Despite the ribbing they each got from the other explorers in their sections, this was not a romantic trip. Xaero barely saw Trev before departure, and between dealing with the wrenching effects of the jumps on top of zero gravity and assisting running the spectral analyses, by the time she had time for a word, he'd already crawled into his sleeping net in the male's bunk room. Good idea. Xaero climbed into hers, and nodded off immediately.
They kept track of the times and places they jumped from with paranoid care. While the two doctors M'kabon seemed to indicate that there was no paradox effect, there was no reason to take insane chances.
They stayed inside the Sun's gravity well to get dragged along through space as they leapt in time. Only the final six jumps were in open space, as they headed through the last five thousand years and four and a half lightyears. The constant jumping was hideously disorienting, and with zero gravity in between, they were all a bit sick.
It took a subjective eight days before Abbi and Beltova grew from a bright dot to a pair of sulfur clouded spheres.
"All right." Trebore called the first organizational meeting late on their arrival day. "We are at twenty thousand years post bombardment. We'll be dropping probes into Abbi's atmosphere and hopefully finding a solid surface, jumping a year and down loading a full set of data, and then jumping a hundred years into the future and doing it all over again, to determine how fast the planets are cooling."
Xaero looked at her crewmates, counting herself there were ten sick lizards hanging about the Dzi's forward cabin. Trev was off on the far side, looking bilious. Xaero was feeling fine now that she'd had a whole day without jumping, but her roommate Arto still looked like death warmed over and claimed to feel worse.
Trev tried to get out of his bed pit before losing control over his stomach, but getting up wasn't working right. His head was spinning and fogged, plus he was on a hard, rough, grubby floor. In the dark. Vibrating. He banged his head and collapsed to the floor again. This time he sat up cautiously, reaching overhead. Yep. Low ceiling that felt about like the floor. He hit his elbow, felt, yep, wall. He felt around the small space. At least it was noticeably larger than a coffin. His uneasy stomach felt better sitting up, so he braced himself in a corner and tried to remember how he'd gotten here.
He'd said goodbye to his mother and gone downstairs carrying just the little overnight case, since half his wardrobe was at Sun Town, and he wouldn't need it on the Dzi anyway. He'd taken the monorail. Vee and Leri had checked it all over, they'd kicked back, reading, chatting, he gotten up and gone to the lav . . . Bag over head. Smell.
Waking up in here, sick as a cheeper. Not Good. He shook his head, still feeling dull and sleepy.
It was a box, a metal box like the back of a work cart. Oh, right. Currently being driven. Which explained the vibration and sway, but nothing about how he got here.
He remembered the guards checking everything. There shouldn't have been any need for them to do so again. There'd been other people on the monorail. A party of, umm, rather heavy and over dressed fems, chattering about . . . well, they'd eyed the three men and giggled a lot, so he hadn't dared look and maybe meet eyes with them. A young couple. Two businessmen immersed in reading.
What the cold sandy hell had happened?
More to the point, what was he going to do now?
The fog in his brain was fading and a very unpleasant reality was seeping through. Where was his coat? ID? Money?
A quick check of his remaining pockets and footwear showed that he was down to a single knife, a decorative little blade that folded up into a thin wafer with a clip so he could tuck it into his boot. A clever little bauble that Xaero had given him for his birthday. She'd probably had it made just for him.
Feeling the walls, and the motions as his conveyance stopped, started, turned and dipped he picked out the wall that he thought was the rear of the box and probed around it with the blade. Not welded, he could get the blade in all the way around except in two spots on the right side and one on the left. Hinges and a hasp or latch? He poked at it but found nothing he could manipulate. He pried as hard as he dared, to no avail. He was in until someone released him. He stepped firmly on his rising fear. "That won't help."
They were moving slowly, turning frequently. In a town? Trev couldn't hear anything or anyone. Yell, pound the walls in the hopes that someone would call the police? Or should he pretend to still be unconscious? Would his kidnappers get careless?
They turned, dipped downward, flattened out and abruptly stopped. And stayed stopped.
Trev folded his blade away and slumped down.
After a bit of clatter, the door swung open. Trev sagged and blinked. "Wha . . . ?"
"How much vater did you give his?" the voice had a distinctly southern accent.
Some one mumbled something, off to the side.
"Well, pick him up and put him in his luxury accommodations."
Trying to look unfocused and helpless, Trev studied the speaker. Tall, muscular, fairly good looked blunt features, trumale, overall tannish, with no distinguishing patterns. Blozolli C'dasl. One of L'azlod's less environmental and more criminal associates. He'd lost weight since Trev had last seen him, and bleached his scales. If it was an attempt at a disguise, it was pitiful.
The other lizard was quite noticeable; muscular and thuggish with a bronze-on-tan speckling and darker bronze primary spines draping in an arc around a nearly bald head. Bigger than Vee by a good bit. Much bigger than Blozolli.
There were two others there as well, pseudofems. At least these two weren't dressed up in S&M garb . . . on second thought, their ultra-practical almost-military getup might indicate a great deal more competence than the last two pairs of pseudofem guards he'd dealt with.
The thuggish speckled pseudomale grabbed both his wrists with one hand and with an easy yank draped him belly down over his shoulder as if his substantial weight was nothing. Trev decided that any escaping would be done when this one was off duty.
He was carried down another ramp, around several corners and into a largish room with several exits. His "luxury accommodations" were . . . not. A metal barred cage, in plain sight of anyone anywhere in the room. He was dropped on a thin pad in the center, and the door closed and locked without fanfare. The key was on a bright yellow ribbon, and he watched through slitted eyes as it was hung on a peg on the wall.
There was a table to one side, with two stools. The two pseudo fems sat down and picked up markers, apparently resuming an interrupted game. The others looked like they were splitting up and leaving. So much for hoping for careless comments.
He shoved himself up, staggering without pretense. "What is going on?"
Blozolli glanced at him and smirked a bit, "Payback, Traveler. You're going to pay for every minute I spent in jail, and then L'azlod is going to want his. Zabo, your watch." He turned away and walked out of the room.
Trev glared. "What do you think you're pulling, here?"
One of the pseudofems glanced over and snorted. "What could we tell you that isn't perfectly obvious? You've got to be another Royal bastard, with the DMS using you. When the Dims or the Imperials fork over enough money, we'll release you. If they take too long, we'll send them some body parts. Now shut up. I don't make pets out of cheepers before I butcher them."
Zabo. That would be Zabo B'thom. One last chance to bluff. He hadn't spoken very much . . . in a Union accent he growled, "B'thom, do not let Blozolli lead you into treason. You know me too well to think I'll let this slide. He's as good as dead. Don't follow him there."
She sneered, and turned back to her cards.
He muttered something under his breath, examining his cage. Short exam. Finger width steel bars on four sides and the top, solid sheet floor all welded together. "S'ank is so going to kill me," he muttered. At least if they were after money he didn't have to worry about Xaero.
Hoty R'sah frowned at the hole in the wall. "Perverts." The young cop brightened at the thought of what capturing an organized serial rapist would do to her career. She could see the headlines now. Train Rapist Caught With Brilliant Police Work.
Of course, they didn't have any reports of rapes. Or thefts. Just a very cleverly designed and hidden door between the fem's lav and the male's.
"I'll take a DNA trace swipe down of both sides of the door and see if we can get a match with any known offenders." She pulled out the sealed kit. "Leave the car out of commission until we get results. If we have to, we can put up observation cams and find out what's going on."