Xaero barely noticed, a sudden thought having just struck, "Wait a bit. That's one too many vehicles. Was that you that just drove up and popped down the hatch?"
"Just now?" Trev sounded startled.
"Because if it wasn't, there's one too many Metini L'azlods about." She told him.
"Sand!" a long silence, or rather a tense muttering of S'ank and minions in the far background. "We are in my bedroom. We'll head out the front way. Stay where you are? Please?"
"Right. Get out and call when you're safe." Xaero nibbled on a claw, staring at the communicator. "And it had better be soon."
"I do not believe this." S'ank growled. "Why didn't we know L'azlod was actually out?"
Xaero remained glued to the radio for a long interval of background hustle and muttering.
One voice emerged from the background, then W'ufda came close enough for the mic to pickup his voice. "...the prisoners in A Block heard about the riots on the Vid, they assumed it was B Block and decided to join the party. The prisoners in B Block assumed the news must mean A Block was rioting and..." His voice trailed off under S'anks succinct comments, "...and the prison authorities were quite surprised to hear about a possible escape; they though they had the situation contained. They are not happy with us for starting those riot rumors, by the way."
"There." Emmo sounded satisfied as she finished smoothing her hands through the air. "Very little energy will get in and most that does will be very slow and sleepy."
Philey nodded dubiously. It lifted its head suddenly, "Do you hear something?"
Emmo frowned, "I haven't your young hearing, Sweetie. Perhaps it's ..."
"Perhaps it's not." Its father stepped into the hallway from the back passages. And _didn't_ smile, with lots of teeth showing. "Did someone mention that _Lawyer_?"
Philey stood there, blank minded. This was, quite unmistakably, its father.
Emmo regained speech first. "We keep track of what's going on in the warehouse, from time to time. We think they kidnapped Xaero L'svages and she escaped. We wondered if she might have gotten up here, although how she'd have found the secret passage is beyond me..." she trailed off at L'azlod's scowl.
"We're all hungry, fix dinner for six." He turned away and stalked into the dining room. "And stop turning this table, it looks like an earthquake hit."
Philey and Emmo stared at each other, and then back and forth between the bedroom doors and the dining room down the hall. Philey gulped and stepped to the door and opened it. Empty. Unslept in.
Emmo fidgeted behind it. "What did that doctor say about your father? Did he say anything about double personalities?"
"He said possible personality changes, but he only talked about anger and confusion, short term memory problems, depression, stuff like that." Philey whispered. "May be I should have asked more questions."
"Well," Emmo straightened her shoulders, "I'll get dinner. Perhaps you should really _badly_ need to finish that report."
Trev felt his spines crawling at the looks he garnered out on the street. "How well known is L'azlod?" he hissed out of the side of his mouth.
"Used to get his picture in the paper nearly once a week." Vee hissed back. "And he's lived in the Cut all his life."
Trev gritted his teeth. The Guards, after all, kept meticulous track of the rogue Imperial, so Vee knew what he was talking about. "We'd better get off the street."
"There are two of the old public emergency exits to the surface in this area." Vee mentioned. "And one goes up from the store right there." He nodded at...D'noth's Boutique. Specialist Costumers. The display in the window featured whips, chains, coats with multiple collars, shoes that qualified as torture devices..."Of course, your reputation may not survive..."
"L'azlo's reputation you mean." Trev veered across the street and reached for the doorknob.
The door sprang open before he could touch it. "Sir, oh sir!" Oh. Sand. He knew this fem. All too well. She was one of L'azlo's S&M attendant/guards, traveled with him everywhere. Namro V'arm, one of the Imperium's Most Wanted Criminals.
Vee stopped in shock, as recognition hit him as well. His twitch was no doubt a smothered urge to grab Trev and throw him out of harms way. A clatter from the rear, and the other of the matched set appeared. Ynno B'thom, eldest of the B'thom siblings, and by far the worst, she was a former soldier, one of the elite Cave Rangers trained in subversion and sabotage, she was _the_ most wanted Lizard on the DMS's list. Well, no doubt L'azlod would be knocking her down a peg, none-the-less...
Namro hustled them inside, closing the door behind them. She frowned. Stared from Vee to Trev. Her enthusiasm disappeared behind perplexity. "Sir. What are you doing here?"
Sand. "You've heard nothing about a prison escape?" he asked.
"We've heard about the riots." Ynno stepped up to stand shoulder to shoulder with her counterpart.
"I just got in." Trev improvised, "I need to get the criminal organization back under control first. You, I know I can count on."
"Of course." Ynno scowled. "It's whether we can trust _Rock_ that is in question." She broke off as another lizard trotted down the stairs and into the store.
"Ah, I wondered where you'd gotten to." Rock, other wise known as Avi D'noth blinked mild eyes at them. "How are you, oh Supreme One, going to deal with all this new Cavern building in the North? If the Great Plateau is unstable, the Imperium is doomed and it isn't ecologically sound to keep building and propping it up artificially."
Grateful for the interruption by the absentmindedly fanatic REM, Trev grabbed his elbow and steered him back toward the read of the store, trying to look like he was getting him out of the way. Avi was a mostly harmless environmentalist and political analyst. Trev wondered if he actually _owned_ the store, and rejected the thought outright. Ynno and Namro were L'azlod's political arm twisters. In fact half his political influence was thought to involve the possession of pictures of these two in indelicate situations with various government figures.
Trev was a bit shocked to find Avi in the same building with them.
While undercover as part of the REM, Trev had met Avi in neutral locations several times, and rather liked the scholarly lizard. The fems were a whole different story.
"I gathered a lot of information while I was in the North. I will be consulting with you, once I have caught up with the situation here."
"Oh, yes." Avi brightened, "The political situation is going to be so challenging. I can't believe both F'roh and T'oot lost their seats in the Collection."
Trev nodded. "We'll have a very interesting time ahead. No doubt about it." Especially the next few splits, if he was any judge. He'd led the old lizard up the stairs and toward the back, but wasn't seeing anything that resembled a rock wall, let alone access to the surface. The room to the left was obviously the bibliophile's lair, he steered him into it. "Have you written a report on the situation? Especially the new members of the Collection we'll need to persuade to a Red position?"
"Not yet." Avi frowned, "I didn't realize it would be needed so soon. I should have been told!"
Trev nodded sympathetically, "It was a surprise to me as well. Perhaps I should let you get on with it?"
"Yes, indeed." He scurried into his room, looked around, and then reached back to close the door firmly.
Trev turned back to the fems with a questioning rise of his crest.
"You'd better come in here." Namro opened the door to the right, and led them into a dining area with a mini kitchen tucked in a corner. The depressing decor consisted multi-layered, overlapping and peeling environmental posters
"What are you doing _here_?" Ynno snapped. "Parading down the street like that was bound to attract attention." She looked him over, gaze stopping on his crest of secondary spines. "No doubt the hormones paralyzed your brains."
"Rumors of L'azlod's return must be flying all over town. A few legitimate sightings and we'll be able to see what the Collies are going to try to do about it. And if they arrest me, why I'll be shocked." He smiled innocently and deepened his Imperial City accent. "I've been kidded all my life about how much I look like Crown Prince Fensteri, but there's nothing criminal about it! L'azlod? Who's L'azlod?" He fished his Trevi D'herio passport out of his pocket. "I'm a perfectly honest publisher, down here to scout out some local color and maybe talk to a few writers, but mostly just sight-seeing."
Ynno grabbed the passport gave it a close look. "It's good." She admitted, eyes narrowing. "Where did you get it?"
"Well," he admitted, "lately I've met some _fascinating_ lizards. I may start an entire new branch of business in forgeries and false identification."
Namro snorted. "Please don't." she looked around the room, shrugged. "Sit, eat. If there's anything in the cooler, help yourself."
"I need to see the warehouse, see what those idiots have done while I was gone." Trev wondered if he could send one of them there, and if she would go by way of the surface if he did. "How hard would it be for you to see how many of them are there now?"
"Easy." Ynno said. "Don't show yourself on the street again until we've got another safe house." She glanced at Namro. "You mind the shop, I'll go." She turned to the back wall of the room, and with an easy shove, opened a panel and stepped through. The panel closed behind her, undetectable behind the aging posters.
Trev shrugged, and turned to the cooler as if he accepted Ynno's suggestions. Satisfied, Namro left, presumably to play storekeeper.
"Sand!" Vee muttered, opening the case he'd been lugging about. He extracted another micro bubble vid cam, and placed it carefully amongst the posters for maximum coverage and minimal likelihood of discovery. "I don't think I've ever had a worse shock." He frowned, "Except may be during that infamous shopping trip with your siblings."
Trev snorted, and opened the panel. "Sandy secret doors everywhere." Ynno wasn't in sight, but the eroded, twisty old rock cut steps were just what they wanted.
"Will you two stop looking at each other like that?" Vee was not being successful at keeping the smirk out of his voice. "I want to see what's going on at L'azlo's"
"Not much, within reach of the cams." General S'ank's voice growled over the radio. "Check frequency five, you'll see whichever cam our main screen is showing."
Currently it was showing Philey working on its report at the kitchen table, Emmo bustling around cooking further back. The odd lens distorted shapes and warped the room.
"That's a nice kid." Xaero said, "I hate leaving it there."
Trev and Vee both nodded.
The picture flipped to show the empty, dark garage. Flip. L'azlo's office. Empty. Flip. Master bedroom. Flip. Kitchen.
Philey and Emmo were both looking below the camera, out the doorway.
"Who's that?" Philey whispered.
"Ynno, something-or-other," Emmo whispered back. "One of the really bad ones."
"Yeah. I didn't think anyone actually wore clothes like that!" Philey grinned, "At least not in public."
"Sweetie," Emmo's worried voice wavered, "she's not funny. Really."
They both turned to the doorway again as voices approached. "...smooth as could be. I knew there was something wrong! I'm going to go back and take care of it once and for all."
L'azlod appeared in the doorway, and frowned at his child and housekeeper. "What time did I get here yesterday?"
Philey hesitated. "Just after lunch, I guess it was about sixty." Even with the lens distortions they could see L'azlod flush angrily, and Philey eyed him uncertainly. "You were acting really weird."
"That wasn't me." His hands were twitching, flexing his claws. "Where did that traitor go?"
Philey looked shaken and blinked back tears. "Father, I talked with your doctor..."
It yipped as the lizard grabbed her arm and yanked her close. "What did he do?"
"He, he went to your office in the warehouse." It whimpered. "He looked at your computer files."
He shoved her through the door, "Show me." He glanced at the pseudofem and tossed his head at Emmo. "Bring her along."
Trev, Vee and Xaero were scrambling out of the crawler without a word. Behind her, Xaero could hear General S'ank yelling something about "Sergeant H'nkle I order you to..." She didn't listen either.
The surface hatch was unlocked, but took its time to decompress the entrance chamber, then more time to pump it up and allow them to open the interior hatch. They took the stairs at a dangerous pace, pausing at the bottom to listen.
Vee grabbed Trev's shoulder. "We have to be more careful from here on out, and you need to let me lead." He waited a millisplit for Trev's reluctant nod, then popped the hidden door and with amazingly silent footsteps, led the way down the stairs and ramp, pistol in hand. Xaero noticed another pistol in Trev's hand and ruefully wondered when she'd stop showing up at these sorts of parties with nothing but knives.
Halfway down the ramp they could hear the screams and yells, and started running again.
Vee's free hand was reaching for the latch even as he bent to look through a pinhole. He threw the door open and fired one shot, a silent flick of light, then turned, gun raised, but stopped.
Emmo, the eccentric housekeeper, twirled gracefully away from the pseudofem facing her, and watched calmly as the fem folded and hit the floor with a dull thump. She looked to her left, where Metini L'azlod lay sprawled, half atop the unconscious child. She looked back at Vee, Trev and Xaero, settling finally on Vee's pistol. "Thank you. I would have been possessed by the bad energy if I had killed the Master."
Xaero stepped around behind Trev and knelt beside Philey. It was breathing with an odd catch and whistle, the fine scales of its neck scraped and the flesh swelling. She glanced at L'azlo--the scorched hole in the back of his head made checking for a pulse a waste of time—then checked the S&M fem. No pulse or respiration, the neck flopped abnormally when she shifted the body to check. "I think Philey needs a doctor."
The others frowned. Then Trev offered, "We can remove these two bodies, put them where they'll cause other people to have problems, rather than you."
Emmo stroked the cheek of the limp child. "No. Philey needs a family. I saw how eagerly it accepted you...you are its uncle?"
"Great Uncle, if you want to get technical about it." He knelt down beside Philey and listened to it breathing. "I think perhaps, in that case, I'll just take you both along with me."