The officer who had come to his rescue, and unlocked the bedroom door, glared at Ajek and shook his head. "Nonsense, I don't believe it. Shape shifters indeed! If you've pulled me here on the pretext that His Majesty is in danger of being captured by aliens, you can look forward to a few weeks in jail. Now, if you can't show me proof of this absurd allegation I have more important matters to attend to."
Ajek glared back at Colonel Tork, Boushank's adjutant, barely able to control his temper. He and Tork had never got on; the officer seemed incapable of bending from the rigid army code of conduct. "Okay, take a look at the security files. It's all there in file number M435."Ajek pointed to the hidden room where the monitors were still running. Ajek sat down on Jeffus's bed to ease the pain in his stumps and watched Tork and three of his uniformed escorts walk into the monitor room. Another officer stayed with him, eyeing him with a stern gaze. Heavens! Did the stupid man think he could run away somewhere with these damaged legs?
There was no way anyone could dismiss the recorded evidence showing Banks and three of the staff members, supposedly loyal to Sir Jeffus, covering the Royal visitors, Sir Jeffus, and his family and staff with strange weapons Ajek had never seen before, and then showing no embarrassment at shedding their clothes in front of everyone before morphing into reptilian shapes; another ten had been let into the building to support the traitors. Ajek had seen creatures like this before, in his mother's London home.
Ten minutes later, the monitor door opened and Ajek's eyes widened with horror. The four officers, who returned to the bedroom, were no longer human in appearance, with scaly green skin and wearing black service cloaks concealing their bodies from the neck down. Ajek struggled to his feet but was forced back down by the fourth soldier who had yet to change his appearance. Tork stopped a couple of feet in front of Ajek and gazed down at him with the same human eyes as before, but with a light of compassion as he said in a quiet voice, "Do as you are told and you will not be harmed."
Ajek's reaction was to struggle against the grip of his captor. "Like hell, you bastards."He opened his mouth to scream for help but Tork whipped out a small instrument and held it to his throat, and Ajek felt his vocal chords go into spasm. The soldier forced him over onto his stomach and he felt the sting of something at the back of his neck. The soldier let him go and he rolled over ready to make his escape but found his body would not respond. Within a few seconds he couldn't even raise his hands up off the bed.
Tork spoke in a language Ajek had never heard before, low and guttural. The amphibians hauled him off the bed and into his wheelchair and he sat there like a puppet without its strings. Helpless, he couldn't even stop his head from dropping forward till his chin touched his chest. Thankfully one of the soldiers lowered the back of the chair a little, while another laid him back, allowing his head to rest back against the neck support. He was grateful for at least this bit of comfort as they wheeled him out of his room and along the corridor to the main lift. As they descended to the ground level of the house, Ajek hoped Tork and his soldiers would speak so he could try and interpret the language they used, as it bore no likeness to that spoken in his mother's house; but the journey in the lift and through the ground floor corridors to the banqueting hall was a silent one apart from the odd hissed whisper which Ajek guessed was a part of their language.
When they reached the hall, Tork signalled for two of the reptiles to march ahead and thrust open the heavy double doors, their guttural grunts loud and full of intent with what Ajek guessed was their formal announcement of the arrival of an important person. The soldier still in uniform took charge of the wheelchair with the weapon of the remaining reptile held to his head; to make him look like a prisoner, Ajek guessed. In the hall, all eyes swivelled to see who was arriving, and a collective gasp accompanied Tork's arrival followed by Ajek. As the creatures guarding the prisoners came to attention, Tork spoke to them quietly, pointing to their Majesties and exchanging a few moments of amusement with the creature who used to be Banks. His own soldiers placed themselves in front of the guards, facing the human prisoners, while the guards stood down and checked their weapons. As they did so, Tork and his soldiers calmly turned to face them, raised their own weapons and swept the guards with a hail of electrical waves. Having no time to react, the guards fell screaming to the floor. Their bodies twitched for a few seconds before they lay still. Satisfied they were unconscious; Tork whirled to face the shocked prisoners and bowed his head to Sir Jeffus and his Royal visitors.
While Ajek lay in his chair unable to move or speak, Tork addressed the Royal visitors in perfect English. "Your Majesties, My Lord, forgive the theatrics but young Ajek gave me the perfect excuse to enter the house. "If you will allow me, I have to contact Boushank and tell him our little game was successful, and allow my men full access to the building."He turned to look at me, then walked up to my chair and patted me and ruffled my hair. "Sorry about the theatrics upstairs young man. I had no time to explain things, and I didn't want you giving the game away. The drug I injected you with will lose its potency in about half an hour with no harm done, except that you will feel very tired. You did well to call Boushank when you did. Sir Jeffus has known for some time that there was a mole in the house, but not as many as we have here. These creatures do not seem to realise the game can be played both ways. As you can see, I am of alien extraction but, as you say in your films and stories, we are the good guys. Now I must go, I'm sure Sir Jeffus with tell you more about what is going on."He nodded a quick salute then spun on his heel and marched out of the hall, leaving his three companions to deal with the fallen guards with the help of their comrades who came storming into the hall.
Ajek was still in shock at the turn of events, leaving him wondering if he would wake up and find this all a dream, but then the creatures inhabiting his mother's house had been no dream either. Jeffus, the first to reach his side, gathered him in a hug he could not respond to, and showered him with kisses. "Ajek, my brave boy, my love; I don't know how you came to raise the alarm but thank our Dear God you did. I'll tell you more, later, but their Majesties offered themselves as bait in a plot to make the mole reveal his identity. What we failed to realise was that there was more than one. Apparently, they have a space station not far from Earth and they were about to transport us there to use us as pawns in a scheme to take control of Earth; at least that is what Banks told us."
Ajek wanted to hug him but he could only gaze up into his eyes as he began to feel weird. He felt claustrophobic as he fought to breathe. A sense of panic filled him as he tried to convey to Jeffus, with his eyes, that something was wrong; then the shakes began, turning into tremors that even Jeffus must have felt; the same panic echoed on his lover's face. As the light around him dimmed, Ajek heard Jeffus yell for someone to bring Tork back…..
When Ajek woke up he felt as if he had been to sleep in the normal way. After yawning and stretching, he brought his hands to his eyes to rub the sleep away. What! He opened his eyes and looked studied his hands, clenching and unclenching his fingers. They worked; wow! With relief he flexed his knees and raised his arms above his head, letting them flop down on the pillows. Had he dreamt it all? Then he looked round and found he was back in his own room and he had company; Royal company. Sitting on the edge of his bed, Europe's First Lady smiled down at him. "Hello sleepyhead, I hope you are feeling better now. You gave us quite a fright, you know."
It took him time to get his brain into gear enough and clutch the sheets to his naked chest, blushing deeply. "Your Majesty, I…I –."
"It's alright Ajek; don't be embarrassed. I volunteered to be your nurse for a while; I felt I was in everyone's way downstairs, with people fussing around me instead of getting on with ensuring the safety of the planet so I thought I would be of better use up here. How do you feel now?"
"So far so good, Ma'am."
"When did you last eat?"
Ajek had to think for a moment, and a feeling of sadness accompanied his reply. "I had breakfast then Jeffus told me that my father was dead."
Her Majesty looked shocked. "That was yesterday morning! No wonder the drug Tork injected you with knocked you silly. Many years ago, before the advance of modern medicine, an illness called Diabetes affected one in every hundred people; it was a condition in which the body made too little insulin to deal with the body's blood sugar levels, or as in your case the body made too much insulin and allowed the blood sugar to drop to dangerous levels. In one in a million cases, the Tributix nerve inhibiter Tork used has the same effect, and you were the unlucky millionth."She stood and reached for the consul on the bed head. Pressing the manual button, she sat down again and waited.
"Kitchen."a voice said.
"Ah, at least the manual over-ride works. Kitchen, will you send up the tray I prepared to Mister Ajek's room please?"
"Oh! Er, yes Your Majesty; at once."
Her Majesty gave Ajek a very unroyal grin. "While everyone scurried around doing Jeffus's and Boushank's bidding, I sneaked into the kitchen and made myself useful after making Jeffus tell me what your favourite foods are."
"Thank you, Ma'am. I appreciate it."
"It's my pleasure, and stop calling me Ma'am; you are almost family now, and you have my personal permission to call me Juella in private."Ajek smiled at this elegant, grey haired lady, not knowing what to say. Then there was a knock on the bedroom door. At Juella's command, the door opened and a white haired man, wearing the white tunic with the green pips of a master chef, walked in guiding a hover trolley. "Thank you Arras. Ajek may, I present my own personal chef; your own cook having changed the colour of his skin to a horrible green."
The man brought the trolley to the bed, smiled at Ajek and bowed. "A pleasure to meet you, Mister Ajek; I hope you enjoy your meal. Will there be anything else, Ma'am?"
"No thank you, Arras. I will serve Mister Ajek myself."Arras bowed again and left the room before Juella lifted the first cover and took a long sniff. "Lovely! I suppose you already know my interest in delving into life in the twenty first century; During my research I found a cookery book and decided to try a few of the recipes. Unfortunately I daren't access the kitchen too often or the Royal waistline would suffer. This recipe is called Beef in Red Wine. Let us tuck in, shall we?"
Soon they were both eating the delicious food, with Ajek still marvelling that the Queen herself had actually cooked a meal just for him. For an elderly lady, Her Majesty had turned out to be a surprising woman in many ways, and the people of Europe loved her, and used her as a model of how to live their own lives. Her most successful project to date had been to encourage people to revive the farms and gardens of the twenty first century and beyond; turning the United Kingdom into a "green and pleasant land"once more. The prime beef Ajek was enjoying was the result of that project. Most meals among the military were of the encapsulated type; easy transported upon the person in enough quantity to last a soldier a number of days on manoeuvres but there was nothing to surpass the taste of the real thing which he had enjoyed before his mother dragged him away from the Versont home. This was not the first time he had eaten this particular recipe but it was the most delicious he had ever tasted. He glanced up to make a suitable comment and found Juella pushing the remains of her food around her plate while a far-away expression filled her face. She caught him looking at her and gave him a thin smile which did not reach her eyes.
Ajek's instincts alerted him to something being wrong. Again he thought back to her saying she had volunteered to look after him, but what if she was there to hide whatever else was going on. Putting his fork down on his plate he rested back against his pillows. "Juella, Ma'am, what is it you're not telling me?"
"Mmm?"Juella looked up and smiled, her face clearing as her eyes twinkled at him. "Oh, nothing, dear; finish your meal before it gets cold."
"Begging your pardon, Ma'am but you should be doing the same."
They gazed at each other for a few moments before Juella sighed and looked down at her half eaten meal. "I'm sorry, Ajek, but I…there isn't much I can tell you except that we've lost contact with the Drock. I can't tell you anymore; I wish I could."
"Could or won't?"As soon as the harsh words left his mouth, Ajek knew he had overstepped the mark. He blushed furiously and looked away. No one talked like that to a member of the Royal Family, not even close friends. "I apologise, Your Majesty, I shouldn't have said that."
"My dear Ajek, your apology is quite unnecessary. I'm sure you must be thinking of your cousin Tadik."The bedroom door opened and Jeffus walked in, causing Juella to relax. With a look of relief, she placed her plate back on the trolley and rose to her feet. "I'll go and join His Majesty while Jeffus explains things to you."She leaned down to place a kiss on his forehead and left the room, giving Jeffus a kiss as she passed him.
Jeffus bowed his head until he had closed the door behind her then moved slowly towards the bed. Forgetting the plate resting on his lap, Ajek lifted his arms towards his lover who sat on the bed and pulled him into a tight hug. The plate slid sideways as their lips met in a kiss that told of their love for each other. Then Jeffus broke the kiss, and said, "Juella told you?"
"Only that Boushank's lost contact with the Drock. What's going on Jeff?"
"We don't know for certain yet, but Boushank had checked and double checked all our systems and everything seems to be working perfectly. The fault must be on the Drock itself."
"Maybe it's only a temporary glitch?"
Jeffus shook his head. "According to Boushank, they've had no communication with the Drock for the last eighteen hours."
"Tadik is on that ship."
"I know, but it isn't just your cousin we are worried about; the Quastorian Ambassador to Earth is on board as well. Everything is being done to organise a rescue."
"That tells me a lot."
"As soon as we can arrange things, a fleet of warships will embark for the last known position. As a Galactic ambassador is involved, a person of similar standing must go with them."
Ajek felt an icy chill as he realised what Jeffus was implying. "You?"
"Can't they find someone else?"
Jeffus shook his head. "I'm afraid not. All other ambassadors are otherwise occupied off planet, and The King has asked me to go as a personal favour. The captain of that ship is the eldest son and heir of The Great D'bactu of the planet Gpuchk and I will take command of the expedition as The King's first representative."
Ajek laid his head on Jeff's chest as he pondered the news. He knew that using the best scientifically equipped ships, the trip would take over a year to reach the halfway point between Quastor and Gpuchk but The Drock could be anywhere, having a much greater drive system than any Terran ships. A year out plus time to search for The Drock and deal with the problem and possibly towing the stricken ship home to Gpuchk, followed by the trip home, meant Ajek being parted from his lover for more than two years. His heart sank. "Can I go with you?"
"I'm afraid not, love. The only civilian personnel allowed on the trip will be the scientists and ambassadorial supporters, and the spouses of the senior staff."
Ajek felt so sad he hardly noticed that Jeffus had laid him back against the pillows and retrieved the plate. He opened his eyes as Jeffus placed a loving kiss on his lips, and stood up. Knowing there was a protocol that in the upper ranks of Terran rulers, a proposal of marriage had to come from the elder of the couple, not the reverse. But Ajek had to take a chance on being rejected and at worse ejected from Jeff's home and family. But hadn't Her Majesty mentioned he was almost a member of the family. "Jeff?"
Jeffus had turned to leave the room but turned to look down at Ajek. "Yes Ajek?"
Ajek swallowed a lump in his throat and whispered, "Will you marry me?"
Kidat woke to warmth and peace, and opened his eyes to find himself in a cocoon of white fur. "Baka?"
"Yes, my little friend; are you rested now?"
Kidat stirred within Baka's embrace, testing his limbs then the rest of his body; aware of a stinging in his fingers. "I think so."He looked up and saw familiar green sky. "Where are we?"
"We are close to the Great City but can go no further. We crossed the lake while the sky was dark, but there are soldiers between us and the City. They are preparing to push us back across the lake but the ice is cracking in places. There are also Borbags in the vicinity. Can you tell us what happened to you when we were in the cave?"
Kidat struggled to sit up, and Baka relaxed his hold. Kidat looked round and saw a mountainous circle of brown fur; Baka's family had camped at the edge of the ice, with him and Baka in the centre, warm and protected. Even as he realised this, there came a deep growl as one of the outlying Rogoch warned a Borbag away. Kidat examined his fingers; the tips were blistered, making him remember the fight in the ship. He told Baka what had happened, in words he knew Baka would understand. Baka growled his concern "Then you do not know what has happened to the ship and its inhabitants, and you are worried, yes? Fear not, my little friend; the Ancient One has gone to see for himself and wishes us to wait for his return."
Kidat looked round for sign of P'pit and nodded his understanding. "Then I guess we will just have to wait."He yawned and lay back down, grateful for the warmth Baka's encircling forelegs. He hoped the Ancient would come soon; he had the strength to deal with a tribe of aggressive males but he doubted he could stop an army of soldier from pushing them back onto the ice. The Rogoch could swim for a short time but the thought of his huge friends struggling in icy water did not bear thinking about.
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