The precinct doors flew open, and a squat figure entered flanked by uniformed officers (well, perhaps they were more following than flanking, given how much of the corridor the man took up). An officer offered him a chair opposite the negotiation team; the man shook his head and pointed to a nearby loveseat, the one that had been in the office ever since Josie in dispatch had been pregnant. When it was wrestled into place, the man settled into it like an oversized armchair, leaving little room on either side.

“Sherman Gregward?” Chief Strong said.

The man tossed his head, with its dark hair thinning in front and gathered into a ponytail in back. “That’s me. Sherwood Greg, if you prefer. Collector, scholar, dungeon master, level 24 elven sorceress, and head of the Council of Twelve and overall coordinator for Nerdicon.”

“Mr. Gregward,”Strong said. “I assume you’ve heard about the events at SciCon earlier today?”

“SciCon’s a competitor, but a respected one,” Sherwood Greg replied. “I’ve deigned to attend on occasion, when campaigning is slow. I hear they went and got their guest of honor kidnapped.”

“Nestor Pressman, who played…” Strong looked at the sheet in front of him. “Captain Why of Timeship Omega in the 1983-87 tv series TimeTrek Wars.”

“Don’t patronize me, captain,” Greg sniffed.” I know Pressman. He was at Nerdicon three times before he went to the other side.”

“We’re had no luck in finding the kidnapper or kidnappers, and the demands that were left for us are, well, incomprehensible.”

“So you brought in an expert. Smart.” Greg waved an outstretched hand; Strong gave him a copy of the dossier with the cut and paste ransom note:

BR1|\|9 Ph1\/3 |-|U|\|DR3D 7|-|0U54|\|D d0LL4R5 (45|-| 4 (0/\/\PL373 1985 5(1-(0|\| (0/\/\/\/\3/\/R471\/3 (0LL3(710|\| 7|-|3 L057 3P150D3 0Ph 71/\/\3-7R3|<-\/\/4R5 4|\|D 4LB3R7 /\/\3LL5731|\|'5 5(R33|\| 7357 Ph0R (R'/P7 r0BB3R 70 7|-|3 (17'/ bU5 73R/\/\1|\|4L b'/ 319|-|7 70/\/RR0\/\/ 0R pR355/\/\4|\| 15 0U7 0Ph 71/\/\3

“It’s gibberish,” Strong said.

Greg glanced at it. “Bring $500,000 cash, a complete 1985 SciCon commemorative collection, the lost episode of TimeTrek Wars and Albert Mellstein’s screen test for Crypt Robber to the city bus terminal by eight tomorrow or Pressman is out of time,” he read.

“H-how did you…?”

“Child’s play. I’ve decoded leetspeak twice as hardcore before second breakfast. And before you ask: the 1985 SciCon commemorative collection is a legendarily rare swag bag from the first convention of which only 5 are known to exist, the lost episode of TimeTrek Wars was filmed but never edited just before the series was canceled in 1987 with only a few black and white stills known to survive, and after he won an Oscar Albert Mellstein was so anxious to cover up that he tried out for the lead of Crypt Robber that he bought and publically burned the negative.”

Strong’s jaw hung agape.

“See? You picked the right man for the job. Also, that last bit? Captain Why’s catchphrase was ‘we’re never out of time’ in the show. You’re welcome.”

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