F1 : Conflict
At the start of the next week, Iktar disappeared off for a couple of days on an undercover mission for General Frosch. She seemed to be in quite good spirits when she returned to our penthouse at lunchtime, for the pre-dead, on Wednesday. Her news was very interesting.
The Earther politicians, she reported, had been chatting among themselves at some EU bean feast and doing a spot of bragging about their contacts with the aliens. The British and French junketeers had been calling themselves 'Earthers' from time to time, suggesting that some keen pair of ears had picked the term out of a recording of a semi-official meeting which General Frosch or Xanthe had attended.
Out of the idle chatter at informal contacts had come a suspicion, based on the number of separate alien groups said to be operating around the world, that there might be several competing groups of aliens around, and that it could well be that Earth had a strategic value to them.
Of course, the next step for the politicians and their advisors had been entirely logical. They were now busy wondering if it might be possible to play off the individual groups of aliens against one another. Iktar was laughing her head off when she reported this development to me.
"Frosch is going to be furious if he sees his monopoly going down the tubes," I remarked. "Nothing hurts a control freak more than losing control."
"He's not a totally dedicated monopolist," Iktar said. "You know this deal of Xanthe's? The one we're sure she's been talking over with the French?"
"The one we think she's going to be frozen out of now Hath and Beth are on the scene?"
"Frosch sees it as an opportunity rather than a slap in the face for him. A chance to get a bidding process going. Or at least to get another assessment of what our allegedly alien technology is worth so that he can tune up his negotiations with old No Jacket and the British government. Sort of, 'Is that your best offer, only a certain government across the Channel is offering half as much again'."
"Triumph out of adversity. What any good general should be able to pull off."
"He's also thinking of telling the Earthers that the Hadukar's diplomatic staff are doing an evaluation to fix the level of contact with them."
"What, don't blame me, it's the others causing the hold-up, kind of thing?" I asked with a frown.
"No, nothing like that," laughed Iktar. "Well, some. But it gives Frosch the chance to take bribes to get unfavourable stuff removed from the contact checklist. 'Oh, no, this won't be a problem, not if you give me a bung', kind of thing."
"And I gather old No Jacket is trying to look a bit tough by pressing for an assurance that the rotten aliens won't use their weapons again in London."
"What, not even if some mugger shoves a gun in their face and tries to nick their mobile?"
"Frosch is saying he'll give the assurance in return for a guarantee that the Earthers will make no further attempts to abduct or kill his personnel."
"Leave the idle Hadukar alone, you mean?"
"Right. And General Frosch has been stirring the pot on the issue of the Hadukar. He's mentioned to Nelson someone that really, the Hadukar should be meeting only with heads of state, not prime ministers and Ministers For Nothing Important."
"I bet that went down like a lead balloon with old No Jacket," I said with a laugh.
The current prime minister was someone who wanted everyone to think that he was the head of state. Unfortunately for him, he lived in a country with a free press, which could resist the spin of Nelson Johns, the Downing Street chief of staff, at least some of the time. The unco-operative newspapers had a habit of pointing out that the Queen is the British head of state when the prime minister got above himself, which was pretty well most of the time.
"What's even worse, Frosch is letting this Nelson bloke think that you've met the president of France."
"So I can't stoop to the PM's level for an official meeting in England?"
"Except as a very special favour to General Frosch."
"Right. I knew there had to be a catch in it. What's the favour the PM's got to come up with? The use of Buck House when Her Majesty's not using it?"
"I think Frosch is still working on that. So anyway, what's been happening around here while I've been away?"
"We had Hathor staging a bust-up with Frosch on Monday morning. Some radical disagreement on policy and she's going her own way now. Well, her and Bethan. And probably Mari, too."
"No surprises there, then. How did Frosch take it?"
"He knew it was coming. Which is why Hath and Co. didn't get the rest of our technology. They only got the hralchiv."
"Oh, right. I was wondering about that."
"Marivella was very apologetic after Hathor stormed off in a huff. Well, beamed out in a huff, I should say. So Hath's still on-side as far as the alien stuff is concerned."
"You don't sound very heartbroken to see the back of Hath. So you definitely don't fancy her as a companion?"
"I think the best way to describe her is beautiful in a contrived sort of way and too pushy for comfort."
"Interesting. How would you describe me?"
"Knowing that everything will be held against me if you don't like what you hear?" I dared to ask.
Iktar just looked at me.
"Okay, you look like a real, uncontrived person. Someone who won't blow her top if she breaks a nail or gets caught out in the rain."
"Neither of which is a problem for a post-dead female."
"Someone who, if she starts behaving like a female Vulcan and going all logical on you, you know she's just messing about and not looking down her too perfect nose at you because you're a mere male."
"Fascinating." Iktar raised a Spock-like People's Eyebrow.
"In short, you're the sort of person any mere male in his right mind would pick for a long-term association, not someone you'd tiptoe around while holding your breath."
"So you really don't like Hath?"
"What on Earth makes you think that, Ik?"
"We Vulcans can read emotions."
"That's Betazeds you're thinking of, like Counsellor Troi. So what is it you've got against Marivella?"
"Who says I've got anything against her?"
"You do. Via your body language. Which we Hadukars can read like a book after our intensive training."
"I don't trust the Spanish, okay?"
"What, all of them?"
"Lay off, Preth, okay?"
I shrugged and laid off. But I gave Iktar a semi-nasty smile to let her know that if she started pushing my buttons in future, then I had one of hers to push. It was the sort of thing that goes with being the halves of a pair.
I don't know whether it was the stimulus of associating with powerful females, or wannabe powerful females, but the mad scientist in Iktar had been thinking again. General Frosch was sure that her thought processes had been jump-started by her playing a part in his campaign to start a war between the Japanese Yakuza and the Chinese Triads, which was still rumbling on in the background. Whatever, Iktar had come up with a new weapon.
She had been studying physics again and she had combined the hralchiv or its cousin the hralsahr, the supersonic defensive weapons, with my hralmak, the system for generating large static electricity charges. She had named her product a hralgast.
Iktar gave her first demonstations to the rest of the group in the quarry where we had first tested the hralchiv and later trained Hathor and Co. The reason why she wanted to be out of doors became clear when the gallon can of petrol went up in a Hollywood flare of brightness and black smoke.
The hralgast was a means of ignition which could 'do cars and cigarettes with equal facility', to quote the lady herself. Frosch was highly impressed -- so impressed, in fact, that Iktar and I assumed that she had provided him with a solution for which he had been searching in vain. All attempts to extract information from the General failed, however. If Frosch had a scheme in mind, that the world was not yet ready to hear it.
Our training in the use of a new piece of alien technology proceeded against a background of Euro-junketing. European foreign ministers were having a few days holiday in Amsterdam -- a long weekend while they discussed the agenda for a grand European conference on First Contact Protocols for an off-planet civilization. The French, significantly, had sent their deputy foreign minister. We aliens in Britain assumed that Hathor and Bethan were hard at work, charming some spending money out of the French government.
Frosch was looking quietly pleased when one of the national broadsheets carried an article suggesting that it would be more appropriate for the heads of the major multinational companies, rather than the politicians, to formulate the FCPs. The author of the piece was suggesting that the big multinationals are a lot bigger than many countries and so an assembly of their chief executives amounts, pretty much, to a gathering of the heads of a world administration.
The General's idea was, in part, to wind up the politicians and leave them less sure of their position in the Earthers' pecking order as perceived by the aliens. He was also dropping a heavy hint to big business that the time was right for them to get their act together and offer up something big in the way of bribes to the aliens already on the Earth.
F2 : Abduction
The Earthers had not given up on their attempts to get their hands on an alien for a spot of experimentation and, possibly, vivisection. The next team to come after the Hadukar -- me -- had been doing a lot of thinking around the problem of what to do about our unstoppable alien weapons and its leader had come up with a neat solution.
I was in the science fiction section of a suburban branch of one of the major bookstores at the time, up on the top floor of three. I was aware of some kid in the background because he was making a nuisance of himself. He was trying to persuade his mum to buy him the paperback of a book which he already had in hardback. Apparently, the paperback was an extended and up-dated edition and I thought, in passing, that putting that bit more in the paperback was a pretty sneaky marketing trick.
And then there were three men with guns among us. All with their neat little sub-machine guns aimed at the kid. And their leader was looking totally tough and telling me to offer no resistance and stay put or the kid gets it.
Of course, the first thing that went though my mind was that when the same situation comes up in a film on TV, Iktar and I usually start chanting, 'Kill the kid!' Especially if the brat is cute or irritatingly precocious.
Somehow, in real life, it didn't seem quite so appropriate any more.
Luckily, the kid and his mom were too shocked to resist or start yelling, so there was no violence. Not confident that I could zap the bad guys without taking out the bystanders as a bonus, and probably getting the kid filled full of lead, I just went along with whatever the kidnappers had in mind.
One of them told the rest of the people on the top floor that if anyone moved, the bomb would go off, which kept them frozen to the spot. The kid and I were ushered through a door, up a short flight of stairs and onto the roof. A helicopter swooping down to collect us, causing a sensation on the street outside. It scampered away and headed out into less populated areas at low level before anyone could do anything about it.
I think the kid would have enjoyed a free helicopter ride under different circumstances. Having to sit quietly with guns shoved into his ribs from either side kept him on the edge of blubbering for the whole of the bumpy ride.
The helicopter dropped the kidnappers and their victims at what looked like a ruined country house before continuing roughly in the direction of Wales. By now, the kid was getting a bit fractious -- he looked about eleven or twelve and something of a playground bully type -- but having a gun pointed at him and being told to 'Shut it!' with what I realized was a French accent soon shut him up again.
We passed through some rooms with fresh air overhead instead of a ceiling and ended up in the dungeons -- or probably what had been the wine cellar. The kid and I ended up in separate rooms. There was a CCTV camera in mine and one of the bad guys told me that I had to sit in the chair provided and if I moved, things would get highly unpleasant for the kid. And then the waiting started.
My main problem was that I had to put up with the boredom of just sitting there and I had to stay awake. I knew that if I drifted off to sleep and sank down into the protection of the earth beneath the stone floor of the cellar, the guy watching me on the CCTV's monitor would get a hell of a shock and the kid's parents would have to fork out for a funeral.
As boredom and apathy set in, I felt sure that the kidnappers were planning to hole up in their refuge while colleagues created a diversion elsewhere, possibly in Wales. I assumed that the kid was along for the duration and the threat of unscheduled holes appearing in his miserable hide would be used to force me to submit to whatever my kidnappers had planned for me in the way of experiments.
I was debating with myself as to whether saving the life of one Earther kid justified revealing the secrets of our alien technology when I realized that I was not alone. There was a ghost wearing a Cheshire Cat grin in the room, standing against the wall and directly beneath the CCTV camera. Iktar switched her Goa'uld eyes on for a couple of seconds when she saw that I was looking at her. Then she faded out.
Nothing happened for about ten minutes. Then I heard what sounded like a couple of rapid shots as filtered through a thick door. There were no accompanying cries of 'Armed police!', so I didn't write the kid off mentally. Then the door to my room opened and Tolshivar strolled in, eyes lit up in full Goa'uld mode.
"Mafeking has been relieved, Hadukar," he told me in the echoing voice of the Goa'uld.
"How did you find me?" was my first question after I had put on my alien face and voice.
Tolshivar shrugged. "Iktar did it somehow. She just sort of drifted around until she homed in on you."
"How? I didn't think we had that much range for our mutual detection system. I certainly didn't feel her nearby."
Tolshivar shrugged again. "Beats me, mate. I'm not sure she knows how she did it herself. Are you happy in here or are we going?"
I followed Tolshivar into the next room, which had about five times the floor area of my annex. Three men and two women were lying on the stone floor, motionless, face down, but unmarked and still breathing. They were lined up neatly along two of the walls and Iktar was keeping an eye on them. She was 'wearing' a uniform very much like those of Frosch and Tolshivar. The kid was sitting in front of the now blank monitors for the CCTV system, eating crisps, looking ruffled but unharmed, and apparently not bothered about being surrounded by people with glowing eyes and funny voices.
Frosch turned toward me and clicked his heels as he came to attention. "Area secure, Hadukar," he told me in a formal tone. "Five hostiles, all neutralized."
"Very well, Sokar. Carry on," I told him.
Frosh's mobile began to ring. He pressed the connect button then listened. "Understood," he said before he pressed the connect button again to drop the line. "I recommend you and your escort leave now, Hadukar," he said to me.
I glanced at Iktar. She beamed out. I followed suit but stayed on in the cellar invisibly, as she had. The kid was looking a bit bug-eyed at seeing the beam-outs but he carried on crunching his crisps. I assumed that he had seen my companions beam-in and he had worked out that we were aliens and therefore entitled to be different.
"Hello?" called a distant male voice.
"Turn left at the foot of the stairs, constable," Frosch called, switching off his Goa'uld voice for the moment.
Two uniformed constables armed with nothing more deadly than large torches entered the cellar room, which was abundantly lit with a system powered by a small generator, which was throbbing fairly inaudibly close to the room.
"Your prisoners should wake up in less than one hour," Frosch told the startled constables in his Goa'uld voice as they were struggling to understand what they were seeing. "This is the boy kidnapped from the bookstore."
Both constables glanced at the boy, who was opening another packet of the kidnappers' crisps to continue snacking. "And you are?" one of them said to Frosch, apparently unwilling to say anything about his eyes and his voice.
"We, constable, are leaving the area in your capable hands," Frosch returned. He glanced at Tolshivar then beamed out. Tolshivar followed his lead.
The four of us drifted up to ground level, where Xanthe was waiting for us with a mobile phone. She had been acting as a lookout.
"I hope those guys have got enough handcuffs," Iktar remarked.
"Maybe we'd better stay on to make sure the bad guys don't make a break for it." Frosch led the way to a first-floor room at the back of the house, where we re-solidified in a space which still had a floor, four walls and a ceiling.
"News flashes on the radio and TV," Iktar said before I could ask the obvious question. "Dramatic kidnapping and helicopter getaway. Police baffled. Who are the victims? About half an hour later, Frosch got a phone call from one of his Downing Street mates to say his Hadukar had been snatched."
"How did they know that?" I asked.
"The police must have seen you on the CCTV at the bookshop," said Iktar.
"And you found me how?" I asked.
Iktar shrugged. "I just drifted around until I found myself near you. I must be tuned in to your energy matrix."
"I don't know how I did it, Preth. It just happened."
"The point is," said Frosch, "whatever she did worked. So we phoned the local police and told them there were a couple of guys with a van behaving suspiciously at this old ruin. Then we neutralized the bad guys."
"You mean, they weren't pointing a gun at the kid?" I said.
"Yes, but they didn't have it up against his head," said Frosch. "So Ik beamed in right in front of the kid with sufficient density to deflect bullets. And the rest of us zapped the bad guys. They got a couple of shots off but no harm done."
"Yes, I heard the shots. The kid looked remarkably calm about everything."
"The kid didn't really see anything with Ik in front of him," said Tolshivar. "I should think he thinks we shot the bad guys with rayguns instead of hitting them with the hralsahr on stun."
"Here's some more coppers," Iktar remarked from one of the gaping holes where there had been windows.
"Time to become invisible again," said Frosch.
A police van, two police cars and four unmarked police vehicles and a doctor arrived over the next five minutes. A WPC and a detective took charge of the kid and removed him from the scene more or less right away. The unconscious prisoners were examined by the doctor then loaded into the van. We left while several detectives were looking at the equipment in the cellar and waiting for the forensic team to arrive.
The ruined house, I learned, lay between Aylesbury and Oxford. The Oxfordshire police were crowing quietly about rescuing the kidnapped boy while the main thrust of the search had been concentrated in mid-Wales. The kid had performed for the TV cameras but his appearance had been very tightly scripted. He and his parents were delighted by the quick and caring service which they had received from the police, who had been universally wonderful.
No one, not even the kid, had anything to say about the man who had been abducted with him. And the kid was saying nothing about aliens beaming in and out around him. Neither were the Oxfordshire police officers, who had taken charge of the prisoners in the cellar.
We learned later that the kid and the coppers who had seen Frosch and Tolshivar at the ruin had been whisked away to government-owned secure accommodation after they had recorded their pieces for the TV news. The nation's spy-masters and defence chiefs wanted to extract everything that they could tell about the 'aliens'.
The official account of the affair drew a veil over exactly how the bad guys had been tracked down and taken into custody. It was clear to everyone who could read the media that there was a big secret -- one which was bound to leak out in due course.
I found Frosch muttering, "He should bloody well should be," while watching one alleged news report, which was hinting much and telling very little. I took it as a cryptic reference to his detecting the sticky fingerprints of Andrew Slayne, the number two in the heirarchy of the prime minister's gate-keepers. I assumed that Frosch was expecting that the leak, when it came, would be manipulated to show our bogus 'head of state' in the best possible light.
The only fly in the PM's ointment, Frosch believed, was likely to be the kid's Uncle Mike. Frosch had taken one look at him before deciding that Uncle Mike was already planning the news media deal and the movie deal when the lid came off.
General Frosch and Tolshivar sneaked around, listening and looking invisibly for the next couple of days, and learned that the police had arrested a bunch of hoods for hire and two French DST (Secret Service) agents, one male and one female. They had nothing to say for themselves -- not even in French-accented English. It was the British Special Intelligence Service (MI 6) which came up with their identifications by trading a couple of favours with the Germans.
Of course, the French government tried to deny everything but while the most repressive culture in the EU could control its own news media, it could do nothing about the Internet. Possibly with Frosch's assistance, the full service records of the DST agents, with abundant pictures, were soon available to anyone who knew the URL of one of the 'secret information' websites.
As for our response to the attempt to abduct one of us, that soon became the subject of a fierce argument between Iktar, who favour going over to France en masse and knocking the place around for a week or so, and Frosch, who wanted something more measured. The rest of us, Xanthe, Tolshivar and myself, waited on the sidelines and laid bets as to whether anyone would bother to consult me about the level of response.
In the end, the warring factions reached agreement. Frosch and Iktar seemed quite surprised by the air of merriment in the rest of the group when they unveiled their plan of reprisal action.
One week after the abduction attempt, we all headed for Paris on a dark, damp October evening. We began by locating and flattening the French president's official vehicle. He was elsewhere at the time, of course. Our next stop was the Quay d'Orsay, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where we knocked a few inessential lumps off the façade of the building.
Of course, there was nothing on the TV news or in the French papers about what had happened to the president's car. That was a national secret. All we ever saw was a brief report about a storm in Paris, which had caused slight damage to a number of public buildings.
The next part of General Frosch's plan was to move everyone again to make us even less easy to find. Xanthe and Iktar were a bit mutinous at first, but they agreed to be shifted on the understanding that it would be the last move -- unless they themselves choose to move again. Our new apartments were company hospitality suites with cable TV, a bar, PCs with Internet access and a library. And we were no longer part of the penthouse set -- Frosch had decided that we had to break that particular habit for the moment.
The only restriction on the use of our apartments was that we were required to avoid the cleaners, who called on a rigidly regulated schedule -- between eleven and twelve on alternate Tuesdays. The good news was that we needed to make no pretence at occupation of the apartments and we did not need to maintain a mock wardrobe and other pre-dead accessories.
Another regulation that the General invented was a requirement that everyone had to beam in and out of meetings with outsiders -- as well as the apartments, of course. Frosch had decided to let his potential benefactors be reminded on a regular basis that they were dealing with people who had access to technology which they could see only in the cinema or on TV when we weren't showing it off.
Power negotiating, the General called it.