Only Slightly

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Only Slightly graphic by Amy the Ant

Previously in Only Slightly

Holidaying on Gir-Aris, a planet renowned for its famous beaches, Linda and Anneka are unfortunate enough to be first on the scene when a dead man is found in his room in their hotel. When the chief investigating police officer is found dead in the same room shortly
afterwards, his rather xenophobic deputy takes Linda and Anneka in for questioning.

Part Eight

Anneka picked up one of her shoes from her bedroom floor and tossed it onto the bed with a sigh. They'd been released from the police station earlier that morning after a night of questioning, once it had become clear even to the xenophobic and apparently paranoid
investigating officers that they had had absolutely nothing at all to do with the two murders the previous day. While they'd been away, their suite had been searched and was now in a complete mess, with shoes and
clothes and other items strewn over the floors.

'This is not on at all!' Linda exclaimed from her room. Anneka picked up another shoe and went to see what the fuss was about. Linda was standing in front of her wardrobe, the floor around her feet littered with black leather trousers, tops, catsuits and accessories. Her indignation, however, was directed into the wardrobe, where Anneka could just see what looked like a pile of dead snakes.

'What's wrong?'

'Look at this! Just look!' Linda pointed dramatically, and as she moved to one side Anneka could make the pile out more clearly. Linda's assortment of whips for all occasions was a tangled mess at the bottom
of the wardrobe, apparently deliberately tied into a selection of fiendish knots. 'This is utterly unacceptable!'

'We should send a formal protest to Ambassador Randall,' Anneka said. 'Handle this properly.'

'Yes. I suppose we should.' Linda sounded slightly disappointed that she wasn't going to get the chance to handle it personally and violently. 'What's that terrible noise?'

From the courtyard beneath their balcony the sound of raised voices was drifting up, accompanied by the slight whine of antigravity luggage lifters. The two women looked outside to see a group of hotel guests
confronting several staff members, who looked like they thought the guests were about to stampede them.

'Everything will be fine, you are perfectly safe -' the man Linda recognised as the manager was saying, in a voice that was supposed to be calming.

'Perfectly safe? Two murders yesterday, and now three people falling ill with some disease nobody seems to recognise! What's going to happen next?' One of the guests was quite strident, and the manager looked to be not only losing ground, but also the desire to keep it.

'There is no reason to suggest that -'

'Not to mention the noises last night! Don't tell me you didn't hear those!'

'Just some kids mucking about I'm sure, sir, they won't come back tonight, no reason to...'

'Well I'm not going to stay and risk it. If you'll excuse me...' The crowd of guests pushed forward, followed by their luggage floating on antigravity pallets, and a few moments later the courtyard was almost empty save for the staff. The manager shook his head ruefully.

'I don't know,' he said to the other staff members, 'we do seem to be having a run of bad luck, don't we.'

'More than that,' one of the others said. 'Maybe the guests are right to go.'

Linda and Anneka exchanged looks. Clearly something was going on beyond just two murders - that the incidents weren't connected never crossed their minds for more than a few moments, and was instantly dismissed in any case. They moved back into their suite where they
wouldn't be overheard.

'So what do you make of that?' Anneka asked.

'Very suspicious,' Linda declared. 'But we have a suite of rooms to clear up. I don't fancy spending another night at the police station if we stick our noses into this business again.'

Had Anneka put more faith in the local police, she might have contested that view, but the previous night's experience suggested to her that Linda was right. They were off-worlders, more importantly they were off-worlders from Earth, and that made them suspect. Sighing, she went back into her bedroom and started tidying up.

In the early hours of the morning, Anneka was awakened by strange noises from the floor above. Lying in the dark, she listened for a few moments, and came to the inescapable conclusion that it sounded like people walking around, although trying not to make any noise. Except the rhythm was wrong, somehow. She rose from bed, slipped into a black leather catsuit with the usual stainless steel spikes hiding a number of useful gadgets, and went into the living room, where she almost
walked into Linda, who had apparently heard the same sounds.

'What do you think?' Linda asked.

'Let's go have a look,' Anneka said. 'I'll check the room above.' She went to the balcony, opened the door and stepped outside. Pausing briefly to look at Gir-Aris' scarlet-tinted moon (which looked ominously like it had been dipped in blood), she rose into the air
and was soon peering into the window of the room above from whence the noises had come. It was completely dark, apparently unoccupied, and... Yes, there was a flicker of movement. Anneka saw the door open and shut, but couldn't make out what had left the room. She went back
down to Linda and reported what she'd seen in a low whisper.

'Right, let's go see if we can track them down,' Linda said. Anneka nodded, and turned on the small scanner in one of the spikes on her catsuit. It showed the remaining guests and staff in their rooms, and three faint readings in the corridor one floor up. Even as she comprehended what the holographic projection was showing her, the readings descended a flight of stairs and vanished.

'Out of range,' Anneka muttered. 'They're very faint signals to start with.'

'Let's go and look anyway,' Linda said. 'Go aerial, see if you can see them leave the building.'

Anneka nodded and headed for the balcony again, doing a graceful somersault over the rail before rising above the hotel and sweeping down to the front door, where she floated about twenty metres above the street, studying the output of her scanner. A very clever variant on
holographic technology, it was a hologram only viewable from one direction, so anyone looking up from the ground might see Anneka in the gloom, but wouldn't have a bright hologram to guide them to her.

Only moments later, the door slid quietly open and three figures emerged, moving silently along the street towards the beach. Anneka followed them, trailing a safe distance back and above them. Looking back, she saw Linda also slipping out of the hotel. The former Sitter
scanned the sky, located Anneka easily and headed towards her. Anneka noticed she was wearing what appeared to be a pair of sunglasses, but were in fact a very effective night-vision system which enabled her to
follow Anneka easily.

The beach was deserted of course; although at this time of night there was no serious danger of sunburn, moonbathing was not something anyone had ever really taken up as a serious passtime. Besides, it was a bit too chilly to be lying on the beach.

The three figures were all heading for the same place on the shoreline, where a dark shape protruded from the water. It took Anneka a moment to realise that it was a ship - perhaps a submersible, from the shape. The top hatch stood open, and another figure emerged from it. Anneka landed next to Linda as the former Sitter jogged onto the beach, and they approached the submersible together, staying far enough back to avoid notice.

Sounds were coming from the submersible now, speech, but in a language neither woman had heard before. They listened anyway, hoping to hear a name or location they recognised, but it seemed only unintelligible gibberish. Crouched in the sand, Linda didn't notice the small crab which scuttled up to her and poked her foot until it had
done so, and she let out an involuntary shriek as she stood, kicking out at it.

Anneka reacted with the reflexes of a misspent youth, diving to one side and into the air almost immediately. Lights flashed out from the submersible, pinning Linda in their glare as she started diving in the other direction. Another one caught a glimpse of Anneka's leg, and started trying to pinpoint her, although they clearly didn't expect to find their target thirty metres up in the air and heading straight for them.

The figure from the submersible reached inside the craft and pulled out a gun, letting off a series of air-searing blasts of light in Linda's direction. The former Sitter dived and rolled out of their way, heading for the nearest piece of cover, a palm tree-like plant
growing near the promenade. With a scream of rage, Anneka dived, grabbing the gun before the figure was even aware of her, but it was pulled back out of her grip and she spun away, up into the air once more before her target realised where she was. More shots hit the
sand around Linda, then another which ended not in the hiss of melting sand but a scream of human pain, and Linda slumped limply.

'No!' Anneka screamed in rage and grief, diving for the nearest of the figures, kicking him in the head. He fell like Linda had, knocked senseless by the impact, and Anneka landed neatly on the sand with his weapon in hand, ready to take off again.

'Drop it,' a strangely-accented voice ordered, and suddenly she saw the others closing in around her, weapons levelled. 'Drop the weapon.'

Anneka's fingers flexed on the trigger - maybe she could take out one of them before she died. She was only dimly aware of the roar of water behind her as she started to raise the gun, certain the action would be her last and only aware that she wanted to take as many
of these people with her as she could.

A wall of water crashed into the nearest of the figures, knocking him over and smothering him before he could make a sound, moving onwards as if alive to the next. Another wall of water came in from the other side, and in moments all the figures had been sucked out into
the sea, dragged under the surface as the waters returned to their usual gentle waves once more. Anneka stared at the sand, which showed no signs of the water's passage, then turned to look at the sea. A woman was striding out of the water, completely naked but apparently either unaware of it or unconcerned. She stopped in front of Anneka.

'Can't go a moment without needing rescuing, can you?' she said in a familar voice. Anneka gasped.

'Geraldine! What are you doing here?'

'That's a long story,' The Geraldine said. 'What I want to know is why you were ready to let yourself get killed just then.'

'Because - they - Linda!' Anneka set off at a run. The Geraldine followed, keeping pace easily despite her age, and they found Linda just as she'd fallen, blood staining the sand beneath her. Anneka turned her over, felt at her neck for a pulse.

There was none.

The Geraldine is returned to civilisation, but how, and why, and at such a price. Who are these mysterious figures who killed Linda? Why were they sneaking around in the hotel, and does this have anything to do with the illnesses and murders? Read on, and find out...

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