General S'ank, hissed wearily and gave up. "Be careful." He eyed Vee and gritted his teeth.
The Imperial Guard was wrapped in a heavy canvas cloak and wearing tall boots. Not the sort of thing General S'ank approved of.
Of course Hoty was wearing a similar get up. S'ank eyed her and shook his head. "Stick with him, he's got a lot of surface experience."
A wiry old lizard with stubby wisdom spines hustled up and handed Vee a sheaf of papers. "This is what we've got on the relationship between L'azlod and his daughter. It's quite detailed."
"How close are they?" Hoty asked, watching Vee fold the papers and stuff them into a pocket.
"Not very. Parents aren't married, she's only lived with L'azlod the last five years, and he's gone a lot, and apparently not a very touchy-feelie-huggy kind of father." The old lizard handed over another sheaf. "This is a brief on all the people we even think L'azlod knows. The criminal sorts and the REM ones; the political ones shouldn't be involved, but there's the brief on _them_ too. Vee, none of them except Blozolli should recognize you, and I doubt he would."
S'ank snorted. "Have fun reading while driving."
Vee just grinned, and climbed behind the controls of the surface crawler. It was borrowed from the stalled Pipeline Project, and designed for surface travel. They carried six solar panels and a charger in the back, along with food, water and an air compressor. Hoty eyed the volume of food and shuddered. Hopefully the Imperial Guards tended to over-pack.
"We'll check in regularly." Vee reassured his superior. "We'll take a look at all the surface access points in the vicinity, and see what options present themselves."
Hoty glanced in the rear view mirror as they hit the ramp to the surface. "General S'ank is still glaring at you. Have you ever considered sucking up to your boss?"
Vee sniffed. "Some day I'll tell you what I did to deserve assignment as Trev's personal guard."
"Hmph." Planning on a someday? Got news for you oh, big, strong trumale, I am not interested. As they crested the top of the ramp and the surface opened up before her, she gulped and retreated to safe, interior views. She reached over and pulled the reports from Vee's pockets. "Listen up. This is what's known about L'azlod's home and the people living there."
Trev paced restlessly.
Who the sand had that been? For one breathtaking instance he'd seen black and bronze scales and figured L'azlod was back and he was dead. Then he'd seen the size of the lizard. A child. Coincidence or family? If his jailers were anything but common criminals they sure had him fooled. No REM environmentalists here. So were they Blozolli's lizards, or Metini L'azlod's? L'azlod was Fensteri's unacknowledged son, Trev's nephew even if he was older than Trev by a good ten years. Old enough to have children of his own. So. Best guess was that this was a great nephew.
Did that get him anywhere? Other than the kid probably thinking he was his father?
The guards had their vid on, and were watching the news.
Blozolli trotted down the ramp and scowled at the vid. "Turn it to the science channel, I want to see this Big Blue program they've been talking up."
That caught Trev's attention. Of course, for the record of the voyage, he was Trevi L'taffas and Xaero was Rafia L'svages. He'd been able to avoid almost all news coverage, Xaero less so, but by emphasizing her gorgeous eye streaks instead of subduing them, as she did as part of her professional lawyer look, she wasn't instantly recognizable. And in this Time Line, Blozolli barely knew her. So maybe he wouldn't recognize her on screen.
"I can't believe those Imps actually had a secret project and landed lizards on the Blue Planet." Blozolli continued.
Zabo nodded. "Secret my tail. It's totally faked."
Naghe agreed with his sister, "The gravity alone would prevent a live mission."
The huge Aularde laughed. "Did you see the things they had on the announcement? Little animals that flew through the air—in more than double the gravity."
"They were pretty, though," Zabo said, wistfully.
Her brother sneered, "I wonder how much they paid for the special effects?"
"Quiet." Blozolli snapped. A bit to Trev's surprise, they did.
The project presentation started with the Dzi, then switched to the physical conditioning for the explorers, Trev noticed that those sections did not include any shots of him and very few of Xaero. The trip itself was mentioned only briefly. The detail they had saved for the atmospheric entry and the ground exploration.
Even locked in a cage it grabbed him. The swoop through the atmosphere, the huge rolling expanses of water, the shore, the green of the plants and the large animals scattering in panic as they roared over. The quick skim, looking for a landing spot. He was in some of those shots, but suited up and unrecognizable.
And then two hours on the plants and animals of Big Blue. He grinned nostalgically at the big predator they'd nicknamed Lover Boy. Sand, that had been funny.
And jerked back to Mars at the clink of a key in the lock.
He glanced around. No one was paying any attention. He heaped up his pad and blanket, in hopes of putting off discovery, then slid out the door as silently as possible. He locked it behind him, and crept off after the small silent figure.
Even after the lizard shot over half the crew with a stunner, it wasn't until he pulled the laser pistol out and threatened to start killing that she recognized him. She stood there with her mouth literally hanging open while he told L'on just what he wanted.
"Trev, are you insane?" The furious Captain looked mad enough to leap on him.
"That's not Trev." Xaero said, her voice thin and astonished. "Gods above. Metini L'azlod. I can't believe I didn't recognize you."
He just sneered and kept his pistol trained on L'on from behind the shield of Arto's limp body.
"Too late, you starry eyed idiot." He glared at L'on. "Now, as I was saying, it's time to land—in the South."
She'd never thrown a knife in zero gravity. Metini wouldn't hesitate to kill L'on. Or Arto. Oh Sand. Oh Trev. This lizard had probably killed Trev. And he was not going to have the Dzi, all her information, all her crew. M'kabon.
Never. He could never be allowed to escape with the secret of time travel. A time war would be disastrous.
The first knife skimmed his knuckles; the laser snapped out a bit high but L'on crumpled with a scream. L'azlod ducked and the second knife missed altogether, but Xaero had her teeth in his wrist and her hands jerking Arto away so her hind claws could get to his belly. He punched at her ribs, but Arto was in his way too. Xaero covered her vulnerable parts with her right hand and whipped her tail around, bristling with short sharp spines, trying for his eyes.
Arto finally spun away and Xaero curled up and lashed out with her hinds claws. L'azlod twisted out of reach, slapping her shoulder with his tail. The laser spun out of his hand, but eluded her grab. She kept her lock on L'azlod's wrist; it anchored her attack and left all five of her other natural weapons available.
Nearly enough to offset the male's advantage in reach and strength. She got one good swipe across his belly, not fatal, not even deep enough to be crippling before he got in a solid punch against the side of her head. It knocked her loose and sent her flying into Albe, coming to join the fight. She spotted the laser pistol and lunged, shoving off Albe without regard the where he might go. She snatched it, spun and spotted L'azlo ducking into the rear compartment. Did he have more weapons? Probably. Didn't matter.
"Albe, blow up the ship or crash it or something, so he can't time travel and change everything." Xaero wondered if the pilot actually could. The Dzi had been designed to _not_ blow up. "Jump," she said, heading toward the back, "jump way into the future, and if he wins, don't let him capture a working ship."
She bounced off the wall and down the length of the ship, grabbing a vid mount to stop short of the large hatch to the rear three quarters of the ship. She could hear a hiss and thump. Not the big airlock, and the only other thing pressurized was the drop chamber for the re-entry capsules . . . and there were three that were fitted up for emergency crew landings. Barely maneuverable.
She wheezed as they twisted through another jump, then forced herself to ignore the effects and shoved through the hatch. L'azlod had been learning during the trip. He'd gotten the capsule in place, and the system programmed. She pounced on the controls, and was reaching for the abort button when the thump of the ejection system vibrated through the deck. "Sand." She quickly searched, but he really was gone. She started checking pulses, relieved to find her friends all alive. L'on . . . she propelled herself forward. "Albe? Where and when are we?"
He looked up from strapping the Captain's limp body into an acceleration couch. "I didn't have time to be fancy. I grabbed the settings for the Big Blue-to-Mars time jump with a spatial offset so we didn't hit a planet. So we're nineteen million years into the future, still in the solar system, but Mars is on the far side of the Sun. If that emergency capsule works right, he might manage to make it to Big Blue." He looked down at his commander. "We need to get the captain home, quickly, and I have the exact spot and time recorded. We can come back and get . . . you're sure that wasn't Trev?"
"Positive. I can't believe I didn't catch on. He's a well known criminal, and his close resemblance to both Trev and Fensteri gives the Imperial Guards chronic fits." She listened to L'on's gurgling breath and looked for Riu. Out cold. "Stunners can wear off quickly or take hours. Let's go. You prep, I'll strap everyone in."
Albe programmed in two precise jumps, dropping into the inside edge of the zone reserved for their coming and going in Martian orbit. Their speed was already below orbital requirements, so they dropped for the surface.
"Space Base, this is Dzi, requesting expedited reentry and medical personnel on hand." Xaero took over the communicator while Albe positioned the Dzi for atmospheric braking.
"Dzi, this is Space base. What is the nature of your emergency? Imperial Security wants to speak to you."
"All of the crew except myself and Albe N'rom have been stunned. Captain L'on has a critical laser injury." Her claws tightened around the mike. "Please put Security on."
"Xaero." She recognized General S'ank's voice. "Metini L'azlod is onboard."
"Was onboard." she said. "Do you have Trev?" Trev not being the one to call was bad . . .
"No. We are working on locating and retrieving him. We think he's alive."
"L'azlod . . . is not of immediate concern, and I think we should not talk openly about . . . where and when we left him."
"Agreed. I'll turn you back over to Space Base and we'll talk when you've landed."