"I don't see how the Union police can lose L'azlod so easily." Hoty said. "They watch him, for Sand's sake."
Vee set down the report he was reading and leaned back to watch the DMS Lieutenant D'nef as he re–assembled his material. Hoty had to admit she was impressed by the two guards' professionalism. And brains, she admitted, and she suspected Vee had some police experience, although she hadn't asked him. He was being very professional, which was nearly as irritating as Leri's flirting. Sand it all, she was a pseudo. She should be flattered by the professionalism, and laugh at the flirting.
"The way the Union Federal Police are acting, we don't think they're part of it. In fact their narcotics division is sniffing all over. How about that?" D'nef frowned at Vee. "Could he have engineered a substitution to get to those plants at Sun Town?"
"They're not there any longer. He ought to know that. Plus, Trev wasn't going to stay." Vee rubbed his temples.
Probably a headache, thought Hoty. And I do not want to go over and rub his temples for him.
"Not that Metini knew about the trip." Vee continued, "Or . . . Well, no. He must have. He must have been prepared, else he wouldn't have been able to, oh, put on the protective clothing properly and so forth. If he was after information, not just infiltrating the family." He snorted faintly. "If he wasn't expecting it, he's had a bit of a shock."
Hoto R'sah sighed. Vee hadn't yet called her by her first name, let alone the diminutive Hoty everyone else used. And of course she didn't want him to. "This secret stuff of yours is worse than a nuisance. It's impeding the investigation. How long are this Ms. Xaero and either L'azlod or Prince Fatreve, planning on being out of contact?"
"Two weeks, sort of," Vee looked to be editing his speech on the fly. "But that's not exact or immutable. I hope to hell it's a coincidence that Trev was in a lav that L'azlod had fixed up for something else." He looked down glumly. "And I hope Xaero hasn't had an unfortunate accident, and I hope L'azlod hasn't just killed them all."
Leri kicked his ankle and glared. Vee nodded.
That was as close to the truth as I'm going to get. They got off the tram at Daeda. Now SunTown. Research later. "So L'azlod just up and disappeared?"
Vee frowned at that. "Given L'azlod's history . . . Where's the nearest surface entrance to the city, relative to L'azlod's home and all his businesses?"
Leri looked surprised. "That would explain a lot, wouldn't it?"
Hoty wrinkled her muzzle, "You think he went outside? On the surface?" she couldn't keep the horror out of her voice.
"Wouldn't be the first time." Vee said. "Do you know, I think I'll talk to someone about a scouting trip."
She hoped he didn't mean on the surface, but had a sinking feeling he did. She casually pulled up a surface map on her comp. Neither of them were looking at her screen, so she looked for Daeda and SunTown.
Oh Sand! That's the route to Space Base. Sun Town is where they have all the Alien plants and Animals. This Prince was expected to go on from there? She flicked a glance at the guards. Vee was tapping out a message on his comp, Leri looking over his shoulder. She brought up a picture of the Big Blue Explorers. One of them was good at dodging the camera . . . she kept going until she found a good shot of him. And there he was. Oh, Sand! Metini L'azlod has infiltrated our space program.
"Look! Free oxygen!" Xaero grabbed Trev's shoulder as she watched the probe's telemetry rolling across his screen. He nearly flinched, and she casually removed her hand without taking her eyes off the screen. "Both sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides are way down. Not breathable, but getting there."
She returned to her own station and called up her scenarios for the one best suited for what she was seeing. She was not going to think about Trev. Not. They'd talk it over when they got home, like two adults. Later. Her hands gripped the edge of her desk, claws scraping the tough surface. Later. She released the desk and chose a suite of bacterial spores, another of algaes, and . . . they wouldn't do well now, but they might survive, a collection of land plant seeds. She used both Martian and Blue plants, varieties that used the wind to carry pollen, plants that spread through their roots, or lived a long time. If they made it, great, if they didn't, the second mission could reseed.
"All right, last delivery to all three planets, coming up." She prepped a dozen of the little high altitude seeders and inserted them in the last of their reentry capsules. "Loaded and programmed, Boss."
"That was fast," Trebore patted her shoulder kindly. Nobody was saying anything, but everyone was noticing. "One would almost think you wanted out of here."
"I've nearly forgotten what gravity feels like." She admitted. "I'm going to have to exercise like mad to get my strength back."
Everyone nodded agreement. They exercised, but it just wasn't the same. She'd been exercising more than most, and Riu was starting to look worried about Arto and Trev.
Trev. Was he really sick? Was he mad because she hadn't fussed all over him? Or was it just All Over?
"Capsules away for these two, we'll take a quick jump for Cirusta then head for home."
Home. Home and pick up the pieces. Xaero sighed and turned back to her work station. She could get a start on her after-mission report.
"We didn't count on this!"
Philey shifted until she could see the Brassy fem who'd spoken.
"I know." Blozolli snarled, slamming his hand comp down on the desk. "Congress holding a special election. If we get the ransom money quickly enough, we could pull something out of this."
Philey K'radak chewed its claws in anxiety. Sand, sand, sand. What should it do? These "friends" of Father's were not about to let their hostage go, not if they were willing to chop off fingers for Father.
Father. It had only gotten to know its father in the last five years. Before that it had been with its mother and her family. Who had not approved of their daughter having child by a lizard they considered a dangerously unbalanced politician. But the payments were always on time, and the four times a year visits included presents and fun outings. Its father loved it. That was what he'd always said.
Then Mother had started dating, and suddenly Philey was an inconvenient encumbrance. And off it had gone, to stay with its Father "for a male role model" and because "the schools are better".
Father had shown Philey lots. When he was here. All the secret passages, all the computer codes . . . but not the actual merchandise he smuggled. "Now, you're so delicate, I think you must be a fem. You shouldn't bother with this ugly side of things," he'd said more than once when Philey had tried to be interested in Father's political power plays, business and generally self-obsessed ambitions.
Philey paced up and down the ramp, Father good or Father bad? "If I was a male, he'd have told me more. I'd know if he was a major drug runner. I'd know all about his connections in government, whether it's just politics, or blackmail and bribery like some of the newsies say."
Two more turns up and down. Its father's henchlizards left the office, and Philey started up the ramp . . . hesitated as the idea blossomed.
"If I release that lizard they've got, there will be a big fuss _before_ Father gets here, and he'll stay away and not get caught. Or Father could hide here, be safe, but couldn't hurt who-ever-it-is."
It was the only thing it could see that might help.
It turned around and paced back to the office door. Still dark and empty. It slipped in and sidled up to the office door and slowly opened it a crack. The lights were on in the corridor, but it was empty. It slipped out and headed for the main warehouse. Where would they keep a prisoner? High or low? Maybe back in one of the deep storerooms? It made it around two more corners before it heard something.
Grunting and thumping. Words.
Easing an eye around the next corner, it spotted the noise maker.
A huge pseudomale was shifting crates. "Stack them over _here_ Aularde. Get those stacks neat, Aularde. No more than three high, Aularde." The creature growled as it thumped the last crate down. "I oughtta tell them to stack their own sandy crates. Stuck down here for days and no end in sight."
He stomped off angrily, and Philey waited a moment before following. It didn't know this Aularde. He'd probably be loyal to Blozolli, certainly not Metini L'azlod's child. In fact, none of them would feel the faintest loyalty to it. So it had better pay attention and not get caught.
The thumping steps and growled complaints were easy to follow. Philey kept its eyes open, but the big lizard walked straight to the lowest cart garage. Philey cautiously stuck its head around the last door and spotted the prisoner. In a cage. Sand. Pretty nasty. Although maybe better than being in a dark room, now that it thought about it.
Zabo and Naghi B'thom were there too. No sign of Blozolli.
While they were all arguing with the big male, Philey scooted around the corner and behind a cart. It peered out of the shadows cast by the lights over the cage and the open space beyond where its father's gang wrangled over who had to do which scut job.
There were dozens of carts in the garage, all dusty so they obviously hadn't been used for days. It scooted as close to the cage as it could get, which wasn't very.
Father was in the cage.
And had spotted it. A faint twitch, and then he turned away, leaning back on the cage bars. Throwing a shadow, and blocking the view of the guards. Wet and warm. Staying low, Philey eased up to the cage.
In a soft unaspirated breath, Father said, "Through the entrance to the right of the one you came in, around a corner to the right and another to the left, there is a pile of boxes. I threw a key on a yellow ribbon in there."
Philey gawped at him, then threw a glance past him to the still arguing guards. It slid back to the carts and eyed the entrance to the right. It was in plain sight of the guards. No way. Philey instead snaked back out the most concealed door and wound around the corridors to approach that door from the inside. Right turn, left turn and there was a pile of boxes. Empty discards, tossed into an out of the way corner. It took two splits of nerve racking _silent_ shifting of boxes to find the key, then it retreated back home. More thinking needed.
What was going on here? Who did Blozolli expect to pay for its Father? The Imperium? The REM?
And how was Philey going to get Father away?