"It was before your time" continued

by Judy Nott

This was originally posted to the lois-bujold mailing list in July 1998.
This is the work of Judy Nott, who her daughter Tamara challenged to tell "the rest of the story". I would like to thank Tamara for the editing and other suggestions. The beginning of the story can be found here.

Vorbete took ship for galactic areas known to have elephants. With him went all the information ImpSec had on the care and feeding of elephants as well as anything that could be requisioned from the university at Vorbar Sultanna. At Komarr, he was met by an agent with further updates. Escobar had a fairly large herd of the pachyderms, kept in a park-like area. They were known to cull the herd from time to time and the predictions were that such an event was due very soon.

"Things are never this easy," was Vorbete first thought. His second ratocination was, " It never hurts to try. I might get lucky." The flight to Escobar was swift and smooth. Before going on planet he assumed a tourist disguise. On the shuttle down, another seeming tourist staggered into him, muttering "at the Verde Parc substation, silver eyes."

The substation was on his way to his first destination and the name 'silver eyes' in just that tone signified that the speaker was a fellow agent. So Vorbete continued on as planned. Meeting with the ImpSec undercover man could only be to his advantage. The Lieutenant wondered what new information was important enough to have put his cover in jeopardy.

At the substation, the undercover man joined him as he got on the public transport. "Visit the animals, but don't ask obvious questions. I'll contact you tonight at your room. This may be tricky for you." Vorbete held his tongue and gave the appearance of gazing around in a tourist like manner. The other agent left at the next stop.

At the Pargue Zoologico, the tourists were herded onto hover vehicles with live guides. The price seemed high, thought Vorbete, but probably nothing compared to what he would have to pay for an elephant. When the group paused for the guide's spiel on the elephants, the Barrayaran listened carefully. One of the other people on the tour was asking alot of questions that Vorbete appreciated having answered. "Aren't there quite a few of the pachys for that size of enclosure?" "Yes, and we are about to cull some soon," was the guide's answer. "How do you decide the ones to go?" was the next question. The guide carefully pointed to three small ones-well, small in comparison to their fellows. "Those are a genetic anomally that we do not want to see continue. On Terra the pachyderms are much larger. Our geneticists feel that the animals with greater mass had the best chance of survival. We will dispose of the smaller ones that have not attained the desired size." After a short silence, a young man asked where the culled animals would go. The guide was reluctant to answer, but when the first questioner also insisted, the reply was that these would be shot as they were felt to be unwanted mutants.

Vorbete was more than a bit surprised that such a Barrayaran attitude was being used on Escobar of all places. He had been under the impression that this planet was at nearly Betan standards of moral rectitude. Could it be that these morals only applied to what seemed 'human' to the Escobarans? Now how can this be used for Barraryar's advantage, he thought. I wonder if these people care what might happen if one of those small ones disappeared. Hmmm, this has possibilities ... ha, a chance to strike back for my uncle's death in the Escobar War! As Vorbete continued his observations, he kept watch for possible places of incursion on perimeter defenses.

Meeting with DeBanquo, the undercover man, that evening Vorbete heard many of the facts reiterated. "I was already aware of most of this. What are the chances of our being able to purchase one? Culls ought to go fairly cheaply." "We investigated that angle first thing. Un fortunately," an irritated expression crossed DeBanquo's face, "someone let slip that it was wanted for Barrayar. The Parque Director absolutely refused to allow anything to be sold to us. Got violent about it, actually." Hell. Very will." Vorbete didn't mind all that much, in fact. "Get me a vehecle for reconnaissance, maps of the area, and try to find some way to move an elephant up to orbit undetected." Really, this method of accommodating the emporer's request and requirement could turn out to be quite economical. The other man was stunned for a moment, but only a moment. "What time line do you purpose?" he came back bravely.

"As soon as possible. The need is great, as is the cause." Vorbete was just hitting stride now and feeling very sure of success. "Tomorrow morning, I will begin my plans."

"If I might suggest something, sir?" Vorbete nodded. "Intelligence shows that a good time for recognance would be late enough to avoid the first risers but before the late morning trips start. You could be dropped off and picked up to avoid having a traceable transport left unattended."

"Good thinking, I like your suggestions. What time do you recommend for my pick up tomorrow?" Vorbete had been well taught by ImpSec and experience that the agents in the field gave good advice as well as bad. It was his job to know which was which. He had a strong sense that this advice was of the good variety.

Next day after being dropped off, Vorbete quickly discovered a temporary holding area for the small elephant and cased the fence for possible break-out points. Better and better, he thought, these Parque maintainers were not keeping the outer perimeter fencing in very good shape. He found serveral places that were well corroded. He had brought along chemicals that he promptly used to speed up corrosion. In three more days, he would be able to make a realistic break happen.

By midmorning, he was back on the road, waiting for his pick-up. An odd vehicle with only two wheels sped past. It seemed to be propelled by the feet of the rider. Vorbete hoped that his driver would be by soon. In two minutes the contact was made. "Did you find things alright?" was DeBanquo's question. Getting a nod from the Lieutenant, the agent continued, "Did you see the bicicleta that I'm using for observation?If we set our signals right it should work for the planned time. These contraptions are very popular here, especially for recreation."

"Hmmm, yes, good idea. Think of some reason to have one up here that day. We don't want to cause anything noteworthy,"

"Right, I thought that someone with a camera, doing views, that type of thing. It is very common on this stretch of road." Vorbete agreed with another nod.

Another trip to the Parque revealed that the pachyderms were frightened by waving sheets. The feeding schedule pointed towards a very late night or early morning raid.

Well before dawn two days later, Vorbete was in position at the fence. With only a slight assist from him, it broke in several places. Sneaking through with his large white sheeting, Vorbete got behind the elephants and got them moving by waving the cloth vigorously. The herd moved fast towards the defective fencing, knocking it flat as the paachyderms attempted to evade the fluttering menace. Vorbete dropped the cloth to his waist and ran to intercept one of the smaller elephants.

His problems were starting to emerge when the smallest elephants clung together. Herd animals. Means herd instinct. Right. After much expended energy, he was able to get two headed in the direction of his holding area. He was totally unable to direct only one towards that point; he was having some problems with the white cloth scaring them and he dared not drop it. This must look like an entirely unassisted break-out of the elephants. Finally, just as bright light started over the horizon, Vorbete sent word that he was ready for pick-up. At once an airtruck pulled up as near as possible to the elephants. "Quick, we have about half an hour to load....sir, that's two elephant, not one!"

"Just get one in and leave the other," commanded Vorbete as he urged the pachys closer. However, the two elephants were not about to be separated. When the lure of fresh grasses was thrown up the ramp, one surged forward and so did the other. After some jockeying there were two elephants loaded. Nothing would induce one of them to be parted from the other. Time was running out. The agent on observation radioed that traffic was headed towards them.

"All right. We'll deal with it later. Let's go." Vorbete was in an uptight mood. That was the trouble with things that 'looked' easy. There was always some point that you failed to anticipate. However, he had an elephant. Now to get one loaded on a shuttle and get into orbit, perferably before anything was discovered back at the Parque Zoologico.

"What did you decide was the best way to get this beast off the ground? You were still unsure when we last spoke." Damn, he thought, careless not to have checked before. These blasted elephants! I never realised they would be so insistant on staying together. We could all end up in the mud if De Banquo's has slipped up.

But DeBanquo was a well trained ImpSec agent and his cargo manifest read, agri-experimental stock. That seemed to be acceptable to the Escobarans at customs. "They don't care what goes out. It's what comes in that gets them all twisted in a knot," the agent told Vorbete. "I got it set up through a contact. He feels that he is letting diseased stock through. He thinks this is a good way to pay back Barrayar for the Invasion. I did not suggest differently."

The loading onto the shuttle was just as hard as on the airtruck and for the same reason. Those damned elephants would not be separated! Finally, Vorbete decided it was more important to get off planet than to try any longer to get them apart. "Let them know at Komarr to have more fodder ready at the jump station. I want it to be 'sub rosa' and very quickly done," he ordered DeBanquo. The Barrayaran pilot of the shuttle grinned. "Never thought I'd see the ambassador's own shuttle used for a couple of beasts like that. Who will tend them in transit?"Vorbete gave him a dirty look. "You are not to concern yourself. Just get us upside.""Ha, I thought so!" the pilot laughed. "You have the glorious duty. I've never been more thankful I serve the emperor as a shuttle man. I grew up an a farm. What do you plan to do about the, ah, 'by products'. The bigger they are, the more there is, you know. Or maybe you don't?"

The Lieutenant knew a moment or two of panic. He had not thought of it from that angle. He had planned for one, now he had two. Double of everything, including waste. The pilot grinned as they cleared the shuttleport and started toward the unmarked jump ship. "I'll let DeBanquo know you have extra problems, if you like. It will keep him busy for a day or so. Be good for him."

"Thanks," Vorbete said through gritted theeth. This pilot was too sure of himself. Now what could be said that will take him down a notch. "Well, I am certified to pilot shuttles, officer. Perhaps, I should delegate the farm work to you, since you admit to having the expertice?"

That ended any raillery until after the two now terrified and dirty elephants were on the jump ship. Then the pilot got a jab in as he left. "Two of those things on this dinky ship. And for most a week. Someone must really hate you back at HQ."

Nearly a week later, as Vorbete notified Cockroach, ah, ImpSec Headquarters that he was in orbit , he was not concerned over who hated him. He was too busy trying to decide who he hated most, Emperor Gregor-a child of ten, Vorthala - an old man and the Prime Minister, or Simon Illyan - his boss and the one who chosen him for this mission. He rather thought it was Illyan, but was just too tired to care. He had to sleep with the mutant beasts, feed them, and clean up after them. If only the poor things had not given them diarrhea each time the ship jumped! Vorbete could have accepted the mess his uniform was in if it were just a part of a disguise and not just a week with upset elephants. It was really too bad that awards were not given out for slipping in shit! He would have had a chestful of them for this mission.

When he came off the shuttle leading the two elephants, he was met by a spanking clean Illyan and Vorthala, who both said in unison, "We only asked for one of those."

"Yes, sirs. But I think you will like the price. It only cost transit and feed. As you can see," he did NOT say, and smell, " I served as their keepers to save money."

"How did you get them free?" Vorthala asked.

"I stole them, in as much as they were due to be shot as mutants, sir." Illyan's exasperated glare suggested that he would be favoring Vorbete later with acerbic comments on interplanetary incidents and various meanings of the word acquire.

"We can't have a mutant elephant to give the ambassador!" stated Vorthala.

"I checked in all the books, sir. These elephants just came from a different continent on Earth. The size is just a natural evolutionary development. The Escos must be very ignorant or else they don't believe what they read very much," Vorbete explained.

"And what will you do with the second one?" asked Simon. "ImpSec has no use for two elephants."

"Well, sir, perhaps the Imperial zoo could use an elephant? It would be, er, instructive for the people, especially the children, to see this kind of animal." Vorbete was only nonplused. He was simply too tired to panic, having had only six or eight hours sleep in over a week.

Simon Illyan had on his blank face. "It's all yours, Lieutenant. The Imperium ordered one. Perhaps, you could sell it to the commissary. Elephant steaks would be a change on the menu."

"No, sir! Those damned Escobarans were going to kill these beasts because some scientist said they were mutants! And they dare call us barbarians! I kind of got to like the little buggers on this trip." Whoops, old boy, Vorbete thought, you just stepped in it up to your elbows.

Vorthala started to laugh. "Well, Simon. I think your man has a point. The zoo is an excellent idea. I know they would be very happy to take the second one off your hands. Only problem I forsee is that they like them to be labeled a gift in someone's name. Can you think of anyone you would like to memorialize, Lieutenant?"

Instantly, Vorbete said, "Yes sir, my uncle Carl, who died in the Escobaran invasion."

Both Vorthala and Illyan grinned. "That's one in the eye to those damned Escobarans. I can see why you gave this man the job. He should go far." Vorthala said and turned to his handlers that awaited the elephants.

"Get some sleep. Mission accomplished." said Illyan to the stinking, dirty, but successful ImpSec agent.

© 1998 by Judy Nott (nott@pilot.msu.edu)

Current version by Michael Bernardi, mike@dendarii.co.uk

left arrow up arrow right arrow

All comments or queries about this Web page to: webmaster@dendarii.co.uk

Last updated: July 15th 2001