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part seven.
IP: 2.30.213.28

PART SEVEN

Lorraine had to have two more showers before she was satisfied that she'd gotten the lake germs off her. She and Mallos met quietly by the moat the next morning after Zed had already left. He looked like a man on a mission: he'd donned his famous black clothes again and was sporting a pair of sunglasses like he was a member of the Men in Black.

“You spoke to Etya?” She asked in a low voice, curling her fingers around a strand of hair.

“Yep,” he smiled – that charming smile which no nymph could resist. “I was concerned she wouldn't be discreet, though, so I enlisted the help of a couple of air nymphs who are going to shadow Zed for us.”

“Excellent,” Lorraine purred. “Get Zed's jobs done as fast as you can, then meet me back here. I'll handle Gwythr.”

He nodded, and they parted ways: him towards the shuttle port, and her back inside the Scipius, according to the plan they'd worked out the previous night. Lorraine had briefed Mallos as best as she could in the given time on the habits and ways of the satyrs and centaurs, and he in return had brought her up to speed on a number of details about Gwythr's life on Shaman which he'd omitted from the trial. Lorraine, like most of the other originals, still found the 'Shaman affair' difficult to swallow and had had a hard time trying to work out whose testimonies to believe. The little titbits Mallos gave her in the wee hours of the morning, while Zed had been snoring in the room next door, slotted in very well to the overall picture the trial had presented. He was probably telling the truth, on this occasion, but Lorraine had a well-deserved and long-ingrained habit of taking everything he said with a pinch of salt... as he probably did with her, too.

The Scipius was easy to navigate. Lorraine took a direct route, knowing that time was of the essence, and only knocked once on the door before entering. Gwythr was sat behind his desk working through a mountain of paperwork. His watery blue eyes were already on the door when she opened it, and they fixed her with the same, firm stare she knew all too well. Easily the most unbelievable part of the Shaman affair was the idea that Gwythr could have imitated Mallos at all, let alone for so long. They were polar opposites in every way. Gwythr was straight-backed, methodical, no-nonsense; he believed firmly in order and the power of a group over the power of an individual; a true Roman. Mallos, by comparison, was rightly a representative of chaos in a number of polytheistic religions. He was flexible (morally as well as intellectually), strongly independent and possessing a special kind of logic that no one else understood.

“Lorraine,” Gwythr sat back a little in his chair and put the pen down on the desk. “To what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?”

Lorraine slipped around the door, shut it behind her and sauntered across the room, a little smile playing at the corner of her lips.

“First chance I've had to be able to come and see you,” she walked through the open archway from the office to the living room and sank onto his sofa, concealing a repulsed shudder with a relieved sigh. “You can't imagine what it's like holed up on that stuffy little planet. How are you, darling?”

She heard Gwythr stand, shuffle his papers and scrape his chair backwards. After a moment he followed her into the living area, watching her with a neutral, slightly enquiring expression. Gwythr was one of the four highly trained diplomats on the council. It was rather widely acknowledged that Mallos was the best, which was as unsurprising as it was irritating. As Gwythr had been the first head diplomat – the original International Ambassador and then the Intergalactic Ambassador as soon as that role was created – it was safe to assume he was probably second best. Without a doubt, he'd be one of the toughest opponents in this game of word-chess that Lorraine had ever faced. She was going to have to keep her wits about her.

“As well as I can be, shut off from society as I am,” he declared, with what appeared to be genuine honesty. “Zed visited me yesterday. He tells me you've been involved in a spot of trouble on Shaman.”

Lorraine tossed her hair, delighted by the opening. “It was Mallos' fault. He provoked me, and I simply couldn't let the little demon get away with it.” She smirked. “I've had the last laugh, though. I got him to agree to do all my little jobs for Zed if I promised to come and... interrogate you.”

Gwythr actually laughed at that.

“What information does he hope you'll obtain?” He asked, amused. “Does he think I'm sat here whipping up evil plots from my dark lair?”

Lorraine mirrored his laugh, but sobered up quickly. She leant forward, keeping her knees pressed tightly together. “You're not evil, darling.”

“I know that.” He believed it, too; she could see it in his eyes. “Unfortunately Tsi and Zed don't share my values for common good. An odd pair in leadership, those two make.”

“Ugh,” Lorraine sat back and rolled her eyes expressively. “Fools, the pair of them. And Zed is obviously Tsi's second, so even if something happens to Tsi we won't be rid of them. The council needs a strong leader, especially now.”

Gwythr's eyes glinted. “Why now?”

“Surely you've heard? The nymphs are at our throats. Some kind of fairy-hating 'sisterhood' is blossoming.”

“As if the nymphs could ever be a threat to fairies,” Gwythr replied dismissively. “Unless Tsi and Zed are that incompetent?”

“Evidently so.”

“Oh dear,” Gwythr's voice was quiet – almost tender. “I worry for my race, Lorraine. I really do.”

This wasn't getting anywhere. Lorraine tried a different tack.

“Zed has too much power,” she grumbled. “He has Tsi's ear. Tsi defers to him for everything.”

“He's an idiot,” Gwythr agreed. “He was round here yesterday, prying into my affairs.”

Oh, was he now? Lorraine filed that information away. Clearly, Zed was more suspicious of Gwythr than he had let on.

Unfortunately, after that little nugget, the disgraced former Chairman didn't give up anything else. Lorraine eventually had to excuse herself or her frustration would have snapped her patience. She went back to her room and had another shower before finding Mallos at their designated meeting place, chatting to a couple of pale pink air nymphs.

“No luck,” Mallos said as he bade goodbye to the nymphs and turned to give Lorraine his full attention. “They lost him at the shuttle port. How did you get on?”

She relayed her conversation with Gwythr to him, trying not to feel too disappointed. Mallos just nodded.

“That's the best anyone could have got out of him,” he muttered, which was a rare and very high compliment. “At least we know Zed had reason to suspect him. I'll get a couple of my guys on Earth to have a poke around... see if we can find out what orders Gwythr's sending home.”

“Nothing else to do now except wait for Zed to return,” Lorraine sighed.

“He's already here,” Mallos jerked his head back towards the Scipius. “Come on. I want to hear what Elys and Anai said.”

* * *


Lorraine gave 'her' account of what had gone down with the satyrs and centaurs first, regurgitating the information Mallos had given her on their slow walk back to his and Zed's room. It wasn't very exciting. The centaurs had refused to speak to 'her' and the satyrs hadn't said much more than she'd gotten from them on the first day. Really, Lorraine reflected as she spoke... Mallos was a great diplomat, but only with other people. He was rubbish with animals and animal-based species.

He went next, telling them about his meeting with Coya and Kima. Coya had been... coy, refusing to appear anything other than neutral towards fairies, but Mallos had managed to secure loyalty from Kima – to him. She'd been very specific that it was to him and not the council. Zed gave him a hard look, which Mallos just shrugged off.

“Best I could do,” he said, without a trace of guilt or embarrassment. “Solar nymphs are sun-worshippers. Other gods are false to them.”

“Fair enough,” Zed sighed. “I managed to get Anai and Elys to agree to discussions with some of my diplomats, who I've already sent for. They should be here in a few days. In the meantime, we best head back to Shaman.”

That statement was met with stunned silence. Lorraine blinked.

“Wait,” she shook her head. “You mean we're just going to leave... now? We haven't accomplished anything!”

“On the contrary,” Zed countered, “we've accomplished a great deal. We've identified the situation and put all the necessary steps in place to counteract it.” He looked specifically at Mallos, who was frowning. “Unless you want to stay here for the months, potentially years, it will take to resolve?”

Mallos shook his head without hesitation, which was understandable to Lorraine. With hop-loops in short supply, there was no way he'd want to commit to spending months, possibly years, away from his family. Lorraine, of course, had no such qualms.

“I could stay,” she volunteered. “I could lead your diplomats - ”

“Out of the question,” Zed replied firmly. “You're not an intergalactic ambassador and the queens would rightly question it if you stayed. They might even take offence, as you primarily deal with animals. Come on, grab your loops.”

He strode out, leaving the other two with no doubts as to his seriousness. Mallos mouthed a swearword at Lorraine, who nodded back in agreement.

“Biggest waste of time mission ever,” she muttered under her breath as she picked up her loop. Mallos grunted.

“It wasn't a waste of time, we've been useful somehow.” His eyes narrowed. “I don't like being used when I don't know how or why.”

Lorraine was glad, in that moment, that she wasn't Zed or Tsi.


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    • part eight. -


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