Etiquette of Xolgrohim (Day 100)
“What are you and your fiancés doing in Ghemelia now?” Tarcuna asked me at breakfast. This was some effort on her part, since the Stroblanders were roasting oxen for us in a little mountainside park a half-hour’s drive from that useless tent.
“Nothing, I don’t think. We haven’t been back to Ghemelia since, oh, it must be nearly two weeks. Unless someone’s gone back to dig up a bit of a hoard from the desert or something, I suppose,” I said. “Why do you ask?”
“This,” she said, and handed me a little scroll of paper.
Which got annoyed squeaks from her guards. “That’s a Trestean state secret, level 2!”
“And how am I supposed to get anything else out of her if she doesn’t know what I’m talking about? You know she’s involved somehow.” snapped Tarcuna. I glared at the guards a bit, and they glared back. Markosh gestured to them, and they shut up.
Report on Death Falcon Mission 148J-S-GHEMEL.
Objective: Rescue senior ambassadorial and/or military staff from Mystery Zone around Ghemel; return with intelligence about nature of Mystery Zone.
“What’s a Mystery Zone?” I asked.
“We don’t know. That’s why we call it a Mystery Zone,” said Tarcuna.
“Well, what do you know about it?”
“It’s an approximate circle eighteen miles in radius, centered loosely on the former Presidential Palace in Ghemel. That covers Ghemel city proper, most of its suburbs, and chunks of farmland and such. Also dozens of Trestean military bases, the airport, and stuff. Two days ago we lost all contact with everyone in it. We — Trestean goverment and military I mean — should have been getting thousands of reports from it constantly, and, all of a sudden, nothing,” said Tarcuna.
“Nearly nothing,” said Markosh. “Some very strange final reports that Tarcuna hasn’t seen.”
“And we should have lots of messages from Ghemelians too — phone calls to other cities, businessmen and travellers and such, all kinds of things. All of that stopped at the same time. Now, we can see the city, with the Peace Everywhere Array cameras, and it doesn’t look any different. There’s plenty of traffic inside the city, plenty of people walking around, no mass casualties. No violence, which is pretty surprising — they usually get tens of explosions and fires a day, and that’s all stopped too.”
“Well, we certainly wouldn’t permit explosions and fires if we ruled the city, but eight of us are in Strobland, I’ve seen us all today, and the ninth is dead,” I said. “What are the final reports you got?”
“Two categories. Some said things like ‘Station 14-A under presumed chemical attack, details unknown. Symptoms increasingly intense pain and auditory hallucinations. All personnel affected.’ The others were more like ‘Can’t stand it any more. Must surrender. Tell my wife and children I love them.’” said Markosh.
Tarcuna’s fur went utterly flat, and she started shaking and smelling of rage. I folded a wing around her, and tried to be comforting. “It’s not cyoziworms.”
“You know what it is?” asked Markosh.
“I think so. Let me finish reading this, I’ll see if that sounds like him,” I said.
Personnel: Five Darkness Axe helicopters, each with pilot, copilot, and 4-8 specialists. Group included two enhanced agents.
Plan: Enter Mystery Zone along attached flight path. Stop at Station 1 and Trestean Embassy. Return along attached flight path.
The attached flight path wasn’t attached, but it didn’t seem important. I read the next quarter of the report.
Precautions: Helicopters equipped with anti-electronics gear; personnel wearing gas masks. Monitoring by telemetry with one or two correspondants giving running commentary in each copter. Results: Immediately on entering Mystery Zone, all correspondants mentioned burning sensations on the neck and shoulders. Several mentioned hearing voices saying, “The pain will increase until you surrender to Murghal Nhestravvath.” No such voices heard by telemetry. All reported rapid increase of pain. Nonverbal expressions of agony in audio telemetry. Copters attempted to turn around and flee. All ceased radio contact before they could reach edge of Mystery Zone.
Guardsman Monos on copter 4 started to report, saying “We have surrendered and” Follows only protracted screaming for over an hour. A voice tentatively believed to be Murghal’s says, “You were told to disobey all Trestean orders. You dared to defy us and continue to report. You will now die in pain.” Screaming intensifies for two minutes, then ends in gurgling. Presumed-Murghal speaks directly into microphone: “The Trestean army in Ghemel has surrendered and is now part of our loyal guard. They will stay and serve us forever. If you send anyone else in, we will conquer them just as easily. Do not think to meddle with us and our supreme new ally.” Then a pistol shot ends telemetry.