One of the fems spoke, "Yes, and this guy, he didn't act or talk right when he was coming out of the vater. He was cautious and assessing, didn't say hardly anything. I told you everything that happened, verbatim. Until Blozolli mentioned my first name, he didn't call us anything at all. The first things he said were in an Imperial accent, then he swapped to Union and stayed there, but coming out of the vater, it was an Imperial accent. No question."
The stylish male leaned forward. "Actually there is a question. Is this guy that 'Traveler' that was involved in the REM? Or is he a new criminal moving in on us, or is he an Imperial agent?"
Exactly the question Philey needed an answer to.
The distant buzzer, had an effect like an electric prod on the group. They produced an impressive number of weapons, and shifted to cover in an eyeblink.
There was a long drawn out silence, then faint footsteps. Multiple footsteps. Silence. Then faint scrapes that Philey identified as someone failing to be sneaky. A hungry looking young pseudomale edged nervously through the door. He had a stunner in one hand, jerking nervously about to try and cover every possible direction.
"Nase, what are you doing here?" Zabo stayed behind her cover even as she spoke.
The young lizard jumped, then breathed a sigh of relief. "Bere B'rom rounded up some muscle, he said that either Traveler or Blozolli, or maybe both of them had mutinied." He lowered his stunner and walked further into the room.
"And you were the best he could get?" Naghe stood up and frowned at the lizard.
"On short notice."
Naghe's head jerked around to the doorway, as a short lizard entered. "I set Beji to watch and see if the Feds took you all away, and grabbed extras as quickly as I could. Figured I'd better not come back empty handed." He picked up a toppled stool, righted it and sat. "So, what happened?"
Ynno stood up as well. "You were here, you heard that L'azlo look alike wake up speaking with an Imperial City drawl, and then switching to a southern accent. Got to have been that 'Traveler', just like Blozolli said. He's spined out in the last few months, so he looks even more like Metini, but I can tell the difference."
Zabo stepped out from cover then. But not very far. "Bring all your people in, I want to see what you've got."
Bere straightened, and whistled back through the doorway. "All in."
Philey recognized some of this group, too. They were mostly REMs, Father's environmental . . . cover. Philey didn't believe its father was the least bit concerned with the Martian Environment, it had heard too many of his comments after meetings. But some of the True Believers would do anything, and Philey knew its Father had found that useful. They all had silly code names, the two pseudofems were Clean Girl, because she never swore, and Platinum, for her nearly white head spines, the guys were Runner, Sweep, Napper and Rock. In its opinion, only Rock could be seriously considered dangerous.
An old male brought up the rear, barely entering the room as if he would be out the door at the faintest sign of a problem. He'd been here with Bere when it'd released its father, or Father's imposter.
"So, what side are you on, Ynno?"
Ynno smiled toothily down at Bere. "I'm on the side of finding out if this is a takeover or an Imperial plot. And that is what your little group is going to find out for us."
Trev prowled Metini L'azlod's suite restlessly. Hugh bed pit, probably slept with his two pet pseudos, a reading nook with a big window out onto the cut, a bathing room that had to be seen to be believed. The only thing missing was Xaero, he concluded, grumpily.
And maybe some common sense. He should have run when running was the most obvious action. He was a space explorer now. And he'd been an undercover cop, not a damn political . . . whatever he was at the moment.
A tap at his door was the rest of the Good Guys.
"Any problems?" He asked.
"Not so far." Xaero said, "Redle was a bit bothered by the change of guards, but I kept mentioning Ynno and Namro and that settled him down. I think the 'official' REM position had better include some typical REM attitude, though. Concentrate on fixing legislation, and let the REM go its own way."
Trev sniffed. "Lawyer. Can't I mess up the REM?"
"Nope. I'll write up a position paper, and run it by Redle. Talk up the difference between a public position and private actions, hint at sabotage and so forth."
"Tsk. Bad little fem. All right, now the problem is, who is going to go around mentioning 'L'azlod's' position, and applying cash or pressure as needed."
"According to the information W'ufda extracted on his political machine, the B'thoms were the main messengers." Vee twitched, "They give me the creeps, and I'm not at all sure you've gotten them under control."
Xaero looked the little patroller up and down, and then Vee and Leri. "There's no way Hoto could pass for either of the sisters, and I suspect Vee and Leri are both way too big for the brothers." she frowned. "I'm not at all sure I could act enough to pull it off, even though I'm about the same height as Ynno."
There was a quiet tap at the door. Trev nodded at Vee and he slipped the bolt and opened it on Emmo's quiet demeanor.
"There is a group of your environmental friends at the door."
Trev studied the group in front of him. He knew all of them, from his own time line. Clean Girl and Platinum were as ditzy as Silver and Gold, although Clean Girl could get pretty snappy about jokes about her real name. Runner, Sweep, Napper and Rock. Rabid environmentalists. Dangerously ready to consider violent means, but only Rock had the experience to be seriously dangerous. Trev had always suspected that he had carried out the actual hands-on sabotage on the pipeline. Napper . . . Napper was a mellow fellow, and much more observant than he appeared. Trev had always suspected he was a Union Security agent.
Nase wasn't a REM. M'kabon, the elder insane one, had picked him up as a useful thug. He was quite bright, but also quite poorly brought up. He looked lost, and perhaps a bit hungry at the moment.
"So, you heard I was back in town, and decided to drop by?" Trev asked the group at large.
Rock shrugged. "There's talk, and we decided we'd better find out what's really going on."
"What's happening is a problem with some of my criminal associates." Trev informed them. "I know some of you disapprove of how I raise funds for REM's underground activities. Well, you were right about me getting into trouble. The crime syndicates are . . . giving me some trouble. I thought I could trust Blozolli, but he got greedy. And then there's Traveler." Trev pressed his lips together as if in anger. "Seems the Dims offered him a better deal. So you're all uncovered." He pinned Nase D'wuf with a stare. "Except maybe you. Did Traveler ever see M'kabon?"
Nase shook his head. "But he saw me a couple of times, when I was bringing messages to you."
He'd had Emmo bring the group to the parlor, Vee and R'sah stood in strategic positions, with Leri throwing fits, stuck watching a remote monitor.
Redle Hathan sauntered in, yawning, with Xaero behind him. All the Remmies perked up at the sight of him. "Well, look what the wind blew in." He tossed a look at Trev, "Planning some action after all?"
Trev looked at the younger contingent thoughtfully. The two pseudofems could pass for Ynno and Namro . . . "You lot look hungry." Nase perked up at that. "Emmo, would you feed them while Redle and I make some plans?"
When the REMs were out of earshot, Trev turned back to Redle. "I think a bit of sign waving, so the opposition solidly backs what they think we oppose? Then a few private messages?"
Redle looked thoughtful, and Xaero turned on her comp and tapped away at it. "J'phej and H'drah are waffling, and we have no leverage there. They purely hate the REM, they were big supporters of the pipeline. If we had a nice noisy anti-Space, anti-Big Blue contamination march . . ."
Philey was delighted to help Redle organize a nice tidy march. Permits for six splits on the Central Plaza, lots of signs. The seven new people, Xaero, Hoto and Redle, and its three friends. And a couple of hundred other casual environmentalists on a comm web who all showed up in bright red and helped carry the signs. Philey's friends joined in and helped design and deliver the signs. And march around the plaza, of course.
Philey still wasn't sure about the lizard that was pretending to be its father. On the one hand it was stopping the Union putting pressure on the Imperium. But just this morning one of the opposition parties had come out for space exploration, and suggested working co-operatively with the Imperium. Representative J'phej had spoken of getting biological samples for Union Universities to study. And the Father look-alike had nodded approvingly. So, was he for or against the Union? It just couldn't tell. The young REMs and Redle had all accepted him, none of them questioned what they were doing. Surely they would have rebelled if they thought he was acting against the Union? Or was their loyalty to the REM?
The lawyer fem had painted herself well past the point of non-recognizability, and the little pseudofem had dabbed on some as well. Did that mean they were wanted by the police? Parading about, obstructing traffic left too much time for thinking, Philey thought. Clean Girl and Runner flashed the police that were frowningly herding them in circles.
And finally their time was off and the protest marched off the central plaza, and disbursed peacefully. Half the signs were toted off as souvenirs, the others were tossed in trash bins. The comm web protestors drifted off, and finally the laughing gang staggered through the door. It's 'father' was waiting, and grinned when he saw Philey and its friends.
"Can I go over to Del's?"
"Certainly. Check in with Emmo if you aren't going to be here for dinner."
Once they were out the door, Wef said, "That was so much fun. My feet hurt. Why haven't we ever done marches before?"
"Because we never thought of it before?" Philey said. "I don't remember one ever getting organize from our house. So, do you think we'll be on the news?"
They settled in with snacks and watched a movie, and finally caught the news. The march got short shrift, but the Collective's debate and vote was well covered.
The Union of the Southern Hemisphere would not try to pressure the Imperium to leave Big Blue alone. It would, in fact, negotiate to send representatives to the Space Science Center at Sun Town. Good, bad or neutral, it was all done.
"Philey, I need to leave, but I'm worried about leaving you here." Trev eyed the little lizard. "My business affairs are in considerable disorder. I want you to stay away from the warehouse."
Philey nodded. "School is back in session next week, so I'll be busy. I can lock the passage between here and there, so Emmo and I will be fine." It looked at Trev thoughtfully. "Uncle."
Trev blinked. Oops.
"You're an Imperial agent, aren't you?"
"Not usually. If your Father hadn't kidnapped me, I wouldn't have had the opportunity." A sight movement in the doorway drew his eyes. Trev nodded to Emmo, and addressed his next words to both of them. "The REM is right about Mars being in big trouble. We can't move to Big Blue, the gravity is simply too great. So we're going to be exploring beyond the solar system, looking for a new home." He studied the 'housekeeper'. Was she really a follower of the Old Religion? "When the surface became unlivable, the Gods sent us underground. Ask them, if you can, if it is time for us to re-emerge, to find a place where we can live under the Sun and Under the Stars. They valued us, and saved us before. I cannot believe they have abandoned us now." He held her eyes for a long moment, until she nodded. Thoughtful, not reluctant.
"What about my father?"
"He got away, but where he will have trouble getting back. We'll be trying to arrest him, again. I'm sorry Philey."
The little lizard nodded.
"Philey, if you need me, call. I am your grandfather's brother, Fatreve. I would be honored if you would call me Uncle Trev. You can reach me at this number." He handed over a card, and then touched its shoulder. "I am proud to have you as part of the family."
"Goodbye . . . Uncle Trev." Philey turned and walked away, and Trev turned to the stairs and headed for the surface.