Sorry about lateness, it's been a busy day.
Nice to get replies! (at last!
In the darkness of that night Dekas and Stivik lost track of the female crossbreed. They knew, however, that they were close now, and five days later they were confident of catching it when they got a message from the vykkers over the radio.
Stivik, who took the message, came back to the pack looking angry. “Well, they’ve decided they don’t
want us to catch her now, just to keep track of it. Apparently
they’ve got some amazing method of catching it without hurting it.”
Dekas looked equally angry, “And without paying us, I assume?”
“I would guess so,” Stivik confirmed. “Apparently they’ve got some tracker in the jeep so they can find us quickly. They said they’re coming down here and will arrive this afternoon some time.”
There were groans from the sligs and Braz asked, “But if we catch it before they arrive they can’t complain, can they?”
“Yes they can,” Tilic replied sharply, “If we injure it or even drug it they can complain at us, and could take our pay for the other one. These vykkers have been reasonable so far. They might pay us something for tracking it down, even if they end up catching it.”
Dekas grumbled quietly. Tilic chose to ignore it and set them up in watches to keep them occupied, though as they were miles from any settlement, industrial or native, it wasn’t in any way necessary.
By the early afternoon they had given up watching, however, and the six of them were gathered in the camp trying to fight off boredom. Braz was dozing, somewhere between sleeping and waking, Tilic was cooking a meal over a campfire, Dekas was leaning back against a tree, brooding, and Stivik and Burn had found a productive use of the time, teaching Nen to play ‘Happy Families’ (and winning a fair amount of Nen’s money in the process).
Tilic, watching over Burn’s shoulder and was aware that he had been cheating for most of the game, which explained Nen’s complete confusion, but since cheating was a perfectly legal part of any game for sligs (assuming of course that you were good enough at it not to get caught) he didn’t mention anything to Nen. He had to learn sooner or later anyway.
Just as Nen’s funds were beginning to reach dangerously low level, a noise in the undergrowth distracted them
Braz sat up quickly and the other 5 sligs all turned. Suddenly the crossbreed they had been looking for emerged from the bushes and sniffed towards Tilic’s cooking. Then it seemed to notice the sligs for the first time and froze, staring at them.
The sligs all froze, staring at the crossbreed.
Dekas yelled and leapt at the thing. It wailed and bolted back into the bushes. Within a second five of the sligs had run out of the camp after it. Tilic was left on his own. In a last futile attempt he yelled, “Leave her alone! We’re supposed to be…” He trailed off, aware that it was useless. With an angry grunt he dumped himself on the ground next to his cooking and jabbed at the campfire more viciously than was necessary.
* * *
An hour later a jeep pulled up beside the five sligs. They were a short way down a narrow canyon at a point where it split into three separate routes. The crossbreed they were chasing had managed to leave prints a long way up all three passages and the sligs were somewhat confused.
Tilic jumped down from the jeep, looking livid and carrying a number of guns. The vykker, Steinix, came down behind him. “What in Odd’s name do you think you were doing, running off like that, when we’d been told to stay put?” Tilic sounded as angry as he looked. “You know what I found back in camp?” There was puzzled looks from the other five sligs. Tilic dropped a couple of tranquiliser guns on the ground in front of them. “I don’t give a damn who, but two of you are loading bullets!” The four younger sligs frantically began examining their weapons. Nen suddenly looked nervous and Stivik stiffened sharply. Tilic went on, “Do you guys have any idea what kind of trouble we’d have been in if you two had shot that thing? I’d-”
“Tilic!” Hissed Dekas suddenly, cutting him off. Dekas raised his gun and pointed it over Tilic’s shoulder.
“Shoot that thing and you’ll be breathing through a machine for the next five years.” The male crossbreed had come down from the jeep behind Steinix. It went to the divide between the three passages and examined the paw prints leading up each one. Then it raised its head and let out a long, low call. A few seconds later an answering call echoed back.
“Get out of here guys,” Muttered Tilic.
“You heard me. I’ll be getting a lift back to the camp as soon as they’ve finished clearing up your mess. If you’re not back before me you’ll walking back to their lab.”
The five sligs exchanged glances, Dekas looked defiant, but the other four soon turned and headed quickly back towards the camp. Dekas stayed a second longer to look angry and then ran after them.
* * *
The six sligs spent a night of brooding silence in their camp and Nen drove them back to the lab the following day. Tilic quickly went off to talk to the vykkers and emerged an hour later with an expression on his face that suggested he was happy but didn’t want to show it. “Well, you’ll be glad to hear that despite you guys acting like idiots they’ll still be paying us the full price for the first crossbreed and half again for the second.”
There were various sounds and expressions of relief and glee from the other five sligs. “You got the cash now?” Stivik asked.
Tilic nodded, “It’s with our stuff.” He hesitated. “Listen guys… Remember before Stack was killed, he had… Well, we had a reputation, you know. People respected us. They recognised that we were some of the best money could buy.” He smiled uncomfortably. “A reputation like that doesn’t come easy. It took us a long time to build it up and now we gotta start building from the ground again…” He looked at the other sligs slowly, “Alright, I can forgive you what happened out there yesterday. It’s the first big job we’ve had since Nen joined us and we were all excited and none of us wanted to get cheated out of the moolah,” He took a deep breath, reaching the pinnacle of his speech, “But as far as those vykkers are concerned we screwed up. If we want a reputation that’ll get us paid well we can’t have these mistakes floating over our heads. So I got us some more work with these vykkers, to get back on there good side, you know, so they won’t bother us over the crossbreed. It’s nothing exciting; just guarding the compound in case any muds or animals come knocking, and helping out with the crossbreeds when they need it.”
The sligs had been hoping this particular job would lead on to others like it, and it was much more exciting than farming, or guarding some lab in the middle of nowhere, and there were some groaning and complaining, except from Burn and Nen who both felt that they had had enough excitement to last them for a while.
“There are no muds,” Tilic added, “And they pay’s not too bad.” Dekas, Stivik and Braz continued to look unenthusiastic. “And if you’ve got a problem with it you can remind yourselves that we’re in this situation because you idiots
disobeyed orders. Burn, I want you and Nen to get a train down to civilisation tomorrow and cash in that money. We all start work this afternoon so get some rest now.”
The next week was long and boring for the trained scouts, even for Burn, who found himself now doing little more than guard-work, which was exactly what he’d hoped to avoid in becoming a scout. Tilic seemed to cheer up quickly at the start of the week, probably because they were back working in an organised way and he was more assured of keeping control.
As they were all assigned to different tasks around the compound, they saw less of each other than they were used to, though they met up at night when they were all off duty, Tilic was spending a lot of time with the vykkers and they saw less and less of him, though they all noticed that as the first week moved into the second his mood dropped again and he seemed nervous. Nen asked him at one point if there was anything wrong. Tilic laughed off the question, somewhat unconvincingly.
Two days before they were due to leave the lab, Tilic called them together to meet in one of the guard towers around the compound. Stivik arrived about five minutes before the organised meeting time to find Braz reclined in a chair reading a three-days-old newspaper. Stivik glanced at the headline, “Magog on the March: MORE NEWS ON BREWERY MELTDOWN!”
“What’s going on now?” Stivik asked, gesturing to the paper.
Braz glanced at his, turned to the front page and read, “’Rumor Kontrol reports that Abe, the terrorist mastermind behind the destruction of Rupture Farms, is also behind the Soulstorm Brewery atrocity.’” Braz looked over the paper and glared at him, “Looks like you were wrong about that Abe guy, Stivik.”
Stivik grunted and muttered, “I still say it’s Rumor Kontrol making it up for the story.”
“Yeah, well… And would you believe the price of mudokons is rising now?”
Stivik made a noise in sliggish that suggested that he didn’t believe it.
“It’s true. Apparently, rather than getting rid of the muds thinkin’ they’ll attract the terrorists, now all the gluks want to buy them because there’s less of them around.”
“Huh. Does it seem to you that glukkons get stupider with every passing day?”
Braz grinned. Burn and Nen came in then, and they shared jokes about glukkons and mudokon terrorists and Rumor Kontrol’s conspiracies. They were laughing and jeering when Dekas and Tilic joined them, and the grim faces of the two sligs silenced them quickly. Dekas looked like he’d just been shouting about something, and Tilic looked more nervous than ever. As Dekas crossed the room and muttered as he passed Stivik, “You’re not
going to like this.”
Silence settled among them and Tilic stood awkwardly, pacing across the room. Dekas was watching him viciously and the eyes of the other four sligs crossed from one figure to the other. Tilic eventually spoke. “I’ve offered to work for these vykkers permanently.”
This statement was followed by another long silence until Nen spoke. “So you’re leaving us?”
“No…” Tilic hesitated. “I’m hoping you guys will join them, to.” He looked at them hopefully, and stared at Stivik. “That means no more scouting.”
Stivik opened his mouth to answer, but Dekas beat him too it. “You can’t hide this from them, Tilic. Tell them what they’re signing up for.” He sounded angry, betrayed. Tilic took a deep breath before speaking.
“These vykkers… are putting together… a lot
of these creatures. That thing we chased after for them was one of the things they’re making. There are just 12 at the moment, but they’re working on making more. The reason they paid us so much was because they wanted our job kept secret from the Cartel.”
“I’m not liking where this is going,” Burn muttered.
It was Dekas who spoke again, with his eyes on Burn. “The vykkers are making an army to send against the Magog Cartel. They’re sick of obeying orders and want a new social structure with vykkers at the top.”
“That’s not what I said,” Tilic said quickly, but was cut off again by Dekas.
“Our fearless leader is signing us up to play traitors against the Magog Cartel.”
“It’s not like that,” Tilic shouted down the other slig, “I’m giving you the choice to join or not. I don’t want to force you into it, but I don’t agree with everything the Cartel does. I know none of you are satisfied about what they do.”
Nen answered, “Small complaints, no one on Mudos is happy with their job, but this?”
Tilic nodded, but went on. “And what if there’s something to this mudokon terrorist business?” All six of them glanced reflexively at Braz’s newspaper, which now lay open on the floor. “The industrial world is changing and I don’t want to be at the bottom of the pecking order when it collapses, to have everyone else crash down on top of us. Unless we change things, the sligs could come out worse in all this.”
“This Abe thing is rubbish,” Braz declared, though he sounded doubtful, “Rumor Kontrol making up stories to win TV ratings!”
Stivik spoke up then. “And what if we refuse, Tilic?” There was a long silence. “You’ve given us the choice, but what if we say we don’t want to join your rebellion? You’re going to let us wander off after you’ve told us all this?”
Tilic hesitated before speaking again. “I trust you guys.”
“How much do you trust us?”
“I’ve put my life in your hands plenty of times.”
“This is more than your life, and you know it, Tilic.” Stivik stared at his leader. “How much do you trust us?”
“I trust you enough!… But guys, think about this. You think I just jumped into this decision myself? Think about what we could gain from it; sligs could become more than what we are now, no more getting duped by the Cartel. Isn’t that what we’ve all wanted?”
“And what about this terrorist stuff?” Dekas demanded, “You think they’ll give up just cus the glukkons get overthrown? You can’t honestly say you think muds won’t attack a vykker government any less than they do glukkons?”
“Look,” Stivik interrupted, “Tilic, you gotta give us time to make up our minds about this. It’s not a decision we can exactly make in half an hour… Give us till tomorrow. Let us discuss this, and then we’ll tell you what we decide on.”
Tilic nodded, “Tomorrow then… Look guys, I’m sorry about this, but-”
Dekas swore loudly in sliggish. Tilic took the hint and left the room, leaving them alone.
A few minutes past in silence, finally broken by Burn swearing, “This is pretty terrible.”
Dekas glared at Stivik, “Don’t tell me you’re thinking about joining his crusade?”
“Don’t be an idiot,” Stivik muttered, “But I can’t exactly tell him we’re refusing, at least not until we decide what to do.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
do we tell him we’re refusing and leaving, or do we just leave without telling him, or…” Stivik looked around at the others, “Maybe we should get the Cartel involved. Tell them about what’s going on here.”
“That’ll mean bad things for Tilic,” Nen said quietly.
Stivik nodded. “But surely not telling them about what’s being planned here would be as bad as helping them out? I mean, these vykkers would still try and launch their attack, and if they succeed because we didn’t say anything…”
“So what are you suggesting,” Braz asked him darkly.
“That’s it, I don’t know. But we’ve got till tomorrow to decide.”