Chapter Fifteen Second ML Impersonation
Philey tapped then walked in. "Father's here. With a guard. Emmo, you need to get Father's room ready, and a guest room, probably the one next to it."
"Oh, I made up the master's room as soon as I heard about the prison riot." Emmo dropped her hands from the Invisible Wall stance. Apparently she was working on the Energy Flow. "I'll get the room next to it set up immediately, and then start dinner. They're probably hungry after escaping. Or pretending to escape."
"I can't tell. The trumale with him is a stranger." Philey admitted, as she slipped back out.
It was early for dinner, and since it had been four days since the news of the prison riot, Philey assumed they'd gotten something to eat on the way, but knew better than to argue.
Or remind her not to blab in front of Father. Emmo was impressively competent behind her eccentricities.
Shaking its head, Philey wandered back to where it'd left the two males. They weren't there, and after a deep breathe to settle its nerves, Philey headed for the front of the house. They were in the library. Philey could hear the deep chirps of the stranger.
"...place is a maze." The big stranger nodded politely to Piley as she walked in, then turned back to its father, "as you warned me."
Its father looked amused. "I expect Philey knows it better than I by now."
Philey eyed him cautiously. The Doctor that had called had talked about repeated stunning and vater inhalation that had caused some medical complications, but Philey hadn't imagined it could make its father nice.
"Maybe." It replied, "Are you going to be here long?" Wow, that was a bit abrupt. "I mean, what is your legal status, here? Our government won't send you back, will they?"
"I'm...not going to place them in a position where they will have to decide." Father replied cautiously, so far from the arrogant surety he'd always shown that Philey figured his friends in the government must have folded under diplomatic pressure already. Or is this Uncle Trev, again?
"It'll be all right, Father." It assured him, "Emmo and I won't let on that anything has changed. If anyone who might be a police agent asks, I'll perk up and ask if they've heard anything."
Its father snorted. "Bright eyes and hopeful, no doubt. Don't over do it."
Philey hesitated, eyeing the stranger uncertainly.
"I've kept a bit of a watch on Ranci, off and on."
Father raised his spines questioningly. Well, if he didn't mind the lizard hearing about it... "I think they've, umm, removed, quite a bit of your money."
He snorted. "Are they shaking in their boots since hearing the news about my escape?"
"Actually, all we've heard about are riots at the prison. The Imperials aren't admitting that anyone is actually missing. But Ranci was very alarmed to hear about it."
Its Father was studying it carefully. "Do you think they'd turn me in?"
Philey squirmed, not used to being taken seriously. And not know who I'm actually talking to. "Not unless they could figure out how to do it without losing the money."
The guard snickered. "Predictable. Maybe we should check them over late tonight." Now it was his turn to consult Philey. "Do they keep a round the clock watch?"
"They've sort of been living there." It told them. "I haven't actually checked for a couple of days."
The two trumales exchanged a glance, but said nothing. Philey got the impression that they didn't want to discuss something in front of it.
The new fellow started and stared at Emmo, who had made her usual silent entrance.
"Dinner is ready." She faded back into the dim corridor.
The stranger muttered something. ". . . didn't believe you about the creepy housekeeper . . ."
Philey glared. Creepy! Not my Emmo!
At its father's gesture, Philey led the way out with the males following. The formal dining room was down a floor and further north. Glancing behind her, Philey smothered a grin at Vee's puzzled study of the room. The long table was at an angle to the walls, the stools grouped as if inviting cozy chats at opposite corners. The flowers off-center of the table and on the side board were color coordinated with the placemats, and dishes; all the Energy neatly channeled where Emmo wanted it.
Still apparently leading, Philey nervously pointed Vee at one stool and slid around the table to the other side. Father, of course, sat at the head.
Emmo bustled in with platters of crispy wurfle and sizzling pike, placing them just so, and dipped her muzzle.
Father raised his hands and recited the First Chant. "We descend to darkness.
Still You call to our hearts. Shadows become light."
Emmo bowed deeply and slipped out.
Philey hid its uncertainty by nabbing the wurfle platter and helping itself. It was seriously bothered by the differences between its memories of its father and the reality. He'd actually sounded serious when he gave the chant. It seemed to remember a sneer always being present before.
And had Emmo _ever_ bowed?
It eyed the fem as she came and went with dishes. They needed to talk.
The meal ended with the inevitable trifolds. Philey gulped in sudden apprehension. Emmo had a habit of, umm, _aiming_ the fortunes that were baked into the crispy treats. It eyed the three trifolds, maybe if she turned the plate...but did it want to intercept Father's fortune or Vee's?
Too late. Its father reached out and picked up the nearest one. Vee did likewise. It reluctantly reached for the last one as its father cracked his open and extracted the slip of paper.
"Scattering surface seeds widely, a wind blows gently. Children are a blessing." Father nodded approvingly, "Nice." He smiled at Philey. Actually smiled.
Vee flicked his spines looking a bit amused as he too read his aloud. "Although in tunnels deep, we always know that we are never alone!"
Philey cracked its and read, "Darkness all about. A shaft of gold shining through dust, dances in light." Whew. All pretty innocuous, although it sounded like Emmo would be keeping an eye on Vee. "I, umm, need to do some work on a school project we were assigned for the Summer Break."
Its father nodded and waved it out. It escaped gratefully, making a detour to its room to grab its school bag in case Father checked.
It thumped the book bag down on the kitchen table. Emmo was just bringing in the last of the dishes. "They've gone back to the library. Your father said if you needed to use it they could go elsewhere."
"That's a first." Philey hesitated, then plunged in. "That's not father, is it?"
"I don't think so, Sweetie. I know the doctor talked about mental impairments, but this isn't that."
"I'm more worried about criminals, Sweetie." Emmo dried the platters and replaced them in their best positions. "The Master had a lot of things going on, and he used to say there were other Imperial Bastards around."
"Oh," Philey sat up in alarm. "I remember that! He said the Crown Prince got around. But would they look this much like father?"
Emmo nodded gravely. "Apparently one of them does. So keep in mind that this nice fellow is probably here to take over your father's operation."
Philey worked through it slowly. It really didn't care about the illegal stuff, or even the cover business of wholesale importer. It did, however, care about the L'azlod cave. And the Union. "So...should I help this, this uncle of mine, or not? He can't have my cave, but so long as he's not an Imperial spy, he can tromp all over Father's associates and I'll cheer."
Emmo smiled suddenly. "If they wanted a peek at your father's office tonight, we'd have a clear window to remove our other guest."
"Perfect!" Philey grinned in relief. "I'll call the others and have them ready."
///day 6, 95///
"Did Father show you the door to the warehouse?" Philey asked Vee politely, pushing and prying to correct spots to pop the door latch.
"No, we came straight in." Vee was watching what it did intently, giving her the chills. Definitely a mass murderer, even if he probably hadn't been in prison. Or may be one of those perverts who _did_ things to babyfems.
"Show him everything, Philey," her supposed father called from behind the big lizard. Very clever, really, how he always seemed to be where it was inconvenient to do things himself.
Philey led the way down the stairs, the others following.
"How's your school project going?" The imposter asked, "What are you studying?"
"Prehistoric civilizations. I'm doing a report on the Talons of the Sky Gods." Ha! Watch him handle that one!
"The secret society of priest warriors?" he sounded surprised. "Can you find much information on them? All I've ever heard was speculation."
Bwahahaha! Philey smiled smugly. Gottcha. "Enough for a report."
Vee gave a rumbling laugh, "Hopefully not including the tabloid articles about them still existing."
"Sand no," it giggled, "Who would believe that?" Philey peeked through a pinhole to check before opening the door.
"I don't think they've changed the computer codes," it said, tapping them in as it spoke. "I check every once in awhile." It yielded to desk to the imposter who ran a quick inventory.
"This is a warehouse?" Vee asked, cracking the door a bit to look down the hall.
"It's right on the edge of the district, so the Family has dug back into the stone a ways." Philey told him, watching the imposter out of the corner of its eye. He had some small gadget and seemed to be downloading files. Perhaps a complete memory backup. Not good. What if this was a spy instead of a criminal? "Umm, I really ought to get back, do you need me to bring you anything?"
"No," the imposter said, keying off the comp. "I'm too beat to do much more. I think I'll just take a stroll around the warehouse and then call it a night."
Drat. They better not shift Xaero yet. No matter. There would be better opportunities.
"All right," Philey opened the door to the tunnel, making sure 'father' could see how it did it. "I'll see you in the morning. What time should I tell Emmo to have breakfast ready?"
"Oh, late. I think I'll sleep in."
The other fellow nodded agreement.
"Well, well." Trev stepped out into the garage, turning the huddle of lizards into a startled flock of cheepers. "I see you've prepared a welcome for me." He strolled casually around the cage in the center of the room. Empty. His gizzard knotted.
Ranci F'urner gave a forced sounding laugh. "Oh, that was for a money making enterprise that didn't pan out." He looked at his compatriots for support. If their uniformly blank expressions were anything to go by, he didn't find any. He showed his teeth in a desperate looking smile. "Welcome home."
Trev sighed, and shook his head. "You've been a Bad, Bad Lizard, Furry. It's a good thing I like you, because I really don't want to have to start replacing staff."
Guilty looks flashed all over the room.
"So you spent all of my money and needed more?" Trev studied the cage, "I'm almost afraid to ask what you were doing."
"It was that Traveler, Metini." The stripy pseudofem, Zabo B'thom blurted. "We figured he'd peached on you, so when Blozolli brought him in, we figured we'd make a little money on the deal."
"Do?" Trev kept his voice and southern accent smooth with an effort, and surveyed the empty cage rather obviously.
"He escaped! We don't know how. One minute he was there, then we looked and, zip!"
"We were all here."
"The vid wasn't that interesting, we just took our eyes off him for a few minutes."
Trev sighed, shutting them up instantly. "When did he disappear?"
"Yesterday." "Day before." "Oh, is it tomorrow already?"
"Police?" Trev interrupted quickly.
"Nothing, nobody's shown up at all." That was the other pseudofem, Eio L'heid. "We figure she's either holed up somewhere or went straight home and the DMS is going to do something sneaky."
Trev felt limp with relief, but kept frowning. "Or diplomatic. Or possibly they want to keep her looking pristine and innocent for public consumption." He shook his head. "All right, since we apparently aren't going to kill each other, and the police aren't on the doorstep, I'm going to get a good nights sleep and lots of decent food. We'll talk about how we're going to recover from the...business reverses we've suffered in the morning." He nodded and walked out. Vee stepped out of the shadows, shouldered his laser rifle and followed. Trev looked back to see the shocked expressions on the gangs' faces. They really thought he'd just walked in alone?
Out of sight, he grabbed his radio. No signal down here. Damn. "I need to talk to S'ank."
Vee nodded, "We need to go higher, possibly all the way to the surface for a signal." Hesitation. "We could just use the com. Xaero may be home by now."
"Sand! She escaped, I think they were telling the truth, so she could be anywhere." He cocked an eye at Vee. "Did you get some ears in place?"
"Ha! S'ank set me up with these new mini vid cams, hemispherical view through a bubble lens, work off the com system. They're already sending S'ank data." As he stepped back into L'azlod's office he jerked a thumb at a picture on the wall. "Here too."
He pressed the spots Philey had used and popped the secret entrance open.
Back in the L'azlod cave, he looked in on Philey, working at the kitchen table, stifled a yawn and wished it a good night. Vee nodded the same, casually touching the top of the door frame as he stretched.
Trev unlatched the connecting door between their bedrooms, just as his com chimed.