|"What you see is what you get."|
"What is that thing?" I asked Aahz. I pointed to the giant insect, which held more than a passing resemblance to one of my recent nightmares.
"Huh? The Cristotle? Just some giant beetle the Deveels use on their dimensions as pack animals. They're harmless as long as you don't wear any bright colors around them. Tends to make them think it's mating season." Aahz explained. A roll of thunder sounded in the distance.
"Sounds like its going to rain." I said, as a Deveel came around the corner with a trail of thirty Gezirahans following in a quiet single file. The Deveel was huge, with muscles bulging from under a leather outfit he wore.
"Are you the two new ones coming along?" He growled. Apparently he wasn't too enthusiastic about his job.
"Yes, we are." Aahz spoke first. The Deveel simply shook his head with displeasure and motioned us to the wagon after taking our two registration tickets. I could hear him muttering under his breath about how no gambling debt was worth this punishment and that he should have gotten a job with his cousin Sal.
It soon became apparent that the Gezirahan custom of riding in a wagon was to simply pile in on top of each other and to hold on for dear life. A custom that took on a decidedly horrific turn when it started to rain and I got to experience the scent of wet Gezirahan fur. We had been traveling for eighteen hours when, soon after the rain stopped, we suddenly found ourselves at a wooden house seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The sun was beginning to set and the lighting gave the surrounding forest a decidedly spooky look.
"OK, everyone out!" the Deveel yelled back to us as we all slid off the wagon onto the muddy ground. I could see Aahz glaring at some Gezirahan who had just poked him in the eye with a foot. The Deveel then stood up upon the front of the wagon and unfolded a piece of paper. "Ahem! Welcome to Lumber Camp #251 situated in the lovely forest of Kirn. Here you will be able to enjoy working in a relaxed environment filled with compassion and understanding from your Camp Coordinator, Talmor Blox. If you have any questions or complaints, please do not hesitate to bring them to your Camp Coordinator.....after going through the proper channels. This greeting has been approved by the Deveel.... Hmmm, maybe I'm not supposed to read that part." The Deveel then folded the piece of paper again and placed it into an inner pocket of his leather vest. A small furry paw/hand suddenly raised itself out of the crowd.
"Excuse me, Mr. Deveel?" A small voice pleaded. I could see an inner struggle take place in the Deveel. He obviously saw the questioner, but he didn't know if he wanted to deal with the trouble of actually responding to the plea. He placed a hand upon his forehead, sighed, and pointed to the Gezirahan.
"Could we have your name in case any of us wish to complain about your driving and/or unpleasant personality?" The little squeaky voice said. The Deveel's eyes nearly popped out of his head.
"What?!!" the Deveel exclaimed with a twinge of fear in his voice.
"Bingo!" A voice whispered excitedly in my ear. I turned to see Aahz standing behind me. He had slowly found his way through the crowd to stand there. The glint in his eyes and the rubbing of his hands suggested he was quite pleased with what was happening. "Care to tell me what's going on?" I whispered back. Aahz smiled one of his frightening grins. "This is so easy, I'm almost sorry I brought the rest of the gang for this job. You see that little Gezirahan causing all the trouble? He's working for the opposition. He's a plant, a mole. He joins the workers, pretends he is one of them, tries to push the management too far, and when they snap, he makes himself out to be a martyr. A classic maneuver. Now all we have to do is get friendly with that one and he introduces us to his leaders. Within a few days, we'll have traced this whole movement back to the source." Aahz sighed with bliss-filled thoughts as to how he was going to spend his share of our wages for this job. I turned my attention back to the Gezirahan and the Deveel and what was turning into a verbal fight. "So we will not be given weekends and special holidays off?" the Gezirahan sheepishly asked. "Look, I told you, I'm not in control of your contracts. I don't know what you signed up for and frankly, I don't care!" the Deveel yelled as he looked directly over to me. "Well, what do you want??!!" I froze as I heard Aahz speaking from behind me.
"Are you saying that as a Deveel, you don't care about Gezirahans?" I heard Aahz ask. Suddenly, all the other Gezirahans swiveled their heads about and looked right at us. A noticeable gasp came from their mouths and a few began whispering amongst themselves.
"I didn't say that! All I said is that I don't care about what your contracts say. If you have a problem with them, take them to someone else!" the Deveel fumed.
"So we are expected to honor contracts that the Deveels themselves don't even care about?" Aahz asked with an put-upon incredulous voice. Another noticeable gasp escaped from the Gezirahans. They didn't seem to be treating Aahz's questioning in the same way they had the first Gezirahan asking the questions.
"Who said we didn't care about your contracts?!!" A voice roared from behind the now quickly-dispersing crowd. Standing there, in a stiff green outfit with a look of pure hatred on his face was a tall thin Deveel. "I care about your contracts! And if anyone decides that their contract is somehow faulty, then I suggest you bring it up with me. I am Camp Coordinator, Talmor Blox. I've been assigned to make you into the best lumberjacks in the known dimensions. And I take pride in that position! Now, everyone into the wooden house on your right! This will be your home for the next six weeks. Let's go!"
With that, every Gezirahan made a mad dash for the front door. We all forced our way in and everyone started to lay claim to a bed. I ran to one against the wall and threw myself upon the mattress. I rolled over on my back and looked for Aahz. I had expected him to choose the bed next to mine, but instead I saw him picking a bed next to the troublemaker Gezirahan across the room. The Gezirahan who had already claimed that bed flew across the room onto a bed a few feet away thanks to Aahz's tossing. After a few minutes, everyone settled down and Talmor Blox entered the room.
"All right, listen up! Tomorrow morning you will be awakened at dawn and will be given a 12 minute lesson on the use of the various tools you will be using during your stay here. Pay attention because it will only be told to you once! After that, you will be taken to the lumber site and assigned to a series of trees which will be YOUR responsibility. I don't like lazy workers and I WILL be watching. In one hour, I'll be back with your dinner. Oh, and before I forget, if anyone is caught trying to leave before completing the terms of their contract, they will be dealt with accordingly. Enjoy your stay." Talmor Blox concluded with a smile as he headed out the door. The room erupted once more into activity as Gezirahans began to talk amongst themselves, while I walked over to Aahz's bed. I could see that Aahz had already started talking to the trouble-making Gezirahan from earlier and I was curious as to how Aahz's instincts were playing out. Before I was half-way across the room, though, I felt something poke me in the shoulders. I glanced behind me and saw a little Gezirahan standing there.
"Nygolian bago nixilish?" It asked. I stared at its little brown eyes for a moment.
"Ummm, yes? Could you repeat that?" Suddenly, I realized that it was speaking to me in its native tongue and I didn't know any words in the Gezirahan language.
"Nygolian bago nixilish?" it repeated.
"Errrr. Yum yum." I replied while I rubbed my belly and licked my lips. I was sure it wasn't the right response, but I was stalling for time. Hopefully it would just think I was some idiot and would leave me alone. Without warning the little Gezirahan giggled and began to rub its own tummy.
"Liaro-dian blakn'tln!" another Gezirahan said while it began to pat my little Gezirahan on the back as if congratulating it.
"Daro bago nixilish vec tares?" Another Gezirahan asked as it entered our circle.
"Umm, excuse me, fellas. I need to talk to my friend for a second." I said as I turned around and headed for Aahz. I got two steps away before the room was broken by a wailing from behind me. I looked back and saw my little Gezirahan friend on the ground sobbing in agony. "What the..?"
"You just called off your engagement, you heartbreaker." Aahz's voice broke in behind me.
"Engagement? But we are both males." I said. Aahz shook his head.
"Nope, seems you gave us Gezirahan FEMALE disguises." Aahz explained. "Remember how they all over-reacted when I was giving the wagon driver a hard time? Seems females in Gezirahan society aren't suppose to be so political. I just got a little lecture from our trouble making Gezirahan friend about that. It also seems that the only kind of females who would ever actually join a lumber company are there to entertain the workers."
"You mean like singing and dancing?" I asked with concern. I was a lousy singer and my dancing was twice as bad.
"No, not singing and dancing. Entertaining! Like..... Well, remember Alcain's Interdimensional House of Pleasure back in Deva?"
I nodded in terror. "So what are we going to do, Aahz?"
"Well, the first thing we are going to do is-" Aahz started. He was interrupted by a shout from one of the Gezirahans who had been sitting quietly on the bed a few feet away.
"Aahz?!! Did you just call this Gezirahan by the name 'Aahz'?" He shouted as he hopped off the bed and walked over to us.
"Yeah, he did! You have a problem with the name?" Aahz growled. The Gezirahan looked from Aahz to me and then back to Aahz. He squinted as if trying to see us more clearly.
"No, not really. I just used to know an Aahz and I didn't think it was that popular of a name........especially among Gezirahans." This time Aahz squinted at the Gezirahan.
"Am I to assume that neither one of us might be who we think we are?" Aahz suggested, keeping his voice low.
"Shall we go somewhere a bit less....crowded?" the Gezirahan asked as he waved his little paw toward the door. Aahz rubbed his chin in thought for a few seconds and then started following the Gezirahan. As I left the building, I could hear the little Gezirahan whose heart I had broken let forth a new wail of emotional pain. I kept telling myself that it was better this way, especially since comforting him would involve a lot more skill in illusion-making than I was capable of.
I followed Aahz and the Gezirahan around to the back of the building where we couldn't be seen.
"Ok, let's drop the disguises and see who we are." the Gezirahan said. I looked to Aahz for his decision and with his nod I closed my eyes and let our illusions dissolve. I heard Aahz gasp as I opened my eyes to see an Imp standing where only moments before there was a Gezirahan. And it wasn't just any Imp...
"BROCKHURST!!!" Aahz and I clamored. I had met Brockhurst before on two separate occasions. The first involved him trying to kill Aahz and me while the second time he had put his life on the line to help Aahz and me. I still held something of a grudge against Brockhurst since he had been behind my past mentor's death, yet I knew that deep down he had, in the end, come to view us as friends.
"You idiots! What are you doing here?" Brockhurst hissed.
"Say, watch who you are calling an idiot! Skeeve isn't half as dumb as he looks." Aahz hissed back.
"I think he was referring to both.....Was that suppose to be a compliment, Aahz?" I asked.
"Shut up, Kid. OK, Brockhurst, what's your story? I know mercenary work for Imps are hard to get these days, but I seriously doubt you came to Gezirah to work part-time as a lumberjack." Aahz pointed out.
"I asked you first, Aahz. YOU are supposed to be working on Deva, not on this dimension. What are you two doing here? Looking to make money on the side?" Brockhurst replied. The Pervect and the Imp glared at each other for a few moments before I decided to break in.
"Look, this isn't getting us anywhere. Aahz and I are here working for the Devan Department of Commerce to help get rid of some labor problems they've been having. Seems someone is trying to get several of the workers on various dimensions to create some kind of collective." I said, trying to remember what we actually were here to do. I really wish I had been paying more attention now that I needed the information.
"You expect me to believe that?" Brockhurst laughed. "You two take the cake."
"Cake? I didn't mention a cake." I stammered in confusion.
"And what are you doing here, Brockhurst? Checking out the latest spring Gezirahan fashions?" Aahz asked.
"Well it seems that at least one of us is working for the Devan Department of Commerce, but I'm afraid it isn't you two." Brockhurst started to explain, "See, I got hired about a week ago to come to Gezirah. Seems that the Deveels got wind of a plot to break up the local labor organization by a bunch of off-worlders. My job was to come here, infiltrate the local worker population, and assassinate anyone trying to break it up. Simple job with great pay. How could I resist?"
"I thought labor organizing was illegal on Deveel dimensional systems?" I asked Aahz.
"It is. Unless it's the Devan Labor Collective." Aahz said as he slapped his forehead with the palm of his clawed hand.
"The Devan Labor Collective." Brockhurst said, "It's how the State keeps the workers under control. Everyone who works automatically belongs. When the workers complain..."
"...The State tells them to go to the Collective or the Collective tells them to talk to the State. Eventually the workers give up and accept the situation. And with the Collective dues, the State has a way to keep from losing too much on wages." Aahz finished, "I've got a feeling we've just gotten ourselves in the middle of something really big, Kid. I trusted a Deveel and now we're paying for it. How many more assassins did they hire, Brockhurst?"
"30." Brockhurst answered.
"30! Something is really going on." Aahz said.
"You guys are serious about being hired by the Devan Department of Commerce, aren't you?" Brockhurst asked.
"Yes," I explained, "Some Deveel named Ginghe negotiated for the Department and basically told us that our contract forced us into taking on this job."
"Ginghe? There isn't a Ginghe working for the Department." Brockhurst replied.
"There isn't?!" Aahz asked in shock.
"No, they just had an election for the Department positions two weeks ago. Don't you ever read the Financial News of Deva? There is more than the Devan Stock Exchange data in there, there's politics, sports, even a comics page, though I hear they have started to run Family Circus in it."
"What's this Family Circus everyone is talking about?" I asked.
"So let me get this straight," Aahz began as he pointed to Brockhurst, "You were hired to kill anyone trying to break up the local chapter of the Devan Labor Collective. Skeeve and I were hired to kill off anyone who seemed to be defending or creating a local labor collective. There are thirty of you and only five of us. Plus, we were hired by someone who doesn't seem to be working for the Devan Department of Commerce. And if we were all to follow our orders, Skeeve and I would be dead and justified in the eyes of the real Devan Department."
"You forgot something." I said with a chill as I suddenly realized that Aahz had indeed forgotten something.
"Oh yes, and we are in the middle of the woods with a bunch of randy Gezirahans who think we are females who are along for their entertainment. And we are contracted for the next six weeks into being lumberjacks with no way out." Aahz added. I shook my head sadly.
"No, not that."
"And we are stuck talking to an Imp?" Aahz suggested. Brockhurst glared at Aahz.
"No, Aahz. That Tanda, Chumley, and Gus are on Gezirah too and they don't know about any of this." I said.
"They should be OK." Brockhurst said, "As long as they keep to the lumberyards. Most of us are spread out pretty thin out here. Its only in the mines that we are grouped together."
Aahz and I groaned in unison.
"Well, it can't get any worse." Brockhurst said with a shrug in an attempt to make us feel better.
"Oh, I don't know, it could get worse if I don't hear a damn good explanation as to why there is an Imp, Pervert, and Klahd hiding behind my camp house!!" a voice roared loudly into the dusk-lit woods as Camp Coordinator Talmor Blox stepped out of the shadows with two heavily armed Deveels behind him. Next to Talmor Blox was the small furry figure of our trouble-making friend who was busy pointing and gesturing towards us. "Who wants to be the first to give me a good reason why I shouldn't simply have you killed for trespassing?"