by Jenny Hayward

(first printed in Enarrare' #4, March 1987) (not to be reproduced in any form without permission).

John, I've lost the Ambassador!


I'm sorry, John... I know it's impossible...

What happened?

We were at the conference and we went out for tea -- you know how partial Li is to petit fours -- and we bumped into Mike and some of his friends and we talked for a while, and then we went back to the conference, and I just turned around and she was gone...


I would have heard. And I'd still be able to contact her. As it is, she's completely out of touch.

You can't be out of touch with a telepathic being unless they are unconscious, dead, or refusing to answer. Since the last is unlikely, the first two are the only reasonable candidates, Elizabeth. Have you checked the hospitals?

Not yet.

What persona was she wearing? I'll get Tim to check hospital admissions for a matching description.

That could be a problem, John. If Ambassador Li is unconcious or dead, her illucination of human appearance would be gone -- completely.

Well it won't be a problem for Tim to match the description then! Efflim aren't exactly inconspicuous!

There's no need to rub it in, John! I'll say I'm sorry again if you like. If there is any publicity, perhaps we could manage to have it suppressed...

IF!?! Come on Elizabeth -- a grey-blue furred, white-maned feline humanoid who happens to be so telepathic that any random thoughts she doesn't restrain would shock any latent telepaths into a premature jaunt -- and you say to me IF THERE IS ANY PUBLICITY..?!

I'm sorry.

I'm sorry, too, Elizabeth. Then aloud: "Tim, have you been following this?"

"It is not customary to eavesdrop on private conversations," replied the artificial personality, Tim. "What is the problem?"

"Elizabeth has completely lost contact with Ambassador Li."

"This could have grave implications," ruminated Tim, paternally. "As Ambassador Krr Tsai Li is a representative for the Galactic Trig, it is more serious than simply a citizen of Effle disappearing on a non-member planet."

"I'm aware of the full seriousness of the matter, Tim, but we can avoid a lot of the unpleasant explanations to the Trig if we can find her unharmed. Have you caught any significant publicity?"

"Not as yet," Tim replied. "But I will check further. Meanwhile I suggest that you contact the others and all help Elizabeth with a more conventional search."

Mike, Hsu Tai, Andrew! Come to the lab at once!

Hsu Tai came first, followed by Andrew. Mike arrived last, complaining, "I don't care if the world is about to end, I want Paul Darrow's autograph. And if this isn't over by eight, I'm going back to get it." He was still grumbling as he sat down. But he stopped when John explained the situation. Mike was quite fond of "that cool cat", as he termed Ambassador Li. In fact, altogether too fond. He and Li got on together like they'd shared the same cradle. They certainly shared the same atrocious sense of humour. If John heard one more time about how purr-fectly wonderful Li was, he was going to brain Mike. In fact, the main reason why Elizabeth, rather than Mike, was the one escorting the Ambassador around Earth was because John wasn't sure he could trust the deadly duo to stay on the straight and narrow. It was a question of explosive combination -- Li was a responsible Ambassador, but with Mike as companion, it might well be a case of asking for trouble.

They searched. Fruitlessly. For hours. Elizabeth went back to the conference -- Li was not there. Back to the tea shoppe where they had enjoyed iced chocolates and petit fours -- Li was not there. Hsu Tai searched the nearby restaurants, Mike searched the hotels, Andrew the hospitals, John the police stations. John encountered the most difficulty: enquiring after a missing person for whom the description was a trifle "out-of-this-world" did earn him a fair few knowing and suspicious glances. But it was hopeless.

"The only thing we can be sure of is that she's probably not dead," John said as they gathered back at the Lab -- all except Mike, who was still out, presumably searching. "But if she isn't, and her illucination is still working, why hasn't she contacted us?"

"Maybe, she's joost lost track o' time, ye ken -- being on a strange planet and all tha'..." Andrew's optimistic words did little to cheer them. They were sure something was wrong. Very wrong. Nothing else would account for Li's silence.

"Maybe Mike has found something," Andrew suggested.

Elizabeth shook her head gloomily. "That irresponsible young man! His last words to me were that he was going to check whether Paul what's-his-name has seen Li. If I could have spanked him before he jaunted, I would have."

They ate a miserable tea together. Except for Mike, who still had not returned. They prepared to venture forth again to cover the same areas they had before. It seemed the best strategy. Just because Li had not been there when they first searched, did not mean she might not turn up now.

"It's better than waiting for Tim to dig her out of a coroner's report," muttered Elizabeth in depression.

Hes black musing was suddenly interrupted by Mike: I've found her, kittens! he 'pathed. The whole furry lot of her! Brushing back their telepathic babble of reply, he returned, She's purrfectly alright, oh tailless ones! Stop cat-erwauling at me! Your mewings of thanks for my aversion of cat-astrophe by a whisker of fate would be more appropriate!

No one so much as groaned. John gritted his teeth in a tight smile, and his fists had a strange vertical rhythm. Elizabeth rolled her eyes. "He probably found her two hours ago, and they've spent the rest of the time thinking up those abominable puns," she said quietly. Seething.

Elizzzabethh, how can I apologissse forrr caussing yourr noble perrssonss ssuch anxxiety? Krr Tsai Li sent in person. My prrofusse prrofound rregrretss. But... nay, no exxcusse will sserrve. The accident wass but trrrivial, so I...

She fell down some stairs, Mike interposed.

I wass losst, and knew not wherrre you werrre. And I did not wisssh to usse telepathy forr I rrrecalled yourr warrrning about yourrr latent telepathsss. Ssso I looked forr Mike insstead.

"I wonder why," mumbled John to himself. He shook his head.

Then I sssimply losst trrack of time. Thisss -- what do you call it, Mike? ...con... convvention... iss sso much morre interrresssting than the conferrence. I don't even have to use the illucination herre.

John's eye's boggled dangerously. Elizabeth gave a strangled version of a telepathic shriek and beamed at Mike, Both of you, get back here at once!

Can't, oh warm-nosed ones! Mike 'pathed. There was amusement, suppressed laughter in his sending. Ambassador Li still has her prize to collect.

Prize? It was John and he hardly dared to ask.

Best-dressed kitty-cat this side of Effle, sent Mike.

But that isss not what it ssayss on the awarrrd, contributed Li.

What does it say on the award? asked Elizabeth. She was becoming aware of dreadful knots in her stomach.

Besst Orrriginal Cosstume, Aprrenticce Divvission. There was a kind of ironic humour in her feline sending.

WHERE ARE YOU MIKE? John sent back.

There was a telepathic chuckle. Now, John, where would YOU safely hide an alien ambassador, eh?

I give up, sent John immediately. Where?

The best place to hide an alien? Mike asked himself rhetorically. Why, John, your creativity is slipping! Don't you know? He sent them a mental image of the Cheshire Cat's smile hanging, all by itself, in midair, and then he answered without waiting for a reply, At a Science Fiction convention, where else?

This was inspired by one of the cartoons put out by Aussiecon II, my first ever convention, back in 1985.