Chapter 31: Diversion
As the kids sank into drug-induced sleep, the orange light of a Gorlockan morning streamed through the open window of Lady Jaya’s private quarters. She shifted in her sleep, them sat up and stretched. She had barely opened her eyes when there was a loud knock on the door. Throwing her feet over the side of the bed, she rose.
She drew the strings on her dressing gown a little tighter before opening the door. The young male Gorlock on the other side stood to attention, clapping a hand to his shoulder in a gesture of respect.
“This had better be good, corporal,” she muttered, rubbing her head.
“I am sorry to disturb you in your private quarters, Lady Jaya, but I have a rather unusual circumstance to report.”
“Milady, it seems that for the last hour or so, there has been a young girl standing outside who claims to have vital information for you. Normally I would not listen to such a small child, but her story was quite extraordinary…”
“What sort of information did she say she had, corporal?”
He continued on nervously. “Information, apparently, on the defection of Aurora, Nav Aksha’at, and…April.”
Lady Jaya whirled around and grabbed her overcoat from its peg on the wall. Swiftly wrapping it around herself, she slipped on a pair of shoes and stepped into the hall. “Take me to her.”
“In…in your…night clothes, milady?” he stammered, even more nervously than before.
Flushing in embarrassment, the corporal saluted sharply and obeyed. A few minutes later, Lady Jaya stepped out into the courtyard in the center of the capitol building. She briskly crossed the mossy stone tiles to where a pair of burly Gorlock guards was waiting.
“Where is the girl?”
“Here I am, Lady Jaya!” Nakki brashly strode forward, pushing aside one of the guards. “Milady, I…”
“Who are you?” snapped Lady Jaya.
Nakki forced a falsely sweet, subservient expression. “Nakki Dee-aye-AH, Bilka’s daughter from the lake encampment, your ladyship. I have very important information for you!”
“So I hear,” remarked Jaya dryly. “Well, what is it? Speak, and be quick about it.”
“Last night, my sister Wenna and I left camp along with the other villagers to hunt down a rogue wild boar that had been sighted in the jungle. My pathetic sister was afraid to hunt the beast, and so she snuck away and went back to our tent. I followed her to teach her a lesson, but when I got back to camp, I found that it was not empty! Aurora and April – and the Samarkandi and those weird little aliens – were there, and they were planning treasonous things!”
Lady Jaya leaned forward, her expression earnest. “What kinds of things?”
Nakki recounted the details of Aurora’s plan with astonishing accuracy for someone so young, pausing to embellish the tale with details of her own bravery. All the while, Lady Jaya listened intently.
“…When I confronted them, April's fiancé – you know, the Samarkandi – caught me. I tried to escape by biting his hand, but it was made of metal…” Nakki opened her mouth and indicated a chipped incisor and bloodied gums. “Aurora wanted to burn my tongue to silence me, but that other human woman and the little aliens stopped her. In the end, one of the aliens – the one with the strange brown arrangement sitting atop his head – said he could erase my memories.” She frowned as she continued recounting her story. “He…made me look at a blinking screen on the front of some sort of robotic animal. I fell asleep…but when I woke up this morning I remembered everything. The mind wipe did not work!”
“Were there any other witnesses to this?”
“My weak-minded sister was there,” replied Nakki scornfully, “but when she woke up, she told me that she could not remember anything that happened last night. Her memories were taken, but mine were not. All that I have told you is true, I swear it!”
“I believe you.” She straightened and shouted to the guards in the vicinity. “Men! Someone find General Nor and Tartune and instruct them to organize a search for April and Aurora. If they cannot be found within the hour, I want the high council to assemble immediately. Put a lock on all air traffic until then, understand? I don’t want anyone leaving or entering our airspace without authorization. Get to it!”
The guards scrambled, and the Gorlock leader turned back to Nakki. “You shall be rewarded for this. What do you want?”
“Advance my rank, Lady Jaya,” said Nakki. “I know I am young, but I hope to be a General someday.”
“Done. Now go back to your camp and await further orders. Your mother and sister are probably wondering where you are.”
The child smiled cruelly. “I doubt it. My sister is probably crying in her bed, knowing her…”
Nakki’s statement could not have be farther from the truth, however. At that very same moment, Wenna was sneaking into a small ring of huts on the outskirts of Nuku. Slipping past a couple of Gorlocks roasting food over the central fire, she crept toward the far end of the circle. After a quick glance behind her, she reached her target destination: Lee’s tent. She dashed in to find Lee bare-chested, carefully trimming the hair on his head to regulation length.
He looked up, startled, scissors still raised in one hand, and a wisp of hair floated gently down to the floor. Panting, the tiny Gorlock closed the tent flap and rushed over to him.
“Um…can I help you?” he asked.
She tugged on his arm, tears threatening to spill over her long lashes. His brows knit together at her distress, and he knelt down and took her hand. “What is the matter? You look unwell. Do you need help?”
“I am sorry. I did not know who else to turn to! I am sorry! Please!”
“Shh, it is OK,” he said gently. “Slow down.”
She sniffled and wiped her eyes with a nod.
“…I remember you. You are Bilka’s daughter, right? What is your name?”
“My name is Wenna Dee-aye-AH. I am sorry. I am not crying. I WILL be strong.”
“Do not worry,” he soothed. “Even Gorlocks cry sometimes, right? I will not tell anyone.”
“I promise. Now you must tell me what brings you here. Are you in trouble?”
“Not me! It is April!”
His jaw muscles tightened for a second, but he gave no other indication of the terrible sinking feeling that had swept over him. He forced himself to smile reassuringly and urge her on.
“April? April is in trouble?”
“And Aurora! And that tall metal man! I know you are friends with April, and you always seemed so nice. You never hit me when I was sad or acted weak. Please, you have to help!”
Lee shifted position and looked into her face. “April is the most important person in the world to me. Please tell me exactly what has happened.”
Wenna managed to tumble out the story. “…I do not understand what Aurora was saying when she talked about an 'antidote'. I do not pay attention to what is going on with the war, so I do not know why it was so bad. But I DO know that my sister Nakki thought that it was treason. Aurora said that they were all as good as dead if anyone found out. They tried to wipe our memories, but I guess it did not work. I lied to Nakki and told her that I could not remember anything so that she would not suspect me…so that I could come and find you. Lee…Nakki has told Aurora’s plan to Lady Jaya!” Wenna bit her lip to keep herself from crying. “If Lady Jaya and the High Council find out that Aurora and April are gone, something bad will happen to them! I am sure of it! Please, that nice human lady who let me sit on her lap is with them! I do not want her to get hurt! Please, you have to help!”
“Shh, you did the right thing by coming here. But you must remain calm. I will think of a plan. Do not worry, I will do everything in my power to make sure nothing happens to them. I just need to think.” He straightened, then began pacing up and down inside the tent. Wenna gazed up at him anxiously, wringing her tiny hands together. After a minute, he stopped and looked down at her. “How long ago did Nakki speak to Lady Jaya? Do you know?”
“I…I do not know. But I came to find you as soon as Nakki went to see her. That was less than an hour ago.”
“All right,” he said. “Then we still have some time. April and the others probably took Nav’s ship, since the council would notice if the Desperado was missing. Nav was scheduled to leave this morning anyway. That means that Lady Jaya is not yet sure of whether April and Aurora are actually gone. She will likely send out search parties and attempt to locate them. Our main priority should be buying Aurora and April as much time as possible.”
“What do you mean?”
“I have no doubt that Lady Jaya will eventually confirm that they have indeed left the planet. We need to buy them some time to carry out their plan. If we can give them a few hours head start, that might be enough. If we do not stall the search, the council will very soon dispatch ships to stop them. In that case, even if April and the others were to successfully carry out their mission, the enemy ships would be waiting for them when they tried to leave the Dictator’s planet. We cannot allow that to happen.”
“What should we do?” she asked.
He considered for a moment. “We will need a strategy. Firstly, we must distract the searchers with false information. I will make sure that each search party receives conflicting reports of where Aurora and April were most recently seen. While they are investigating these false sightings, we must create a diversion…something that will command a lot of attention and manpower. Hmm…perhaps I can cut the harnesses on Tolly and the other warthogs? If they get loose in one of the settlements, it will take several hours to round them up again…. I am sure other opportunities for sabotage will present themselves as well. We will have to improvise in order to keep the troops disorganized for as long as possible.”
“Will that really work?”
He tapped a finger to his lips. “For a while. But it will not solve the whole problem. As I said, eventually Lady Jaya will learn the truth. Our second objective, therefore, should be to clear April’s name.”
“How would you do that?”
“Lady Jaya has always distrusted Aurora,” explained Lee. “We can use this to our advantage. We must convince Lady Jaya and the others that Aurora somehow forced or tricked April into doing this. That should not be too difficult, since I have no doubt that this is what Lady Jaya wants to believe anyway.”
“So you mean…Aurora would take all the blame? But that is unfair!”
“Please, try to understand. By defying the council’s authority, Aurora has sealed her own fate. There is no way Aurora would ever be welcomed back to Planet Gorlock now…I wouldn't be surprised if the council made her a wanted criminal. She has next to no chance of coming out of this without being labeled as a traitor. April, however, should not have to face a life of exile because of Aurora’s change in plans. We must make sure that April is not blamed for this so that when the time comes, she can return home. I cannot abide the thought of her being forever shunned by her own people.”
“But April was not tricked!” protested Wenna. “I saw the whole thing!”
“No matter. I will provide the proof. I will write a ‘note’ left behind by April explaining the ‘dire circumstances’ that forced her into following Aurora’s plan. Creating a forgery will not be difficult. I know April’s handwriting better than she does. Gorlock forensics are very poor…they will not even check for fingerprints. They will simply ask someone close to her – perhaps her father – to confirm that the message was indeed written by April. He will certainly not know the difference.” He paused to think once more. “However, if I am to testify as to April’s innocence, we must be very careful to make sure that I cannot be connected to the sabotage of the search effort. I cannot be seen acting in any way that is suspicious. This means I will need your help to carry out this plan. Will you be able to handle it?”
Shouts emanated from outside the tent, followed by the noisy footfalls of a dozen or so Gorlock guards. Lee and Wenna cast a sideways glance at the flap of the door, imagining the ranks of the search party as they lined up against them, like the pieces on a chess board.
Wenna nodded. “Yes. You can count on me, Lee. I will not let you down, I promise.”
“Very well. Let’s get to work.”
to Volume 5
Guest art by the fantastic jigoku-neko. Thanks a lot hun!