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The Quibell Abduction

By Lillian Sheperd
Page 3 of 24

      Lenore gasped and broke away from him, racing in panic-stricken blindness towards the aircar. One of the men standing at the vehicle turned - he was naked, and Drew realised that he must be one of the gern-dancers - and raised a gun. Drew hurled himself after Lenore. An energy bolt seared towards them. Somehow it missed Lenore and shattered a small tree, which burst into green flame. Then Drew reached her and threw her to the ground, pinning her flat. In her panic, she struggled frantically, and Drew found it difficult to hold her down. She was stronger than she looked. Raising his head, he saw that the man with the gun was climbing into the aircar. There was an unknown man in the driver's seat. The captive in the rear, held by the coils of a gern, was Ras Quibell. His head lolled sideways, as if he was unconscious, or dead. Another of the gern-dancers sat beside him.

      It was Katrin Shaw who was struggling with the other gern, her legs kicking. Light glinted on the handgun she was trying to bring to bear, but the gern had a loop about her body, fastening her arm to her side. Her struggles were becoming more and more feeble as the noose tightened. Then there was a flash of light and a small explosion. The gern went limp.

      Instantly, the aircar leapt upward and shot away across the lake.

      Drew climbed to his feet and helped Lenore to hers. She was dusty and shaking, her eyes wild and bright and her face pale.

      "Are you all right?" he asked.

      "They took Ras," she said, and there was a small shake in her voice.

      "I'm sorry."

      "Captain Patel!"

      Drew started at the angry voice.

      Katrin had freed herself from the dead gern and was on her feet, the tiny gun she carried on these formal occasions still in her hand. Her small, rather plain face was flushed and her blue eyes angry, her dark hair tousled. "Get this place sealed off!" she shouted as she ran towards the official aircar in which she and Drew had arrived. "And check the registration of that... that gern. I'm going after them!"

      The door of the aircar slid shut as she started the engine, then she rocketed off in pursuit.

      Boler staggered towards Drew, rubbing his eyes. "Patel? Is that you? I can't see... What happened?"

      "Someone grabbed Quibell."

      "Grabbed?" Boler queried, stupidly.

      "Snatched. Kidnapped. Look after Lenore," Drew ordered. "I've got to get to a compoint." He started to run but, at the turning, he glanced back. Lenore was standing on the spot where Quibell had been abducted. Her hands were clenched into fists at her sides as she stared out at the darkness into which he had been taken. It was Drew's last view of her for some time. Certainly, he was already well out of sight when she bent down and picked up something lying on the sea-moss. She stood looking at it for some time, until Boler stumbled over to her and put his arm about her, partly for her comfort, but mainly for his own.

      

      

It was nearly an hour before Drew was able to think about returning to Lenore and Boler. Katrin, he soon discovered, had the airwaves buzzing and Security personnel racing to join her. The civilian police had been notified and had gate-crashed the party to help Drew, who had set them to interviewing the guests.

      Drew himself questioned the remaining gern-dancers...

      No, dear boy. they were not a 'troop'. Vulgar word. Gern-dancers were individual artistes...

      Well, yes, they did perform together, but only as a favour to Len Boler... such a good patron, if inclined to ask for spectacle rather than the subtle artistry that-

      Actually, they had never seen the missing dancers before. They must have been from the provinces. Brilliantly trained gerns, but the dancers themselves lacked expression. Technically good, but technique was nothing without artistic genius. Gern-dancing expressed the soul-

      No. They hadn't spoken to them. A gern-dancer needed quiet before a performance to focus the inner spirit-

      Drew snarled at them in his best tough-Federation-officer manner, but that only offended them. He gained nothing but their resentment and withdrew, smouldering.

      Next, he dragged the agent who arranged all Boler's entertainments out of his bed to answer the viscom. Ten minutes of arguing at cross-purposes produced the information that the agent had booked only six gern-dancers, though eight had performed. And no, he did not know who the extra two might be. As gerns were dangerous animals they had to be marked and registered. Why didn't the Captain try that angle?

      The Captain already had, but the body of the dead gern was unmarked. He arranged for the police to run a check on registered gern owners but knew that it would be useless. He was already sure that this was another of what Katrin referred to as his 'pet kidnappings'. It had taken place under his nose, too, and all he had done was to knock Lenore flat. No doubt that action had saved her life, but he had the feeling that she would not love him for it.

      He went to find her.

      She was with Boler in the beach house, in a comfortable lounge where a real - and unnecessary - fire flickered in a stone grate. Lenore sat very upright in her chair, looking vulnerable and rather pathetic, a fur-lined firesilk cloak wrapped about her shoulders and a small glass of brandy held tightly in both hands.

      "Is there any news?" she asked eagerly, as Drew entered.

      "I'm sorry... but no."

      "Damn it, man. You and Commander Shaw were right on the spot," Boler exploded. "Is this the way that you protect Federation citizens?"

      "We're doing all we can, sir. Commander Shaw is out there right now, looking for the kidnappers. Meanwhile, I need your full co-operation." He sat down opposite Lenore, wanting to take her hands but resisting the temptation because it didn't feel right with Boler watching them. "Lenore... can you think of anyone who would want to kidnap Quibell?"

      She shook her head.

      "It's obvious, man," Boler snapped. "Quibell's one of Terraformers' top executives and a major shareholder, and I need hardly remind you that Terraformers are one of the richest commercial concerns in the Federation. They'll pay a fortune to get him back."

      "Perhaps, but Mjolnir is a long way from Ararat, and there are equally tempting local targets. Yourself, for example," Drew retorted.

      "That sounds very logical, Captain, but why else would anyone kidnap Ras?" Lenore asked.

      "Does he have any personal enemies?"

      Lenore hesitated. "Of course he has personal enemies," she said, finally. "All men have enemies. But kidnapping..." She shook her head.

      "She's right. The business world has its own methods of revenge and they don't include abduction." Boler frowned. "Perhaps they aren't after money. Information, maybe? What about that special order of yours, Lenore? Some of that represents new technology."

      "But Ras isn't a scientist! He can't give them... give them..." Lenore covered her face with her hands.

      Boler touched her shoulder. "Then we will have to wait for their demands."

      Lenore raised her head and smiled tentatively up at him, but Boler was watching Drew. "You don't seem very interested in this, Captain."

      "I assure you, I am interested."

      There was a flurry in the doorway and Katrin strode in. Lenore jumped to her feet, dislodging Boler's hand. "Have you found Ras?"

      Katrin's blue eyes met Lenore's brown ones. "No." She turned on Drew. "Damn it, there was no way I could have lost them. I had the aircar on my detectors. I was closing on it. I know it went into the Ottan Cavern. I couldn't have been mistaken - but when I followed it in, it had vanished."

      "Perhaps it left the cavern by another route," Lenore suggested.

      "Couldn't have," Katrin snapped. "Ottan's just a hole in the cliff. Goes back two hundred and fifty metres and stops dead."

      "There could be another passage somewhere. A hidden crack in the rock."

      "Sorry, Lenore," Drew said quietly. "No way."

      Boler said, "They're right. There have been complete surveys. and probably much more detailed ones by the local children since Ararat was colonised two hundred and ninety four years ago. I explored it myself when I was about ten, on an AG raft. Must have examined every square millimetre." He eyed Katrin coldly. "You must have been mistaken about that aircar, Commander."

      "I know. I know. This begins to look more and more like one of your 'special case' abductions, Drew."

      Drew waggled his eyebrows at her, trying to signal to her not to pursue the subject, but Boler pounced on Katrin's words.


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