Chapter 22

Of course, one of the temptations of having sole rights to a hypergate transit system is the compulsion to use it all of the time. Zrng waited for the chime of the airlock and less than gracefully dragged out the mini gate portal, occasionally grunting to the voice coming from it's small screen.

At first JB thought Zrng was going to ask them to help him, but instead he Zrng handed the translator to JB. On the reverse was a pair of what looked like ear buds. JB hoped for the best and held one to his ear. He spoke a quick word and a synthesized voice responded from the bud. JB handed the other node to Chris.

Zrng pressed a button on the device, which unfolded and generated the minigate in a needlessly dramatic manner. After the requisite special effects had played out, a large mass of tentacles and eyes in what appeared to be a dark uniform shuffled officially from the swirling miasma and slid briskly into the bulkhead.

"Oops." Zrng said without a smidgeon of sincerity.

"Right", the official said as he pulled a pen from its clipboard, "we'll just add assaulting a GTG official to the list of charges."

"I wouldn't bother. The courts would only give that bulkhead 20 years at best and then it would be out looking for revenge."

"Look you're not helping your case -oh fap." The last bit was said after the officer finally looked at the assembled culprits. Chris made a quick note of the expletive for future use.

"Why did I just know there would be a Grylix involved?"

Zrng replied calmly, "Don't look at me. These two got here all by themselves."

"And just who are they?", the officer said as it cast several suspicious eyes at the brothers. JB smiled weakly and wiggled his fingers in a way he later hoped wouldn't be taken as an insult.

"A couple of humans."

"What are 'humans'?"

"A civ that just broke light."

This caused the official to oscillate in a small fit. "Do you have any idea what the paperwork for that is like?"

Zrng smiled a bit at the officer's anger. "Since when is the GTG doing paperwork?" he asked innocently. The creature looked like it was about to eat Zrng, and then before it was about to pounce, it looked nervously at its sleeve.

'If this thing was human', thought Chris, 'it would be sweating bullets.'

"The GTG always does the proper paperwork." the official tried to bluff unsuccessfully.

"Before or after you quark the folks you stop?"

It was noticeably more nervous and shot Zrng an evil glare from any number of eyes. "The GTG does not destroy innocent offenders." It grunted emphatically.

"That's why you've got a quantum disruptor on the front of your cruiser?"

"That device is used for exploration only!" the officer erupted a bit too defensively.

The official's cuff warbled and it blanched. JB wasn't sure, but he thought that one of the official's eyestalks briefly became a tree branch. They only heard the official's side of the conversation, but there was no mistaking what was going on.

"No sir, there's no problem. Yes sir, I've identified the source, but I have it well under control. I expect that we can easily deal with this by using the standard procedure. I'll have Odwalsky warm up the… You have been listening? No, I wasn't trying to cover up the three-oh-ones. No I... Yes, but .. No, of course, perhaps I may have overlooked… Right, I'll see to it personally. Thank you."

The official sighed and reclipped his pen, its anger and frustration showing in a truly universal manner. "Right, well, your case is apparently in need of review. I presume that is the vehicle in question?" the official waved a tentacle toward the maxima. "I'll also presume that it's manufacture was 'human', was it? Mostly because I suspect that Grylix would rather get head licked by a Praglaa than have to deal with us." With that the official slid angrily back through the gate.

"Lousy stinking yggsdrazine.." Zrng mumbled.

"Uhm, so now what?" Chris asked his brother.

Zrng turned to look at the two humans, sighed and shrugged his shoulders. "I am not sure. I would suppose that we will be taken aboard the GTG patrol ship, interrogated and then executed in a brutally efficient manner. You're planet will be destroyed, of course, possibly this system too just to make sure they got everything. Real pity that, we had such good hopes for you. Still, things could have been worse."

Chris stood in near total shock. "Worse!? Several billion innocent lives are going to be terminated and it could go WORSE!?"

"Sure. They didn't have to show up to do it."

"Well we've got to take them out before they blow us up! What weapons do you have?" Chris said, somehow channeling Captain Kirk.

"Weapons?" Zrng said in mocking surprise, "Friend, this is not a Galactic Customs heavy cruiser, this is a simple long term scout vessel, and the worst I could do is polish the titanium on their prime gun. <Undecipherable>, if this was a Galactic Customs heavy cruiser, I don't think we'd be better off. GTG doesn't mess around. They're a galactic monopoly with every interest in staying that way. They make you're 'Microsoft' look like a roadside fruit stand. Unlike the Galactic Customs, they don't have any budget problems, and are happily free of any treaty or restriction, since any government stupid enough to try to oppose them would find itself suddenly without a gate, and a whole fleet of Urination-off freight haulers wondering why the gate no longer works."

"Wait a minute" JB said calmly. "Myron's right, why didn't they just blow us away from a distance? Why did they even bother showing up here?"

"Myron?" Zrng asked Chris.

"Long story." Chris replied.

Unfortunately, JB's question never got properly answered as two large, and quite obviously guard like beings entered through the gate. Without comment or concern they accosted the three and brought them through the shimmering device. Chris and JB were separated and deposited less than cordially into large rooms filled with various devices. Strange rhythmic noises filled the room, they were quiet, almost soothing yet oddly discordant. JB supposed that they were scanner noises or some such.

JB tried the door, it didn't move, even when he got help from Karl. He looked around for any avenue of escape or any device that might help, there was nothing other than a large table that was firmly bolted to the ground, a number of small devices and a portable screen that displayed a number of images or pages of strange writing.

After a few minutes he heard something like Chris yelping. With all the strength he could muster JB pounded at the door to get it to open. He managed to make a few sizable dents before the felt all of his nerves tingle.

He awoke strapped to the table. In the room with him was a large brown and orange striped being dressed in a sea foam green outfit. He was making notes onto a small device. It noticed that JB was awake. At first it spoke in a strange growling dialect. When JB didn't respond, it quickly wrote a few items onto the tablet then read them aloud. "Good, you are awaken. I Prrau Racharr am. I to examine you am."

"He," thought JB, "definitely 'he'"

"Hurting you not, much. Name you?"

"Uh, My name is JB Reid, or just JB"

Prrau Racharr nodded after a second, then scribbled away.

"Attack me not, Hurt you can I. Not good, yes?"

"Is my brother ok?"

Prrau Racharr looked a bit odd. "Define 'ok'"

"Is he well?"

"Yes. No harm he. Recover well."

"You'll excuse me if I don't believe you. Can I see him?"

"No. Not yet. Resting." Prrau tapped his display a few times and showed it to JB. On it was Chris lying on a table much like the one JB was currently strapped to. Next to it were a number of sensors. JB spotted one that looked like a heart beat and one that showed the slow rise and fall of respiration. Chris wasn't dead, but he appeared to be sleeping."

"Brother 'Screw You' sleeps. Recover well. Hoping you better. Need examine am."

JB weighed his options. Prrau Racharr was much larger than he was and JB had no idea what he was capable of. Myron reminded him that if he had intended on killing him, he would have already done so, likewise they would have no reason to study him if they were going to simply destroy the system. JB fired back that maybe they wanted to make a record of what was destroyed. Myron, ever efficient, simply pointed out that keeping records of genocide was a very bad practice. JB relented, for the time being. "I will not attack you."

"Good. Trust." Prrau Racharr released the straps holding JB in place. JB slowly sat up and rubbed his wrists. Prrau Racharr watched him, but made no threatening moves. JB had little doubt that there were quite a number of threatening moves Prrau had up his seafoam green sleeves.



"Garments remove please."

Several voices in JB's head raised concern. "May I keep this item?" He asked as he pointed to the Detective's mask he now wore.

"For now, yes. Need good scan. May need removing. Allowed garments once scan complete."

JB relaxed a bit at that.

"Good, please, limbs here, head here."

JB looked at Prrau in shock.

After a few seconds. Prrau leaned toward JB and said, "Joke." He laughed a strange grumbling laugh that didn't really help soothe JB's fears. Prrau took a device from a cabinet and pressed a switch as he watched his pad. A look of concern passed over his face and he pressed the switch a second time.

Prrau looked suspiciously at JB then took another device from the counter. This one had several pulsing lights and looked a bit more like what JB assumed an alien doctor would use. Prrau pointed it above JB, then slowly swept it down him, his eyes fixed on the pad he held. JB was suddenly quite interested as well and tried to see. Prrau grumbled something in his alien tongue that JB took for "Hold still."

Prrau raised the device and held it toward JB's face, then lowered it again to JB's chest. Twice more he repeated the scan. Prrau lowered the device and stared at JB. Prrau turned to put the device back when it swept passed JB's clothes. He stopped then waved the scanner over the jumbled garments.

He turned to look at JB and held a finger to the side of his head. "Remove please."

JB wasn't sure exactly what he meant.

"Not head, remove item."

Oh, the mask. JB did as he was requested. It was the first time that he had removed all of the Justice Furlong from himself. He felt… lonely.

Prrau scanned JB again. Then each of the garments, taking notes in a somewhat excited manner.

"Is something wrong?" JB asked.

Prrau stopped what he was doing for a second to respond. "No. Not sure. You well. Need to study. Almost done."

Prrau worked quickly. He sorted the items into groups, each group containing elements from the original outfits of the Justice Furlong. He carefully scanned them with a number of devices all the while mumbling and growling. Eventually he stopped and stood simply looking at the garments.

"Thing other." He said still looking at the garments. After a moment, he opened up a cabinet and fetched a long, narrow device. He then pulled out a number of smaller objects and placed a few on the counter. One rolled off and went past JB.

"Please?" Prrau asked. JB quickly turned and bent down to fetch the object. That's when he felt the probe being inserted, and yelped in surprise. "What the heck was that?" He shouted.

"That was the linguistics probe." Prrau said.

It took a second for JB to catch on to what had happened.

Prrau didn't speak in broken English that time, he was clearly understandable. Oddly, the only thing that seemed out of place was that JB didn't really hear Prrau speak. Well, he did, but Prrau spoke in his native tongue, JB just sort of understood what he was saying. The most disorienting thing occurred when he realized where he was "listening".

"I apologize for that. I cannot properly calibrate the probe for your species, so I had to find a position that would be the least likely to be fatal. Screw You had to be sedated. Go ahead and get dressed please.

JB's geek nature made itself known.

"How.. how does the probe work?"

"Pixies." Prrau stated.

"Excuse me?"

"I could tell you, but your translator wouldn't understand any of it. Even if it did, you wouldn't. Suffice to say that it works for what you need, and it should get you past the Stockholder."

JB was confused again. "The who?"

"You'll see soon enough. Look, just be thankful for now. Get dressed. You and your two associates are going to be placed in security until the Stockholder decides what to do with you." And with that, he left the room.

JB quickly got dressed, as he put on each item, the voices of the Furlong thankfully returned. Becky Sue was the first to ask. 'JB, what happened?'

"I'm not totally sure. The doctor thing, I guess he was a doctor, scanned me, then he scanned all of the clothes." JB said in reply. He spoke out loud finding his voice to be comforting.

'Fascinating. WHY did he SCAN the GARMENTS?', the Detective asked somewhat rhetorically.

"Again, I'm not positive. He sorted everything out into groups, basically putting all the bits of your old costumes together where he could. He didn't talk much and I couldn't see anything. Even if I could I don't know if it would have helped. How are all of you?"

'Well, we're all ok.' Becky Sue responded. 'Roger? Are you alright hun?'

Roger's timid voice responded. 'No. I didn't want to go back. I don't ever want to go back.'

'Roger, honey, we had to, and y'all knew that, right?'

Roger's voice was barely audible, 'yes'.

'JB wouldn't let you stay there, now, would he?'

"Never. I'm sorry Roger. You're back now, you'll be ok."

Roger didn't say anything. JB wondered where exactly 'there' was. He kept his thoughts private so as not to set Roger off, Becky Sue must have picked up on it anyway. She didn't say anything. She just sent him a quick image. It was of nothing. JB understood. In some ways, he and Roger were a lot alike.

The door slid open and JB did a quick doubletake.

Standing there was a massive suit of biomechanical armor. It was roughly humanoid, but clearly looked like something out of every single sci-fi flick he'd ever seen. Huge chrome pumps fed what must have been miles of flexible hosing that wove its way through motors and struts. The hands and feet were menacing looking claws that looked like it was well able to tear through the door rather than open it. Atop the frame was a large bowl like head that contained what looked like a squid. Two huge eyes stared out, unblinking, locking JB in their gaze.

The part that made JB do the double take was the pocket protector and matching pen and pencil set.

"Are you ready?" it asked JB.

"Uhm, ready?" JB asked, not really certain what to be ready for.

The squid blew a few bubbles. "To meet the stockholder. I'm his accountant Blrrblrr Glrrp. It is good to meet you."

It didn't really pronounce it's name, and JB wasn't really sure what to make of it, since the translator implant just kind of cut out.

"Blurbler glurp?" JB said in as close an approximation as he could.

"Thank you, although I prefer to think of myself more a tentacle being myself."

"Ah, well, my name is JB."

"blrr B?" The alien apparently had the same issues JB did. JB simply smiled and replied, "Well, not on tuesdays, that's when the chickens practice their yodeling."

Glrrp had no idea how to handle that and JB only wondered how his translator would handle the concept of "poultry yodeling". He could only hope.

"Yes, I understand.", Glrrp lied, "The Stockholder is waiting. We should go."

JB exited the room and waited for Glrrp to lead the way. They walked a short distance then Glrrp pressed a button on a second doorway.

Chris' scream announced Glrrp's next stop.

JB managed to talk Chris out of the cabinet and soothed his brother's nerves slightly.
"I thought you'd be used to the idea of the unexpected." JB asked.

"JB? How can I be used to something that by it's own definition means I could never be used to it? Look, an hour? Yesterday? Heck I'm not even sure how long we've been here, but we were in Boise, about to go get something to eat and suddenly we're in the hold of some freaky alien, we then get kidnapped by more freaky aliens who do God knows what to us so we can see even more freaky aliens. This can't be for real. I feel like we're part of some bad movie."

"Or web serial."

"A what?"

"A web serial. Like Darien Hammer."

"Who's Darien Hammer?"

"You've never read Darien Hammer?"

"JB, Nobody reads Darien Hammer because nobody reads web serials or whatever you called them. Look, JB, we're currently prisoners of a bunch of aliens!"


"And? AND? We're being escorted by a war machine."

"Technically," Glrrp corrected, "I'm an accountant."

JB and Chris took a few steps in silent confusion before Chris continued, "Ok, right, my bad, an alien war accountant."

"Uhm, no, just an accountant", Glrrp corrected again.

"Right, sorry, an accountant probably to some drooling nightmare alien that will suck out our brains…"

"No, the Stockholder is Jelvan."

"Ok.." Chris corrected himself slowly and with a bit of frustration. "some drooling nightmare Jelvan that will suck out brains and destroy our solar system."

"Well, I prefer nitrite rich loam, with a touch of phosphorus and a delightful hint of potassium, but I suppose I could try brain."

Chris and JB slowly turned to look at the Stockholder. Neither knew quite what to expect so it was quite impressive that they didn't scream in panic.

Will the Stockholder find JB and
Chris's brains fertile ground?

Why was the doctor so interested in JB's outfit?
My bet is that he was trying to figure out why anyone
would wear something like that in public

And where the heck is Zrng during all of this?

Tune in next time for

Fear the Ficus
Feeling Weak in the Trees

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