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Two for the Money

by euhal allen

part 1 of 3

On the outskirts of Marsopolis stood the massive structure of the Martio-Jovian Philatelic Society’s Galactic Institute for Philatelic Studies. Inside, in the main exhibit hall, was the cause of all the current excitement: the Zheng He display.

Zheng He stamps
The stamps issued by the old Chinese postal system, the China Post, commemorated the accomplishments of the great Chinese admiral’s voyages of discovery in the 1400’s and were drawing larger than usual crowds from the many avid philatelic societies spread across the galaxy. It was indeed a premier accomplishment for the Society’s Secretary’s already prestigious career.

Yet at that moment, that Secretary, Ouorn Sulti, watched a young Oriental man taking pictures of the collection of China Post Zheng He commemorative stamps. Appreciating that the special glass barrier, while allowing a fair picture to be taken, would also cause some of the finer details to be lost, Sulti felt proud to know that pictures take of the Society’s collections could not be used for counterfeiting.

About to turn and leave, Quorn noticed that the camera used by the young man stayed still and focused on one spot much longer than needed for an actual picture. A touch on the wall next to him alerted guards to the activity of the young man and, seconds later, in a grand tussle, the guards had the young man manacled and were bringing the camera to Sulti.

“I,” said Quorn, as he accepted the camera for inspection, “shall be most happy to apologize to you if there is no cause for our alarm. Such an apology is always accompanied by a good sum of money, if everything is completely innocent.”

Looking carefully at the camera, Quorn could see nothing unusual about it except for the tiny logo of two clenched fists on the bottom. Calling his lab overseer, Hensin, he asked if there was anything significant in that little mark.

The second he mentioned the mark to Hensin, the young photographer began to struggle and try to get away. It took all that the guards could do to subdue him, and soon he was unconscious on the floor.

Hensin, looking carefully at the logo, finally said, “Well, sir, I’ve never seen that particular mark before, but it does remind me of something else I have seen. May I take it to the lab and check it out?”

“By all means, Hensin, do so. I should like an answer as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, we will have to see to the comfort of our guest here.” Turning to the guards he ordered, “Put our guest in one of the lower apartments, and keep him secure and safe for the time being.”

* * *

In a more pleasant place, Quorn’s lovely daughter, Sidris, was sunning herself by the pool. It was an occupation highly approved of by her husband, Charlie Littlebear, who was something of an art lover. Sadly, the com unit chose the moment to interrupt the happy scene, and Sidris, seeing Charlie’s frown, said, “It’s Daddy again, isn’t it? There are times when I wished I hadn’t forced him to let me be an agent.”

Charlie just grimaced and beckoned Sidris over to the holo-scene being projected by the com unit.

“Oh it’s not Daddy . it’s worse . it’s Hensin! What is it this time? Has one of our reports disturbed you again?”

“No,” Hensin replied, “but I do find your costume pleasantly disturbing. It would be easier for me to be a bit more serious about the disaster at hand if you put a robe on.”

Sidris, seeing now that a new mission was in the works, donned a robe and turned professional, non-alluring, and completely serious. She waited for the information.

* * *

In a faraway place, in a magnificent building dedicated to the greatness of Chinese history and culture, and edifice built and commanded by the I Ho Ch’uan — the Righteous and Harmonious Fists Society, nicknamed the Boxer Society by the uninitiated — there was a very angry man. It was the Yung Lo, the head of the Harmonious Fists and the giver of guidance to those under him.

The Yung Lo peered over the report of the transmissions from the display at the barbarian museum, and thought deeply over its findings. The three-stamp set had been found in the hands of the barbarians of the Martio-Jovian Philatelic Society. It was the final set of commemorative issues celebrating the accomplishments of Zheng He. It needed to be in its place here, at the head of the Singapore and other Zheng Ho issues.

That the last copies of the China Post Zheng He commemoratory stamps could be held by those who had no right to them was an insult to the Righteous and Harmonious Fists Society, the I Ho Ch’uan. It was an insult that would be rectified. “Call Yuan Chu in,” the Yung Lo, commanded. “We must remove this stain from upon us.”

“It shall be done Exalted One!”

* * *

In still another place, in a building somewhat less prestigious, but making up for its size by its astounding lack of architectural taste, Sir Rupert Ollney, owner and master of all that surrounded him, was just finishing the reading of a report somewhat distasteful to him.

“Blast!” yelled Sir Rupert Ollney, “that weird Oriental group gets the Singapore Issues and the M-JPT gets the China Post Issues. You realize, of course, we can’t have this. We must get one of the sets or the Institute of Philatelic Science will have to take another back seat to those Murky-Jo people.”

“Quite right, Sir Rupert, quite right,” observed Fenton, Sir Rupert’s man. “But, I would caution you that those Boxer people tend to play a somewhat rougher game than we are used to. Perhaps it would be better to obtain the China Post set from the Martio-Jovian chaps. After all, Sir Rupert, you do remember what those Oriental chaps did to Rheams the last time we sought to acquire something they wanted.”

“Oh, don’t remind me Fenton. Fixing that left bamboo slivers and blood all over the place. Still can’t have bamboo shoots in my stir fry, you know. Gives me the shivers, just the sight of them. How is Rheams, bye the bye?”

“Much better Sir Rupert. But, I don’t think we got all those green bamboo slivers out of his legs and arms. Poor fellow seems to be sprouting.”

* * *

One of Charlie Littlebear’s more useful skills was his ability to learn and use languages. It was being used now as he, in peasant’s rags, limped through the back ways of Hong Kong in search of clues to the whereabouts of Sidris.

The dialect he used, from the far, very remote parts of China, was hard for others to understand. It provided security for his search, since no one in Hong Kong would believe that anyone would learn such a barbaric dialect on purpose. So this dialect, along with his very bad Mandarin, made everyone accept him as he purported to be, a visitor from a quaint village near the Tibetan border, and, thusly, of no consequence.

* * *

Sidris, dirty, her dress in rags, looked through the bars and then beat on the door of the ‘lower apartment’ she was now occupying. “Let me out of here, you scum, or you will pay very dearly for this insult!”

Across the hall a young face peered through the bars of his door and felt disgust at the lack of dignity shown by the young woman. Still, what he could see of her was pleasant, and he thought it the perfect time to use some of the training he had received in the back rooms of the Society. “You will not find,” he said, “beating and screaming of much help, young miss. The building is very well insulated and no one will hear you. It is much better to be like the grass and bend for a time in the wind of adversity.”

“Oh great,” replied Sidris, “not only do I get caught but they stick me in a cell across the hall from a nut who thinks that he is Confucius!”

“Is that so much worse than being across the hall from a crazy woman with a Mata Hari complex?” the young man retorted, laughingly.

Sidris laughed at that and then, speaking to the young Oriental man, said, “Who is Mata Hari? And you look like you belong upstairs.”

“Mata Hari was a famous, spy in another century. I did belong upstairs,” he replied, “but sometimes the tongue grabs the air wrong and unintentional words appear.”

“So, you insulted someone, or blew a cover, then?” asked Sidris.

“No, I did not fulfill my mission. Failure is not one of the virtues appreciated by the leadership of this organization. How is it that you believed that I had a cover, and why are you here?”

“I am always reading spy novels, and this place looks like one of the dungeons that Jeremy Falcon escaped from. As for being here, I’m not sure. I was wandering through the Hong Kong Flower Show and saw these wonderful orange flowers that looked a little like animal heads. When I felt one of them someone grabbed me from behind. I would have screamed, but I felt what seemed to be a gun and thought better of it. They took me to a car and brought me here. I didn’t know that touching a flower could be so dangerous.”

“Ah, you touched a Chinese New Year flower. There are those in our organization that have elevated that blossom to a state of holiness and feel that only Chinese may own or even touch them. Was there not a sign there?”

“Yes, there was some type of sign, but it was in Chinese. How could I know what it said?”

“You could have asked. Many of our people speak your language.”

Above them, at the end of the hall, they could hear footsteps coming down the stairs.

The Chinese prisoner said, “Go lay down on your bed. We must not be seen talking.” Then he disappeared from his window.

Sidris, lying on her bed, heard the commotion from across the hall. There was the sound of fists on flesh and then the sound of the dragging of a body down the hall and up the stairs. She hoped it wouldn’t be her turn very soon.

* * *

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2010 by euhal allen

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