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Whoo...It's been about forever since I uploaded anything! I'll try to get better about it, I promise. Anyway, this is something new--the occasionally-referred-to "Tinnik Rebellion."
Gana wheeled in the air, getting a fix on her target. He was too preoccupied with vandalizing the bus to notice her shadow passing over him. She dove.
The teenager looked up at the last second and screamed once before she came out of the dive just inches from his head and snatched him up with one outstretched arm. She secured the criminal and flew him up to let her waiting partner see what a non-threat this was.
*I'll let you have the next one,* she told Srail over the telepathic Grebsa Network.
*Good shift so far. I believe this is the fifth minor criminal we've caught between us.*
*We do need the manpower if we're ever going to get that tram rail repaired.*
Srail rolled his eyes. Some terrorists had blown up a section of tram rail in Tinnik Sector last week. They never seemed to realize that they were hurting humans more than Grebsas. After all, humans relied on the trams and buses for transport. Grebsas could fly. Besides, the Grebsas saved on labor costs by making human prisoners work for their keep.
They took the whimpering human to the jail and reported the incident to Commander Hran.
*You've been handling the small fry nicely. At this rate, we should have that tram finished by the end of the month,* Hran noted dryly. *How would you two like to go after bigger game?*
Gana had to admit she had been getting bored with purse snatchers and vandals. The only thing she liked better than stupid criminals was a real challenge.
*What do you have in mind, Commander?*
*We've had Shadows tracking the organization claiming responsibility for the tram rail. They report that the actual perpetuators are the fringe element of a larger group. How about you two come join me for supper at 1800 hours this evening? I'll give you the details then.*
*We'll be there.*
With that, he was gone from her mind. Gana checked her chronometer. It was only 1000 hours, so she had eight hours to wonder what their new assignment was going to be. She had a feeling she would happily strangle Hran by the time her shift was over.
Like all Enforcers, Hran resembled a great hawk-winged demon-lion. His gorilla-like stance only added to the demon element and, to anybody who met him in a dark alley, he truly did look like something out of Hell.
Of course, if anybody ever commented on the irony that his servants were like delicate little wolf-angels, he would have happily torn their heads off. The Guardians would have his head if he treated the Veroshi twins as anything other than dear friends who just happened to serve his meals, so he saw no reason to tolerate anything less from anybody else. They were just setting the table when he felt the slight mind-touches that were the Grebsa equivalent of a polite knock on the door.
*Come in,* he told his visitors.
Gana and Srail entered. The twins bowed to them and retreated to the kitchen.
*I hope this doesn't create too much work for your twins. I know the Guardians were reluctant to loan them out in the first place,* said Srail.
*I told them to make something simple. You know how the Veroshi can be, though. I'm sure I smelled Cornish hens.*
Gana curled her tail. *I got them to teach me how to make Cornish hens last time I visited Veroshi Sector. It's easy.*
The Veroshi served the first course. Hran watched Gana watching them maneuver the large bowls of onion soup and wondered if she wouldn't be happier with a reassignment. She could protest all she wanted, but he was positive she would make a wonderful Guardian. On the other hand, the Guardians had their own rules. They wouldn't accept anybody who didn't first become a Patron for a Veroshi sibling-set and that was reputedly a difficult thing for an Enforcer to do. He dismissed the matter as fast as it popped into his head. He had to concentrate on the matter at hand. He thanked the twins almost absent-mindedly and they retreated into the kitchen.
Srail asked, *So, who are these terrorists who are intent on disrupting mass transit, anyway? They don't seem too bright if they're wasting their resources on such minor things.*
*Like I told you earlier, that's just the fringe element. Ever hear of the Free Veroshi League?*
*I've heard the routine stuff. Sounds like the League is just a convenient excuse to have booze-driven rallies and the occasional riot.*
*Humans don't need a convenient excuse, Srail. We were never sure what sparked the riots in Challar Sector last year, remember?* Gana asked.
*He's basically correct,* Hran noted. *However, it looks like they're getting more solid leadership. You know what that means.*
*Rebellion?* Srail said without much enthusiasm. Once the Guardians got wind of this, the Enforcers would never hear the end of it. A few rallies were theoretically a good release of tension for humans, even if the organizers were spreading lies about the Veroshi. A rebellion based on those same lies was quite something else. *Well, it's been a couple of generations since the last really good one.*
*The Veroshi twist is new,* added Gana. *Humans generally think of us as co-rulers or something of the sort, and now they're saying our beloved friends are our slaves.*
*It needs to be put down before it gets out of hand,* said Hran. *The Shadows say it's still at the point where they can disorganize things with a few select assassinations, but I want to mobilize in case it backfires.*
He didn't state the fact that was obvious to all Grebsas. The Shadows wouldn't go through with the assassinations if there was any chance that they would be detected. It wasn't a weakness so much as professional pride. The unknown threat, they said, was always more fearsome than a known one. Hran agreed with them on that point. The Shadows were no good to anybody if they couldn't keep a low profile.
*Anyway, I'm promoting you two to captains. I'd like you to pick squads and start training with them. Don't do anything overt, but I wouldn't protest a few flyovers of the FVL rallies over the next week.*
Gana and Srail acknowledged their promotions and new assignments with slight bows from the shoulder. They weren't first-generation kittens to be bounding around in excitement as they received their first field assignments. The ranking Enforcers didn't hand out promotions lightly and certainly not to Grebsas who didn't know how to avoid transmitting their emotions all over the Network. These two could handle the responsibility Hran had in mind for them.
Amariyah Mayflower glanced up at the two armored squads of Enforcers flying over the rally in tight battle formation. They had done that at least once every evening for the past week. They didn't have to. She was positive there were Shadows scattered throughout the crowd, ready to report the minute details of this gathering or give a telepathic shout if things threatened to get out of hand.
More likely, they just wanted to make their human subjects nervous. The Enforcers could swoop down and pick people off at will without a lot of provocation. From the general attitude of the crowd, it seemed to be working. If Amariyah didn't get this party started, she would lose them altogether. She tapped the microphone to make certain it was working. Some of the people up front instantly quieted down.
"Hah! Look at those slavers with their fancy golden armor made by their Veroshi slaves! They force the poor, delicate pretties to do all their metalwork until they collapse from exhaustion. And why? So they can keep their hold of their Solar Empire! What do you say to that?"
The crowd roared its disapproval. It was pretty common knowledge that the Grebsas didn't make their own armor. The Veroshi did, and even worked in little symbols that were supposed to have cultural significance. Amariyah chose to interpret them as cries for help.
It was too bad that she had to rely on rhetoric for lack of hard proof. Perhaps the Shadows and some of the smarter humans in the crowd realized that. It still worked the crowd up nicely.
She was about to continue with her interpretation of those symbols when something large and heavy ran into her from behind and knocked her flat. At the same time, gunshots rang out from somewhere in the crowd and lodged themselves in one of the speakers behind her. The person who had just saved her life by tackling her rolled off.
"Sorry, Miss Mayflower. I really don't know what that futzer is thinking," he said with a musical accent that could have been Challar Sector.
"It's okay. And thanks, mister-?" She waited for a name.
"Robinson, Ma'am. Most people call me Owen."
She offered her hand. He shook it with a gentleness that seemed to conflict with his obvious size and strength. Then, she glanced out at the crowd. There was some scuffling going on where, presumably, the would-be assassin had been.
"Do you think that might have been a Shadow?" she asked.
"From what I heard about Shadows, I rather doubt it. They wouldn't risk having that many witnesses about." He shrugged. "But what do I know? The word of a Challar football player doesn't count for much."
"Oh, really? And what's a Challar football player doing in Tinnik Sector?"
"I like to travel during the off-season. I just felt like seeing what this Free Veroshi League of yours was."
That got a strangled laugh out of her. "We usually don't get murder attempts. Excuse me a moment-" She turned back to the microphone and tapped it, only to get a tortured squeal from the surviving speakers that made most of the crowd flinch. "Well, thanks to Mister Owen Robinson, here, for a timely tackle."
Some people, recognizing the name, let out cheers. It was pretty strange, she thought, that football had lasted for so many centuries when so many of its contemporaries hadn't. She wondered what the supposedly peaceful Veroshi would have thought of that if they knew. The Grebsas were certainly tolerant, perhaps thinking that if humans wanted to bash each other's brains out, it was no concern of theirs. Or perhaps they just thought that it was a good vent for certain people's aggressive tendencies. Whatever. She did her best to regain her train of thought...
Captain Deron waited in the Healing Center's waiting room with his head resting between his forelegs. It was the classic waiting pose of the Grebsa who doesn't expect trouble. He only stayed here because, as a male, he wasn't permitted to participate in the Veroshi birthing ceremony. He would receive word from the Healers attending his Special One soon enough.
Of course, he could break the anti-male taboo if there was any sign of trouble that the Healers couldn't cope with. That was probably why a Healer came to him with a worried look on her face. He lifted his head with his ears pricked alertly as she approached.
"Captain Deron? Your Special One had only a single infant and-well-"
Deron flickered an ear. No Veroshi would hesitate to tell him something unless they thought he would be displeased.
"Not stillborn, I hope."
"No, no, it is alive. Though it might be better if it wasn't. It's a black-fur."
Deron blinked. Black-furred Veroshi puppies were very rare and seen as a warning of the kind of disaster that could only be prevented by the gods. In this case, the gods were the Grebsas themselves. He promptly contacted Commander Karine and reported it.
She answered, *I'll tell Honor Line Stacen to get here as fast as he can.*
Deron raised an eyebrow. *Honor Lines never take it well when anybody less than a Commandrix gives them orders.*
*Tell me something I don't know. But he does have an interest in these black-furs. I would be surprised if he doesn't drop whatever he's doing and come here directly.*
Thanks to the wonders of the telepathic Grebsa Network, the entire exchange took only seconds.
"Karine says she'll contact Honor Line Stacen about it. Could I see Eran?"
The Healer nodded. "I'll bring her."
She fast-walked back into the maternity wing, perhaps eager to pass Eran off to a Guardian who knew how to handle the situation. Deron allowed his tail to flick while he waited. Perhaps one in ten thousand Veroshi had the recessive gene for black fur. He wouldn't have forbidden the mating even if he had known that both Eran and her chosen mate had it. They made such a beautiful couple.
The Healer led Eran to him. Her steps dragged as she walked over to him with her puppy in her arms. She couldn't deny that it was hers, not when half a dozen Healers and assistants had witnessed the birth.
"I'm sorry, Deron," she whined.
"It's not your fault, ruan," Deron used the endearment that translated as "Jewel." He looked down at the newborn just as the little girl yawned and snuggled closer to her mother's breast. "See, this little cutie doesn't know she's different at all. I see no reason to penalize you or her for it." He extended his wings to Eran. "A black-fur is never a bringer of trouble. How about we settle matters here and then we can go back to the apartment and get her settled in. I did ask Karine to contact Honor Line Stacen about it."
Eran gave him a shy smile. To her Veroshi mind, everything would be all better once Stacen got here from Earth, and never mind that it would take him a year. With Denor's reassurance, the Healers ran through the standard health checks and confirmed what he had said. The newborn was a perfectly healthy puppy. Finally, Eran and the puppy rode home on his back.
He adjusted his wings to land on the balcony and heard Eran whine anxiously. She wasn't looking forward to facing her siblings. Feigning unconcern, he let her dismount before pressing his thumb against the thumbprint reader.
"It's okay, ruan. I'll help you with everything. Isn't that what a Patron is for?"
She patted his shoulder, mostly to reassure herself. As soon as they entered the apartment, his other two Special Ones flew over. Then, they cried out in horror.
They promptly turned to their Patron for an explanation.
"There has been talk of a possible human rebellion," he said quickly. "We can still stop it. If it gets out of hand, well, we'll just make certain they never get into Veroshi Sector. We would rather destroy ten human sectors than see them harm even one of you. We've done it before and we will again."
All three of them crowded around Deron, wanting only to hug him. He gave each of them kisses, even the little black-fur who squeaked and wiggled at the feel of his tongue. The Veroshi yipped in laughter. That possibly did more for them than anything he could say.
Stacen would have snarled in annoyance at the news of the black-fur if he wasn't having his mane curled by four of the best professional groomers. He didn't want them thinking they were hurting him or making him angry in any way. They didn't deserve that. However, this meant he would have to travel to Mars.
He couldn't blame the youngster for being born, but, well, the timing was inconvenient. In a week, he was due for his annual fur-cut. It was a ritual the Veroshi especially enjoyed, since it provided them with Grebsa fur for their winter clothing.
The groomers seemed to sense his spike of annoyance anyway. That spike only came when he had to leave Veroshi City for any reason.
"Are you all right, Stacen?" their leader asked.
"I'm fine. Commander Karine just informed me of a black-fur that was just born in Veroshi Sector on Mars."
The groomers all winced. Stacen disapproved of their belief that a black-fur was a curse, not that he ever talked about it at length. Naturally, they knew what he would have to do as the Patron God of black-furred puppies and other outcasts.
"I wish you didn't have to go," said the youngest with a bit of whimper in her voice.
"I know, dearling. I feel the same way. I doubt I'll be able to leave before tomorrow, though. Maybe we can have my fur cut in the morning."
They wagged their tails without much enthusiasm. They knew he wouldn't leave Veroshi City for a round trip to Mars that would last at least two years if he had a choice. They just hated not having the chief Honor Line of the Guardians to love and pamper as much as Veroshi could hate anything.
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