|"We must approach this problem with our customary care, discretion, and tact!"|
-Vlad the Impaler|
"You've got a very bad feeling about everything, kid."
We were packing our things in preparation for our trip to Gezirah. It would have been a lot quicker if Aahz actually spent his time packing and less time dancing around the room.
"Aahz," I continued, "we have no idea what we're getting into here."
"Listen kid," Aahz replied, "it's just a labor dispute. Some guys don't want to work. We convince them they should. Simple."
"If it's so simple, why are they paying us so much money for it?"
"Kid, it's in our contract. That's the sweetest thing about it. We get three percent of the affected profits. We went over this before. They need us, that's what they pay us."
"So why do they need us?"
"How should I know? They're Deveels! They're incompetent."
"Hmph." I wasn't convinced.
"Look, Kid, if it makes you feel any better, I know this is going to be difficult. Heck, it'll probably be the toughest assignment we've been on in a while, if only because there are so many people involved. But after it...think of it. You'll never have to do anything that you don't want to do. Ever."
"That makes me feel so much better," I replied, sarcastically.
We had finished packing and headed down to our foyer, where the rest of our group was waiting. We had decided on a group of five: Gus, our nigh-invulnerable gargoyle friend; Tananda, the trollop assassin; Chumley, Tananda's brother, a mild-mannered gargantuan troll; Aahz, who you've already met; and me.
That left out a few people. Guido and Nunzio, my bodyguards, complained the loudest.
"We're his bodyguards! We guard his body! How are we supposed to do that if we're nowhere near his body?"
"I believe," Aahz countered, "that Skeeve will be adequately protected."
"It's our responsibility," Nunzio countered.
"I'm not having this argument with you two," Aahz denied flatly. "This is not a combat mission. We're going to places which probably haven't even heard of Skeeve. You two bumblers are going to mess up the negotiation process. The use of bodyguards is a sign of bad faith."
"It's a sign of bad faith???" replied Guido, incredulous.
And on it went. I really couldn't take any more of it. Aahz was right, but he was holding back a key element of his decision process. He knew this would be a fight, and he didn't want anyone in there that he didn't have a long history of trust. Plus, I suspect that he wanted to keep the group as small as possible. Less ways to split the fee around.
And so Massha had to stay, also. She was considerably easier to convince. We wanted a responsible party to keep an eye on the place while we were gone. Someone who could handle whatever was thrown at him (or her, in this case). Also, she qualified under Aahz's "lack of long history". So that was it. Truthfully, I felt the worst about leaving Massha behind, but I could understand the reasoning behind it.
And we were off.
Gezirah was a dimension of heavy forests and rolling hills. We had D-hopped into what Aahz had said was one of the few settlements on the dimension. The native Gezirahans were small, furry beings. On the average, they were two feet shorter than I was, though slightly broader.
The town, however, was not run by Gezirahans. It was run by Deveels. We only saw a few natives in the town, although there were several Deveels disguised as Gezirahans. We went to the hotel, which was a large brick building that looked distinctly out of place in a wooded environment.
We walked in and "checked in" to the hotel, whatever that meant. The proprietor of the hotel, a clean-cut young Deveel, gave us two keys to some rooms, and showed the way up there. Our bags were taken by several native Gezirahans, who grumbled a bit but seemed to do their job effectively.
After a night's sleep, we finally met with Dierack the following morning. Dierack was a large, muscular Deveel who was also fairly clean cut. He carried with him a stack of papers with pictures of various people.
"We have reason to believe," Dierack said, "that there is a small group of competitors that are sabotaging our operations on the affected dimensions. We know very little about them; however, the extent to which the labor disputes have spread across the dimension implies their existence."
"So," Aahz countered, "we don't know what we're up against."
"Correct," Dierack continued, "but in the meantime your duties are to stabilize the dimensions and search for the saboteurs. In the meantime, here are a list of the native Gezirahan leaders." He then rattled off several names, displaying pictures that all looked alike to me.
"And these are the people we'll be negotiating with?" I asked. This brought a loud laugh from Dierack, and a confused look from Aahz and Tananda.
"Negotiating?" Dierack continued, once he had gotten his breath back. "Dear oh dear, no. You're going to kill them."