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The Quibell Abduction

By Lillian Sheperd
Page 2 of 24

      She had found Quibell's flattery sweet enough, Drew thought in annoyance. He put the thought aside and set himself to be charming. "Not flattery," he corrected her. "Honest opinion."

      She smiled slightly, not contradicting him.

      "I know who you are," he went on. "You're Lenore Wing and you come from Mjolnir."

      "Correct, Captain."

      "I've heard that's a very cold planet. Do you like Ararat?"

      "It was once very beautiful."

      Drew looked hard at her, again suspecting irony, and again seeing none. "The people here think that they have improved its beauty."

      "Perhaps." She turned to look out to the black sky and the black water where the stars shining in one and reflected in the other made it impossible to see where one ended and the other began.

      Drew moved closer to her. "You're not enjoying the party?"

      "Oh, but I am." She smiled brilliantly at him. "Len is a very kind man."

      "Kind?" Drew was startled. "He has a reputation for being totally ruthless - cut-throat, in fact."

      "And Federation Security does not?" Lenore asked, with such sharpness that Drew was taken aback. Then she went on, more gently, "You are a soldier. You must do what is necessary. It is the same in the business world, Captain."

      Drew realised that he had committed a faux pas. Ras Quibell was part of the business world and probably every bit as ruthless as Len Boler. Lenore would naturally defend him.

      The best thing to do seemed to be to drop the subject of Boler and Quibell and talk about something else. Talking about himself had always been Drew's favourite occupation and his easiest subject, and he fell back on it now. "I'm hardly a soldier; more of a policeman." He immediately detected her scepticism. Damn it, the F.S.F. did have an unpleasant reputation. "This is a civilised world, Lenore. Its citizens are peaceful and loyal. No rebels. No malcontents. The Federation doesn't need a military presence."

      "It appears to be a contented world," Lenore agreed cautiously. "Tell me, then, if you are not a soldier, what work you do here. You say you are a policeman, yet I am sure that I have seen members of a local police force."

      "Yes. Local. We don't bother with local crime, except that of a political nature, of course. Our province is crime that involves offplanet citizens, anything with a... wider... view. And anything that involves the Federation, of course."

      "Of course. It seems I have been misinformed." Her face was serious but Drew had the uncomfortable feeling that she was laughing. "I thought that Federation Security was present here to remind us all how insignificant we are compared to Federation power."

      Drew was suddenly uneasy. Federation officers had standing orders to attend such gatherings as this in full uniform. Had Lenore hit on the reason? He had not suspected such shrewdness in someone so fragile... but before he could follow the thought to its conclusion, Lenore was saying, "So you are really a detective, Captain?"

      "Yes. Sort of."

      "You must tell me all about the mysteries you solve. What case are you working on now?"

      Drew hesitated. He wanted to look as clever and important as possible in Lenore's eyes, and the best way to do that was to tell her about his special theory, but Katrin had put a classified tab on that. Besides, he didn't want to alarm Lenore. He regretfully abandoned the idea and decided to amuse her instead. "Would you believe the theft of a number of exotic animals?"

      "Animals?"

      "Yes. A small shipment bound for the Canaan zoo vanished from the spaceport. The location made it my business. It's not the first time it's happened, either. All I can think of is that someone is collecting a private menagerie!"

      "Or simply does not like to see animals imprisoned."

      "Well, hardly. Not all of the beasts were taken. Why would an 'All-Life-Is-One' crank only free some of them? Besides, we can't find a trace of any of them. Where have they gone?"

      "I do not know."

      "I mean, what do tassals, reastigs, a whalu-"

      "Lenore." It was Quibell's voice, from just behind them. As they turned, they saw him coming quickly towards them. Drew noticed, with surprise, how lightly he moved. It belied his greying hair. That surely must be premature, for he looked younger when seen at close quarters and there was an air about him that was quite impressive. Drew tried to place it. Power, perhaps?

      That did not seem quite right...

      "I see that you're well protected," Quibell was saying to Lenore.

      "Ras, this is Captain Patel. Captain, my boss, Ras Quibell."

      Quibell nodded curtly. Drew, rather embarrassed, nodded in return.

      "Captain Patel has been telling me about his work," Lenore went on.

      "Interesting," said Quibell, showing no sign of interest. His dark eyes surveyed Drew's slim, handsome figure with no sign of being overly impressed. Not for the first time, Drew wished for another twenty centimetres of height and fifteen kilos of muscle. "Well, remember we have to go back to the hotel soon, Lenore, if we're going to get an adequate night's sleep. I'll make our excuses to Boler and meet you at the aircar in fifteen minutes."

      As Quibell strode away, Drew asked, "Do you really have to go so soon?"

      "Ras is right. This is to be our last night on Ararat and-"

      "Oh, no!" It was quite involuntary.

      "We travel with our cargo and we leave at twenty two hundred tomorrow."

      "But that means I won't see you again!"

      "Did you expect to, Captain?" Again, he could not dismiss the impression that, despite her serious face and naive air, she was laughing at him.

      "I hoped to. Let me at least walk you to your aircar."

      "Why, thank you. It is pleasant to talk to you." She took his offered arm.

      As they strolled through the gardens beside the lake, Drew formed and discarded half a dozen schemes of varying illegality to keep her on Ararat. The difficulty was that all the feasible ones needed Katrin's co-operation and she was unlikely to be amenable to furthering his love-life. He bent his head towards Lenore, savouring the perfume that lingered about her bright hair. He wondered if she would let him kiss her good-bye. Probably an attempt to do so would spoil any chance he had with her but it was the only opportunity he was likely to get.

      They stopped on a tiny promontory to admire the view and Drew moved his arm to hold her warm body closer. She made no objection beyond an initial tightening of her muscles.

      "Are you sure that you want to go back to Mjolnir?" he whispered.

      "I have to go."

      "Where Quibell goes, you go, huh?"

      "That is correct."

      As Drew muttered "You can carry loyalty too far," and turned to kiss her, she twisted deftly out of his embrace.

      "We will be late," was all that she said, but he knew that it was a rebuke. He was silent as she led the way back to the main pathway.

      As they rejoined it, they saw Quibell ahead of them, in company with Boler himself and - to Drew's horror - Katrin Shaw. Lenore began to walk faster, plainly trying to catch them up. Then suddenly she stopped, staring out into the lake.

      "I thought I saw..."

      The starlight was glinting not only on the ripples but on the glossy back of a creature rising out of the black water. That back was a dome about two metres across and above it rose a curving tail or proboscis. Drew stared at it, memory teasing at him.

      Then, "Close your eyes!" he yelled, grabbing Lenore and putting her head down against his chest and flinging up his left arm to cover his eyes.

      A bulbous organ at the end of the creature's tail blazed like a captive sun. The night shone brighter than the brightest day. Even through his closed eyelids, Drew was blinded by it. Several voices shouted in fear and protest.

      Then the light was gone. Drew opened his eyes, but the blackness of the night and the after-images floating on his retina made it impossible to see. He blinked rapidly, trying to dispel them.

      "What was it?" Lenore's voice was surprisingly calm. Drew had expected her to panic.

      "I think... a whaluma. One of the stolen animals I told you about. From Atlantis... but how did it get here, now?"

      His vision was clearing. Blurred figures moved before him. He was sure that some of those figures were not human... long, narrow, sinuous... gerns. Then he saw what was happening now with shattering clarity. One of the gerns was on the ground, wrapped around a struggling woman. Two men were lifting a third between them into the back seat of an open-topped aircar. Another gern looped in after them.


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