E1 : The Shock Of The New
We were still in our 'period of tension' when General Frosch made his first semi-official contact with a member of Her Majesty's Government -- although the notion of Her Majesty the Queen having anything to do voluntarily with the gang of jumped-up oiks currently in charge of the House of Commons is somewhat off the wall.
As periodic spies at Downing Street, Frosch and Tolshivar reckon to be able to identify most government ministers by sight, if not by name. Gordon McCraig, however, defeated them utterly. He was the Minister for Something Or Other So Tedious As To Make Him Practically Invisible Politically.
Frosch had been invited to 'meet a Minister' at a private do at Colin Breen's estate -- the place where the ladies and I had killed a garage containing a posh Rolls-Royce. If he was hoping for anyone halfway important, Frosch ended up sadly disappointed. For his part, the General took Xanthe and myself along as proof that he was more than a one-man band. By taking us along, he was also offering members of the alien diplomatic corps for inspection at a semi-official level.
Also present at the meeting was the Downing Street chief of staff, Nelson Johns, who had been unable to resist the temptation to get an eyeful of aliens. Frosch described him as 'The one with the smug grin in the naff suit with the euro tie which he must have blagged for free'. I spotted him eventually lurking in the background. Mr. Johns seemed content to look at his aliens from a distance and not get involved with them at a handshake level.
Gordon McCraig was a handshake-level person with anyone whom he deemed could give his career a boost. He seemed both relieved and disappointed when he shook the hands of what looked like ordinary Earthers. Someone had warned him not to try to talk business with us and his attempts at small talk fell rather flat when he discovered that we were not interested in Earther politics, football or TV soaps.
Going against his briefing, perhaps in a desperate search for something to talk about, he did mention all the fuss and bother after Iktar had written off her armed mugger almost in full view of several CCTV cameras.
Having no problems with lying to a politician, as they lie to everyone else on a routine basis, Frosch told him, "The individual concerned is no longer with us." Then the General had nothing more to say on the subject. I think he was seeking to imply that Iktar had been either sent home or executed.
The look on the minister's face suggested that he was thinking the latter. He brightened up a bit when Frosch decided to ignore the script and talk in general terms about the impact of new technology on societies which might not be advanced enough to use it properly. Gordon McCraig was soon busily trying to convince the General that his society was a lot more advanced than it looked, especially with his party tugging the levers of government.
Xanthe seemed quite used to being a centre of attention and she soon gathered a circle of admirers. I ended up with North Road Mob sub-boss Don Garrison and a pair of ministerial aides -- Paul, who looked barely old enough to be out so late in the evening, and Amanda, a tanned blonde with enough self-assurance for both of them.
About the only thing I remember about the conversation is that I happened to use the term 'fat dunk' in connection with England's winter weather.
"Fat what?" Amanda asked.
"Dunk," I told her. "It's something to do with basketball, I gather. The opposite of slim dunk."
Amanda laughed her carefully charming laugh. "I don't really watch basketball. Too boring."
"Me, too," I said with a nod of appreciation for a fellow non-sports enthusiast.
Amanda then began telling me about the weather in Florida, which is terrifically slim dunk, except during the hurricane season, when the dunk becomes obese.
About half an hour later, when everyone was out at the back of the house, waiting for a fireworks display to begin, Paul approached me and told me, "The only dunk in basketball is a slam dunk. And it means a dead certainty rather than something really good. You must have heard something said by a Sarth Efrican." Paul put on the appropriate accent for the nationality. "Or whoever came up with the fat dunk must have."
"I'll get our language expert to make the correction," I promised.
Paul drifted away looking quite pleased with himself.
After a very dramatic fireworks display, which must have woken sleeping neighbours for miles around, Frosch drifted over to me and mentioned that everyone seemed to be talking about slim and fat dunks.
"I wonder if Xanthe can claim a royalty if they become the latest buzz words?" I said with a laugh.
"She can try," laughed Frosch. "I'm thinking about splitting in about ten minutes. I don't know if Xanthe's had enough yet, but you two can get lost if you want. I think we've done enough showing the alien flag for one night."
I checked my watch. "Yes, there's a good Japanese monster night on at the SF film club," I replied. "I fancy some of that after the stuffed shirts."
"You seem to have done a pretty good job in that direction," Frosch said with a nod of approval. "I think they're starting to appreciate what we in the military have to put up with, saddled with diplomats."
"Life's a bitch and then you die," I remarked as one of his admirers arrived to whisk General Frosch away for more talks before his time slot ran out.
Xanthe was about ready to leave, I learned, when I tracked her down. Frosch joined us about a quarter of an hour later. There was no discussion about it but we ended up putting on a little parting display for Colin Breen and his pal, the Minister for Nothing Much. We said our goodbyes in the grand entrance hall of Mr. Breen's magnificent mansion, and just as our host and the Minister were getting ready to escort us into the car parking area, the three of us beamed out right in front of them. We left the Earthers, particularly the Minister, looking satifactorily stunned as we went our separate ways.
After diplomacy came retribution. General Frosch had not forgotten the attempted fire-bombing of his penthouse and he had a pretty good idea who was to blame. His master plan was to zap an appropriate number of buildings and vehicles belonging to the Japanese gangsters -- after we had liberated any portable valuables within. Frosch saw no reason why he should not make a reasonable profit out of his revenge and it made sense to salvage items of value, which would only have been destroyed.
During a series of middle-of-the-night raids from Tuesday to Thursday, we wreaked havoc in various posh areas of London and the Home Counties. At the Thursday pre-operation briefing, the members of Frosch's private army learned that we would be even busier on that particular night. The General had decided to include selected members of local Triad gangs in the campaign of destruction.
Frosch was seeking to make the Chinese think that the Japs were striking at them sneakily while they themselves were under attack. The cunning Japanese gangsters, so the story ran, wanted to make the Chinese think that their enemies had it in for both wings of the Yellow Peril. Further violence in the Oriental quarters of London through to Sunday night -- not our work -- suggested that the plan to get both lots fighting was working quite well.
Just as the Oriental criminal fraternity in London was suffering a few shocks, most of our group suffered a major one on Saturday night. Xanthe had invited everyone to a 'must be there' gathering at a house out in the country. The place was a 'hospitality perk' owned by an oil exploration company and Xanthe knew that none of the eligible senior managers or executives would be using it at the weekend. Conveniently, from our point of view, the house had no near neighbours and its security system was easily circumvented.
Iktar and I beamed in at the the time inscribed on our hand-written invitations to find Xanthe, Tolshivar and a stranger already there. Xanthe invited us to help ourselves to the drinks. She made no move to introduce her friend, even though we could tell that the woman was post-dead and we were bursting with curiosity. Xanthe was waiting for General Frosch to arrive.
Just as Iktar was making a sarcastic remark, hoping that we wouldn't have to wait until Doomsday, the man himself beamed in. We all turned to Xanthe and her friend -- who suddenly dimmed out to a thin mist and then resolidified, confirming what we had all sensed.. And then we were saying hello to another member of the post-dead. But the big surprise was still to come.
Hathor, as the newcomer had named herself, was French. Suddenly, we Angular Saxons were face to face with a Latin alien. For those invited to Xanthe's meeting, it was like asking the hoary old question, 'Is there life on other planets?' and getting an affirmative answer. Do people survive to become post-dead in other countries? Definitely. We English aliens are not unique. We are just part of the natural order of things.
And there was more to come. Hathor knew two other females who were post-dead -- Bethan, who was also French, and Marivella, who was Spanish.
When had recovered from our surprise and we got talking to Xanthe's new friend, we learned that Hathor had met Xanthe in Paris in the same way that Frosch had met Tolshivar at Ten, Downing Street -- which seemed to be an admission that Xanthe had, indeed, been talking to representatives of the French government -- when she hadn't been spying on them.
Hathor told us that she was very surprised to see three men together, even though Xanthe had prepared her for the meeting. She had always thought that the weaker sex would not make it beyond the Great Divide, which amused Iktar no end. Soon, we learned the real reason why Hathor was there.
Hathor wanted to join in the game. Xanthe had told her quite a lot about General Frosch's scheme and Hathor wanted to be an alien -- a military Sokar like Frosch or a high-ranking member of the Amintosh, the alien diplomatic corp. She wanted to twist the tails of politicians for fun and profit.
As the evening went on, it became clear to the rest of us that Frosch was unwilling to let Hathor sign on to what was essential his plan unless she was willing to follow his orders. Hathor did not look the type to take orders from a mere man.
I must admit that, as a mere man myself, I found Hathor abrasive and deliverately offensive. Iktar, on the other hand, thought that she was 'a hoot'. It was a combination of the French accent and the incongruous tough-guy attitude overlaid on too-perfect, brunette bombshell looks.
We spent about an hour talking before Xanthe and Hathor announced that they had to get back to France for another gathering. By then, Frosch was resigned to having to fit Hathor in to his plan. The alternative was to exclude her and let her run her own contact operation in competition with his. Frosch was still trying for a unified and co-ordinated plan for dealings with the Earthers, a name which Hathor could say in a most withering and dismissive way by the time she left England.
"What do you reckon to her?" Iktar asked me when we were back in our personal penthouse atop Perry Plaza.
"She's drop-dead gorgeous but I don't think I'll be going on any round the world trips with her," I replied.
"I've just been looking her up in the encyclopaedia." Iktar directed my attention to the flat-screen monitor of her main PC. "Hathor was the Egyptian goddess of love and having a good time."
"She's also a Goa'uld in Stargate SG-1," I pointed out. "Which might also be true of the real life Hathor."
"Frosch thinks she has potential as someone who'll put male politicians in their place and make them more willing to deal with him -- or you, the Hadukar -- instead of the terrible Amintosh women."
"General Frosch is a genius."
"So you don't like her, then?"
"It's not very easy to like someone who lets you know she despises all men, and by the way, have you noticed you're a man?"
"Have you ever thought she might be winding you up? Rattling your fragile male ego for a bit of fun?"
"No, I didn't think that."
"No, you're probably right." Iktar closed the computer down. "Are we out of here for a night out, or what?"
"I should say we're out of here," I decided.
On the afternoon of the following day, Sunday, the group met again. Xanthe had invited us to her penthouse this time and we were to meet Hathor's companions -- fellow Frenchwoman Bethan and the Spanish Marivella. Hathor and Bethan, a tall, slender blonde, were 'dressed' with a businesswoman look. Marivella, dark-haired, a little pale and easily the shortest person in the room, had gone for 'Hollywood film-star fashion-victim'.
Bethan was virtually a Hathor clone as far as her attitude to life was concerned, and we learned very quickly that she was willing to work only as a team with Hathor. Marivella disgusted both of her companions by cosying up to General Frosch. She seemed to take an instant liking to him and her appreciation grew when she learned that he could speak quite passable Spanish, a talent which he had successfully kept hidden from the rest of us.
I thought that Marivella was very like Iktar in temperament -- only somewhat less stormy. I soon realized that Iktar didn't like her one little bit but she refused to explain her dislike.
Hathor and Co. were extremely interested in Frosch's technology and they seemed to think he had invented all of it. Iktar and I assumed that Xanthe had not gone into boring details when talking about our group's means of showing that we are aliens, Earthers with alien technology, etc.
Iktar stayed for about a half an hour, then she left 'on business' -- allegedly, to harass one of her repo customers. Xanthe dropped a hint to Frosch about having further plans for the evening on a ladies only basis and we mere men took our leave also. Tolshivar drifted off on his own. Frosch decided to come back to my apartment at Perry Plaza for a chat.
He was looking for my input on a training programme. He felt that having a male instructor, at least for my hralmak 50 kV zapper, would have a positive effect on the status of male aliens. He was also wondering what he could get the 'new girls' to do in terms of jobs in return for the secret of the hralchiv, etc.
"But Frosch," I said, "what guarantee do you have that they'll stick around once they've drained you dry of gadgets? What's to stop them zooming off and making their own deal with a bunch of sucker politicians?"
"Yes, there is that," Frosch said thoughtfully as he took a mouthful of neat Pernod. He was back on the concentrated yellow stuff again. "Being realistic, they might work with Xanthe. But she's got her own agenda. And if we tried to get them to work with Iktar, she'd end up in a punch-up with Hathor over who's in charge. It would probably be a better idea just to tell them to bugger off."
"Or, accepting they're going to bugger off anyway of their own accord, we could try for a spot of co-ordination," I suggested.
"How?" Frosch frowned at me.
"Teach them the beam out and how to do the Goa'uld eyes and voice first. So that all the alleged aliens on the planet are doing the same tricks when they contact the Earthers. Teach them the vocabulary, too. The alien-speak. And then give them the hralchiv and see what happens."
"So if they leave us in the lurch, they don't get your hralmak? And what's Ik calling her stunner?"
"It's officially a hralsahr, with a sort of Taelon breath-out at the end of the word. Ik thought about calling it a hraltun to remind us it's a stunner on the low-power setting. But she decided to go all Taelon after watching an episode of Earth: Final Conflict."
"And as Xanthe insists on calling all our weapons a hral-thing, the others may not catch on that there's more than one of them." Frosch nodded his satisfaction. "Get them co-ordinated, give them a reward and see what happens. And while all this is happening, we need to pump them for info. Ik can do the tough guys, Hath and Beth. Maybe you can have a go at Mari?"
"I thought you were getting on quite well with her," I prodded.
"Except I don't have the time for the job." Frosch reminded me that he was the busy General and I was the idle Hadukar who wasn't doing his job of establishing diplomatic relations with the Earthers.
"Okay, I'll see what I can manage."
"Good." Frosch drained his glass. "I'll get Xanthe to show them the beam out and the Goa'uld stuff. But it would be better if you and Ik did the hralchiv training. Knock that quarry about a bit more."
"And maybe do a bit of snow-shifting?" I suggested.
"If you can find somewhere nearby with snow in September."
"Yes, there is that," I acknowledged.
"Okay, I'll catch up with you later." Frosch flicked me a salute then beamed out in a sitting position.
E2 : The Rules of Co-existence
To my surprise, the three newcomers seemed happy enough to follow Frosch's plot and Xanthe was quite keen to teach them how to be aliens. She even got Iktar to print her a list of our current alien-speak terms so that she could pass them on accurately.
The Saturday morning after our first meeting with Hathor was damp and dismal, but such conditions were guaranteed to keep non-hardy Earthers at home. We aliens were quite happy to beat up our quarry a bit more in the rain as we taught the three newcomers how to hralchiv.
By the early afternoon, Hathor and Bethan were ready for a greater challenge and they were taking about going to Iceland or somewhere in the Arctic with Iktar to bash bits off a glacier. Marivella, who had been receiving my personal tuition, was going somewhere with Xanthe during the afternoon, but not for an hour or so, which gave me the opportunity to talk to her alone and pump her for information, following General Frosch's orders.
From casual questions, I had gathered that Marivella had led a somewhat sheltered life in the upper echelons of Spanish society and that she was about 1920s vintage, as far as being born was concerned. She had made the transition from pre-dead to post-dead in middle age while living in the South of France, which was where she had met Bethan and then Hathor.
She gave me the impression that she believed that she was in a sort of limbo, and that she could expect to move on to -- well, to the Catholic heaven in her case after her pretty blameless and inconsequential life -- in due course. She seemed rather surprised to find that I was looking on my post-dead condition as a second and final stage of existence.
As we talked, I had to acknowledge that she had a point. I had believed, at one time, that life is all there is. Finding myself post-dead had proved me wrong. It was reasonable, but unprovable, to assume that there might be a post-post-dead phase of existence still to come for a selected few.
Winning a debating point encouraged Marivella to open up and tell me more about her companions. Hathor and Bethan had become serial tourists in their post-dead phase. And they were impressed by the sheer cheek of Frosch's alien plan -- not that they would ever admit such heresy to a mere man, even under extreme torture. Assuming someone ever invented a way of torturing the post-dead.
Hathor and Bethan's post-dead existences had been a bit like our group's before Frosch had got his hands on some cash at the farmhouse. They had been just observing the antics of the pre-dead without hitting on the idea that it might be possible to interact with them for fun and profit in some way -- such as by pretending to be as aliens.
I also gathered that Hathor was now planning to take over from Xanthe as the exploiter of the French government and Bethan, who spoke rather less English than she made out, was keen to set up an operation in a country where everyone spoke her language. That gave her a choice of Belgium, parts of Switzerland and France's current and former colonies. Marivella, who was fluent in about eight languages, as far as I could gather, was just looking for pleasant company while she waited out her period in limbo.
Iktar returned to Perry Plaza as I was thinking about heading for the science fiction film club for an Alien Invasion night with Tolshivar and Eric, the vampire.
"Done your bit to counter global warming?" I asked when she had beamed in and put on her Goa'uld face.
"It was quite fun, knocking chunks off glaciers and seeing how high we could get them to splash the sea," Iktar said with a smile.
"Highest up the wall for half a crown," I remarked.
"Eh?" Iktar put on a glowing-eyed frown.
"Nothing. So anyway, if we hear about another Titanic disaster on the news, we'll know who to blame for launching the iceberg?"
"How did you get on with the Spanish Lady?"
"She pretty much confirmed what Frosch is worried about. Your mates Hath and Beth are planning to take over the French alien franchise. Probably starting tomorrow, now they know the secrets of all our technology. And Beth might branch out to somewhere else that's French-speaking."
"Quite. Which might mean we get Xanthe back on our team full time. If Hath gives her the bum's rush because she's English."
"What about the Spanish Lady?"
"She seems happy enough knocking about with Hath and Beth."
"You didn't sweep her off her feet with your boyish charm?"
"I merely interrogated her in a polite way, as ordered by General Frosch. Somebody getting jealous? Because I'm spending time with another woman?"
"One thing I never considered when I woke up and found myself post-dead, well, no, after I'd been around a while and I found out how few of us there are around, I never thought I'd get to know enough people like us to have to make choices between them."
"I hope you're not thinking of choosing her over me," Iktar said frostily.
"Why, do you have feelings of ownership over me?"
"I think we've shared enough to be, well, perhaps not a couple but a pair of kindred spirits. And I think each of us is entitled to expect the other to show blind loyalty and stick together through thick and thin."
"And what? You're expecting me to argue with you?"
"Are you winding me up, pal?" Iktar put on her fiercest vampire 'fierce face' combined with glowing Goa'uld eyes.
"Is this a 'look at another woman and you're dead' situation, Ik?" I returned mildly.
"This is a 'me not giving up my friend' situation."
"So is it okay to be civil to her? The Spanish Lady? As long as I don't go on any round the world sight-seeing trips with anyone other than you?"
"I guess." Iktar relaxed her fierce face.
"So we're a pair, are we? Not a couple but a pair?"
"Unless one of us has a problem with that? Because I think a little basic commitment wouldn't go amiss."
"As long as you don't start accusing me of being possessive and trying to run your life."
"It's possible to retain a satisfactory level of independence and still be one half of a pair."
"Okay. Oh, yes, one interesting thing I found out. You know Tolshivar can't drain the life out of the pre-dead like we can? Well, Marivella can't either. And I suspect the same goes for Hath and Beth."
"The swings and roundabouts of evolution," said Iktar. "They never thought that exposure to sunlight would kill them. So they just carried on going out and about during the day. Except when they stopped up all night."
"Sounds like we have plenty to report to General Frosch in due course. And talking about reporting, I'm due to report to the SF film club shortly. Are you interested in alien invasions?"
"Might be good for a laugh. If you don't mind having a girl along to spoil your fun?" Iktar added with a challenging look.
"Just make sure you don't laugh too loudly when the Earthers get zapped," I warned.