Kai's Adventures in Troubleshooting, #23: Sheep's Clothing
Once upon a time, Kainudy had a real job...
Kainudy wondered why, in a world made by magic and populated by people
that could conjure up almost anything they needed, she couldn't get a decent
cup of coffee in her own office? She tossed her travel pack onto the shelf
next to her desk, and frowned at the accumulation of newspapers covering the
"You look like hell," Reynald commented. Without looking, the dragoness
knew that her officemate was dressed immaculately and in the current fashion,
perfect teeth flashing from a perfect smile in a perfect elven face. "Did
you solve Queen Helmsly's desertion problem?"
Kainudy sat down on her haunches behind her desk, and drained her mug of
bad coffee before answering. "Yeah, it wasn't even desertion." She opened
the window blinds and squinted at the harsh false sunlight.
Across the room, Reynald propped his elbows on his desk and raised an
eyebrow in a clear 'go on' signal. If he was a bit greener, Kai thought he
could pass for a Vulcan.
With a sigh, the dragoness elaborated, "Soldiers were just disappearing
at the outposts. So I went to the first one to investigate. The conditions
and location were horrible.. what military significance the Queen saw in a
half-frozen swamp bordering the tundra I'll never know.."
Reynald flashed his Cheshire smile again, "Don't tell me you've never set
up a platoon in the middle of nowhere when you were leading armies, Kai."
Kainudy ignored the jibe. "The problem of the missing soldiers was pretty
obvious once I'd looked the place over. The food stores couldn't be protected
from swamp-rot, no matter what they did, and the supply wagon only came once
a month. So they just resorted to cannibalism. The Leutenant in charge of
the outpost got a commendation for good resource management."
The elf's grin somehow got wider and brighter, "I see.. so it was a case
of 'dessertion' afterall.."
Kainudy's empty mug and Reynald's skull were spared at the last moment
by the opening of the outer office door. Marge, the human receptionist and
secret owner of Troubleshooters Inc. (Once we shoot it, it stays dead!)
sashayed in with a garishly dressed elf in tow. Kainudy immediately ducked
behind the pile of newspapers on her desk, and Reynald managed to produce a
thick folder of reports from thin air to pretend to be studying.
Marge tapped her high-heeled toe three times and snapped her gum before
announcing the elf. "This is Mr. S'pan Dex, director of procurement for the
Fruit of the Moon underwear corporation.."
The woman glanced over at Reynald's IN box, then headed for Kainudy's
desk, each click of her heels sounding more and more ominous to the dragon.
"Welcome back, Kainudy. Please take Mr. Dex's statement and get started on
his case.. he's paid in advance."
Kainudy sighed and lifted her head, forcing a smile for the client. For
his part, S'pan Dex looked absolutely appalled at the disheveled state of
the dragoness, but approached her desk nonetheless. Marge left them and
went to check the status of Reynald's various cases.
"Now Mr. Dex," Kainudy began, sounding cheerier than she felt, "What seems
to be your problem?" She smiled reassuringly, a skill she had spent many days
before the mirror to master.
The elf spoke in that not-quite-condescending-yet-not-quite-bootlicking
tone that all middle-management types seem to acquire, "Are you familiar with
the world of BaaaaBLEET, Mister..." The elf paused while he tried to read
the plaque on Kai's desk, "Schantryssrhyn?" He never once made eye contact.
"It's Miss," Kai corrected out of habit, and immediately regretted it.
The elf's face flushed, going from pale to merely ill at the Elven curse.
Kainudy's translater never seemed to handle that particular phrase properly.
She quickly recovered with, "That is, I'm female. I wasn't insulting your
mother's cooking, honestly. And no, I've never heard of.. BaaaaBLEET"
The flustered elf recovered his composure, or at least the appearance of
it. "Well, that's good, since the world is a corporate secret. You see,
BaaaaBLEET just happens to be my company's primary source of woolen fibre
for the UltraWeave Three Day Underwear line." He smiled and rested his hands
in his lap.
"Fascinating, truly," Kainudy drawled. "And your problem has something to
do with this supply of wool then, I presume?"
"Yes!" S'pan Dex exclaimed. "The last shipment is several days late, and
we have not been able to contact the native shipper on BaaaaBLEET.. at least,
not in any useful way."
A scaled eyebrow arched. "Please elaborate, Mr. Dex. If not in a useful way,
then in what sort of way?"
The gaudy elf waved his hands in the air dismissively, "Oh, everyone that
answers our signal babbles about having to prepare for the end of the world
or some similar nonsense.."
Kainudy immediately wished she had stayed with the cannibals.
The Gate transition was rough, and Kai silently cursed Dex and his ilk for
their paranoia. If they'd been willing to give her the location of the world,
she could have arranged for a much softer arrival. Instead, she had been forced
to use the permanent shipping Gate that Fruit of the Moon used to transfer wool
and payments. It gave her a headache.
She stepped out of the portal into a large, musky smelling warehouse. Dozens
of shipping palettes were scattered across the floor, but of the missing wool
shipment there was no sign. Kainudy scratched at the floor, but no layer of
dust hinted at long disuse. With the exception of the scattered palettes, the
building looked as if it had recently been scrubbed down.
From FotM's files, she knew the warehouse was owned by one Lan O'lin, a
native businesscritter that ran an agricultural supply company - said supplies
being shipped here from Underhill in exchange for the wool. A sweet deal that
both sides wanted to remain private. But Lan O'lin had disappeared after the
few brief messages he'd sent, and the underwear giant didn't have any field
operatives of their own to investigate.
So Kainudy was here now, standing in the middle of an empty warehouse.
Turning up the volume on her translator pendant, she called out, "Hello?
Anybody home?" Even the expected echoes where muted by soundproofing. Why
would anybody soundproof a warehouse? The dragoness headed for the nearest
Ignoring the large loading doors, she eventually found a personell entry.
It wasn't locked, or even handled - it was simply a light-weight wooden square
hinged at the top, about four feet high. Kainudy wondered if it wasn't an
oversized cat door, but the only scent on it was the same musky aroma that
permeated everything else. She lifted the door inwards a bit and peeked out
through the wedge of sunlight.
The door led out into what looked like a major avenue. Smoothly paved cement
paths were layed in parallel along a central median of bright blue well-kept
grass, interrupted by occasional connecting paths. Both the broad paths and
the grassy medians where dotted with sheep, differentiated by stance: on
the paved walkways, they rose up on their hind legs and assumed a bipedal gate,
while on the grass they went on all fours, the better to graze apparently.
Opening the door wider, Kainudy could see large marble buildings ranked
evenly along the sides of the avenue. Each one was as large as the warehouse,
and decorated with bas reliefs of idealized ovines engaged in farm and other
labors. The marble was polished to such a sheen that it was partly reflective.
Unlike their buildings, the BaaaaBLEETians themselves were anything but
uniform in appearance. Wool ranged from curly to thick to thin to short and to
long, all in a rainbow of colors. Intricate patterns were shaved or dyed into
the wool, and in a few cases where the person was sheared, tattooed onto their
skin. There didn't seem to be a nostril or ear that went unadorned with some
sort of bangle, and even the horns of the few rams she saw where wrapped with
decorated bands of metal or woven chainwork.
The pedestrians and grazers all seemed quite calm and docile, despite the
apparent 'end of the world' mentioned in Lan O'lin's last messages. The only
sign of tension was the wariness of the large black ram that seemed to stand
sentry over this particular stretch of roadway. The attention he payed to each
passing or grazing native tagged him in Kainudy's experience as a city guard
or policeman, despite his lack of visible weapons. She waited for a lull in
foot traffic before trying to get his attention.
"Psssst," she hissed through the doorflap. "Psssst!!"
The ram's ear flicked, and one brown eye glanced her way, taking in the
slightly ajar doorway. Kainudy stuck her hand out into the light and made a
universal come-hither gesture towards him.
The sight of a large, blue-scaled hand with very unsheeplike claws got his
full attention, and the ram marched towards the doorway with a dour look on
his face. At least, Kainudy assumed it was a dour look. In her experience,
sheep had always worn the same expression: dull-witted. She had also never
had to back up from a sheep to avoid being hit by a swinging cat door before,
but managed to do so anyway as the ram pushed through into the warehouse.
The ram looked her up and down without a flinch, as if dragons hiding in
doorways were something he dealt with every day. Kainudy guessed he must
have outweighed her by two hundred pounds, and his thick black wool would
make an effective armor against her claws. Then she noticed that the bands
decorating his horns were adorned with rather large, sharp-edged studs.
The menacing appearance was ruined by his soft voice however.
"Your master promised us three more days to surrender, alien. Why have you
arrived early?" he bleated.
Kainudy didn't miss a beat, despite her utter confusion at the ram's words.
Producing her badge and guild card, she said, "I am Kainudy Schantryssrhyn of
the Underhill Greater Troubleshooter's Guild, investigating the failure of one
Lan O'lin to make an assigned transaction with the Fruit of the Moon company
of Elfhaim Cael Branith, Underhill. I am not here to demand the surrender
of anybody, merely to look after the interests of my employers."
The dragoness took a deep breath after the long-winded spiel, and wished
lawyers would someday write a disclaimer that left the speaker with at least
enough breath to make a quick run for it, should the need arise.
Those big, soft brown eyes blinked in surprise at her. "Then you are not
one of the invader's merciless, unstoppable soldiers?"
"No, I am not affiliated with this invader you mention," Kainudy replied,
neatly sidestepping having to answer about the 'merciless and unstoppable'
The ram's big brown eyes took on a stony glint. "And yet," he bleated,
"You seek out the accused Great Betrayer and Willing Dupe, Lan O'lin. How
do you explain that?"
Oh great, just what I needed, Kainudy thought to herself, and said
aloud, "I already explained that. Can you take me to Lan O'lin?"
"That worthy is a guest of the invader," the ram bleated, as if that gave
all the information that was needed.
"And just who or what is this invader?"
"An ugly alien devil, like yourself of course."
Kai let the dig pass, as her curiousity was now boiling over faster than her
temper. After all, nobody outside of the Fruit of the Moon upper management
was supposed to know of this world. "In that case," she asked politely, "Take
me to your leader."
The Council of Rams building was at the center of the city, which Kainudy
learned was named Caash'Meer. The marble edifice was surrounded by a lovely
water park and gardens, although they could have been open-air salad bars,
since several citizens seemed to be nibbling on the colorful flora. The huge
lintel over the entry was upheld by columns carved into the forms of nubile
ewes, and the bas relief upon its face seemed to show an heroic battle between
sheep and some sort of centaurs that were crosses between sheep and cows. It
was all quite impressive.
Once inside this government building, Kainudy was not at all surprised to
learn that the Council of Rams was actually run by ewes. The rams had been
evacuated to some sort of country compound at the beginning of the crisis, the
better to protect their sperm. The dragoness was brought before the First
Sister, an ancient ewe named Lam B'chop.
She sat quietly on a cushion in the councilwoman's chambers, watching the
elder ewe be sheared. A younger ewe was attending to it, carefully wielding
the shaving tool to shear a precise amount of golden wool, which she then
bundled up in a silk cloth and placed into a basket next to her before
continuing. This went on until the basket was full, at which point Lam
dismissed the attendant.
The old sheep seemed shrunken in her half-naked state, the clan-herd
tattoos on her bare skin had even begun to fade with time. Her eyes were
quite clear and lucid pools amidst her dark, wrinkled face. Her voice was
little more than a hoarse whisper.
"Mu T'on says you seek the guest of the usurper alien. Is this true?"
Kainudy bowed her head and replied, "Yes, the businessman known as Lan O'lin
is the one I seek.. although I am also curious about this alien which issues
such threats of invasion."
The old ewe cracked a smile, showing teeth worn low by decades of use, "I am
certain a meeting could be arranged.. if it should prove to be equitable to all
Kai returned the smile, feeling herself on familiar ground now. "I would be
most grateful for the opportunity to review any information you have.."
Wurlitzer Q. Bombastic, would-be Alien Usurper of BaaaaBLEET, looked like
he was about to blow a gasket. His already pudgy face seemed to swell while
turning bright red. Even the hairs of his beard appeared to stand on end as
he stormed and blustered around his tent, apparently trying to get his point
across by strenuous arm-waving. Kainudy wondered if the overweight little
human would spontaneously combust on the spot.
A dejected and clearly exhausted Lan O'lin - a small, unimpressive brown
ram - held his hands over his ears in a futile attempt to keep out the noise.
The six Councilors seemed ready to bolt, but whether they were frightened more
by Bombastic's tantrum or the array of indecipherable charts and graphs taking
up the far wall of the tent was anyone's guess.
Mu T'on, the tall black ram that had become Kainudy's de-facto escort, simply
waited inside the tent flap for his chance to announce the dragoness. For her
part, Kainudy did an admirable job of not laughing out loud.
"YOU'RE ALL HOPELESS!! GET OUT OF MY SIGHT!!" the little man yowled, and the
six councilors were quick to comply. Even Lan tried to leave with them, before
the human called, "Not YOU, Lan!!" The ram's face managed to fall even further
on his already long face, and he trudged back to his place beside the displays.
The man fell to his rump on a cushion, which miraculously did not explode,
and pleaded to the native businessman, "Why don't they GET it??"
"Profit and Loss projections have never been popular with politicians," the
heretofore silent dragoness commented. Bombastic spun around to face her, a
truly amazing sight that brought to Kai's mind the differential rotational
speeds of Jupiter's cloudbands. The man's expression was one of mixed shock
Mu T'on stepped forward, announcing, "The Lady Kainudy Schantryssrhyn, guest
of the Council of Rams." Kainudy stepped fully into the tent, and did a little
The human immediately broke out into a wide smile and extended his right
hand, which already held a business card. "At last! Someone from a decently
civilized world! I am Wurlitzer Q. Bombastic, Entrepreneur."
After the mutual exchange of business cards, Bombastic said, "I do hope you
are here to help explain basic economics to these beanbrains. They have no
concept at all of supply and demand or even currency." With an exasperated and
elaborate gesturing of limbs, he continued, "Can you believe that they still
Kai made a show of looking over the various charts, which meant absolutely
nothing to her. "Actually.. I'm here to find out why mister O'lin here did not
make his scheduled shipment of wool. And also to investigate certain claims
that you are demanding the ruling body of BaaaaBLEET surrender its rule to
you within the next few days.."
Bombastic waved his hand dismissively, "Exaggerations. I merely mean to bring
proper business management to this world. And as for Lan's previous contracts,
I am only protecting him from getting fleeced by those elves.." Realizing what
he just said, the human began to guffaw! "Hey, fleeced! Get it??"
Drolly, Kainudy said, "Quite amusing.." Turning away from the displays, she
asked, "And how do you intend to impose your.. management strategy.. upon the
"Why, I'm bringing in the very best corporate lawyers money can buy of
course! The firm of Raype, Luthe, and Pyllage!"
Kainudy now understood Mu T'on's earlier reference to merciless, unstoppable
monsters. "So you intend to perform a hostile corporate takeover of an entire
Again, Bombastic's arms spoke faster than his mouth, "Don't you SEE?? This
world is a GOLD MINE! The finest wool in the known cosmos comes from here, and
it's being wasted on foppish underwear in exchange for FARM EQUIPMENT! This
place cries out for proper development!"
Kai thought of the immaculate avenues and well-kept gardens and public
buildings. She didn't think it would be improved much by a few mini-malls.
"You realize there is an easier route.. one where you don't end up sharing 80%
of your profits with your lawyers?"
The idea of keeping all profits to himself clearly warmed Bombastic's tiny
little heart. "How??"
Kainudy threw her arm around Bombastic's shoulder, and used her other to
gesture towards the graphs and plots. "Why try to run an entire world, with
all the overhead and political hassles involved, when you can start with your
own off-world trading business? After all, your only competition would be poor
old Lan O'lin here, and let's be frank, that's the same as no competition at
"But I already tried to get a business license here, and was denied!"
"That was just because you were an alien. What you need to do is become a
naturalized citizen of BaaaaBLEET, and start your own clan-herd. A clan-herd
is the equivalent of a corporation on this world."
The fat man blinked, "What's the catch?"
Kainudy grinned.. the kind of grin Bombastic had seen in the mirror before
and that made Mu T'on and Lan O'lin cringe instinctively. The grin of a large
predator scenting prey. "Well.. you'll need an off-world agent that can keep
a secret. After all, if others discover this world you'll be up to your chins
Bombastic nodded, knowing quite well who that agent would have to be. "Okay,
it's a deal! Where do we start?"
Kai guided Bombastic out of the tent, heading for the Council of Rams.
"First, you'll need to register a clan insignia.. think of it as the company
Two days later, Kainudy was back in Lan O'lin's warehouse. Large bales of
colorful BaaaaBLEETian wool were stacked on neat rows of shipping palettes,
the first of which were now being passed through the Gate. Lan O'lin himself
was approaching the dragoness, a new pattern shaved in his wool and a smile
so wide it looked out of place on an herbivore. In one hand he held a tightly
bundled bag of silk. Kai could smell the blood despite the musky perfume in
"I see you've joined the new Clan Bombastic, Lan. Get a good share?"
"Very good!" the ovine bleated, hefting the silk bag high, "Although by the
time I got there most of the best swatches were taken. It has turned out to be
a very popular clan-herd." From the way the silk hugged the 'swatch', Kainudy
guessed it contained one of Bombastic's ears. "Such a generous clanhead, too.
He didn't even set a limit on membership! Although, I think he would have had
he asked for more advice.."
Kainudy chuckled, remembering her first meeting with Lam B'chop. She had to
admit that the BaaaaBLEETian system of joining a clan-herd was elegant and
foolproof. All one had to do was get the proper tattoo, and a sheared swatch
of wool from the clan leader. Obviously, only a limited number could join any
clan-herd in a given season. Poor, greedy Wurlitzer Q. Bombastic declared no
upper limit on how many could join his clan-herd in a season before learning
all the details. Kai wondered if she should have warned him.. then shrugged it
Instead she said, "Well, if he survives then at least he will understand the
first rule of BaaaaBLEETian etiquette." She bid Lan farewell, and entered
the Gate after the last palette, musing on the phrase engraved at the base of
the Council of Rams' founder's statue, which translated simply to Shear And
Share Alike Shall Be The Rule Of The Clan.