Though winter was well on its way out in Birmisia, it was still cold enough at night—cold enough to bundle up tight, cold enough to blow steam in the air with your breath, and cold enough that the lizzies moved with their characteristically slow gate. Police Constable Saba Colbshallow watched them from behind the corner of a warehouse building across the street from the dock. He didn’t know why they were working in the middle of the night, but he hadn’t spotted them taking from the ship any of the curious long crates that he had seen on previous occasions. He watched for more than thirty minutes as the reptilians moved freight.
Finally deciding that the activity represented nothing nefarious, Saba stretched his sore back, pulled a sulfur match from his pocket, and lit the oil lantern sitting on a barrel next to him. Then taking the lantern with him, he made his way across the street. There were half a dozen lizzies loading wooden crates onto a pallet that was attached to the crane to be loaded aboard the ship. As he approached, several of the lizardmen eyed him. Half of them were taller than his six foot three, but all of them hunkered down to look shorter than they actually were. It was a demonstration of submissiveness that the constable had grown used to over the years. Coming to a stop beside the workers, he crossed his hands over his chest.
“Working awfully late, gentlemen.”
One of the lizardmen hissed. Even though Saba was not fluent in the aboriginal language, he could tell it was a non-verbal expression of anger or annoyance.
The two closest lizardmen held out their arms. They each wore a wooden and twine identity bracelet. Saba held up the lantern and read the engraved information on each of the tags. “Finn: Serial Number 22211 BL”, and “Ishee: Serial Number 22214 BI”.
“All right. The rest of you too.”
“Does there seem to be some problem, PC?”
Saba looked up to see the tall, silhouetted form of a man walking toward him from the direction of the ship. When he reached the circle of lantern light he was revealed as Professor Merced Calliere.
“Good evening, Professor. Just checking identifications.”
“I would appreciate some haste then. These fellows have work to do.”
“So they’re working for you? I noticed these two don’t seem to have night passes, and my guess is that the others don’t either.”
“Yes, well I needed help on what you might call an ad-hoc basis. It’s very important business—government business. So I would prefer it if you not delay them any longer.”
“Then I had best let them get back to work,” said Saba. “As soon as I check the rest of their identification.”
“This ship is leaving first thing in the morning.” Professor Calliere hissed from between clenched teeth.
“I am aware of that, Professor,” said Saba, then to the other lizardmen. “Stick your arms out.”
The two reptilians that he had already checked stepped aside, and the remaining four held out their arms to show their identification bracelets. Calliere folded his arms and scowled. Saba read them off one by one.
“Maddy: Serial Number 19705 BL. Sassine: Serial Number 18234 BI. Guster: Serial Number 10100 BI. Swoosy: Serial Number 11995 BI. Oh, I know you, don’t I?”
Saba looked up at the last of the lizardmen. It was a hulking brute, at least six foot five, though it was doing its best to seem shorter. Its skin was deep forest green with large mottled patches of grey here and there. It looked nothing like the lightly colored, rather short female that the constable had seen saved by Graham Dokkins from the new arrivals.
“Hold on,” said the constable, grabbing the wrist with the bracelet.
With a hiss that bordered on a roar, the lizardman leapt forward, grabbing Saba’s helmet in its clawed right hand as its momentum carried both of them backwards. As he fell, Saba felt the alligator-like mouth clamp shut on his right shoulder. The gravel of the street flew as the man and the reptilian landed. The latter flipped completely over and onto his back. Saba jumped to his feet, his hand suddenly holding his truncheon even though he didn’t consciously grab it. With a speed belying its supposed cold blood, the lizardman rolled onto his stomach, and without even getting up, launched himself into Saba. They both fell into the pallet of crates, one of which splintered, spilling its contents onto the ground. Saba swung his truncheon, but couldn’t tell if it connected. The next moment, his opponent was gone.
Jumping to his feet, the constable saw his attacker disappearing into the darkness, running south. All of the other lizardmen were either running or were already gone. Saba reached into his reefer jacket to feel his shoulder and pulled out a hand with several streaks of blood upon it. His pulse was pounding in his ears. Professor Calliere stood with his mouth open. The ground was strewn with papers.
Saba reached down and picked up a fist full of the papers. They were white, 8 ½ x 11 inch papers, covered on one side with long strings of numbers. He kicked the damaged crate and it busted open completely, spilling out more of the number filled sheets.
“Papers? Just papers?”
Calliere looked unhappily at the ground.
“What the hell are these?”
“Just… just some calculations.”
“Are all these crates filled with these calculations?”
Calliere bit his lip.
“Professor, you’re going to need to come with me.”
Calliere’s eyes shifted but then he nodded.