to be a vampire?
In an interval between films, I soon learned that Tolshivar had a definite interest in Eric. While I was negotiating for drinks, I saw Eric hand over a pocket-size booklet and Tolshivar give him a handful of banknotes. So I asked for an explanation, expecting them to tell me to bugger off if it was top secret.
As well as writing horror stories, I learned, Eric dabbled in science fiction. Tolshivar had told Eric that he was in the TV production business and he was involved in developing a new series. He had been putting various scenarios to the writer to see what variations he could come up with. I assumed that General Frosch was at the back of it but I just nodded as if I knew what was going on in a general sense.
Tolshivar had told Eric that his company was seeking a lot of input from a wide range of thinkers and writers, and all contributions would be paid for. Eric seemed happy enough with his rate of pay. I went into the next B5 film wondering whether General Frosch would build anything startling out of Eric's ramblings.
The next incident involving we aliens and hostile Earthers involved me alone on the alien side. Someone sent a snatch squad after me. We were never sure of their nationality -- the team on the ground, that is -- and we never found out who had sent them.
What happened was that they staged a simple ambushed based on observation of the suspect's habits. We had all located quiet spots -- transfer locations or TL's -- near our usual haunts where we could make ourselves visible prior to joining the throng of Earthers. There was no one around when I beamed in at one of my usual TL's but as soon as I turned a corner and entered a stretch of corridor, there were four strongly built men around me.
Two of them grabbed my arms, one pointed a gun at me and another drove a needle into my neck and injected something into me. I just stood and waited for their next move, giving myself time to recover from my surprise.
The others seem to be expecting something to happen but I had no idea how I was supposed to react to the injection. Was I supposed to go into total collapse or just slump and offer no resistance? While we were waiting, the man with the medical kit reloaded his syringe and injected me again, using the syringe almost as a weapon. He heaved it in to my neck like a rather fragile stiletto -- and that's when I got pissed off.
I tried an all-directions hralchiv effect. The two men holding my arms had the shortest distance to travel. They splashed against the corridor walls. The one behind me crashed through a structure. I assumed that it was a door. The man ahead of me, the one with the gun, flew back and back until he met a window and disappeared from view, still travelling outwards.
I beamed out as soon as my arms were free. I could have just de-densified and disappeared that way but I chose to do the beam-out just in case anyone was watching. I didn't think that anyone was watching -- the kidnappers seemed too well organized to strike when they didn't have complete privacy -- but I figured that it would help to add to the confusion if someone did see the victim of an assault stroke abduction attempt condense to a long thread of yellow light and disappear right after his attackers had been blown away from him at supersonic speed.
I began to wonder about CCTV cameras about a couple of hours later. By then, of course, it was far too late to do anything. By then, if a tape existed, a lot of baffled coppers would have seen it. And perhaps the Secret Services -- MI5 and Special Branch -- had the tape by now and the shutters had come down.
Perhaps some group of politicians and military officers was already wondering whether to put the country on alert for an alien invasion. Or perhaps I had just been watching too many science fiction films recently.