"Do you really want them eating off your hand?"
My voice died away. I looked around me for the thousands of eager, raised faces, grateful that someone had come to liberate them from their involuntary thralldom.
The trot-trot of rat-horse feet, the rumble of carriage wheels, the trudge-trudge-trudge of thousands of feet did not come to a halt. In fact, no one paused for a moment. I couldn't believe it. Nobody understood what kind of danger they were in! I gawked at the resounding wave of apathy that greeted my announcement. Didn't they care?
"Take the initiative, Master Skeeve," Zol urged me. "Use that Klahdish determination!"
That steeled my resolve. What I needed was an authority, an important citizen, to set an example by casting off the Pervect Ten's device. I cast around me.
There was the very person: coming out of the big building at the top of the peak was a stout, prosperous male with a heavily embroidered coat over his robe. He wore the glasses, too, but he was being led by the hands by a couple of muscular young Scammies whose eyes were uncovered. Their protuberant brown orbs turned toward me as I dashed up to the male they were escorting.
"He's being brainwashed!" I exclaimed. "Make him take off the glasses. He'll see reality, not fantasy."
"It's just jealous," the escort on the left sniffed to the other, pointing its trunk in my direction. "It hasn't got any."
"A have-not," snickered the escort on the right. "Sad, really. He'll never know how great they are."
"Probably not," agreed his companion. The male in the middle said nothing. His mouth gaped open, and drool collected in the corner.
I should have known Scammies would think that anything worth having was worth bragging about. I tried again. "Look at him. Help him. His mind is under its control. It could happen to you."
"I hope so," shrugged the escort on the right. "I've started saving up for my pair. Senior Domari says he loves them so much he's never taking them off."
They didn't understand. I would have to take matters into my own hands. I reached for the pair of pink-framed glasses perched on the male's snout. The escort on the left reached for my throat with a huge hand. The little round mouth bristled with sharp teeth. He lunged for me. I dodged back. If they were going to play rough, I was more than a match for them. At a safe distance, I used the reverse of my levitation spell to send him flying backwards. The other escort let go of his employer's arm and came hurtling at me, only to go hurtling in the opposite direction as I threw a chunk of power into his chest. With a flick of magik I snatched the glasses off the face of the portly Scammie. He let out a bellow, and clutched his eyes.
"Where did they go? Give them back!"
I swept my hand downward, and the spectacles dashed to the ground. The lenses splintered into a hundred pieces. "You're free!" I exclaimed. "Reclaim your mind!"
"What?" the stout male trumpeted, focusing his pro- trading eyes on me. "Those cost me twenty gold pieces! How dare you! This is an outrage!"
"No, it's liberation!" I explained. Twenty gold pieces! The Perverts were making the victims pay for their own conquest? That was a wrinkle even Aahz would have had trouble stomaching. "Your minds were being clouded by evil sorcery. You can all thank me later." I turned to the next person feeling her way blindly down the stairs while wearing Pervect Ten spectacles. With a spark of power I whisked the device off her nose and hurled it down. She shrieked as she was set free, possibly for the first time in days. One after another I picked the Ten's malevolent glasses off their victims and destroyed them. The vacant looks on their faces changed to more normal expressions, such as surprise and enlightenment. Another three pairs went flying past me, off a slender female hauling a couple of youngsters by the hands. The children began to cry. I turned to offer a thumb's up to my companions, standing at the side of the stairs. Tananda grinned back at me. She and Zol were getting into the act, helping me break the people out of the demons' spell.
"Thank you?" demanded the first Scammie I had helped, his trunk rampant with fury. He held up his fists. "Thank you? You're mad! Guards! Guards! Arrest this ... this fool!"
At the cry, the officer directing traffic turned his face up towards us. Throwing both hands up magnificently to halt the flow of vehicles, he stalked off his pedestal and started up the stairs in the direction of the shouting Scammie. It must take time until the brainwashing began to wear off. The portly male still carried on as if he was angry that the stream of nonsense the Perverts' device fed him had been halted. It looked as if we had better clear out of the immediate area until all of them were in their right minds again. I had been the target of mobs before. I knew I didn't want to have that experience again.
"Come on," I gestured to my friends. Gleep came charging through the crowd of Scammies converging on me, bowling half of them over and sending them rolling down the stairs. Tananda leaped down to help me clear a way for Zol and Bunny.
"Get us out of here, Gleep!" I yelled. I released the illusion masking his natural aroma. At the sudden wave of lung-constricting smell, Scammies threw themselves out of his path, cannoning into one another, shrieking in fear.
"Gleep!" my pet yodeled, turning his nose downward.
We plunged down the steps in his wake, stripping spectacles off Scammies as we went. To my surprise mild-mannered Zol threw himself into the liberation effort with gusto. With a wave of his hands the little gray man flipped glasses off dozens of people at a time. Tananda, too, lent her magikal abilities to the cause. Bunny just held tight to Bytina and did her best to stay with us.
The crowd behind us grew as we ran. What had gone wrong? I started to wonder if just removing the spectacles was enough to break the hypnotic trance the Pervect Ten had set on their victims. They were still shouting at us and shaking their fists long after I would have thought the impact would have begun to wear off.
"After them!" shouted the stout male.
"They broke my glasses!"
"They broke my children's! What will we do?"
I sprinted down the middle of the main street. Rat-horses reared and gnashed their big front teeth as I swung under their noses. Scammies operating pedal-driven vehicles halted and swore. People not wearing the Pervect goggles stopped to point and stare. We were definitely attracting too much attention.
I looked around for a place to duck into so I could operate the D-hopper, but every inch of the street was filled with shouting, angry people. I glanced over my shoulder. Zol, for all that he stood a foot shorter than I, managed to stay just behind me, but Bunny was getting lost in the crowd. I'd lost sight of Tananda. She could dimension-hop on her own with a chant and a wiggle, so I didn't have to worry about her, but my assistant was not a magician. I had to get back to her.
I saw her hand go up before it was blotted out by a mass of Scammies bearing down on me.
"Gleep!" I called. "Go get Bunny! Protect her!"
"Gleep!" my pet responded. He stopped clearing the way ahead for me, looped around in his length, which caused several of the pursuers to trip on him, and came galloping directly back toward me. I threw up my hands to halt him.
"No, Gleep!" I cried, just before we collided.
"Now, now, now, what's all this, then?"
When I opened my eyes, everything was in a haze. As my vision cleared I found myself staring at the protuberant brown eyes of a Scammie police officer whose face was only inches from my nose. He reached for my arm. I started to pull it away, then realized that the ground was preventing my elbow from moving back. I was lying down. How had that happened?
It all came back to me as the roar of furious voices rolled over my ears again. Gleep, in his zeal to take the shortest path to Bunny and carry out my instructions, had crashed into me and knocked me flat. I didn't know if the bruises I felt on my chest were his footprints, or those of some of the Scammies standing around me, one of whose foot was still planted across my neck. I had probably been knocked unconscious when I hit my head on the ground. How long ago had that happened?
I gasped for breath. The person whose boot was impeding my airway removed it, and the policeman hauled me to my feet. His trunklike nose twitched. I sniffed, too. I must have let the nasal illusion slip. In the melange of vanilla-orange I smelled like a pigpen by comparison. It was too late to disguise my normal scent. Half the Scammies caught my stink and edged away from me, or pinched their big nostrils shut with their fingers. The policeman's eyes watered, but he was made of a better mettle than his countrymen. He kept my arm clamped in his hand, and felt my face. When his fingers met my ordinary, and very small (by comparison) nose, his brow ridges went up.
"Who are you, and what are you?" he demanded.
I tried to choke out my name, but only a squeak came out, thanks to both having the air knocked out of me and the foot in the throat. "I'm Sk—" I gasped.
"All right, make way!" Another police officer came bustling up. The first one held out a palm.
"Magik dispeller," he demanded. The second officer slapped a wand into his hand. The first officer pushed a small stud on the handle and leveled it at me. I saw the faces of the crowd change as my disguise was stripped from me.
"A Klahd," the officer sniffed in disgust. "What do you think you're doing here?"
"My name is Skeeve," I croaked. "I'm here to save you."
"Crazy, too," the second officer opined.
"No, really!" I protested. "You're all in danger."
"Save us, eh?" the officer in charge queried. "Is that why you stood on the courthouse steps screaming like a fool? If you have evidence that Scamaroni is in some kind of peril why didn't you go to our government and make your case?"
"I..." I was starting to wonder that myself. I couldn't tell him that Zol Icty had told me to. I was beginning to think it had been a bad idea after all. But I couldn't make this officer think I was a bigger twit than he already did. I eyed him. "If you can ask a question like that, you've never tried to change anything by getting the government to help," I pointed out.
It looked as though Officer Two agreed with me privately, but Officer One was not amused. His voice was even and calm, as though he was talking to a very small child. "So tell me why you caused a riot."
"The glasses," I began, feeling a little foolish. "They're part of a big plot."
"So you said."
"The people who made them want to take over your dimension."
The brow ridges went up again. "And you have proof of this?"
"You have to take me seriously," I insisted. I gestured at the angry people around me. Tananda, Zol and Bunny were nowhere in sight. I hoped that they had jumped back to Wuh or Klah and weren't going through an interrogation like this somewhere out of sight. "Really. You'll lose control of your own lives! I'm a magician, a great magician. I've seen it happen in another dimension. I don't want it to happen to you!"
"They had these glasses?"
"Well, no... but it's the same ten Perverts. They've conquered one world, and yours is next!"
"Uh-huh," the officer said, still in the same patient voice. He exchanged a look with the other officer, who tapped his chin with a forefinger. It must be the local gesture for "nut case." I started to protest.
"... And I had mountains of treasure! Gold! Jewels! Silver! But I used that cheap stuff only to scratch my back," added the female Scammie, escorted into our little circle by a third policeman, "until that imbecile destroyed my storytelling goggles, and I got yanked out of my beautiful dream!"
"You see?" I stated, indicating the female. "It's clouding your minds."
"So what?" the female asked, her trunk rampant with disapproval. "I was loving it!"
"But what about your productivity?" I said, beginning to feel desperate. They didn't understand. "What about your normal lives?" "This is much more interesting than my life," the woman told me impatiently. "I have five children. You think I can't use a little escapism?"
"The makers of these things want to control you, maybe bleed you dry," I insisted.
"Twenty gold pieces is steep," the woman admitted, "but it's worth it! I've wandered in beautiful places, free as a greblich!"
"No, it won't stop there," I warned, looking about at all the hostile faces in the circle. "They'll take over your dimension while you're not looking."
A male Scammie poked me in the stomach. "So what? If we're happy, how bad could that be?"
The first officer put his free hand on his hip. "Have you ever even tried these things yourself?"
"No," I admitted. "But I know what they can do ..."
"Well, here." He plucked the goggles off one of the bystanders. The owner's eyes flew wide in alarm, but calmed down when he saw a law officer holding them. He started to put them on my face.
"No!" I protested, throwing up my hands. "They'll enchant me!" The cop shrugged and handed them back. The owner went to put them back on. I couldn't let him be dragged back into the spell. I raised my hands and made a twisting motion. The owner cried out in alarm.
"You'll thank me later," I tried to say, as he went for my throat. All three police officers pulled him back. He shook his fist over their shoulders.
"You ... you vandal!" he yelled, his nose-trunk erect in outrage. "Aargh! That's the last time I help the police!"
"Look," I said, desperately, "You don't know what they're doing to you. Today it seems like you're just enjoying harmless fantasies, but before you know it you'll be their slaves. I'll reimburse everyone for their glasses— wholesale cost," I amended hastily. If I'd learned anything from Aahz, it was never pay the full price for replacement of an item. If I had ever agreed to give anyone the retail value of an item I had broken Aahz would have rolled his eyes right around inside his head. "They're harming you. Trust me."
The more I protested, the more faces I saw becoming thoughtful.
"Maybe he's on to something," a narrow-faced woman mused, tilting her head. "I never considered it more than a toy... but you never know what extra spells might be tucked in there. I've heard all kinds of things happen to people. You read about it in the news all the time."
"Hah," a young male sneered. "He's just jealous that he doesn't have his own goggles. Can't afford to buy one for yourself, Klahd?"
"I bet he works for a rival toymaker," an elderly female shrilled. "He doesn't like theirs, but we should buy yours, isn't that right, stinky?"
"No, it's not like that at all!"
The first policeman held up his hands. "All right, all right, calm down. We'll get to the bottom of this. We'll have the goggles inspected to make sure they don't cause any harm to any of you. In the meantime, give your names to Officer Koblinz, and we'll notify you when we've finished our investigation. Move along! Move along! Clear the road!"
The Scammies, grumbling, obeyed the first policeman's commands. Officer Two, Koblinz, took a pad of paper out of his pocket. Names magikally limned themselves down the index. He nodded and put it away.
"You can better believe we're going to get to the bottom of this," he promised.
"That's a relief," I breathed. Very quickly traffic returned to normal, and the complainants departed. "Well, thanks a lot." I spotted an alley where I could retrieve the D-hopper out of my boot in private, and started towards it.
"And where do you think you're going?" Officer One asked, grabbing me by the back of my collar. I struggled to pry myself loose, even using a flick of power, but he had a good grip on me.
"I've got to get back to my work," I told him. "I told you, those Pervects have a grip on another helpless dimension."
"You're not going anywhere!"
Officer One looked at me as though I was an idiot. "You're still under arrest for destroying personal property."
"But, gee, I said I'd pay for them," I protested.
"Nothing doing," he said, hauling me by my collar down the sidewalk to a waiting rat-horse cart. "Restitution will be part of the sentence. You're still being held for assault on sixty or eighty persons, destruction of property, causing a nuisance on the public highway with that sick rorse of yours, creating an affray ..."
"A what?" I asked.
The officer sighed, as if he had never met such a stupid being in his life. "Causing a riot, if you prefer it like that. The judge is really going to throw the book at you."
"What's the usual penalty for causing an affray?" I asked.
"Oh, thirty or forty days. But with all the other charges added on you're likely going to spend the rest of your life in here."
"Perhaps I could talk to the judge," I offered, stumbling as I climbed into the cart. "Arrange a payment schedule, and apologize to the Scammies I have offended?"
"I doubt it," Officer One said, gesturing his companion to whip up his animal. "Senior Domari was the first person you assaulted."