A1 : Roofie Recliner
The attempted abduction cost me a useful transfer location but TLs tend to be fairly easy to replace and it's always a good idea to use them for just a limited time. There was nothing at all about the incident on any of the TV news channels, which we found highly suspicious. Clearly, some government agency had sent a clean-up squad to the scene and they had done a good job.
Frosch thought that the abductors had been mercenaries -- examples of the famous deniable assets much loved by the CIA and the KGB. They were definitely not British, as far as we could discover, and most probably not nationals of the country which had commissioned the snatch and grab on me.
That much came out of the sneaking about behind the scenes, which occupied us for the next couple of days. Our main problem, however, was knowing where to look. It's all very well being a 'go anywhere, anytime' sort of creature but if you don't know where to go, or you can't arrange to be on the spot to listen in on the vital conversation, you're pretty well sponned.
My adventure took place on a Saturday afternoon. By the morning of the following Tuesday, our group had more or less given up all hope of discovering anything worth knowing. Xanthe seemed to think that the French were involved but she refused to disclose her reasons for being suspicious of her potential allies.
On Tuesday evening, I got a text message from Frosch asking me to meet him in a casino club run by the North Road Mob. Having nothing better to do, I just went there and waited for him. And after about an hour, when I'd collected the jackpot from a slot machine which I had been monitoring, I sent him a text message asking where he was. That led to a short phone conversation, in which Frosch denied that he had sent me the original text message. So I drank up and left the club with my winnings. It was a pretty boring place anyway and none of the slots was shaping up to pay out big-time in the near future.
The next morning, Frosch showed up at Churchill Square with an amusing tale -- at least, he found it amusing. Someone had offered a couple of the North Road Mob's minor agents a chance to make a lot of money. Frosch had been making a nuisance of himself over the bogus text message and the spot of private enterprise had emerged during an interrogation session conducted by sub-boss Don Garrison.
The two minor North Roaders had been told to slip me a drugged drink on my arrival at the club. They had given me what is known as a Roofie Recliner in the trade. To their surprise, I had drunk it down and I had not fallen over. To their even greater surprise, I had put away another of the same without suffering any ill effects.
"The minor scum have no idea who wanted to have you drugged, Preth," Frosch added. "They got their orders by phone. They were paid a grand apiece up front -- they were told where to go to collect the cash -- and you did them out of fifteen grand more by not collapsing at the club."
"How bleedin' inconsiderate of me," I remarked.
"They're also wondering how anyone, alien or not, could take a double dose of their best Roofies without falling over."
"That's interesting," Iktar said. "I can think of several possible reasons. Number One, alien biochemistry isn't affected by Earther sedatives. Number Two, Preth has technology which can neutralize harmful substances. Number Three, Preth has chemistry to detect harmful substances and release an antidote -- a sort of in-stomach chemistry set."
"And if it's Two or Three," mused Frosch, "it's all technology, which would apply to an ordinary Earther as well as an alien."
"Excuse me," I interrupted, "don't you think it's more relevant to be thinking about who keeps trying to shoot, abduct or drug me? And why?"
"It could be an attempt to settle the alien question once and for all," said Iktar. "Maybe the uncertainty is driving everyone wild."
"That's true," said Frosch. "Lots of people don't want to believe the alien story, particularly the Americans, and they're real eager to get solid proof that they can disregard it. Maybe they want a live alleged alien to do some up close and personal tests."
"Why me?" I protested instead of asking, 'What Americans?'
"It's simple when you think about it," said Iktar. "You're the Hadukar, the man giving them all the problems by not getting off your arse and establishing diplomatic relations. So if they kill you by accident while they're testing you, that's not a bad thing from their point of view. The next Hadukar can only be the same or better. And if you're not an alien, you're still the man who's getting the blame for causing all the delays ..."
"Blamed by whom and with what justification?" I interrupted with an indignant glare at Frosch.
"That's by the way," he said with merely moderate embarrassment.
"This is you speaking as someone who's not a target?" I said frostily.
"Maybe we should move everyone," Frosch decided. "Maybe we should be a bit more invisible for a while to get these Earthers worried about losing a chance at a pot of gold."
"Maybe it would be an idea to go on another round-the-world trip," I said.
"We can't. Not now I've just got a job," said Iktar.
I gave her a look of surprise, asking her, wordlessly, who'd rattled her cage?
"Frosch is going to have a word with his pals, aren't you?" Iktar told the General in a threatening tone. "To tell them to stop messing us about."
"Sure looks like it," he said with a hint of a smile.
Finding that things are going wrong around you is supposed to be an excellent stimulus. In my case, being a target set me wondering about a passive defence system, something which would be triggered automatically if some Earther criminal put his grubby hands on me. The hralchiv was an active weapon in the sense that it was adapted to be aimed and fired -- unless someone like me did an all-round hralchiv effect when he was surrounded.
I knew enough about Iktar's working methods to be able to find the sort of information that I needed once I had come up with the basic idea. Then it was all a matter of testing and refining.
A quiet week went by, as far as people trying to test or kidnap us was concerned. Frosch seemed happy that he was getting things back on track with his technology swindle, Iktar was having a lot of fun outwitting her repo customers, Xanthe came and went mysteriously and Tolshivar was doing a lot of hanging around with Frosch, building up the 'legend' of the alien presence.
I had discussed my new idea with Iktar, of course, but we let Frosch believe that he was getting the world premiere when he paid us a routine contact call on a wet Wednesday afternoon. I gave a demonstration, firing large bolts of lightning at a two-foot, hollow metal sphere, then I turned to Frosch for his opinion.
"That looks quite lethal," he said. "What is it?"
"It's a system for generating a large static charge," I told him. "If you do it right, you can build up about 50 thousand volts before it flashes over."
"How did you come up with something like that?" Frosch seemed surprised that I had invented something and even more suprised that Iktar hadn't come up with the idea first.
"It's based on the same principle as Iktar's hralchiv," I admitted. "Rapid motion creating friction and a high voltage rather than a supersonic shock wave."
"So what's the bottom line on this one, Preth? What does it do?" Frosch added.
"At one level, it's like a tazer."
"Disable but not kill?"
"If the target doesn't have a weak heart, he flops about a bit then he gets up and walks away. But if you really crank it up, it's like an electric chair. Only without the chair."
"Frying tonight," laughed Frosch. "Like it. How does it work?"
Having practised on Iktar, I had a set of instructions ready. The General was mildly annoyed when Iktar picked up the technique faster than he did but Frosch didn't seem to suspect that Iktar was just playing along with a 'legend'. Frosch was too firmly focussed on the big picture to see such insignificant details.
Eventually, Frosch's watch started to beep a warning. He had a meeting coming up and it was time for him to go. As his parting shot, he mentioned that it would be a good idea for the group to use their Goa'uld faces for private conversations and not to be too bothered about being seen to be alien and weird by Earthers.
Responding to the situation, I made my eyes glow yellow and put on the double voice. "Isn't this a bit of a dead giveaway?" I mentioned.
"Point number one," said Frosch, "Xanthe does it when she gets annoyed and she doesn't care who else sees it. And Iktar."
Iktar put on a 'so what and who cares?' expression, which looked rather odd with her menacing, glowing yellow eyes.
"Point number two," added Frosch, "it could still be technology and we could still be Earthers. After all, there must be other people who watch Star Gate SG-1 and who know about the Goa'ulds and who think we could be copying that special effect."
"Either a science fiction series happens to come up with something that real aliens do or its Earthers trying to confuse the issue?" said Iktar.
"Right," said Frosch. "And Ik, no vampire fierce faces, okay? That's a trick too far."
"Grr, argh!" Iktar put on her fiercest face to prove that she still remembered how to do it.
A2 : Aliens Everywhere
Everyone but Xanthe started doing the Goa'uld voice and eyes in private as it was a bit of a laugh. We also did the Goa'uld face in public, fairly discreetly, when the circumstances were right and when we remembered about it.
Possibly being contrary for the sake of it, Xanthe told us that she thought that the Goa'uld face was rather unnecessary and unladylike. On the evening of that announcement, Iktar wondered, to me, if Xanthe ever put on her Goa'uld face for her French contacts to persuade them that they were dealing with a genuine alien. We were sitting in a quiet corner of Cassidy's, a North Road Mob club, at the time, talking in Goa'uld voices and doing the glowing eyes for our own amusement..
"We could always follow her and spy on her," I suggested.
"I don't think I'm that interested," Iktar decided. "You know, Frosch reckons we'd be great targets for a sniper at night, looking like this. The sniper could just aim between the glowing eyes."
"Except a sniper wouldn't have much effect on us," I pointed out. "Even if he used silver bullets."
"True. By the way, I live at Churchill Square now, if anyone asks. Frosch thought it would be useful if everyone has a fixed abode. Have you noticed my additions?"
"No, I've not visited my alleged living quarters for a while. I suppose I've got cobwebs on my toothbrush."
"In that case, I'd better tell you I'm living there in the sense of cohabiting with you. As in clothes in the wardrobe and the drawers, and an extra toothbrush in our bathroom, and some cosmetics and stuff in the bedroom."
"But madam, I hardly know you," I protested with mock outrage.
"It makes more sense from the logistics point of view, the legend. The same number of rooms for two as for one. And another thing. The place is ours. We've bought it."
"How? I thought it was all tied up in some complicated inheritance deal."
"Frosch has been in touch with the heirs and he talked some sense into them. He convinced them it would be better to agree a deal with him and invest their cash instead of paying out a fortune to lawyers for the next ten years."
"Sounds too sensible to be true."
"That's what I thought. But it happened."
"So we're cohabiting? As a formal arrangement?"
"Do you have a problem with that? Do you want me to make myself more blonde and bimboish?" Iktar added with a scornful note.
"What, the way you went after that tabloid outed you?" I said with a laugh. "The way you look right now suits me fine," I added quickly. "Or was that a hint to me?"
"You're okay too, I suppose."
I smiled at Iktar, reflecting that we now present the best of ourselves to the world. No bumps or blemishes or bulges, no unsightly asymmetries, a shape which matches our current height more or less perfectly. I have no idea if Iktar still looks recognizably as she did when pre-dead but I suspect that she is now a taller, idealized form of her previous self. She was just 25 when the Gestapo polished her off. She looks a little more mature now, but not too much.
Having seen a photograph of Frosch as he had been when going off to war in 1915, I know that his old sergeant would probably recognize a current picture as Frosch about ten years older -- a Frosch who had survived the war at least as far as 1925. I, too, am still my old self but with certain improvements to dilute the effects of 46 years of life.
There must be some sort of inertia of form involved. We sit most comfortably in the shape which we developed in life. We can be that shape without having to try too hard. About the only 'evolution' that I have noticed has been a recent change in Frosch and Tolshivar, who have started to 'dress' similarly in what could be a uniform with fairly undetectable badges of rank -- the General and the Colonel respectively.
Iktar looks like either a woman dressed for an office with a dress code, for her repo work, or a rich woman of exquisite taste, who is keeping busy by working without pay as a diplomat. Xanthe, when she's around, looks like a diletante diplomat. As for myself, I tend to favour new-casual. I don't like suits and I have never been a shirt and tie man.
"Mission Control to Prethon," Iktar said to cut through my wool-gathering.
"Is this another shock on the way?" I asked with mock nervousness.
"Excuse me," said an approaching voice before Iktar could reply. "I'm looking for Mr. Frosch. Is he here yet?"
We both recognized a minor functionary of the North Road Mob -- one of the gophers.
"Not yet, he said he'd be here about nine o'clock," Iktar told him.
I think all three of us realized simultaneously that Iktar was still using her Goa'uld voice. And, of course, our sniper-target eyes were still glowing.
"Nine o'clock?" the man said, trying to keep his voice level and trying not to react to utter strangeness.
"He has a depressing habit of being exactly five minutes early and pretending he's been somewhere for ages," I added, also in my Goa'uld voice.
"Right, thanks." The man gave us a joint nervous smile and headed for a region of the club which was peopled 100% by Earthers.
"Oops!" Iktar said when he had gone. "That wasn't very discreet."
"Halloween costumes?" I suggested. "I mean, how else could an Earther look and sound like us?"
"Right. Aliens don't exist," laughed Iktar, reverting to her normal voice. She switched her eyes off, too, following my lead.
"He did pretty well, that bloke. Not running away, screaming."
"Yes, and he's got quite a story to tell to his North Road Mob bosses."
"Unless he decides to say nothing in case they think he's crazy."
"I think he's probably rather be thought crazy than risk not giving them some information about us," Iktar decided.
Frosch arrived about ten minutes later -- exactly five minutes early for a nine o'clock appointment. Iktar and I watched the North Roader gopher approach him with a certain caution, as if he expected Frosch to put on his Goa'uld face suddenly and strike him dead on the spot. The two of them disappeared off into the private area of the club. Iktar waited a quarter of an hour, then she sent Frosch a text message to let him know where we were and that she wanted a word with him.
We passed on the news that we had given the gopher a shock, then we left the club as Frosch was going back to his meeting. The next day, he called round to tell us that the gopher had, indeed, reported the incident to his bosses and the poor bloke was really shaken up.
The leaders of the North Road Mob were made of sterner stuff, however. Their initial reaction had been to put refer the matter to one of their technical advisors. The expert had concluded that doing a weird voice is easy enough using easy to conceal electronic devices. The glowing eyes were more of a problem but the expert had several ideas for how the effect was achieved.
The bottom line on the incident was that the North Roaders could still believe that they were dealing with Earthers with technology who were pretending to be aliens rather than genuine, not-of-this-world visitors.
Things had been rather quiet on the alien front since the attempt to out Iktar by the Daily News almost two months earlier. Suddenly, the news channels around the world were getting excited about a video sequence, which was alleged to have been smuggled out of China.
The sequence was brief, non-digital and clearly several generations away from the analogue original. It showed an elderly Chinese man in an army officer's uniform sitting next to a person with Caucasian features and glowing eyes. We spotted right away that just the pupils of the man's eyes were glowing blue. The alleged alien did not have a yellow glow over the whole of the eye.
Of course, experts examined the video sequence and dismissed it as a crude hoax. It was clear to them that the effect had been achieved by using an ultraviolet lamp and fluorescent contact lenses. Meanwhile, the wily Chinese were pretending to be more upset over the leaking of the video than the accusation that it was a fake. For reasons of their own, they seemed to want the rest of the world to fall for a conspiracy theory -- that the Chinese government was in negotiation with aliens and not letting on about it.
Aliens with glowing eyes became the new UFOs. Suddenly, every country had them and some of the videos were quite convincing. Eyes of every colour glowed mysteriously from entirely human faces and human faces with the sort of minor modifications favoured by the makers of TV series. Things along the lines of the wrinkly nose of a Bajoran -- things which don't involve hours of work by the make-up staff.
Government spokespersons issued routine 'There is no cause for alarm' statements and lined up experts to prove that aliens do not exist -- or if they do, they're unlikely to visit the Earth. The amount of comment from official sources was very significant to those who could read the runes. As the opposition parties pointed out, the prime minister was trying to deflect attention from the current wave of transport-based and NHS strikes and his severe problems with militant trade unions.
It was against this background of May-end madness that the North Road Mob pulled off another of their tests. Iktar had been developing a roulette system which, she believed, could beat the house's built-in winning margin in the very short term. She had been trying it out, with middling success, in the casino at Cassidy's, which was run by the North Roaders, mainly because Frosch had established a fairly unlimited line of credit for her.
The trap turned out to be a fairly straightforward one and Iktar and I didn't notice it at the time. It was only when General Frosch spilled the beams, amid much merriment, that we realized that we had been outflanked.
What the North Roaders had done was simple enough. They had merely got one of their stooges to act stupid and provoke Iktar into putting on her commanding Goa'uld face and delivering an uncompromising "Makh-vosh!" or "Get it bloody done!" in her alien voice.
Three hidden cameras had captured the incident and the North Road Mob's expert had been able to watch the structure of Iktar's eyes change in magnified, digital slow-motion. His conclusion, reached with much reluctance, had been that there was no trickery involved, that the change to Iktar's eyes was genuine and that she was definitely non-human.
Frosch was back with another report after the weekend. News of the test on the suspected alien had reached the prime minister via Debbie, his sister in law, who had presented her sister with a copy of the test video on a CD-ROM. According to Frosch, the PM had turned the CD over to the Security Service with a directive. He wanted to know if there were aliens around. The PM wanted a straight yes or no -- and maybe would not be accepted. He was also interested in knowing, if the aliens were real, whether they were likely to be potential allies.
"Sounds like they want to know which way to point the spin machine," Iktar remarked with a cynical smile. "Aliens are here now but they're our friends."
"As opposed to aliens are here and hostile?" laughed Frosch. "So start panicking now. And by the way, the chancellor, not the prime minister, is going to have to put up income tax and VAT to pay for an alien defence system."
"Yes, you can be pretty sure the politicians will be looking for a way to grab more cash," said Tolshivar. "Bastards."
"Anyone who's thinking about going and haunting the chancellor a bit is liable to end up in front of a court martial," Frosch said in an uncompromising tone. "We have bigger fish to fry. Of course, when they've been fried, it's open season."
"I think our friend N.J. has got a few pops coming his way, too," Tolshivar said with relish, clearly looking forward to that day.
"Who?" Iktar asked with a frown.
"N.J.," said Tolshivar. "Short for No Jacket. Didn't you know people call the PM that behind his back?"
"He's always wearing a jacket on telly," I remarked, knowing that I had missed the point.
"Businessmen and politicians signal that they're important and in charge and working incredibly hard on the matter in hand by taking their jacket off and working in their shirt sleeves," said Frosch. "Even if the local temperature is about ninety below, they still do it. And our dear prime minister is a serial offender."
"There you are, you'd know that if you'd ever listened in on Cabinet meetings," said Iktar. "So what does your friend N.J. want to hear, Frosch?"
Frosch shrugged. "Aliens are real and here and willing to be our pals would be a brilliant distraction from all the strikes we're getting at the moment. And the many failures of N.J.'s administration. Having friendly aliens visit Earth would also carry a hint that there's a quick fix to everything just over the horizon when the aliens start sharing their technology."
"Maybe he'll slit his wrists if the answer from MI-Five is no," laughed Tolshivar.
"Which means we'll just get another deadleg out of the same box in his place," Iktar said gloomily.
"Cheer up," said Frosch. "Once we're incredibly rich aliens, we won't be bothered by such minor considerations as who's allegedly running the country."
"Running it into the ground," said Tolshivar.
"Someone has to do it so that the next lot can work a political miracle," said Iktar.
"You lot are incredibly cynical," laughed Frosch. "And you've obviously failed to realize that selling them the idea that we're aliens with technology available at a reasonable price wouldn't be so easy for us if we weren't dealing with a bunch of idiots."
"A very good point," Iktar conceded.