Nov. 1st, 2012 06:22 pm
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(Written 2008, just never posted, for some reason.)


     Yannis virtually bounced into the control room, glee seeming to seep from every pore. “Ha!” He clapped his hands together. “My bright little firebird is coming along quite nicely. I now anticipate that you will not spoil my mood by giving me ill results, yes? How go things in here?”

     Kolek gave him a sour look. “I just hope you know what you’re doing with that ‘bright little firebird’, Boss,” he cautioned. “You ain’t lived alongside Kiravai as long as we have, an if they catch what you’re doing to her… I ain’t in the mood for triggering a war!”

     “Oh, pish. They will not find out, unless one of us tells them.” The Eumin dismissed the Nyen’s fears with a little flip of his hand. “She will soon be eating from my very palm! The perfect addition to my, ah… ‘wardrobe’.” He chuckled at his own joke. “A beautiful companion to make my rivals swoon with envy. Of course, she will need certain little alterations, but I am sure the lovely Asenka can source me a good engineer.”

     The hind smiled back, and puffed out her own surgically-augmented bust, knowing what Yannis referred to. Nyen did not naturally have breasts, because they did not feed their young with milk, but Asenka – like many of her fellow hinds – had opted for implants, knowing that a ‘nice rack’ turned the heads of many an alien male. Just to push the boundaries a little, Asenka’s were rather more… ample… than most. “I’m sure I can find someone who’ll do the work to your satisfaction,” she cooed, fluttering her eyelashes.

     Ihks hissed irritably and flashed her frills. “Look, no offence, Boss, but are we going to get to work, or not? We’re here to do you a job, not to discuss adding tits to a machine,” she snapped. “And personally, I want as little to do with those damn Ivos’ai as possible, so sooner we can tie up our loose ends and be done with ’em, the better.”

     “Patience, my friend, patience,” Yannis soothed. “Once we bait in the good doctor, your contact with ‘those damn birds’ can happily cease.”

     Ihks backed down, grumbling softly under her breath, and flexing her tail into annoyed curls. Any contact with the Kiravai was too much, for the hot-tempered little Yila, and having to bring more into contact with the group was making her antsy.

     “Now.” Yannis surveyed his team. “We need to plan our next move.”

     The ship team had joined the ground team, and now all nine were present. There was Yannis’ second-in-command Asenka, and Kolek, third in command almost solely by merit of his relationship to Asenka. Ihks, in charge of security, had been joined by Brun, a heavy salt-and-pepper-coloured short male Usurian who’d lost half his right ear and his whole tail in a fight, and who made up the brute strength lacking in the more intelligent Ihks. Brun was an expert at procuring illegal goods. Bes, a tuskless little Yil male, was the communications expert, who often worked with Oomia, a strikingly albino Yurra female with a strange talent for linguistics.

     Doctor Hueil was a bit of a misfit, in that he was Ondras, and the sleek telepaths didn’t often stray the wrong side of the law, but Hueil had proved himself both trustworthy and skilled, and good at weaselling information out of reluctant individuals. His reasons for his criminal activity were a secret even to Yannis, but so far no-one had reason to mistrust him. He usually accompanied the senior team on important missions, but he’d been fraying, to use the Nyenni vernacular – losing the velvet on his antlers – which was usually itchy, and made him irritable enough to be somewhat unstable of temper.

     The remaining two were Zuff – Zu’fenia Amberpads – the ship’s medical doctor (Hueil was a doctor of psychology), and Drini, a drae-Zaar with a talent for chemistry and an overblown opinion of himself. (Drini said that as a male in such a highly feminocentric society, where he wasn’t allowed to utilise his skills purely by merit of his gender, he was entitled to his opinion. The others said he just liked the sound of his own voice.)

     “Our next move, one assumes, being how to attract your target in?” Hueil suggested, flicking an ear. He was in his long, straight white labcoat again, hands laced lightly at the small of his back, and judging by his smooth, glossy antlers and placid tone of voice he’d stopped fraying. (Yannis was inclined to think he’d probably taken a scraper to his antlers and removed all the velvet in one hit – the silvery male had to be a closet masochist, the way he behaved, sometimes.)

     “That is correct,” Yannis nodded. “And the quicker we can achieve our aim, the better.”

     “Why the urgency?” Brun wondered, scratching at his ear-stump. “It’s nae gonna change anything, whether we bait him in quick or slow. And surely we stand a better chance of catching the bastard, if we take a wee while to plan better?”

     “Perhaps planning better would be advantageous, but that is sadly a luxury we lack,” Yannis explained. “You see, the machine is only part of my plan. Granted, I desire him here so I might exact my vengeance for what he did to me. But I also desire him here because he knows that accursed, whiney so-called politician Brennan. And if I know Brennan the way I do, he will be sniffing his way along my trail, attempting to discover what we are doing. And!” He lifted a finger. “Kolek has indeed discovered both of them making significant headway on discovering our plans. The quicker they are removed from circulation, the safer we will be.”

     There were nods, and the jingle of earrings and jewellery.

     “How are we supposed to draw them in?” Bes wondered. “Just… broadcast a signal, and hope they pick up on it?”

     “No, no, far too risky.” Yannis shook his head. “No, I believe we will first have to develop a bait of some sort – physical, but clean. Something only they will know how to trace…”

     “Eh, Boss? You know… I don’t think we’re gonna need the bait.”

     Yannis glanced back over his shoulder; Asenka – who had slipped away unnoticed from the rest of her colleagues some time earlier – was beckoning to him from a control console. “What’s the matter, Grace?”

     “Look.” She dabbed a lightly-manicured finger down on the screen. “Kiravai.”

     Yannis looked down over her shoulder; she’d apparently hacked into the city security net and was piggybacking a signal off the monitoring cameras. Both watched as the tall black shape wound its way carefully through the thronging crowds of the street market, apparently discussing something with a figure just short enough to be out of sight beside him. His thin lips curved into a predatory smile. “Well, well, well,” he breathed, softly. “Just look who it is.”

     Asenka glanced up. “That’s the one you’ve been looking for, right?”

     “The exact one,” he confirmed, nodding, listening to the rustle of feet as the rest of the team crowded around to get a look. “Perfect. Perfect! Ha!” He clapped one pair of hands down on her shoulders, and used the other pair to give her a squeeze. “You are a wonder.”

     Asenka preened quietly and feigned coyness.

     “Kolek?” Yannis turned to his team.

     “Sir?” The hart stepped forwards.

     “Take a party of your most loyal into the city. Track them down,” Yannis instructed. “I want both of them brought here before the day is out.”

     “It’s already gone noon, sir-”

     “No excuses! Find them, and bring them here. And if you have not succeeded by nightfall, well, you will stay out until you have tracked them down. Is that understood?”

     Kolek wrinkled his lip and slicked his feelers down flat, but nodded. “Perfectly, sir.”

* * * * *

     Their search had been going relatively badly in the first place, so when Brennan sagged into the shade of a restaurant canopy and dunked his head into a nearby fountain, Sei guessed it was as good a time to call for a brief stop as any.

     “This has not been the most successful of days, has it?” Brennan sighed, tiredly; his normally-pale features had flushed red with effort in the unnatural heat and his hair was plastered in a sorry mop against his forehead, slicked back with sweat.

     “It has not,” Sei agreed, glumly, settling onto the floor beside the wall his friend was perched on. “I had hoped we may find some leads, especially in a market as busy as this, but we will have to make other plans.”

     “Or maybe he simply is not home yet.”

     “Ah, I find that unlikely. Consider. This is his base of operations, correct?” Sei glanced up at his friend. “We traced the ship landing in this general locale, until atmospheric ionisation disrupted the trail. If he is living here, it stands to reason he will get his food here, as it will be much cheaper than importing it from offworld. And if he obtains nourishment from here, surely one of the traders will have seen him?”

     Brennan let his hands dangle in his lap. “Although this is Yannis we are talking about,” he groused. “Yannis, who never does anything simply for fear it will lead someone to one of his more criminal activities.”

     Sei chuckled, dryly. “I should confess to being a little concerned we ourselves are walking casually into a trap of our own,” he admitted. “We may have been drawn here for a reason, you know.”

     “Indeed I do know,” Brennan agreed, dourly. “I try not to contemplate it. It dampens my spirits!”

     They sat quietly for a little while, watching the thronging crowds bustle about a few yards from where they sat. Native women in brightly-coloured skirts and flowing tops made up a coloured sea of abstract shapes, and the sounds of enthusiastic haggling droned in the background as a persistent white noise. Just past the tents of the market was one of the many hundreds of canals that pierced like shimmering blue threads through the city; the rivers themselves formed yet more living space, covered in beautiful houseboats, and the narrow lanes between them were choked by smaller skiffs, typically so heavily laden with fruits and fish that they were almost in danger of sinking. Brennan himself had bought himself a breakfast of sweet red fish and steamed rice from a friendly young male early on in the day, before it got so stiflingly hot.

     While Brennan bolted down the flask of water he’d been handed by an anxious barmaid, Sei sat and watched the world go by, nodding politely in greeting to a small group of young native girls with their arms full of flowers. The smallest of them, who looked like she could have barely been seven years old, ginger-skinned and charcoal-haired, offered him a bright blue flower, which he allowed her to lace into his hair. “{Thank you},” he said, in her native tongue, touching the flat of his fingers to the top of her hand in thanks.

     She giggled and scampered away to join her fellows.

     “You see?” Brennan pointed. “They notice you, my dark-skinned friend, but I slip under their radar. Who is to say Yannis has not done the same?”

     Sei waved his hand, dismissively. “You are just more like them than I am,” he pointed out. “You are similar in build, in colouration… I stick out like a stem of charcoal! Small wonder they notice me.”

     “Again! You unwittingly prove that Yannis and I are like enough to the natives to have drifted through barely noticed.” Brennan threw his hands up. “At this rate, we are never going to find them.”

     “I should confess,” Sei lowered his voice a fraction, “that finding them was not the absolute top of my agenda. At least, not confronting them.”

     “Ach, Sei-!”

     “Please, hear me out. We need to monitor them from afar, correct? If we make it too obvious we seek them, they will surely hear we are searching, and hide themselves away better. Then we will never find them, unless it is on their terms.”

     Brennan grumbled inarticulately. “We are supposed to be tracking them down so we can call in the law,” he corrected. “Not playing vigilante.”

     “Of course! But the law will want proof of whatever criminal activity our ‘friend’ Yannis is embroiled in, correct? I do not mean we have to ‘play vigilante’, simply find a little evidence to back up our accusations. Correct?”

* * * * *

     “Well, Bio? How go things?”

     ‘Biohazard’ was a young dar-Vul, a fairly bland-looking beige and white in colour and somewhat lacking in common sense, but fiercely intelligent when it came to science. The young virologist glanced up from his work, bared his front teeth in an irritable grin, and pushed his facemask back. “I wish you wouldn’t call me that,” he groused.

     “What would you prefer, then? Hazard?” Yannis smirked.

     “I would prefer that you use my name.” The Vul waved his auto-pipette, dramatically, and sprayed droplets of alarmingly-coloured but otherwise harmless Green’s Reagent across the desk. “I don’t care how much you pay me, because it’s nowhere near enough for me to appreciate the disparaging nickname.”

     “Psh. I didn’t come down here to discuss the respective merits of individuals’ chosen nomenclature,” Yannis replied, dismissively. “I came here to see your progress on the virus.”

     “Progress is, ah… Slow,” Biohazard admitted, softly. “I don’t have enough exemplars, and the test proteins you’re providing me with aren’t very stable. They’re very heat-labile, and even with the air-con in this place they keep on breaking down.”

     “Hm. Aside from this, how goes it?”

     Biohazard grumbled under his breath. “Don’t you listen? I told you, it’s going crap. I need more materials, and I need an assistant. You want a cure for this disease, fine! I’ll give you a cure. But only when I have the materials to do it with!”

     Yannis wrinkled his lip. “I would appreciate it if you did not take that tone of voice with me,” he hissed, softly. “You may be my lead virologist, but it is only for the length of time I say you are! Get under my skin too many times and I will be again looking to fill the position. And you will be looking very briefly at how long you can hold your breath, when I give you some nice concrete boots and throw you off one of the local piers. Granted I am no scientist, but I can assure you it will be a short study!”

     Biohazard backed down, reluctantly. “Of course, sir,” he apologised, grudgingly. “My mistake.”

     “Indeed.” Yannis gave him a sweet, mocking smile. “Your apology is nevertheless accepted. I will see about finding you an assistant.”

     “Preferably an assistant with more than two brain cells to rub together,” Biohazard added, daringly. “If I have to instruct them every step of the way, I may as well not bother with an having help.”

     Yannis chuckled. “I’ll see what I can do.”

* * * * *

     “Come on, birdy. I want the floor clean enough that I can eat my dinner off it.”

     Iios paused his mopping. “Why would you wish to do that?” he wondered.

     Asenka was sat at the control console, her little hoofs hooked up on the guard rail, watching something unwholesome she’d downloaded off the Hah’zeept’i Skynet. “Well, all right, so I don’t want to actually eat my dinner off it,” she corrected. “I just mean I want it clean enough that if I did want to, I could. Got it?”

     Iios inclined his head, politely. “I believe I have, mistress.”

     “Good, good. Well, get on with it, then.” She waved him off. “Do a good job and I might treat you to a night off work,” she added, with a lascivious wink.

     “Thank you for the kindness, madam, but I do not require such a lengthy period of inactivity to perform my daily resets and system purges.”

     “Who said anything about inactivity?” she grinned. “I thought you looked like you needed a bath.”

     He quirked his head, and looked back up at her, continuing his steady cleaning. “I am already adequately cleansed, madam.”

     “So you say, but I bet I could find some dirt on you,” she chuckled.

     “Asenka, please stop distracting the staff,” Yannis scolded, from the doorway. “I tolerate your promiscuity because you are a good commander. Please, do not make me regret giving you the post.”

     The hind pressed her hands together in a praying position, and inclined her head. “Of course, noble commander,” she oiled, sweetly. “I shall endeavour to do better by you.”

     He made a face at her, and didn’t look particularly pleased.

     “So, what are you here for, Boss?” she wondered, deftly switching her pornography back to security feeds with a flick of her tail before he could see what she was up to.

     “Considering,” Yannis said, softly, watching the feed; Kolek and Brun were making their way down the main street, keeping to the sidelines to avoid drawing overt attention to themselves. “Bio wants an assistant.”

     “And you want the bird to do it?” Asenka wondered, pointing her tail at Iios, who just carried on mopping, oblivious.

     “After a fashion. I want one of the birds to do it.” Yannis moved to the large panoramic window, and gazed out over the city. “It will be a convenient use for our good doctor, once we have crushed the spirit out of him.”

     “I’m not sure I get it.” Asenka joined him at the window, brazenly curling her tail around his thigh.

     Yannis narrowed his eyes, and managed to ignore the wandering tailtip. “Doctor Sei is essentially a sophisticated adding machine, correct? Once you strip away the layers of ego and consciousness and autonomous thought, what lies at the base of it all is a computer.”


     “Right. And I do not wish to waste such a valuable piece of equipment! I intend to strip him right down to his basal programming, just as I have done this servile lump of tin here,” he gestured an arm behind himself, at Iios. “But only after I have shown him what I have done to his beloved family. After what he did to me, I will be sure to punish him over and over!”

     “You’re getting off topic, Boss.”

     “Hn.” Yannis studied his hands. “Once we have shown the good doctor what we have done to his family, and once I have luxuriated in watching him wallow in despair, I will send him to Biohazard. He will fulfil his duties as the whiner’s assistant, trapped in his own mind, watching and unable to do anything about it as he aids in the creation of a tool to wipe out all those damnable Eumin who cursed me to live out here, in isolation and exile!”

     Asenka stepped back, letting her tail twirl around her own ankles, uneasily. “You mean-… but I thought… you were just going to completely blank his mind,” she challenged, warily. “I-I mean, okay, so it’s murder… but disconnecting his conscious self from the part of him that is a servant? Isn’t that a little… cruel?”

     Yannis smiled, and Asenka took another step back. “Why yes, dear. It is! But then, I am a very bitter, twisted, unkind man. Did you miss the memo?”

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Good as Gold

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