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A new species settles on an infamous area of Centro and a wave of disappearances follow. Salsene detective Laklan Yerge is called to investigate, and is assisted by an alien impersonating the greatest sleuth of all time: Mr Sherlock Holmes.

Part I: The Mystery is SetEdit

For most of its land extension, the planet Centro is as welcoming at deep night as during the day. Light, sound and movement never stopped really. But this didn't apply for all of it. Besides those perfectly civilized dark boroughs made specifically for the comfort of nocturnal and/or light-sensitive species; there were also infamous places where the nightfall could represent danger, or even death, for those unwarned.

It was in one of those inglorious suburbs that Agarb and Nabrem were walking through in a dark, foggy, windy, unfriendly night. Under the pale moonlight, the wind blew stronger, causing Nabrem to shiver with cold and fear.

"Stop that, you're embarrassing me, coward" reprehended his brother

Like all of their species, the Iridi brothers were naturally equipped with heat vision, which could provide a relieving advantage in seeing an ill-disposed element approaching. Assuming the element was warm-blooded that is. Their clients, by the way, were not. Even so, the echolocation abilities would handle it, so that even through the faint mist; they could see the huge, hill-shaped spaceship that had landed two weeks ago. Also perceivable were at least four of the cold-blooded alien newcomers, moving around like oversized spiders.

The foremost of them approached cautiously. Their appearance was more mollusk than arachnid upon close examination, with five short tubular mouths with asymmetrical features moving in synchrony to create speech. This was then decoded by the Iridi's translator devices, which had just been updated with this new idiom.

"We are contented by your visit"

Though his gestures were hard to interpret, the alien reminded them of a sneaky entrepreneur. Of course, dealing with strangers, this could be a false impression.

"Ah... what kind of problem do you have here? Rizzaks? Eh... Oonslugs?" asked Nabrem

"We are not familiar with the local wildlife yet. All we know is that there strange creatures making strange noises and we do not want them around."

"We'll find and exterminate, that's our job." said Agarb

"We appreciate that"

A few minutes later, Agarb and Nabrem were splitting up to search for the animals. The nest if possible. Nabrem was still uncomfortable, though. Iridi are quite bond with their species and though dealing with alien customers was part of the daily job for these two; dealing with a hitherto unknown species was still uneasy for him, much to his brother's dislike. Of course, the howling sound of the wind was of little help to break the tension.

Almost half an hour after separating from Agarb, Nabrem had the impression of seeing movement in a nearby corner of the landed ship's outer hull. He approached, expecting to see a pest, but there was nothing there. At the same time he heard the distant but terrifying sound of a scream. It was Agarb screaming! Nabrem turned around and ran towards the direction his brother had gone.

Despite keen senses he could only see shadows of the beasts that were surrounding him. An arm grasped him on the shoulder and he didn't bother to look before reacting with an explosion of velocity; running on four paws like Iridi do to achieve great speed. He fled through the night.

Before running his most external pair of eyes had detected a quick glance of the thing that had threatened him. It was not a rizzak for sure, and didn't look like anything he had seen before.

Part II: A Meeting with SherlockEdit

"...And that was five days ago" Laklan told Sherlock Holmes

They were sitting on a modest table of a modest bar; located on a modest planet. The homeworld of the Lhobega was not a grand tourist attraction. It was a sandy desert, but not a particularly hot one. Bloated fly-like insects were clumsily air-dancing around the foods and drinks and the faint sound of local music playing contributed to a charming, old-fashioned atmosphere.

Laklan, a Salsene; was the only non-native in sight. The Lhobega don't receive many alien visitors. Laklan's only companions on his cheap public-transport trip to the planet had been a trio of Atrenid anthropologists.

Sherlock Holmes was a Lhobega like all others: squat, armadillo-like fellows with four legs, four arms and four eyes. Yet somehow, he resembled the same Holmes which Laklan had always imagined when reading his novels. The inquisitive, all-observing eyes; the slightly curved posture while listening with quiet interest; legs crossed, elbows resting on them, two hands together with the only fingertips touching each other.

"Seems to be an intriguing case, Mr. Laklan" said Holmes "Now, I want you to give all the details, precisely like your client told you. But first I am curious to know, what led you to seek my help in first place. I can see that it was a hurried decision"

"How do you know that?"

"Please, Mr. Laklan, a fellow detective like you would surely know if your colleague had just been investigating a crime scene. Your knees still show the revealing spots that indicate you were down looking for footprints, probably. And that piece of paper hanging from your left pocket has the characteristic typeface used on political documents. You have been doing a lot of research on these newcomers of your planet. And being a man of action, like most in our profession, you did not bother with tidying up once you decided to come here. I also deduce that you arrived on the planet last night, didn't you?"

"Right again. Impressive"

"Elementary. I took the liberty to research about your species. This characteristic secretion produced by your skin is still moist enough to suggest that this is your first day under the desert sun. Still, you must have arrived yesterday; otherwise you wouldn't have had time to put that message for me in the newspaper, calling for this meeting."

The short alien truly did believe he was Sherlock Holmes; the universe's only consulting detective. That was to be expected, based on everything Laklan had heard about the Lhobega, but it was still astounding to see it happening. It was odd that such a species as them did actually exist in the universe...

To say briefly: the Lhobega are a species completely devoid of the concept of 'individuals'. They assume names, personalities and identities as futilely and interchangeably as other creatures would change clothes. A Lhobega has nothing fixed: no name, no persona, no mannerisms, no profession. They assumed these according to their will, and then changed it. Again, and again and again.

Ever since reading about this, Laklan's mind had wondered about the possibilities and been excited for an opportunity to make that little test. Meeting his long-time favorite literary character for real; or as much for real as it would be possible to get. And that case was asking for it.

Creating Holmes was a most simple operation, really. Lhobega have enjoyed and assimilated alien literature for decades since their first contact. All Laklan had to do was donate a Sherlock Holmes novel to the public library and put the announcing on the journal for the next day, asking for the character's help in a case. He predicted such an interesting character would be quickly impersonated by the first who read it; and that proved right.

So there he was now. Talking to a creature that technically had never took part on an investigation; but for all practical purposes had solved the most complex intellectual puzzles, and captured the most cunning of criminals. It was a weird experience, and astounding.

Stopping only to sip his drink sometimes, Laklan told Holmes what he had heard from Nabrem.

"The Iridi wants me to investigate his brother's disappearance. They as pest control agents and had been called after complaints from these guys, the Zaav. They are a species that just landed on Centro and we have no idea where they came from. No reports of them anywhere else in the galaxy. They came in this nomadic ship and asked to settle in for commerce, and for the sake of diplomacy they were allowed. Chose a pretty darned district to settle; Julkghar just might be the most dangerous, crime-filled, god-forgotten vicinity within the continent. They paid a good price for the terrain so there was nothing to complain of, really. But nobody knows anything about them yet. I hear they have a very friendly ambassador. But there's been a wave of disappearances in the area they landed in, which makes the thing very suspicious."

"But the Iridi said that the thing that attacked him was not a Zaav?" asked Holmes

"He only saw a quick glimpse of it, but he was certain that it wasn't the Zaav"

"So that means there are still questions to be answered. Mr. Laklan, if you don't mind, I would like to go to Centro with you as soon as possible"

"Of course, if you have no other business here"

"No, this is my first case in a long time. I must confess that I feel quite enthusiastic about it"

Fascinating, though Laklan

Twenty minutes later, they were heading to Centro

Part III: A Childish MindEdit

"Laklan Yerge!" exclaimed Sergeant Sharptooth upon recognizing his friend

Laklan was back to the crime scene; which appeared much less creepy upon daylight; and gladly greeted the sergeant of CPS and his subordinates

"Lak, my man, I had a feeling that scaredy-lizard was going to call a private eye to aid us. But I didn’t know he would have the good taste to hire THE private eye, eh? And who is your friend?"

The Lhobega offered a hand

"Mr. Sherlock Holmes"

Sharptooth laughed

"Sherlock Holmes, ha! And where's Dr. Watson?"

"I see that you are familiar with my name. Unfortunately, my good friend Watson wasn't available for this particular adventure" said Holmes

"Hahaha! Say, for real now, who are you?"

Laklan opened his mouth and approached the sergeant with a calculated speech tone

"Ah, Sharptooth, let's just say that, for all practical purposes this is indeed Mr. Sherlock Holmes"

The Arbotile sergeant was starting to look irritated. A competent police officer; he was also renowned as more friendly and sociable than most of his species; though just as courageous. But when a joke was taken too far he could easily get angry.

"What do you mean? What kind of play is this?"

"If you are uncomfortable by my presence, sergeant, I assure that I will interfere the least possible on your investigation" said Holmes with his usual calm "Mr. Laklan, I don't wish to obstruct your own job either. I trust you gentlemen will not mind if I look around the scene. We can meet in your office tonight to discuss matters further, Laklan, I already have the address"

Laklan agreed with the idea and Sharptooth, trusting the other's judgment, reluctantly gave Holmes permission to investigate the place, while at the same time instructing two Banshaen officers to keep an eye on him.

When Laklan and the sergeant were left alone came the embarrassing questions

"Now you're going to give some explanations, who is this lunatic? What species is his? Is he a professional or an amateur?"

"Right now he is Sherlock Holmes, no other identity available. His species is Lhobega. And in the eyes of his government, he is a professional private detective and has full political and diplomatic permission to act as such. At least for now"

While the two men shared a drink, Laklan explained to the Arbotile about the Lhobega unique psychology in detail. Gradually, as he made a clear picture of the situation; the sergeant's reprehension was transferred from Holmes to Laklan himself

"I do not, by any means, approve what you're doing! I thought your kind was more ethical than this"

"What do you mean, Tooth? Nothing unethical about it"

"Oh, really? Do you really deny that you're taking advantage of a childish mind?"

"Childish?!" Laklan exclaimed with astonishment "You got to be kidding, he is not a child playing; he is acting seriously under his own will and commitment"

"You made him Sherlock Holmes. You didn't force him to do anything, but you calculated the whole thing and you knew what he would do. If it wasn't for your interfering he probably wouldn't be here investigating. Legally, there are no precedents for us to judge but I fail to see how different this is from a form of bribing"

"This is the most ridiculous accusation I have ever heard from you. That Lhobega had the choice to act as Sherlock or not. He had the choice to participate on this investigation or not. I didn't bribe him, I legally hired him!"

"Whatever you say, I do not approve of this. But as you say, the law's on your side. Good luck on the case"

The old reptilian sergeant finished his drink and left, walking with slight agitation. Laklan could interpret this as a desire to avoid the rain which was starting to fall. He remembered the sergeant commenting on more than one occasion about how he wished there were more arboreal pathways on Centro, for the sake of the Arbotile population. They really enjoyed moving through the trees.

Back from this distraction, Laklan though about what Sharptooth had just said. There was no point in any of it. He was not taking advantage of Holmes. But it really was him the one responsible for convincing the Lhobega to come to the planet. He felt slightly guilty and anxious, for he would certainly be the one to blame if something bad happened to the little fellow...

Part IV: Pattern of Victims?Edit

The sun had already disappeared from the horizon when Laklan turned to his office, which was also his home. He was still wet by the rain, but his amphibian-based nature didn't mind very much. His head was hurting, but he couldn't guess the reason; it hadn't been hurting before he entered. Then he realized that what he though was a headache was actually a maddening, screeching sound coming from the second floor. What could that be?

Laklan had little time to try to figure that, because on that moment he saw his secretary, Miss Dania, coming mad in his direction.

"Happy to see I'm back from my trip, Dania?" he asked sarcastically

"Oh, Mr. Yerge, I am euphoric. By the way, do you happen do know a short guy, God knows of what species; who claims to be your associate while keeps torturing my ears with this hellish music and insisting that I refer to him as Mr. Sherlock Holmes?!"

Laklan took a long breathe. Dania was a Detroni, and usually a patient and efficient secretary; but she had a good reason to be angry this time

"It's a long story, but he really is my associate and he really believes he's Sherlock Holmes. I will explain everything to you after I talk to him"

"So, you’ve finally got a mad man for an associate. How did I not see that coming?"

"You know? Take this" he said offering her an electronic handbook called the Easy Manual of Sapient Races: Culture, Philosophy and Biology "search for Lhobega, l-h-o-b-e-g-a"

Forecasting her next request he added:

"Don't worry about the music, I'll make him stop"

He went up the stairs to meet his self-invited guest. Holmes was appreciatively playing a trediloe, a Salsene string instrument which required tremendous technique to avoid sounding like a rizzak vomiting after eating the remains of a shattered glass object. Holmes evidently had not fully mastered this technique yet.

"Ah, Laklan, good evening, do you have any requests? Or would you rather discuss the case first?"

"I think the latter is our priority right now"

For his immense relief, he saw Holmes returning the instrument to its case

"Did you have a nice drink with Sharptooth?" he asked

"Yes, but I'm afraid that despite staying on the street for so long I haven't really advanced on the investigation"

"That was to be expected. Please, don't take offence, Laklan, but after investigating the case for four consecutive days, and deciding to go for my help, I wasn't expecting you to come up with the solution right now"

"Well, have you?"

"Not yet" he answered with the right combination of confidence and modesty "but I have studied the disappearances of the area and made a list: three Zyrothans, two Atrenids, two Salsenes, one Phoebus, one Skarg, one Arachnus, one Neheele, one Lentaa, one Banshaen and one Iridi. No clear pattern on the victims, unless we consider a strong desire for racial diversity; which is nonetheless interesting."

"Yes, I had noticed that too. I confess that I am still baffled. Have no idea who or what could have done this. And most importantly, why?"

"For that I have no answers either. I carefully searched the place, but could find hardly any conclusive traces. There were footprints of all sorts, of course, most erased by the stampede of police officers and curious pedestrians. And I could also catalogue a number of chemical solutions on the ground which could give us clues about the nature of the victims or the culprits. This one might be significant" he said holding a small recipient "I've analyzed it on samples of brain tissue which I was lucky to purchase from the local university. It seems to have the effect of a powerful, artificially-made neurotoxin"

Laklan was sincerely impressed and Sherlock could notice that. Though he made a gesture of humbleness, Laklan knew he was proud of his abilities and how they could easily amaze others.

"Tomorrow I think I could be profitable for us to investigate the interior of the alien vessel" suggested Laklan

"Precisely my idea too. Our minds are in synchrony, Laklan. May I add that I would greatly appreciate if you accompanied me this time. Like my good friend Watson you appear to have the ability to enlighten the minds of others, involuntarily"

Laklan couldn't decide whether to be glad or offended at taking the role of Watson for the investigation. But then again, when you call up Sherlock Holmes himself; that is to be expected...

Part V: The Secret AgentEdit

The Zaav landed vessel occupied about sixteen blocks of terrain. It was actually minuscule for what used to be a nomadic ship containing an entire civilization. Of course there ought to be much more of these somewhere over in space.

Before entering the complex, Holmes took some time to smoke his pipe and observe the city edge that surrounded it.

"An interesting feat of architecture. Built over the remains of a much more ancient civilization, from what I heard. You can see how it has been indiscriminately reformed and expanded several times over the centuries."

"Makes you wonder why the Zaav decided to land here, of all places, huh?" said Laklan

"There is no doubt that the Zaav are purposely involved in these disappearances. There remains to answer how and why. Why would they kidnap members of so many different species which they pretend to be on good terms with? I am sure diplomacy would have allowed them access to anatomical and physiological studies already made; so science is certainly not behind these abductions"

"Yes, and shall we not forget the strange animal which tried to capture Nabrem" added Laklan

"My theory to explain all that is so absurd I find myself increasingly doubtful of it. Still, I have this philosophy that once you exclude the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, should be the truth. If I manage to confirm it today the case will be solved"

Laklan knew it better than to ask Sherlock Holmes what his conclusions were. He knew the guy would only reveal it after the case was closed. That didn't matter much now, of course; Laklan was starting to cultivate his own theories and wondered how he would manage to confirm them.

The interior of the alien ship was dark and full of passageways and closed doors; some of which located on floors and even ceilings. There were few Zaav to be visible, they appeared to be a timid species. Or simply cautious.

One of the Zaav greeted them.

"You are among the few strangers ever to have the honor of entering the Hive"

"Hive?"

"The Hive is our community. We live to serve the Hive. Please understand that you will not be allowed to enter the sacred rooms; and neither the engine rooms, which contain our Hive's main workings. No strangers may ever be allowed there"

Of course this made the sacred and engine rooms the main focus of investigation; but would it be possible to enter those in secret?

Laklan and Holmes walked through the ship, always accompanied in distance by at least one Zaav guard. Every now and then Holmes raised his head and looked around, pistol ready at hand, as if he had heard something. Twice the same thing occurred to Laklan, and he was sure he could sense someone else secretly following them. At one point they decided to split up, each going in one direction of the circular corridor that circled the main engine rooms.

Now alone, Laklan heard a faint noise indicating his pursuer was near. With quick agility he turned and glimpsed a humanoid form running away. He shot a few times and the other yelled him:

"Stop! CPT!"

He came out of the corridor shadow showing an official document and a handgun pointed at Laklan; who recognized the other Salsene as Molak Jurunn; from Centro surveillance. Lowering his own weapon he offered Molaf his card.

"Laklan Yerge, private eye. I wasn't aware that CPT was investigating this place too"

"That's the idea. The Zaav don't know I'm here either and I rather wish to remain secret, so please lower your voice"

"Sorry. I suppose you're not allowed to tell me what's going on here"

"Even if I were; right now I know as much as you do" said the agent

Just at that moment, Laklan heard a distant scream:

"Get your hands off me!"

It was coming from the direction Holmes had gone. Laklan ran there as fast as he could, still holding his pistol. Only much later did he realize that Molaf had not followed him; or at least not openly.

Part VI: Gwylhurm Shows UpEdit

Laklan arrived just in time to see Holmes discussing with one of the Zaav guards.

"He was trying to open the doors to the engine rooms" the Zaav explained

"I was certainly not!" replied a very indignant Holmes "I was just trying to figure out whether this horrendous door and these horrendous walls had ever been painted, because, I am sorry to offend but I cannot conceive how any decorator could decide to use this same hue of grey for everything. And no matter what kind of spectrum your species sees, the complete lack of portraits is unforgiveable"

At first, Laklan was just perplexed by this gratuitous explosion of nonsense; not to mention that Holmes' voice and mannerisms had seemingly changed. Then, of course, he realized what had just happened.

"Excuse me" Laklan said to the Lhobega "may I ask your name?"

"Ah, sorry Laklan, what a complete idiot I am, allow me to introduce myself: I am Gwylhurm, the painter"

Visibly embarrassed, he turned to the Zaav to explain the awkward situation

"The Lhobega are a species which naturally have multiple personalities. I'm sorry, could you leave us alone for a minute?"

After the alien left, Laklan wondered how he would be able to bring Holmes back. That was a situation he had come completely unprepared for and despite reading the book; had no idea on how such a problem was handled among the Lhobega and how to proceed.

"Ah, listen, Gwalnerm..."

"Gwylhurm"

"Sorry, Gwylhurm. We are in the middle of an investigation, we really need Holmes..."

"Why don't you call him?"

The word 'call' was certainly a translating error. It was obvious the Lhobega was suggesting him to become Holmes.

"I can't"

"Why not? You know him"

This was going to be complicated

"Now, Laklan, if you don't mind, I'll go buy some ink and some panels" said Gwylhurm, the alien that just a few minutes ago was Sherlock Holmes

"Ah, no, your government hasn't given you Centro money to buy these things. I'll tell what you should do, you should go back to the office, there ought to be some canvas there, and some ink"

He accompanied Gwylhurm to the entrance of the Zaak vessel and watched him leave; then he got his communicator and made a call to the Lhobega Bureau of External Affairs. His attempts to explain the problem to a Lhobega representative failed, however.

"I don't see what's wrong. It will be a great thing having Gwylhurm there, presenting his art to your planet"

"But I need Holmes and he is the only one who can be him" he hoped the representative at least would realize that

"I see. Do you want us to call Holmes for you and send him there?"

"No! No, that's not necessary! Thank you, good bye"

Having another Lhobega come was not exactly the solution Laklan had in mind...

He crossed his arms in frustration. The man who was Sherlock Holmes had suddenly decided to become an extravagant painter instead. Laklan could envision the sergeant now, telling him that he was asking for something like that to happen...

Part VII: All Aliens are CrazyEdit

After a relatively unproductive day trading ideas with the officers and trying to figure out the next route of investigation, Laklan Yerge returned home for a nice dinner. Before preparing one, he went upstairs and was surprised to see the Lhobega was not there.

"Dania?" he called for the Detroni secretary

"Yes?"

"Dania, have you seen Holmes?"

"Yes, your pet cosplayer was here. Left about two hours ago talking about inspiration and bad ink quality"

Laklan was becoming annoyed

"He is neither my pet nor a cosplayer; he is a rational, sapient being capable of taking decisions by himself"

"Laklan, he's insane and you know it..."

"He is an alien! You don't seriously say that someone is insane just for acting according to his species"

"I am an alien from your point of view, Laklan; and vice-versa; but I bet you've never seen me pretending I'm Sherlock Holmes!"

"No, I haven't. But I do find your table manners to be disgusting. And you have told me several times that you think Salsene humor is sociopathic"

"Alright, he is a Lhobega, acting accordingly. But you must understand it too: he is not Holmes, he is not a detective, and you are trying to deny that you made a mistake bringing him to this investigation"

Laklan sat in his armchair to calm down.

"Sagma Loren Rimsk once said that all madmen are just sane people who happened to be born of the wrong species..." he reflected "Ah, I suppose I'd better go after him"

"After Sagma Loren Rimsk?"

"What? No! After Holmes! I mean, Gwylhurm! Oh, whatever..."

He left the room stomping and grumbling unintelligible words.

Perhaps all aliens are crazy after all, reflected Dania.

Part VIII: The Sergeant Goes Missing Edit

Laklan searched the entire district around his office, with little hope of stumbling upon the Lhobega. He could be anywhere... Art clubs, parks, restaurants...

It was well over midnight when, walking through one of the still illuminated and lively regions, he saw a short figure with a canvas board and surrounded by ink buckets, painting with a brush.

"Gwylhurm!"

"Good night, Laklan"

"Is this your idea of a place for inspiration?"

"It can be; art is not only made out of bright, sunny fields. A night street like this one can be equally fascinating. You will be happy to know that my portraits are being quite popular. My associates have been selling them for tourists"

"Where are your associates?" Laklan asked

The Lhobega pointed him to two nearby figures: an Atrenid, a Gaedrongo; who were offering portraits to a Zyrothan, who bought one.

"New business?" asked Laklan

"Brand new. Rare quality paintings for one third the usual price" said the Atrenid

"Who's the painter?"

"That's Gwylhurm, ex-professional. Now paints for hobby"

"Look, Mr. Gwylhurm is coming with me, OK"

"Hey, who do you think you are?"

"Detective Laklan Yerge, I have friends on the police"

"Hey hey hey hey, calm down, we're not criminals, we're honest businessmen"

The Gaedrongo turned to the Lhobega and yelled

"Hey, Gwylhurm, you know this guy?"

"Of course I know him! That's Laklan, he offered me residence here on Centro"

"Then tell him to stop trying to close our business"

"Laklan! These gentlemen saw my paintings and offered a fine deal! What's the matter with you?"

"Yes" the Atrenid agreed "fine deal, and we have license for commerce here so goof off" he showed an apparently official document, which Laklan examined

"All I can do is warn you; the three of you" said Laklan "I wouldn't be selling pictures, glasses and gadgets here at this hour, there's been lots of crimes around lately"

"Tourists are not aware of that. For them, the city never sleeps"

Laklan was annoyed with himself. He had argued with Sharptooth and Dania for comparing the Lhobega to children or nuts; but it was hard not to. At that moment he was fighting his own wish to just grab Gwylhurm by the arm and go back to the office with him.

But like he himself pointed out, the Lhobega was a rational being and should be allowed to do whatever he wanted there. His government seemingly didn't give a krag whether he was engaged on the original task or not.

Before heading back home, Laklan felt like visiting the sergeant again and stopped by the police department. He saw Asik, a Phoebus constable, and Sharptooth's second in command. They hailed each other friendly and Laklan asked where the sergeant was.

"Last time I heard from him he went to the CSA corps to deliver some reports. But that was three hours ago, he should have been back by now. I think I'll phone him just for sure"

There was no response. Asik telephoned the corps and was told that Sharptooth had not been there.

Laklan suddenly got worried. He checked the list Holmes had made and realized there had been no Arbotile victim yet...

Part IX: To Serve the HiveEdit

Constable Asik now commanded the group consisting of forty seven officers plus Laklan; which marched towards the Zaav vessel. Diplomacy with a recently-discovered species was in check of course, but the circumstances were suspicious enough to justify such operation.

A few yard meters distant from the ship a flying projectile hit the ground near the police force. It was a gas grenade. Most officers managed to put their masks on time and heavy shooting began. An army of Zaav came out of the ship, along with a few creatures that were definitely not Zaav! Laklan wondered if this would be the first battle of an official war.

If it was, their side was losing. After some confusion, Laklan couldn't see where Asik's group had gone. They had withdrawn, it seemed, or did they get captured?

He saw himself being captured by two Zaav soldiers that tried to inject something in his arm with a hypodermic needle, but somehow managed to dominate the aggressors and let himself fall on the floor. Furtively he caught the needle, removed its content and pierced the empty one on his arm to make it look like he had been injected. Then he laid down and pretended to be unconscious...

Many hours later, Laklan had been carried inside the vessel and put in a room along with eleven captured members of the police force who were actually unconscious. The first one waked up. Then the second, the third, the fourth; all quietly standing there without doing much. Laklan though it was a good time to 'regain conscience' too and stood up along the others.

After all of them had waked up, a Zaav entered the room and started speaking about the Hive and how wonderful it was to serve it. Laklan was increasingly worried about the straightness and quietness of his comrades, but refrained from acting differently.

After the speech they all marched quietly along the corridor. Laklan could hear the conversations of Zaav in other rooms. They seemed all worried. Every now and then he saw a member of another species working along the Zaav as if one of them. They weren't complete aliens, though, since all of them showed some Zaav characteristics; be it the jointed insectoid legs, the multiple mouths or the leather-like skin. Most of these aliens looked like they were slowly metamorphosing into Zaav.

Of course that was precisely what was happening.

It was all clear to Laklan now: the Zaav assimilated other species into their Hive. The first injection was to assure mental control and psychological dedication. Later, the recent converts were genetically altered to transform into Zaav. They probably took care to assimilate a wide diversity of races to ensure genetic variation; or perhaps for religious or ideological reasons.

When the group entered one of the so-called sacred rooms, Laklan saw that it was a similar to a garden, where strange vegetables grew. They were alone there: the twelve 'converts' and the Zaav guard.

Thinking this was his best opportunity; Laklan grabbed his pistol and shot the guard unconscious, also managing to do the same to two of his comrades before the remaining ones held him tight. Hearing the confusion, another Zaav arrived, asking what just happened. Laklan knew now that his chances of escape were minimal, but he also knew a bigger police force would arrive soon and reverse the situation. Perhaps he could gain time.

Without hesitation he started to charge the Zaav for his crimes.

"Crimes!" the alien was offended "What right do you have to call it a crime? Your friends are very blissful to serve the Hive, detective. See by yourself"

After a few minutes four converts were brought into the room: Sharptooth, the two street vendors and the Lhobega.

"Join us, Laklan. It is delightful to serve the Hive"

What followed was very fast, but it suffices to say that while highlighting the wonders of the collective, the Lhobega suddenly grabbed his gun and shot the other Zaav unconscious too.

In the confusion that followed, Laklan and the Lhobega somehow managed to put down all the others and lock the door from inside.

"It's good to have you back, Holmes" Laklan said smiling "And may I add, your performance as a member of the Hive was well worth the Oscar"

"And I appreciate your words" said Holmes "Though I must confess I don't know what 'the Oscar' means. Now, I suppose we'd better try to escape through one of the auxiliary passageways and deter the greatest number of them we are able too. The constable has probably called for a reinforcement by now, but they might take some time to arrive"

Part X: The Lucky OnesEdit

Laklan was back to his office reading the newspaper with Dania and Sherlock Holmes.

He and Holmes had stayed three hours fighting Zaav soldiers inside the Hive before being rescued by Asik's reinforced patrol. Hundreds of policemen encircled the Hive and rescued the kidnapped victims, all of which were fortunately still in the first, easily reversible stages of metamorphosis. Sharptooth and the others would soon be back to normal.

The Hive was put into custody, but sometime during the night the Zaav managed to restore its power and sail flight. Wherever they are now, they ought to be in a difficult situation, for at least four Centro species have officially declared war on them already.

"I still wonder why they do that" said Laklan. "The doctors' preliminary studies here suggest that the assimilation process is genetic and may be a natural form of reproduction for them. But the mind-controlling toxin is certainly artificial, and the result of decades of study most certainly; having effect on practically any kind of alien organism. Why this Hive philosophy? Why the need to transform ALL different species they can?"

"Alien thinking" reflected Holmes

"And speaking of which, I think I own you apologizes Mr. Holmes" said Dania "the mental plasticity of your species came for good use, I am impressed"

"So I am" agreed Laklan "you became a member of the Hive so convincingly you fooled them into believing you had been converted already"

Just for modesty's sake Holmes avoided commenting on his own brilliance and instead told about his plans to stay on the planet for a few more days before returning. He later left for a walk, to see other parts of the city.

"You know, I feel sorry for them" said Dania after Sherlock left "not having an identity of their own, a personality... It must be so odd"

"Perhaps" said Laklan "but in my view, the Lhobega are the lucky ones. They are the ultimate definition of freedom, you know. They can live a thousand lives, a thousand adventures. They can see life from a thousand perspectives... They can be whomever they want!"

Staring distractedly through the window he added "And I think that, though they won't say it; I think that they feel sorry for us..."

CreditsEdit

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