Benton and Jithro, of course, hadn't stayed behind to take pictures. They'd stayed behind to capture the slime devil, and secure it aboard the ship. Upon reflection, Jax found he wasn't surprised; it had, in fact, seemed a bit odd when he'd thought they hadn't picked up anything on Deneb that might lead to the next destination in their trip. That did seem to be the pattern that was developing. He was, however, surprised that he had managed to believe they might be going to Sauria for no reason other than to visit Jithro's friends and family.
When they got there, Jithro did spend some time visiting, and introduced Jax and Jacen to some of his friends and family. Benny, meanwhile, went off all around the planet in search of something or other; no one told the kids what. Jax and Jacen spent a good deal of time exploring the planet and getting to know some of the locals. They also tried to guess why they might have brought a Denebian slime devil to Sauria. They didn't have much luck with that.
Finally, Benton returned and talked with the Partners. They all boarded the Dog, which promptly cloaked and took off. They soon landed, not far from a little bog that led into the ocean. Keeping the ship cloaked, they went off to do some reconnaissance on foot, with Benny leading the way. They came to a base camp that looked to be going out of its way to avoid detection.
"You're sure this is them?" asked Sean.
"Oh yes," said Benny. "No doubt of that. They've been releasing the chemical for several days, looks like."
"Who exactly are these people?" asked Jacen. "What chemical?"
"A friend of mine sent me word of certain activities, about two months ago," said Jithro. "He was lucky to stumble onto it. He was merely out collecting... samples... Well, it isn't important. He was out here, and noticed the camp. He managed to infiltrate it without detection, and looked around. He found these people studying the local environs, testing a chemical they were creating... he managed to steal a small sample of it, and brought it back to a friend's lab to run some tests on it. It turned out to be something which would react with the water of this area in a very peculiar way. Actually, it was more than a simple chemical. It was at least nominally organic. They couldn't find any evidence of life except for a few details. The main one was that the chemical could reproduce itself through mitosis. It seems for the most part to be essentially harmless to the environment, however, if any Saurians should drink water tainted with it... well, different people will likely react differently to it. Most people will get brain damage or even die. One glass of this water would be the equivalent of roughly fifty bottles of brandy, in effect. But it wouldn't appear to any of the senses to be anything more than simple water."
"So who are these people?" asked Jacen again.
"Enemies," said Jithro. "A group of Saurians and Denebians. We still don't know why they're doing this, what they might want. But we do know how they came up with the idea. My friend infiltrated the camp again a while ago. He managed to find out a few things. Seems about seven months ago, a Denebian criminal of some sort was hiding out in the marshes of his homeworld, spending most of his time getting drunk on Saurian brandy. At some point, quite drunk, he started talking to slime devils. He even gave one a drink of brandy, poured the bottle right out in the swamp in front of it. The devil didn't drink the water, but fish started exploding in the general vicinity. This surprised the Denebian, and when he got sober, he got curious and did some experiments. He found the fish didn't mix well with the brandy. Eventually he took some fish, and brought them in a tank to a friend of his on Sauria- a doctor of some disrepute. He isolated a chemical compound in the fish's system which interacted badly with Saurian brandy. Later they discovered it wasn't just the brandy, it was Saurian water generally. So they got some people together and formed this little plot. Whatever it is."
"Why didn't your friend ever manage to find out why they're doing this?" asked Jax.
"Shortly after he discovered the origins of the plot, and transmitted the details to his own friends who'd been watching the base since he first discovered it, he was found out. They killed him."
Jax and Jacen both quietly said, "I'm sorry."
Jacen asked, "So, wha's this slime devil got ta do with all this?"
"Slime devils commonly eat these particular fish, and it seems there's something in their own systems which counteracts the chemical in the fish. Even when it's mixed with Saurian water."
"Still," said Jacen, "how's one devil going to help against all this?"
Just then, someone came up behind them. The group turned. There were five Saurians behind them with phaser rifles in hand.
"Do you have it?" asked the leader.
"Of course," said Jithro. "It's back on the ship."
The group from the Dog got up and started back to the ship. "Boys," said Jithro, "I'd like you to meet some friends of mine. They'll be studying the slime devil, trying to discover exactly how it counteracts the fish's chemical. They'll also probably be cloning it, and breeding them, if they can't artificially synthesize whatever the devil uses against the chemical."
"Well, good," said Jax. "...You know, I've been noticing a pattern these past few weeks. Seems every time we stop somewhere, we pick something up to drop off elsewhere. What'll we be getting here, now that we know what the slime devil's for?"
"What do ya think, lad?" asked Sean. "Deneb is to slime devils as Sauria is to...?"
"I suppose if the connection is what each planet is most famous for, that'd be brandy. I do hope this batch isn't tainted, though."
"Most of it won't be. But we might pick up a few bottles of the bad stuff. We may occasionally find ourselves entertaining annoying guests, mightn't we?"
"Certainly," said Jacen with a grin. "Just be sure to keep the bottles separate."
Destiny Dog part 8