and The Pirates of the Mystic Caravan.
Chapter 11 - Bugged
'It doesn't bloody well exist!' exclaimed Priscilla, shaking with outrage, her words tinged with the beginning of fear as sudden realisation sank in.
'Whatever are you on about Cilla?' asked Monique, entering their Dorm room, her arms piled with school books. 'What does not exist?'
'The, ther, the... ohhh!' Priscilla stamped her foot in consternation at not being able to get the words out. 'The effing temple in Canberra, that's what! I can't believe it! I just can't believe that nobody bothered to cross-check!'
Monique, alarmed at her best friend's outburst, dropped the books on her bunk and crossed to where she sat, rigidly staring at a sheet of paper on her bed-side study table.
'Look at this!' Priscilla said, sweeping the paper up and waving it in Monique's face.
'What... oh, it is a list of Zoroastrian Temples in Australia,' said Monique, steadying Priscilla's wavering hand.
'Yes, and what's not on it!'
'Oh well, if you will just keep still a moment, um... oh! Where is the one in Canberra?'
'Exactly! West Australia, New South Wales, all over the place except Canberra!'
'But how can that be? You went there with Surban and Miss Reynard. You were inside it.'
'We were inside something that was meant to make us think it was real. Here, try the phone number, I got it from Surban, try it and tell me I'm not going crazy!'
Monique took Priscilla's mobile and keyed in the number. After a few seconds she began to frown. 'Are you certain this is the correct number? The message only says it is no longer in operation.'
'As certain as I am of this one. It's the Melbourne Association. I just talked to someone there. They've never had a temple in Canberra.'
'But Surban told you that her parents were in Canberra about the time she was born, that they had met people of their religion there,' objected Monique.
'That's what she said. Maybe there are, or were people there fourteen years ago. She only began to get excited when these priests contacted the school and made themselves known. That was when she was told about the new temple.'
'They contacted the school first?'
'That's what I was told.'
'And did they explain how they located her, how they even knew she was here?'
'Must have done. They wrote to her too, and to Miss Poe.'
'On official letter-head of course,' said Monique, deep in thought. 'Have you told anyone else about this?'
'Of course not. I just found out, and besides, you're the first person I would tell,' said Priscilla, scowling. 'Between letters and phone calls, nobody thought to do a closer check. But something has been bugging me ever since we came back from interstate. Then I got sick and there's been all this other stuff happening at school that sidetracked me up until today. I did a bit of research on Google during library this afternoon and printed off the info. Looks like we were all taken for a ride.'
'Surban has been taken for a bigger ride, all the way to the other side of the world. And we haven't heard from her since she emailed you, when was that?'
'Days ago,' said Priscilla glumly. 'Should we tell Miss Poe?'
'Yes... No! It is too late for that. What could Miss Poe or the school or even the Australian Government do about it now? There is only one person to tell. It is very fortunate that you were, as you say "bugged" enough to do this detective work. Hopefully Harry's Bug is still travelling with Surban, no matter where she is.'
'Harry will be pleased that you called him a person.'
Monique withdrew the Peridot ring on its chain about her neck. 'Any Alien who gives us jewelry is a person of special note. Perhaps we need to call a meeting of the girls and our little canine friend tomorrow, after school, out in the open.'
'I hope you girls are keeping our communication facility secure?' said Harry's voice from the invisible speaker embedded somewhere in the tiny three-dimensional metallic replica of the Black Eagle.
'We are Master Harry,' said Narenda, nestling amongst the dry grass on a rise overlooking the track and field arena of Hopewell Hall.
'Yeah and we also know we don't have a lot of time to chat before someone comes along to check us out.' said Priscilla, while Belinda and Monique kept lookout.
'Hokay, so what's the prob?'
'The prob is that Surban's Canberra Temple and the Priests there are all smoke.' said Priscilla. 'I checked. Our school, us, Surban most of all, have been dudded. She's been taken overseas without any understanding of what is really happening.' Here Priscilla heaved a large sigh. 'We think these men have been tracking her since she was separated from her parents on the ship after the pirates attacked it. Maybe that strange man on board the Han Maru had something to do with it. He was arguing with the pirates about Surban's folks. I dunno, can't work out what anybody would want from her. She just has a mission to return her little coal-pot back to the old country and renew it with the ancient fire place.'
'"The ancient fire place." Have you guys done any research on Surban's religion?' asked Harry.
'Non,' said Monique. 'Apart from what Cilla looked up to give us a general idea so that we could talk to Surban.'
'Zoroaster. It's about fire-worship and... and stuff like that... the Sun too... I mean I did do some work...' added Priscilla, lamely.
'It is about a very old religion. And I take it most seriously,' Narenda interrupted. 'I may not agree, or be of that religion, and yet it is still a worthy one. I can tell you much, for I have spent time, as my father has made me do, in learning of other faiths apart from my own.'
'And that might help you down the track,' said Harry. 'But just for now we need to cut to the chase.'
'That's exactly it Harry. We have to locate Surban and save her!' said Priscilla urgently.
'From exactly what?' Harry replied, sounding extremely calm.
'What from? The kidnappers of course!' exclaimed Priscilla. 'You said you had some kind of tracking devise checking Surban so that we could locate her wherever she went. Now's the time to get her away from these... these...'
'Hey, hey, hey!' Interrupted Harry. 'Think it through. These what? These guys have done everything possible to get Surban under their control true, but they aren't going to harm her while she believes they're the good guys and are helping her to the end of the rainbow and they believe she is the end of said rainbow.'
'But where is she, they, right now?' Belinda asked.
'Hrummph!' snorted Harry, 'Let me check. Ummm. Buggy picked them up after they'd flown into Amman airport in Jordan and journeyed by hire bus up to Az Zarqa and on out to Azraq ash Shishan, then down to Turayf across the Saudi border. They're heading north into Iraq toward Sham, making broadly for the area that was, long ago, Mesopotamia, which is just a left hand turn from downtown Babylon. They travel secretly with a caravan of pack animals: donkeys, mules, onagers, hinnys, burros, and mostly at dusk. It's winter ending, summer beginning. Cold at night, heating up during the day. Surban is still fine in health and spirit. She's their mystic guiding star. According to Buggy they have enough provisions to take them many days forward. So cool it. She wants to get to her pot of gold and they're taking every care to make sure she's fine on the way. They want what they think she knows, the location of the First Fire and whatever else they believe is there. I'm monitoring the situation through Buggy, no scratch. When they arrive will be time enough for us to take action. We don't want to get her out of there until she's completed her task. Then Miss Surban will again be free to continue her life. After all she holds citizenship here in Australia and we can get her to an Embassy that will bring her home.'
'Asses!' said Priscilla.
'Aw common, it ain't that bad.' Replied Harry brightly.
'No, try reading a Thesaurus Harry, you forgot asses.'
'Oh yeah... right. And before you ask...'
'How are they getting across the borders of these countries?' queried Monique.
And Belinda added, 'And what about the dangers in Iraq and all those insurgent terrorist people?'
'So... after you ask, the answer to the first question is, if not "officially" then I guess a little crossing-over-the-border bribery would do the trick, that or the locals travelling with them know the short cuts, and as for question two, where in all of that part of the world could anyone be considered safe? However, as it seems, most of the fighting is far away north and east of the area, simply because down south they don't have much in the general vicinity, just desert and the occasional trickle of water.'
'I do trust that this precious bugging thingy is as accurate as you say and that we can rely upon its information,' said Belinda, now watching a group of hockey players striding toward the pitch.
'I'm only a dog. I promise nothing more than I can lift a leg on or gnaw, except if it can be humped, and you shouldn't go there. Anyway, my advice is to wait until they get where they're going. Remember, Surban is doing all this not only because of her religion but also for the honour and memory of her parents. It is of utmost importance to her that she completes her mission. Then, if it seems that she is in any danger we will find a way to save her.'
'You're not just a dog, you're an Alien in a dog's body.' said Priscilla petulantly.
'And,' added Narenda sternly, 'do not get this wrong. Otherwise your little Alien asses will be kicked in turn by every one of us, oh yes-please, thank-you very much!'
Chapter 12 next