by Gary Russell
The lights were making him sweat - a somewhat uncommon feeling for a Martian Lord. He looked down at the table beside him - a decanter full of spring water, and a ridiculously small glass. If he even tried scooping it up, he'd probably crush it to granules. With a soft sigh, he resigned himself to a dry throat.
"So tell me, Professor. Isn't it time you retired? Time you allowed the torch of your exploits to be passed to younger . . . er . . . hands?"
Professor Rhukk feigned a hissing laugh and tapped his interviewer's knee insincerely. "Like holo-vid interviewers, old archaeologists never retire - they just buy new trowels."
The interviewer politely laughed as the live audience roared at his discomfort. As a large grin spread across his face, his eyes shot hatred at the large but slender Martian beside him. "Moving swiftly on, Professor, I understand your First Brother has been placed in charge of the Bruk. Bearing in mind that the Lassal Hatchery have a history of militaristic honours, are you considered a freak by taking an interest in less . . . aggressive subjects?"
Rhukk hissed slightly. "I have not spoken to my brother in many years but nevertheless, I am as proud of his achievements as he is of mine. His promotion to the command of the Galactic federation's most illustrious craft is a very great honour to every member of our Hatchery."
"But are your hatchery-brothers as proud of you?"
Rhukk leaned forward and the interviewer took an involuntarily squirm further towards the back of his chair. "I suggest you ask them. I'm here to promote the Braxiatel Collection's funding of my new expedition to Phaester Osiris. That and my new disc-text of course, available from Bowketts Universal Publications next week. It'll only cost you - "
Rhukk's words were lost under a thunderous roar and round of applause as the live audience were enjoying watching the interviewer being ridiculed by his guest. Rhukk glowed at the appreciation. He glanced down at the decanter and glass beside him. gingerly he picked up each and poured himself some water. "How kind of you to make me feel welcome," he smiled at the interviewer. "This glass is wonderfully appropriate for a Martian!"
The interviewer's reply was lost under another rousing cheer and clapping of hands.
Later, Rhukk was ooking at a shuttle in the Holo-Vid company's space port. It was ridiculously small - he'd probably have to cut his arms and legs off to get into it. Obviously revenge from that fool of an interviewer. Rhukk allowed a hissing chuckle. He'd enjoyed the whole evening. A scurrying sound alerted him to a small furry figure dashing up beside him.
The Martian looked down and grinned. He took off his helmet and bowed slightly. "Ker'a'nol. A very real pleasure to see you again. How is life at GFTV-3?"
"Everything's fine, thank you. I need to talk to you. Urgently. When are you going to Phaester Osiris?"
Rhukk shrugged. "Within the next few weeks. I'm off to see Irving Braxiatel tomorrow to sort out the funding. I gather he's joining forces with your old haunt, the Pakha University. Sharrod's college, I think."
The small Pakhar rushed around the tall Martian, waving her paws excitedly. "That's what I want to talk to you about. Sharrod's been working with me and a few associates. We think we're finally on the trail of the Diadem."
Rhukk stopped suddenly. "I think we need to have a bite to eat, Ker'a'nol. Are you busy right now?"
Ker'a'nol smiled." I've booked a table on Azure. We can be there in an hour and a half. By the way, it's Keri to my friends."
"Lead the way, Keri. Do you have a shuttle or shall I commandeer this ridiculously small thing that this holo-company have seen fit to suggest I squeeze into?"
Keri laughed and twitched her whiskers. "I think GFTV-3 can stretch to a bit of fuel and dinner on my expenses, yeah."
Rhukk nodded. "I should have thought a journalist of your calibre would have an open-ended credit account."
"I wish. Don't forget, Neal Corry runs GFTV-3, yeah. The only open-ended account is with his whiskey supplier."
"Corry hasn't changed then? How is he?"
"Same old loveable dictator. Typical human."
Rhukk stood beside Keri's shuttle and at a bleep from her data-pad, the side melted away to let them in. After they boarded, the wall rematerialised and a few moments later the shuttle was headed for Azure.
Dinner was a splendid feast. Rhukk dined on genuine Martian saakah, while Keri munched on a Pakha salat von nu▀kohle. After a few glasses of Champagne Florana, Rhukk and Keri were talking nine to the dozen about their incredibly high-profile careers and the delight they took in upsetting the establishments that frequently employed them.
"I gather that your coverage of Operation 'Galactic Storm' brought you even more respect and admiration."
Keri looked down. Suddenly serious. "Yes. It also took away a lot of friends. We certainly brought back dramatic, and downright harrowing, holos but I also brought back a few friends in body bags. It's not always the fun and frolics inside battlelines that many people make out. Yeah, I guess that's where I'm lucky working for Neal. He knows when it stops being fun. He gave me a few weeks break. I'm going home to Pakha tomorrow. then we're all of to Peladon."
Keri twitched her whiskers. "Yeah. Thought that'd interest you. I'll finally get to meet your First-Brother, Savaar."
"I hope you find him as interesting as the rest of the media do." Rhukk saw a flash of puzzlement cross his companion's furry face. He hissed a sigh. "Don't ask me why, but their is a degree of competition between us that is unhealthy. Savaar and I are just too proud, too typically Martian, to stop. One day it'll be too late. I'll get crushed in a rock fall or he'll get blown up by Galaxy Five terrorists and the survivor will have a life of regrets." Rhukk shrugged. "Let's change the subject. I want to know about the Diadem."
Keri got excited almost instantly. "Right. We think we've located it, somewhere near the Wavis Ravine. For years the scholars have been looking in the wrong place. I think that Gar'ah'd records are misleading. Probably deliberately. I've teamed up with a Cantrayan called Damajina and a human, Alec Roberts. Sharrod's team are beginning to get interested. Jina and I wondered whether you'd consider joining us before you go to the Horun ruins?"
Rhukk considered and swigged more Champagne Florana. "To work alongside yourself, Keri. That I like. Sharrod however may be a problem. I'm used to leading. So is he. He and I would tread upon each other's toes, to use the common vernacular."
Keri looked down at Rhukk's massive non-toed feet and smiled. "Fair enough, yeah."
"But," Rhukk continued, "you have a good team, I don't know the human, but the daughter of the Federation Chair is a renowned scholar. And Cantrayans are hard workers. The archaeologist equivalents of investigative journalists, like yourself. Sounds to me as you have a good team already. No, my dear Keri I will decline your kind offer. But I promise to monitor your progress with delight."
Keri shrugged. "Trouble with you Martians. You're stubborn, yeah. Still, I know better than to try and persuade you. Rest assured, Professor, you'll be kept up to date."
Rhukk smiled. "Good. Now, I really must recommend some Martian geletaa as a desert. You will find it better than the finest Pakha truffles."
"Better than Solaadon Chepberry Pie?"
"Of course! Martians taught the Solaadon people everything there is to know about cooking deserts!"
Laughing, Keri called a waiter over.
Three days later, Keri was back on Pakha. Damajina greeted her at the space port. With her was a humanoid, about half a metre taller than Keri. Besides Jina and the human with her, Alec, he was still small. The newcomer was covered in red fur, his long ribbed nose like a Pakha mole. Bulbous eyes glinted in the sunlight and he smiled with a row of incisor teeth.
"This is Vega Lexus. Professor Sharrod has sent him on to help us in the Wavis Ravine."
Keri nodded at Vega Lexus. "A pleasure."
"All mine, I assure you," Vega Lexus boomed in a voice deeper than his diminutive size implied. "I have given Jina the necessary details of where we think the Ancient Diadem might be."
Jina held up a 75mm silver laser disc. And shrugged. Keri was too polite to say anything, but Alec wasn't.
"Where the hell are we supposed to play that? I haven't seen one of those in about fifteen years."
Jina smiled. "The Pakhar library isn't known for its modern technology, my love. I have had a CDV installed into my 'puter. Kort and I have been sending each other messages on it already."
"Let's go Diadem hunting then," said Keri.
Deep below Pakha's surface lay the Ancient Diadem. It had lain there for many centuries - an object abandoned and forgotten by many.
But the Ancient Diadem wasn't damaged.
Merely recuperating . . .
Source: Doctor Who Magazine #211