–Variety of eBook formats
–6 x 9 in. paperback; 200 pages
EB ISBN: TBA
PB ISBN: 978-1482650211
The Elf & Rehuin, the third installment of The Elf Series reveals the tenacity of the Elves’ company to out wit yet another cadre of mysterious menaces and rescue an entire people from absolute genocide. The adventures of the Sheranara Triquetra, the Captains Elf, and their ever-growing company on back-to-back missions directed by the Lords Sovereign to safe-guard the realms of the One.
Read an excerpt below or read it at the Voyager Press page:
Excerpt from The Elf & Rehuin — “Into the Night” © J.L. Lawson, 2013
“No sense wasting your breath on the man.” Tarn tried to pull her from the confrontation, to no avail. “We are already falling behind the schedule you set for us, yourself… Remember?” he tried again, though in his heart he really hoped this lout would push just far enough.
“Sir, I have neither the inclination or time to explain to you why I cannot be who you think I am,” the Elf answered calmly, “but I will offer you this:” she lowered her voice, her tone was suddenly gentle, “take a bath more often and you won’t offend even the air around you with your stench…” She turned her back to him and tossed back the dregs of her whiskey. “I’m ready now,” and she turned toward the door.
The ‘unbathed’ man reached for something under his coat. Passed the hood on his robe, Tarn noticed the movement in the mirror above the bar and inconspicuously gestured to the rest of the away team to leave and cover the exits. Song and Delf went out the front door, while a hooded Talora and Jista made their way through to the back.
The man held a blaster leveled at the Elf; Tarn turned and held up his hands, “We don’t want any trouble with y’all…”
“Shut yer yap;” the man sneered, “We is talking to the white wench here what is askin’ questions she shouldn’t oughta be askin’ ’bout dem Rehuiners.” His mates elbowed Tarn out of the way. “She’s an Auditor or I’m a banshee…”
He backed off carefully, reached and picked up his unfinished drink, muttering, “Have it your way then…” and he leaned against the bar casually.
Through the front window, Song peered anxiously back inside at the scene playing out at the bar. She saw the other four men with ‘Stinky’ also produce blasters, all raised toward the Captain. “Uh oh…” she whispered to Delf, “Tarn’s just getting out of the way…”
Delf snorted from beneath his hood, “Wouldn’t you?”
She looked back in, just as the Elf raised her hands in surrender to the gang. But the instant the man to her right jabbed at her ribs with the pistol, one of her hands was suddenly holding her laser dagger and it was activated. She couldn’t hear what was being said in there, but her own voice whispered, “Shouldn’t have just brought a knife to a gunfight, Boss…”
Then everything happened at once. The gang was laughing at her, the blade of her ‘knife’ suddenly grew to arm’s length, and out the butt of the handle sprouted its twin. It was a blur. The arcing crimson, now laser swords, slashed through the space around her as she vaulted completely over ‘Stinky.’ The heads of their blasters bounced and tumbled on the floor at their feet, several more thugs leapt up from tables nearby and joined the fray only to be caught in the vortex of burning peril wielded in their midst. The Elf was a whirlwind. It was only the crash of a thug across a neighboring table on one side, then the flight of another over the bar, showed she was even there at all. Then there she perched, still and precarious on the back of a chair poised to strike down three of the gang in a single swat.
It was chaos. There was a mad scramble of exodus by some, at the same time a ring of reinforcements gathered around the Elf. The front doors crashed open. Delf squinted at the three wild-eyed miscreants and shook his head to Song. She turned her attention back to the scene inside. Just seconds before there were, she thought, eight men advancing on the Elf, but when she looked back, there were only scattered painfully moving bodies littering the floor with the broken furniture. She looked at Tarn. He was just paying the bar keep as if the storm behind him weren’t even there. He glanced to the front window. Song shook her head.
The Elf held out the double laser swords in front of her to the cowering figure of Stinky, alone still kneeling among the riff-raff clutter around him. The gleaming crimson blades vanished and she holstered its handle. Delf and Song heard their comlinks ping. Talora’s voice was clear, “He came out the back… Jista’s trailing him as directed, Captain.”
Inside, Tarn stepped carefully over one moaning body after another to reach the front door. The Elf’s voice was calm behind him, “Oops! I guess I got carried away. Wrong stinky-person.” She stepped easily down from the table, onto the chest of the ‘wrong stinky’ and stood over him for a second. “Next time; ask politely.”
She strode through the mess and joined Tarn at the door. “You heard then?” he asked evenly.
She nodded and touched her comlink, “Jista, dearest, just dart him with a tracker and rendezvous.”
“Yes Boss…” came the curt reply. Talora rounded the corner of the building.
“We almost missed him, he was so sneaky! Crouching between two really big guys who bolted in different directions. If they hadn’t, he probably would have gotten away…”
Jista pinged, “Tag set, he didn’t notice. Heading for the diner now. Out.”
“Alright then,” Tarn sighed and held out his arms to guide them all back up the street. “Let’s go see where our little Sneak is scurrying off to in such a hurry.”
Song stared at the Elf, “Boss… You were amazing in there!” Delf and Tarn chuckled.
Talora hmphed, “Crap! Next time I get to watch the front doors. I couldn’t see any of the show—just terrified faces spilling out the back!”
The Elf shrugged, “I really thought Sir-Stinks-a-lot would spook our guy sooner. But then he just wouldn’t leave!”
“The bartender was very pleased with the ‘hush package’ I offered him. I suspect he’ll have the whole place remodeled and up for business before the weekend crowd shows up as usual.”
“Jista’s already getting us a table,” Talora pointed to through the windows across the front of the diner ahead of them.
Delf pulled a scanner from his pocket and turned it on. “Tracking… He’s moving fast! Must’ve had a speeder hidden somewhere…”
Song glanced at the little screen. “Overlay the regional map…”
“Oh;” Delf grinned sheepishly, “the train to Nantun.”
They settled at the table. Jista asked, “Well?”
The Elf answered, “It’s Nantun. Just like you said.”
Jista held out her palm to Song and Talora, she wiggled her fingers. “Don’t bet a Kuralii when it’s tracking time in the city. Pay up.”
Tarn touched his comlink, “Tindil?”
“Oh, so y’all do remember I’m still up here.” His sarcasm stung Talora. “Sheranara and I are doing just fine, thank you very much. At least I have thumbs to twiddle, I don’t know what she does to keep from going batty…”
She grabbed Tarn’s comlink and pleaded, “Darling, it just wasn’t safe for you down here. We went over and over this already…”
“Yeah, yeah. Narcisii seem compelled to hump anything with orange hair, I remember. What can I do y’all for now?”
Tarn retrieved the communicator. “Alert Pim and Grippa that our newest little rat is on the oh seven hundred train out of Tirsh and headed for them now. Out.”
“Nantun,” the Elf mused, “Either they’re headed off-planet or going to ground. My guess is the former.”
“But will the resident Rehuin run with him…” Talora muttered.
The waitress finally took their order. She couldn’t take her eyes off the Elf.
Dena smiled up at her, “Haven’t we met before somewhere?”
“Been back to Regula One recently?” the girl answered with a shy smile, “Seems your ‘talk’ was as good as your actions…”
“That’s it! I knew it!” she exclaimed, “You’re that waitress who gave us the tip about the Pollux system.”
The waitress nodded, “You promised to get rid of those… those… Who were they anyway?”
Tarn chuckled, “Footnotes in the history books.”
She shrugged, “Well you certainly did!”
Dena asked, “And what drove you to take up work out here? Did the resort business not agree with you after all? This a long way from Mrona—that was, you ‘said,’ the farthest you’d been…”
The waitress blushed and looked up at the ceiling, “It was. Great job that didn’t work out as long as I’d hoped. But how I got here..?Well there was this guy… Ran out of money of course,” she shrugged, “Same old, same old…”
Dena was still looking at the girl; she soothed, “That bad huh?”
Then she dimpled and turned to Tarn, “Y’all need a crackerjack short order cook? I’m very versatile. I’ve been saving up to get enough to go to Nantun, I have an in with the Narcis Liner company, but I’ve got to get there first…” Tarn glanced to Dena shaking his head.
The dimples turned to a frown and her shoulders dropped like the weight of the building just fell on her. The Elf pursued, “But why did you stay here of all places? And wasn’t your hair… brighter… uh…” she looked quickly around the near empty diner and lowered her voice, “…orange?”
“If you hadn’t noticed,” she replied woodenly, “orange hair is some kind of freakin’ aphrodisiac to these people. It’s all I can do to keep my roots dyed well enough—shoe polish sucks!” She stiffened and her usual mask of indifference slammed down over her features again. “Pawing and grabbing I can handle, just goes with the territory. But the…” and her false confidence wavered; she pushed her sleeve across her eyes. “Have y’all’s orders out in a jiff…” and she hurried to the back.
Song and Jista stared at Tarn and Dena. Jista posited carefully, “Boss, we’re ‘probably’ headed to Rinsis, right? I mean if the rat and the Rehuin make the transport…”
Song’s aqua blonde curls shook violently as an involuntary shudder ran through her. “I can’t imagine being in that girl’s shoes. Urgh! It gives me the willies!”
Dena sighed, “This is the best tip she’s ever going to earn…” she nodded to Tarn. He offered a shadow of a smile and wink to his little Elf as he rose and went to the back of the diner. A moment later a yelp of excitement pierced the little eatery.
“Really! I swear you won’t be sorry, Mister!” rang out loud and clear.
The meal was tasty, they waited a while for ‘the girl’ to beg her manager to part with the balance of her pay before they went with her to gather her few belongings from the flophouse she’d haunted.
“Doesn’t look like much, I know…” she waved at the rundown hallway and huddled figures adorning it. “And it isn’t.”
The Elf’s comlink pinged, “Just slithered off the train; got a bead on him, Boss;” Grippa’s voice announced. Pim added, “We’re gonna have to stay close to him, the tracker only has enough power for another couple hours or so.”
“With luck, that should be enough time for him to tip his hand;” the Elf replied. “If not…”
Pim responded, “Neither of us are very good at this cloak and dagger stuff, Boss. But we’ll try and tag him, again.”
“Antina, Tiari and Reia are where they’re supposed to be at the space port,” the Elf replied, “I was going to say, don’t bother tagging him again. Just let them know if they’re supposed to be watching out for one, or two marks.”
The relief over the comlink was audible, “Gotcha Boss. Out.”
She invited them into her cramped room; they couldn’t all fit inside even if they were Seranim. “We’ll go wait outside,” Tarn took the Elf’s elbow, “Y’all help her with her things.” He glanced at his wrist monitor, “We still have nineteen minutes before Sheranara bounces down our tangle-vator. Don’t dawdle in there.”
Out on the stoop he intimated to his little Elf, “You’re doing a real nice thing to get her out of this predicament.”
Dena chuckled, “So you’re not afraid she’ll outshine you in the galley then?”
He gripped the overhang above his head and stretched. “Not a chance.”
“Which? that she’ll be a better cook, or your not afraid to get shown up?” the Elf posed facetiously.
The clatter of footsteps and clunking bags against the hallway walls just inside the door heralded an end to the teasing. “All set Boss,” Jista crooned.
Talora added, “Walli says she’s seen at least two dozen Rehuin ex-soldiers pass through this very neighborhood in the last few weeks.”
Tarn cocked his head at the girl, “And how does our Miss ‘Walli’ know they were ex-soldiers?”
She assumed her professional indifference again, “Waitresses are the greatest invisible keen observers anywhere. You gotta know who are the tippers and who aren’t, whose going to stiff you or whose going to break the place up. I can tell a soldier from a cop, a banker from an embezzler… Hell, I can tell with a glance if a customer just got paid or not. Like I said: it goes with the territory.”
“Fascinating,” Delf smiled at her. Song agreed.
Talora continued, “So, maybe we oughta give the girls at the space port heads up that there may be more than just the ‘one’ rat and ‘one’ rascally Rehuin leading us to the cell.”
“Make it so;” the Elf nodded. “Now let’s get to the drop spot and clear the area. What we don’t need is to have curious eyes on us making a completely unauthorized bounce from right under the Narcisii’s noses.
A few minutes later and clearing the area wasn’t as easily done as hoped…
Walli whispered, “How did y’all even get a tangle-vator through the city’s shields!? I mean really, that’s why so many bad customers show-up and then linger here—no pop-in Auditors or Security squads…”
Jista explained in a whisper as Tarn, Delf, Talora and Dena tried to break up what appeared to be a neighborhood gang meeting in ‘their’ escape alley. “It’s all a matter of timing. The shield control rooms here, and at every other city that have erected these things, change shifts every four hours. That’s as long as any personnel can be exposed to the radiation leaking out of the generators—and also why there’s such a high turnover. Bad for them, good for us. The shields essentially wobble if no one’s right there keeping the modulation synced.”
Song watched as several of the gang chased off after the Boss and Talora after they paraded passed the opening of the alley with their hoods up but robes flapping behind them—quite the show. Now Delf and Tarn were attempting to lure the others away impersonating wealthy tourists lost in the city. “Get ready you two,” Song whispered, “This is going to be really close…”
Just as the alley was vacated by the last three guys, the tangle-vator popped in out thin air. “Let’s go! We’ve only got forty-five seconds.”
Jista and Song lugged Walli’s bags, pushing their ‘guest’ as fast as her legs would move into the ‘standalone closet.’ It seemed interminable getting Walli’s things shoved inside with still enough room for the others. And where were they?!
“Come on, come on…” Jista repeated under her breath. The seconds were slipping by too fast.
Talora and the Boss came bounding around the corner, followed an instant later by Tarn and Delf. “Five seconds!” Jista called, waving for them to make a dive for the open closet door. “Just jump in!” Which Talora and Dena did.
Tarn and Delf hesitated at the corner of the alley, the gang was right on their heels—that hesitation was a moment too long. The ‘all clear’ light went on over the closet door. Tarn waved, “Go! We’ll make our way to Nantun…” The tangle-vator disappeared. He and Delf faded into the shadows of a doorway as the alley was once again filled with frustrated and angry gang members.
Tarn tossed a coin at some waste bins behind the group, the second they wheeled on the sound, he and Delf were out on the street and dashing for the train station.
Song whimpered, “Delfie…” as the tangle-vator opened into the the engineering shop aboard the Triquetra.
The Elf untangled herself from the luggage straps and crawled over a very disoriented Walli. “Sorry for the rough ride, but you are off-planet now.”
“…And I’ll never forget what you’ve done for me either…” Walli grunted as she tugged and yanked at her crushed and squished bags to get them out of the closet.
Talora gave her a hand, but consoled Song at the same time, “Tarn is a magician when it comes to getting out of nasty situations, really! Delf couldn’t be in better company.”
Song bit her lip and looked to Dena, “Boss? What time’s the bounce from Nantun?”
The Elf touched her comlink, “Tindil, we have a guest with us, but no fellows. What’s the countdown on the Nantun pick-up?”
His voice replied, “Boss that’ll be… in three hours twenty-one minutes. You mean Delf and Tarn are going to get to Nantun, find Pim and Grippa and get to the rendezvous with Reia, Tiari and Antina and have our lead on the marks, and all get into one tangle-vator closet?! All in less than three and a half hours?”
“Thanks for the reminder Mr. Le’Tristam.” She turned to Song, “Dear, please get Walli settled in cabin Twelve, Raven section. And Walli…”
The former waitress looked up warily. “Yes Ma’am?”
“Get a bath and wash that hideous dye from your hair—you’re much lovelier without it,” and she winked. “Oh, and I am either the ‘Captain,’ ‘the Boss,’ or just Elf. But, I am not a lady.”
Walli was finally able to offer a little smile, “Yes Boss!”
“That’s better.” Dena turned to go, but snapped her fingers, “And if the Nephlii turn your things inside out, don’t worry, they’re just curious is all. No harm.” With that she headed to the bridge.
Walli looked at Song and Talora, “Nephlii?”
Quite a while later, on a train heading into Nantun…
“…That’s how it looks to us too. Oh, and a slight change in plans,” Delf whispered into the comlink to Antina, “we’re gonna have to all hold our breaths to get into the closet and escape.”
She replied, “It’s Pim and Grippa’s toys that took up most of the room coming down…”
Tarn rolled his eyes, “Well we certainly can’t leave any of those little things behind. Unauthorized tangle traffic is one thing; virtually handing over classified technology is just insane!”
Delf looked up at the chrono on the train carriage bulkhead, “We’ll be through the Nantun shield in ten, and track our wunderkinds down before joining y’all at the skyport. Out.”
She kept the link open long enough to ask, “And y’all have passes…” then the channel closed on its own.
“Darn glitchy power units,” Delf griped and tucked the useless device into his pocket.
He turned to Tarn, “What if our rat and mystery ‘guests’ take separate shuttles?”
“We’ll burn that bridge when we get to it,” Tarn impersonated his mate and smiled.
The speakers droned, ‘Nantun Station Three. All passengers are required to submit to entry screening before entering the city or traveling on with us to Homnic Province. Have a nice day.’
The two fellows looked at each other, and mouthed, ‘Entry Screening?’ And looked around the carriage at the other passengers digging out their papers and such for the Screeners. Delf whimpered, “Great! More red tape, badges and papers—which we don’t have!”
Tarn grinned slyly. “Would you fetch us sandwiches from the concession, please?” Delf looked cock-eyed at his partner, but shrugged, got up and shuffled toward the concession car.
Tarn waited just until Delf was out the doors then he stood up himself. With a last glance at the chrono—three minutes, fourteen seconds to shield crossing—and the battered sign warning ‘All passengers to remain seated at all Shield Transit Passages: Your safety is Our first concern!’—he ambled forward toward the concession car also.
Two carriages up he intercepted Delf. “If you were coming up here anyways, why send me?” Delf carped as a searing flash of heat indicated they were just passing under the shields.
“We’re making an unscheduled drop…” And he pushed Delf in front of him then leapt from the slowing train behind him with the sizzling shield grid not meters from their landing. “Static from that,” he nodded to the noisy grid, “Will mask our signatures on their imaging scanners. Come on, we’ve got a long way to go on foot, now.” Unnoticed, a third ‘unscheduled’ departure tumbled to the ground near the train and lay still.
Delf held up the smashed sandwiches. “Oh! Sandwiches. Clever…” and he handed one to Tarn.
“Nantun would have to be the largest city in the province…” Tarn muttered as they set off at a trot through the darkness. The still figure on the ground rose up suddenly and set off after them.
On the Triquetra…
“They just disappeared, Captain.” Song was looking at the monitor following Tarn and Delf’s locators on the screen.
“At least they’re inside Nantun defenses, then,” the Elf sat back in her chair momentarily relieved. Song asked permission to leave the bridge and check up on Walli.
The com chirped at Tindil as Song left, he pressed his hand to the earpiece and frowned. “Uh… Captain, I happened to mention to Antina about the little ‘alley incident;’ she informed me when Tarn and Delf were almost to the Nantun checkpoint…”
“And?” the Elf coaxed.
“And they screen at all the checkpoints in and out of the city. Ids, papers, etc. I’m almost certain that’s what she was saying… Static and all…” he offered with a wince.
“Great! More red tape and speed bumps!” she moaned.
“That’s not all Boss,” and he really didn’t want to be the one to say, “Delf and Tarn’s comlinks are likely out of juice. Delf’s cut off before Antina closed the channel even though they have clearer signals with each other on the surface—under the shield or not—than we have with them.”
“When it rains it pours…” the Elf put her hands on the arms of her chair, very reminiscent of her predecessor; Jista noticed instantly.
“And what do you suppose the ‘last Elf’ in that chair would be thinking just now?” she posed carefully to the Captain.
Dena took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. “What she wouldn’t be doing is whining about the cards she was dealt,” she turned to Tindil, “Get me Pim!”
In a moment, the com speakers came alive with a staticky, “…Yes Boss?”
“Tarn and Delf are in Nantun and incommunicado. They know the rendezvous and will likely head straight to it. But if you could keep your eyes peeled…”
Grippa’s answer stuttered in and out of the static, “Got it covered Boss… brought a few other toys down here…”
Pim’s giggle, “…really works?!”
His voice replied stiffly, “ …course it works; …do what I want it to do is the ques…”
The Elf had to break in, “Which is?”
Pim explained quickly, “…Drone tracker the size of a beetle… …ippie’s been itching to field tes…” her voice wasn’t directed to the comlink which really didn’t help the bad connection, “…let it go! …be who knows where!” She sounded clearer momentarily, “Sorry, Boss. …loathe to just toss his toys to the wind…”
“Listen you two, if that ‘toy’ gets into the wrong hands by mistake…”
“…self-destruct,” Grippa confided. “…find Tarn—that’s who I… …will act as his new comlink and scanner… This is a great little invention… …it’ll probably…”
“Thank you chief, that’s wonderful foresight on your part. Out.” The Elf turned back to Tindil. Talora had come in and was standing at his elbow.
“I heard,” she said solemnly. “I’ll let you tell Song personally if you think it’s really necessary…” She shook her head indicating her own views on the tender topic.
“More waiting…” the Elf relaxed into her chair. “I need a hobby for times like this.”
“Times like what?” Song asked as she came on the bridge with Walli just behind her.
“Permission to enter the bridge? Did I get that right?” Walli asked hesitantly, not taking a step across the threshold.
“Settled in then?” the Elf inquired earnestly, waving her in. “I was once a ‘guest’ too. It can be disconcerting to be suddenly among a crew of people who know where everything is and you don’t.”
Song asked again, “Times like what?!”
“Waiting, of course,” Talora replied casually. “We were just wondering what useful hobbies to take up.”
The Elf offered, “Perhaps we should get off on a better footing with each other, “I am Dena the Elven of the royal house Amalin-Rwar. This shapely tall aqua top here is…”
Walli interrupted, “Song Atella of Atria, we sorta hit it off straight away. And I am Walis Tershal—no ‘House’ or anything. Everybody calls me Walli, or Ginny, you know for ‘ginger’?” she tugged her now un-dyed orange curls. “That wasn’t such a good handle down there though…” she glanced up at the main viewer and the surface of Narcis beneath them. She collected herself again, “My grammy calls me Walli, but that’s because I’m named for her…”
Tindil smiled broadly, “As fair a head of hair as any on Melnith! You must have some Melnithor rattling ’round in your family tree…”
“Nope,” she seemed sure, “Regulan born and bred. I’m the first of my folks to ever go off-planet. We’re sorta homebodies if you know what I mean.”
Jista put out her hand, “Just Jista, Kuralii from the Islands. That’s Talora, the other carrot-top, Tindil, is hers. Song’s guy, Delf, is…”
“Yeah,” Walli interrupted, “back on Narcis with Commander Tarn ’cause they gave me their spot in the closet…”
The Elf stopped her cold. “They did no such thing! Put that out of your mind right now. We all ran into the same snafu. It had nothing to do in the least with our harboring you. Just bad timing for us that that street gang was camped on our closet-step. That’s it. End of story, got it?”
Walli brightened a little. “I get it. Thank you Captain.”
Jista continued, “The others you haven’t met yet are Song’s sister, Pim—same tall drink of water, sans the cute curls—her partner in the gadgeteering hall of fame, Grippa—can’t miss him, looks just like her. Then there’s our pilots: Reia from Jontun and Tiari, she’s elven also. Lastly, my girl: Antina, nearly as good a navigator as me… after I train ‘er up a little longer, anyway.” Jista’s wink let Walli know she wasn’t as stuck on herself as she let on.
Talora asked, “And did Mim and Yula give you the once over?”
Walli laughed out loud, “Those two! They’re probably still taking naps on my clothes. It was useless trying to put any of it away; they just dragged it all out again. At least they let me have this to wear…”
The com pinged; Song was hovering over Tindil’s monitors in a flash. There was static. Then, “…one of their new toys… catching up to Reia and company with small margin… …rat and local are… should be ready to track both…” and the signal was lost.
Talora muttered, “Lucky to get anything through the Nantun shields all the way up here.”
“Sounded like Tarn, though,” Song grinned. “That means Delfie’s okay too! Right?” Talora patted her shoulder.
“Told you to stop worrying, but do you listen to me? Noo…”
Walli sighed, “How you guys ever even came up with this plan and got this far is beyond amazing. Nobody’s ever sneaked into a Narcisii city—who’d want to?—and gotten out alive!” Song’s expression was drooping fast. “Well that’s what they say anyway. Probably hype to scare off the Alliance Auditors or something. Is that what y’all are doing? Contracts for Auditors or something?”
The Elf stressed, “Or something… Enough about Narcisii bogeyman. Talora, to Ops; scan those transports as they fill and get ready to wrinkle to any destination used by those lifting in the next several hours from Nantun skyport. We’ll only have a window of a few minutes before any of them wrinkle—even knowing which transport to focus on. Which we shall hopefully know shortly.”
“Aye, aye, my Captain;” she strode to the station and got busy.
“Song, you may as well settle in next to Tindil…” she directed.
“Jista would you lay in the alternative courses Talora forwards you, just in case our ‘packages’ get sent someplace other than where we anticipate?”
“Right away, Boss. Already have a few input, take just a sec to load in the others…”
“And now, Walli,” the Elf stood up and stepped for the doors.
“Let’s you and I see if we can persuade the Nephlii to take their naps elsewhere…” and she led their newest guest from the bridge. “And you mentioned ‘short order cook…very versatile,’ I remember you saying?”
She nodded enthusiastically. “No kidding, I’m a regular Tantu the Magnificent in a kitchen…” she realized the reference was a non-starter. “I am in the kitchen, what you are on your bridge, I mean.”
The Elf smiled, “Then after getting your things sorted out, you should get yourself acquainted with our galley… With a caveat, I should warn you that my Tarn is the ship’s chef, and he’s really good.”
Walli was excited, “Work with a real chef! This just gets better and better!”
“Lovely, and I have to drop into the engineering labs for a little project of my own…”
Above the crowded late evening streets at the Nantun Space Port…
“…We’re covering platforms three, seven and ten.” Antina answered.
“Delf is headed to three right now; I can still see him. I’m at the front gates keeping a lookout for Pim and Grippa; they should be along very soon,” Tarn explained. “They were actually able to tail the rat…”
Tiari cut in, “Yeah, Grippa pinged me as soon as they spotted the Rehuin and rat leaving that safe house, or whatever it was. Sure would have liked to get a peek inside that place.”
“Our window of opportunity for exit won’t allow for that I’m afraid.” He added as an afterthought, “Probably destroyed anything we’d hope to find there anyway…” He perked up. “I see Pim.”
Reia shot back, “Then the rat should be right in front of you!”
Tarn scanned the faces among the crowds around him. He got Pim’s attention and she pointed to his left. Just as he turned he got jostled by a group of teenagers hurrying to get to their own platform. “Probably really late, as usual” he muttered looking after them, which he thought he only thought to himself. Grippa was at his elbow, looking distinctly unlike himself in a suit and dress shoes—no kilt, belts or boots.
“Right on time, I thought…” startling Tarn. “Here’s our two now, and a third who scampered up to join them before they left the safe house,” and he gestured with his chin at three gentlemen just entering the concourse.
Tarn had to do a double take at them too. “That’s our rat?!”
“Yeah, cleans up pretty good don’t he?” Grippa confided. “Almost missed him and the other two blokes when they came out of the apartment building a while ago. So I had to do this…” he gestured at his attire, “Just to be able to get close enough to tail ’em and not get singled out in the crowds they was moving into.”
“Small wonder. Hide in plain sight. Covert travel 101.”
Pim joined them, looking herself; she was decidedly not going to amend her comfortable usual appearance for this. Of course that meant that she was also carrying all of Grippa’s toys in addition to her own. She pointed to the back of the gentleman on the left, “That one showed up at the safe house almost the same time y’all were nearly here. He had the same mud on his shoes, you’ve got there…” and she glanced down at Tarn’s light boots. “Like he had to cover a lot of ground on foot. Are you sure you two weren’t followed or something? I gave up coincidences for New Year’s.”
Tarn rubbed his chin, I don’t know, I doubled back twice and didn’t notice any other tracks, but if I were tailing a couple guys, I would have paralleled our route, not followed in the same footsteps. If your suspicions are even close to accurate, that we had to tip our hand to get them to run, they’ll know we’re on to them—and now we can be relatively certain two of them know us by sight.”
Grippa prodded, “Alright, that’s a given then; let’s just see to which platform they go. Almost over gang.”
A little while later Tiari announced, “It’s not three, they just passed me by. But they’re stopping at one of the shops for something. I’ll follow them when they come out.”
Reia added a few minutes after, “Not seven, they’re still on the move… I’m with Tiari and Delf.”
Delf nodded to Tarn, Pim and Grippa as they came abreast of him and Antina at gate ten. “Looks like Jista’s going win another wager…” he grimaced as Reia and Tiari joined them all.
Their marks came up to platform ten, looked around at the waiting passengers for a moment then promptly continued on around the grand corridor.
“Not ten either?!” Tarn was as surprised as the others.
Tiari rejoined, “Eleven is now boarding for Almach, Twelve will be boarding for the Hyades in half an hour.”
“We don’t have half an hour!” Delf and Grippa both moaned in frustration.
Pim looked at her wrist, “We have twenty minutes to get back down to that service area and be ready for the closet.”
Tarn was visibly in an intense mental struggle. He seemed to come to a conclusion. “You six head down there now…”
Delf and Antina gulped; Antina muttered, “And how are you going to get from up there,” she pointed to around the bend toward platform Twelve, “to almost the entrance in less than twenty minutes?!”
Pim rummaged through her gear, “Use this…” and she produced one of their ‘modified’ personal shields. “This button is the shield, this one pressed once is the cloak, and this one pressed and held bounces. I have the RP for it here…” and she held up a silver tube for a second then put it back into one of her pockets. Tarn slipped the device onto his wrist.
“Okay, here’s how this is going to go. All I have to do is make sure they are registered at Twelve as boarding passengers, as soon as I am certain, I’ll bounce down to join y’all in the service area—-please make sure it’s really vacant.”
Delf rolled his eyes, “Don’t want that to happen again.”
Tarn continued, “I’ll bounce in,” he looked at his other wrist, “…fourteen minutes. You all should be down there and ready by then. Clear?”
They started to walk back the way they came. Reia volunteered, “I’ll ping you if it’s not clear. If you don’t hear anything, you’re good to bounce…”
He acknowledged the back-up and set off in long strides toward Twelve, muttering, “The Hyades… what a maze that’s going to be. An open cluster of hundreds of stars, most with planets… And we need to find one cadre of galoots in that labyrinth?”
The six crew hurrying back down through the grand corridors toward the concourse and service area, encountered not one tour group heading en masse to their platform, but three. The delays, trying to weave their way ‘upstream’ through the ‘mobs’ were making them more than a little anxious the slower they went.
Tarn pulled his hood further down over his features, not an uncommon sight anywhere in Nantun, especially at the space port—arriving and departing passengers of all sorts, many preferring to mask their faces… “And why has our threesome been so brazen?” he had to wonder. “Maybe, like Grippa said, they’re almost un-recognizable as ‘gentlemen?’ That has to be all it is. I just wouldn’t have suspected the rat as being an ‘experienced’ field agent is all.” He spotted his trio. They were settling into lounge chairs among a group of other professional-looking travelers. Tarn walked with an ease he didn’t feel to the registration kiosk. Finally, after the few would-be passengers ahead of him in line were off to the waiting lounge, he leaned in close to the attendant—controlling his anxiety and frustration over the time it was taking to accomplish this ‘little’ chore—hoping to get a peek at the boarding lists. He started by asking typical ‘lost tourist’ questions of the attendant to mask his purpose. That’s when he realized with chagrin: what names was he looking for? It sure wouldn’t be the rat’s own name, Mirtin. Then he had a thought…
He asked, “I’m almost certain those three gentlemen over there came into Nantun on the train with me; they look so utterly familiar. Of course it’s been such a fast-paced trip, faces blur together…”
She looked over toward where he gestured at the ‘clump’ of suited and dapper professionals, “A suits a suit to me to mister. But one of them, an ‘Alveris’… his papers did show his coming into Nantun on the seven o’clock from Tirsh just earlier this evening—-everything gets stamped these days you know.”
Tarn looked at the time stamp of ‘Alveris’ and the next couple down on the list who had the same time stamp. He shrugged, “I came in this morning, so it probably wasn’t them after all. Not that it matters in the least. But thanks! You’re great!” and he shuffled off at an easy stride away from the platform and glanced at his wrist chrono. His heart nearly skipped a beat.
“Crap!” He looked furtively for a rest room or a closet… something into which he could duck and bounce down to join the others. Nothing. He quickened his pace to almost a trot. His comlink pinged as he at last found the men’s rooms. As he dodged several fellows leaving as he went in, he answered, “Here, almost ready to…”
“Thought you’d be tardy…” a familiar voice answered. “They’re safely aboard the Triquetra.”
“Elf?! What..? Where..?” He ducked into a stall.
There was a puff of air at his back. “Right here. And where is here?” she asked, then focused. “The Men’s room?!” and she lowered her voice.
He wanted to laugh but was still too shaken. “If you’re here…”
“Pim’s little gizmo bounces between RPs you know. I was ready with a purged one and used her RP. And yeah, I figured we’d need a back up plan if the ‘crowded’ closet scenario repeated itself. I bounced down two closets…” she patted the breast of her robe, “And a bunch of Pim and Grippa’s toys plus few other niceties.”
“No!” his voice was much too loud, “Now we’re both stuck here?!”
She smiled, “Don’t be silly. Our dynamic duo is off to the Hyades? Thank you for at least gathering that bit of intel—even though verifying it kept you from making rendezvous.”
“Yeah, oh boy, the Hyades…” he answered without enthusiasm and peered out the door.
“Then let’s get up there and register to board, we only have eight minutes, I believe—that’s what Tiari said as I made them bounce without us.”
“Right.” He was gathering his wits again. “Register?”
They made it back up to Twelve just as the attendant at the registration kiosk was making a final announcement, “Last call for a Mr. and Mrs. Rwar. Boarding is complete…” Tarn was so shocked to hear their names being called, he nearly tripped over his own feet.
The Elf glided up to the kiosk panting, “Oh my! This is just such a big place! We really tried to get here earlier. But my husband just got out of hospital, and he just can’t ‘trip along’ as quickly as usual…”
“Not a problem Mrs. Rwar,” and she stamped the tickets Dena extended to her. Tarn was still staring incredulously from behind her, not wishing to be recognized, again. The attendant extended her hand toward the gate, “Please don’t rush him. These shuttles always take off after scheduled departures for just this very reason. Have a nice trip, and thank you for traveling Narcisii Space and Tours.”
Her last words were faint, because the Elf and Tarn were already entering the gate. Beyond that was decon and having their luggage—-which they seemed to be clearly without—checked before being escorted by a very sweet flight attendant to their cabin.
“Here you are, Cabin One Oh One, Deck Four—the Nomad Suite as requested…” she leaned close to them and confided, “This hardly ever gets used… Most of the folks lifting from Narcis don’t lay out the platinum for it…”
The Elf giggled, “My Tarn just won’t spare any expense since he won the Grimtin Lottery! And I’m loving it!”
They shut the cabin door behind them and Dena touched her comlink. “Operation Oopsie-Daisy initiated. The Hyades; be waiting.”
“Yes Captain,” Talora’s voice replied. “Next check-in in six hours, mark.”
“Mark,” the Elf replied and closed the channel.
Tarn whistled, “At least you weren’t just twiddling your thumbs ‘all’ this time…”
She grinned up at him, “Now look at all the fun things I brought along…” She pulled off her robe and turned it inside out.
He chuckled, “I knew you couldn’t have put on that much weight in so short a time!”
She kept pulling out compression bag after bag, stiff panels of clothing and stuff he didn’t recognize right away, odd little bags and boxes… At last the robe was emptied and they each had several changes of clothes, an arsenal of surveillance equipment, and more than the usual ‘personal effects’ she generally carried with her—out of sight, of course.
“Let’s get changed. The brochure I scanned through before leaving Sheranara and booking our passage on this ‘boat,’ specifically stated that guests in the Nomad Suite were entitled to a first dinner at the Captain’s table. Don’t want to miss that!”
“About that: ‘and booked our passage’…” he began, still figuring up the window of opportunity she’d had for that little minor miracle. “The foresight to bring two closets for seven people, I get. That went smoothly I hope. But this…” he waved a hand across the bed and all their ‘luggage,’ “…and tickets? …and papers? You couldn’t have had but…”
“Thirteen minutes dear. Reia told me y’all were ninety per cent certain it was the Hyades. No problem; I had the Lines passage booked in the first couple minutes—as the Rwars, you noted, a very influential family, evidently, even out here. Papers arriving in Nantun aboard a private ship weren’t even a challenge to forge—our Walli had hers, with those as a model I just did some creative writing after we got back. It’s always handy to have ‘legit’ papers; who knows when one might show up on Narcis and need them. Anyway, our ‘luggage’ has been assembled in our quarters aboard Triquetra—recognize that robe from my closet?—since we lifted from Mont’alous three months ago. And as for Pim’s toys, I always get her to make duplicates of anything that strikes my fancy… on those rare occasions she lets me through the lab doors at all—And I just had eight hours free access; when the cat’s away…”
They got busy cleaning up and changing, “You’re a miracle worker. Wish you’d had my back all those years I was running errands for Rehir and Admiral Randi…”
She laughed aloud, “I probably wouldn’t have been any help to you then—more like a weight around your neck—I was a bean-counting Guild Operative, remember?”
He stopped and gazed at her. She was toweling off and looked like the finest example of what an Elhehrim woman should be. “No I definitely keep forgetting that little tidbit. You’re so… so…”
She dimpled and struck a very evocative pose, “Yes? Do tell!”
They were ‘fashionably late’ for their dinner date at the Captain’s table much later.