A New Beginning 
Part II 
One Step Forward

by
D. Dabinett

Published as a part of A Companion In Zeor #13 & 14 & 15

CHAPTER ONE

Six months later…

Jason looked around the room. He was in Vidal’s apartment, having just moved there from the student accommodation at the Sime Centre. He had been living at the student hostel since he had left Mike’s place, which was shortly after his brother had taken up an initial two year Contract with his new partner, and her children.

Once he had committed himself to working for the Tecton Investigation Bureau, Jason had been surprised at how quickly everything had been arranged. His ties with Helma Vestii and the TIS had been severed, and in just a few days he had been enrolled on two intensive courses which were not yet completed. One of these related to his work with the TIB, whilst the other covered the more technical aspects of his new role as donor. Since as he and Vidal were now a tied pair, and fully autonomous as far as their transfers were concerned, then of necessity, most of his donor training had been left up to Vidal.

Fortunately being matchmates, their transfers were perfect, and only seemed to get better as time went on and they both, for the moment at least, seemed to have the ability to push all other considerations aside and ignore them for the duration of their transfer. Although how long this would continue to be the case, was a moot point that neither Vidal nor Jason wished to think about.

Also, both men knew that their working relationship was in a different category altogether, for in this respect, things had not worked out as smoothly as they had hoped.

Vidal or so it appeared to Jason, expected him to change, and on more than one occasion he had had to point out to the Channel that he had no intention of doing any such thing. Vidal of course vehemently denied that he expected such a thing to happen. Jason had no doubt that he honestly believed what he said, but that was not how it came across to him. Therefore it cast a cloud over both of them, and he only hoped that things would eventually be resolved.

One thing above all was clear to Jason. If they wanted this relationship to work, then his Sime partner had to accept the fact that he was an individual in every sense of the word. He was also well able to make his own decisions, even though they might be diametrically opposite to what Vidal considered safe, or expedient.

Walking to the window he looked down into the courtyard below. Vidal had just parked his dark blue flitter outside, and was looking at the jade green one that filled his parking space. A smile touching his lips Jason turned away from the window, and made his way out of the room and into the eating area. Listening for the opening of the lock on the outer door, he busied himself pouring out two glasses of ice cold fruit juice, and placing a platter of bread, soy cheese and fruit onto the table. It was already midday, and he knew that his partner would not yet have eaten.

‘Hi there! No problems settling in I trust? Sorry I couldn’t get back in time to welcome you.’ The Channel tossed the small case he was carrying onto a side table as he entered the room.

‘It’s all right, I got plenty of help. How did the meeting go?’

‘As always, a lot of hot air and nothing really decided.’ He smiled ruefully as he glanced at the table.

‘Sit down. I don’t suppose you’ve eaten today yet.’

‘Guilty.’ He sat down. ‘Some idiot has put his flitter in my parking space.’

Jason helped himself to a large slice of bread and a hunk of the soy cheese it was made with a culture from Dunedin - a remote island off the coast of Scotland – which gave it a distinctive flavour. He had been brought up on the island, and it was where his family apart from Mike and himself, still lived. He also knew that his partner had gone to some trouble to both find the supplier and buy it for him – he pushed the platter across the table, and Vidal helped himself to a small portion of the creamy cheese ignoring the bread, but picked out a small green apple.

‘It’s mine.’

‘Pardon?’

‘The flitter outside. It’s mine. I bought it yesterday. As a matter of fact I intended to call into the Admin. Office today and arrange for a space to be allocated to me, but what with the move and everything, I just didn’t have the time. I’ll arrange it later.’

The Sime’s dark head had snapped up as Jason spoke. ‘You’ve bought a new flitter? What for? We have a perfectly good one already.’

Jason’s chestnut curls bounced up and down as he shook his head. ‘No. you have a perfectly good flitter, not me. At least, not until I bought my own, and it isn’t new, I bought it off Baynard Robson the young Sime they’ve just put in charge of the Visitors Information Desk. I got quite a bargain actually.’ His firm white teeth bit into the warm bread and he began to chew contentedly.

‘Jason what is the point of two flitters? We’re partners. It’s expected that wherever we go, we go together. There is little sense in taking two flitters to the one destination.’ He argued quietly.

‘I agree. If it’s to do with TIB or Tecton business fine, but there are sure to be many occasions when you go to one place and me to another. It’s hardly feasible for you to take me to where I am going, and then go to where you’re going, and then have to pick me up afterwards is it? Especially if I’m on a date! No offence but I don’t fancy kissing goodnight in the back with you sitting in front.’ He said grinning widely. ‘Unless you expect me to use the Centre’s transportation which you know I can’t drive myself, or are you suggesting I walk?’ Green eyes met and challenged the Sime’s dark ones.

‘Of course not but Gavin never felt the necessity to.’ Vidal swore under his breath. Shen it. He hadn’t meant to say that!

‘I am NOT Gavin!’ Jason bit the words out as he pushed his plate across the table and scrapped back his chair to stand up angrily.

‘Jason wait please. My apologies. I’ve had a very trying morning and…it’s my turnover day.’ He spread his hands and tentacles wide in entreaty.

Jason sighed and shook his head. Turnover. The time, midway between one transfer and the next, when a Sime began the slow progress from repletion to need. He should have known the date, as a donor it was his duty to know.

‘Shen, I’m the one who should be sorry not you. I should have remembered.’ He sat down again before he went on. ‘I often wonder if I’ll ever get the hang of all this companion stuff.’ He sighed and shook his head sadly.

Vidal leaned forward, and one tentacle wrapped itself around the Gen’s fingers as they rested on the table. ‘As far as the really important part is concerned, you have, our transfers are perfect. Everything else will come in time. It is I, expecting too much too soon.’ The Channel said quickly his voice ringing with sincerity.

‘You know what your trouble really is don’t you Vidal? You’ve been spoiled rotten by Gavin.’ Jason suddenly grinned widely. ‘I have the perfect answer to our problem. The only trouble is we can’t do it.’

The Channel bit into his apple. ‘Explain.’

‘You need two Gens. Me for transfers, and a Tecton raised Gen as your Companion between times.’ He smiled broadly as he spoke.

Vidal laughed out loud in genuine amusement. ‘You have a lot to learn about Tecton politics my friend. There are many in the hierarchy who hate the very thought of exclusive partnerships on principle, even though they know that in the TIB it’s not only necessary, but essential, if we are to carry out our assignments. Therefore, one Companion is bad enough. Can you imagine the uproar if anyone dared to suggest that I should have two?’

Jason began to clear the table.

‘Talking about householder Gens. I received a message from Regis 9 this morning.’ Vidal continued.

‘Gavin?’ Jason asked with interest.

‘Who else? It seems he is to become a father in six months time. He has asked me to be Godfather.’

‘Godfather?’

‘I understand it is an archaic tradition that is still practised by members of the Church of Unity. Poor Gavin, I think he’s confused too.’

‘But what does it mean exactly?’

‘As far as I can tell. If anything happens to Gavin and Stella I will be expected to take responsibility for the upbringing and care of their child until he or she reaches maturity.’ Vidal explained.

‘Quite a big responsibility all things considered.’

‘Not really. Gavin and I have both agreed that should the necessity ever arise, Dar will see to the actual upbringing of the child. I shall just hold a watching brief, and be there to sort out any problems that might arise.’

 

‘Oh well, that sounds okay. Give them my congratulations when you’re next in touch wont you?’ Jason glanced around the room. ‘Don’t you have a chronometer? No of course you don’t! I’m an idiot. I’ve got one amongst my boxes somewhere, I’ll put it up on the wall when I finish unpacking.’

‘As you wish.’ Vidal agreed. ‘At the moment its 13.15 p.m.’

‘Thanks. I haven’t had a chance to take the flitter for a proper trial yet. Do you fancy coming with me?’ Jason asked in a conciliatory manner, as he moved towards the door, but then the devil inside him made him add. ‘If you can trust me to handle it safely of course.’

The Channel chose to ignore the last remark. ‘Yes, I too have a free afternoon.’

 

It was still dark as Vidal entered the office of his therapist and friend of many years, Gregory Rudd. He was standing at the long window staring out into the dark predawn sky.

 

‘Your call sounded urgent.’ Rudd stated with a smile as he indicated that his visitor sit down. ‘Sorry I had to make it so early. My diary is overflowing at the moment.’ He confessed.

‘I guessed as much. I wouldn’t bother you if I didn’t feel it was necessary Greg.’

The therapist, a short young Gen who had a Sime build and a plain face, nodded his head in acknowledgement, as he walked to a side table and poured out two steaming glasses of trin.

‘So what’s the matter? I thought your transfers were all sorted out now that you have your new partner.’ He studied his friend closely to confirm his words.

‘They are. I have no problem as far as transfer is concerned. I need to consult you as a friend Gregory not a therapist.’ He confessed. ‘In fact I have a bit of a dilemma, and what I really need is a sounding board.’

‘I see. Well how can I help?’ He picked up a pen and began to doodle on the pad in front of him, a habit that seemed to help him concentrate.

Vidal looked out of the window behind his friend’s back and watched the first scarlet fingers of the Sun appear in the dark sky outside.

Slowly he began to try and explain the problems that he was experiencing with Jason. As he talked the words began to flow faster and faster quite literally pouring out of him.

He spoke of the angry scenes when he couldn’t get the Gen to understand he was only trying to help him, not dictate how he should live his life.

The frustration he felt because Jason seemed to make no attempt to understand that he had been brought up in Sime society, and apart from his own instinct, it had all but been bred into him to care for any Gen near him. More especially when that Gen was his own Companion.

At last his words petered out and he fell silent. Realising suddenly that he was staring at the fully risen molten Sun. Looking across at the therapist he blinked quickly, and then wiped the black spots away from his eyes with a tentacle, before picking up the glass of trin only to find it was stone cold.

His friend gave a brief laugh and taking the glass from him carried it to the table and poured out a fresh one.

‘Yes I would define that as a bit of a dilemma my friend.’ He acknowledged at last.

‘Tell me about it.’ Vidal picked up the glass and sipped the hot liquid.

‘I have to admit I did wonder if there might be a few teething problems in your relationship. After all, Jason is not one of us, so it was to be expected.’

‘Not one of us – why, because he was born on Dunedin? It’s only a small island off the coast of Scotland you know, not another planet! His family have lived there for generations.’ Vidal chuckled softly. ‘Are we so insular that if we find out someone is not born in the shadow of the Tecton, we still have the "them and us" attitude? ’

Gregory shrugged philosophically. ‘If you can’t see why that’s so my friend, then your education must be sadly lacking. In that part of the world apart from the Shetlands, Orkneys and Hebrides, Dunedin is one of the most conservative, old fashioned and remote islands there is – since I saw you last time, I’ve read up on it.’ He admitted wryly.

‘Oh don’t get me wrong I do agree with you. I can see why the barriers still exist, might always exist to some extent anyway between us and those Gens who are not born under the umbrella of the Tecton. It’s just that I don’t seem to be able to communicate or reach him even on a basic level. I really do try, but he just doesn’t listen.’

‘Of course not. He’s what our ancestors would have called, "a wild Gen".’ They both laughed. Many centuries before Vidal’s time, wild Gens were captured, put in an auction, and then sold to the highest bidder, for they made the best "kills"!

‘You know I’d never dare say that to Jason, he would never appreciate the funny side. In fact I think he’d do his best to knock me down.’ Vidal admitted ruefully.

‘Would he be so stupid as to try?’ The therapist asked in genuine surprise, his eyebrows raised.

‘Oh he’d try, make no mistake about that.’ The Channel said with complete honesty.

‘Would you like me to speak to him, perhaps try to explain a few basic truths? He might listen to me.’

‘No thanks Greg he wouldn’t understand. He’d just think I was trying to manipulate him in some way, and he’d never understand why I have discussed what he terms "our business" with someone he would consider an outsider.’

‘But he has to realise he not only works for the TIB, he’s also a fully paid up member of the Tecton now. The very nature of our existence means openness, and he must be aware that he no longer has any right to complete privacy, none of us do.’

‘And there lies the problem Greg. He wont accept that concept. To be honest I’m not sure that I fully accept it either. Perhaps I’ve lived beyond the edge for too long.’ Vidal shrugged. ‘He seems to examine everything I say to him for some hidden meaning. I’m beginning to feel that if I said, "don’t put your hand in that pot it’s full of boiling oil". He would do so simply to prove to me that he has the right to decide for himself.’ He waved two tentacles helplessly.

‘Such an attitude is both ridiculous and dangerous.’ Gregory Rudd stated as their eyes met.

‘I agree. To be honest, I’m frightened that should we be on an assignment where his life, and possibly mine too depends on him instantly obeying an order from me, (as I would of course if necessary, obey one from him). That he would stop to analyse it first, and that could be fatal.’ Vidal sighed softly. ‘I just don’t know what to do about it.’

 

A few days later Vidal and Jason sat hunched over the Chess Board. Instead of two or three matches in an evening all being won by Jason, they had been engaged in the same match for two evenings now, a sure sign that Vidal’s game was getting better.

Jason made his move then stood up to stretch. ‘You’re improving.’ He observed with a smile, as he crossed to the cupboard and lifted out a box of his favourite chocolates. ‘Do you want anything while I’m here?’

Vidal shook his head without taking his eyes from the board.

An hour later they were still in the same position, but Jason was now studying the state of play and deciding his next move. Without thinking his hand moved to take the last chocolate from the top layer of the box, and place it in his mouth.

‘Trin?’ Jason nodded his thanks as Vidal stood up and picked up the chocolate box.

‘Hey where do you think you’re taking them?’

‘I thought I’d put it away in the cupboard since the top layer has gone.’ Vidal replied with a smile.

‘So what?’ As it happened Jason didn’t want anymore but shen it, he’d decide when he’d had enough not Vidal.

 

‘Last week when you ate more than the top layer, you felt nauseous if you recall.’ The Channel reminded him.

‘So what?’ He repeated. ‘You’re not my mother you know.’ The words out of his mouth before he could stop them.

‘Thank the Gods for one small mercy. If you were my Son I’d have disowned you years ago.’ Vidal chuckled, and Jason reluctantly joined in.

‘I don’t think I’d blame you either.’ He confessed honestly as he made his move. ‘Checkmate.’

‘Checkmate? How?’ The Channel stared down at the board. ‘I can’t believe that I never saw that, I must be going blind.’

‘Never mind, better luck next time.’ Jason began to pack the set away as Vidal moved to heat the water for their drink. The chocolates thankfully, once more forgotten.

CHAPTER TWO

 

The two men entered the Gym and Jason stared across at their instructor. ‘For a moment I thought it was Gavin, till I saw the tentacles.’ He murmured.

‘Ralf is Gavin’s older cousin. There’s often a strong family resemblance between householders you know, inter-breeding in the past I expect. They’re both pledged to Dar.’ He explained as they moved forward and Vidal touched tentacles with Ralf before he turned to introduce Jason.

Both men had changed before they entered the Gym, and were dressed the same as their instructor, in black skin hugging pants, their chest and feet bare.

 

‘Right let’s see how good you are, and what you know.’ Ralf stated as he beckoned Jason onto the mat. ‘Not much it seems.’ He observed as he tossed the Gen onto his back for the third time, and pinned him down.

‘Were you augmenting?’ Jason asked as he scrambled to his feet his pride stung, for Ralf was positively skinny in the Sime way, more so when compared to himself.

‘No of course not - it wasn’t necessary. Now stand over there a moment. Vidal come here let us demonstrate how that move should be carried out.’

Jason stood to one side trying desperately not to broadcast his chagrin into the ambient as he had been taught. He watched as Vidal stepped forward. He wasn’t at all surprised that Ralf was Gavin’s cousin he decided, he was after all, just as arrogant.

Moments later he forgot his animosity as he watched enviously as the two men first squared up to each other, and then with a flurry of throws and counter-throws proceeded to show how the art should be practised. If it had been choreographed it could not have been better demonstrated. Yet neither Sime used precious selyn by augmenting. Clearly proving that what they were doing could be done by a Gen, if he or she practised enough.

Not being a fool and realising that he must learn how to defend himself properly, he watched the two combatants closely. As he watched he acknowledged that until now his own idea of hand to hand combat consisted of a few punches, and a well aimed kick or knee to his opponents groin. Which he knew owed more to his early days on Dunedin, than to anything he had been taught.

He had had to look after himself and his younger siblings from a very tender age. His mother had the latest baby, and his father had been far too busy on the farm. Mike of course had not been around much, he was the eldest, and had left the island as soon as he was able to do so. All of which perhaps helped to explain why Jason was such a strange dichotomy; for on the one hand he was fiercely independent, sometimes even appearing to be arrogant, which he used unconsciously as a ploy to hide his inferiority complex. Although wild horses would not make him admit to the latter!

Both Simes seemed to be equally matched, although the instructor had a bit more of an edge than Vidal, which was only to be expected.

Two predators in the prime of their life. The thought flashed unbidden through Jason’s mind as he watched them fascinated. As they rolled to their feet yet again, Jason saw that neither man was even breathing heavily or sweating.

‘You didn’t use your tentacles.’ He said to Ralf.

‘Of course not. We were showing you and you don’t appear to have tentacles.’ He bit back a grin as he sensed the Gen’s annoyance at what he considered a glib reply. Then walking across the room he picked up a towel and tossed it to Vidal, who caught it with his tentacles and flicked it around his neck.

‘Come, let us try again.’ Ralf moved further onto the mat standing with his legs slightly apart, his hands resting lightly on his narrow hips, his tentacles sheathed.

Seconds later Jason was biting his lip with mortification as he landed unceremoniously on his back yet again. He had tried so hard, he really had. Panting he scrambled to his feet once more. ‘This isn’t working is it?’ He demanded exasperated.

‘You can’t expect to learn in one morning what it as taken Vidal and I years to perfect.'’ The Sime retorted.

‘And if nothing else you have at least learned the correct way to take a fall.’ The Channel stated encouragingly.

Ralf gave what sounded suspiciously like a bark of laughter. ‘The same time tomorrow Vidal.’ He said, and with a quick nod towards Jason he strode from the room.

‘So you’ve got to see him again tomorrow.’

‘Both of us have to see him.’ Vidal corrected as he led the way to the changing room.

‘Why didn’t he say that then? He only mentioned you.’ The Gen snapped and didn’t hear his partner sigh as he straight armed the door, and stepped into the nearest shower cubicle.

That day set the pattern for Jason for the next month. Although after the first week Vidal did not go with him to the Gym, and he was left to the tender mercy of the sardonic Ralf.

After one particularly hard and gruelling session Jason had arrived back at the apartment to find Vidal resting on the couch. ‘Working hard I see.’ He said with irony as he strode over to heat the water for trin.

Vidal did not mention that he had in fact been working all night, helping out with an emergency at the Centre, whilst his partner had been fast asleep. After which he had spent over an hour with Zoë a young Gen he had known for many years, who had helped him to get his systems back into reasonable order again. A job that his own Companion should have done for him. But he had been reluctant to ask, and rightly or wrongly had turned to her instead. ‘How did you get on?’ He asked as he swung his long legs to the floor.

‘He knocked the stuffing out of me as usual.’ Jason informed him sourly and tried unsuccessfully to rub his back.

‘Ralf has a job to do, and besides he realises that he could do you even more harm if he failed to teach you to look after yourself.’ Moving close to him the Channel began to knead his back and neck with hands and tentacles.

‘I thought you said all Simes like to protect Gens and not hurt them.’ Jason said cynically.

‘You have told me on more than one occasion that you hate to be over protected, and now you are complaining because a Sime is doing what you ask. Ralf is actually fighting with you instead of cosseting you. Don’t you think it’s about time you made up your mind exactly what you do want?’ Stepping around Jason he began to pour out the hot water for the trin.

As the month waned, things began to ease between the two men. Jason had begun to make rapid progress with his self-defence classes, and his bad temper appeared to have dissipated. A fact for which Vidal was extremely grateful as their next transfer drew inexorably near.

The Channel had seen his therapist several times in the last few weeks. On his last visit Greg had suggested that his next transfer should be monitored.

Vidal had shied away from the very idea, even though he knew, that in the Tecton, monitoring was often used when there was the slightest chance of trouble during a transfer. In fact this could happened even when the Donor was highly able and trained, and although Jason was a natural he was as yet far from technically skilled, as he would be the very first to admit.

However it could be a dangerous procedure, one not to be undertaken lightly. For it was well documented that in the past, some Channels perceiving a threat to their Donor, had been known to attack the one who was monitoring the Transfer. Vidal hoped he would have enough control not to succumb to such a basic instinct.

Although he had to admit that even to him, the thought of a third person being in the room at such a time was abhorrent. When he had first read about monitoring during his own Channel training, he had always felt that it was in some respects the same as having an observer present whilst having sex! Indeed once he was trained, he had only really experienced it once, when he and Gavin had had their first transfer. Gavin being a householder by birth had accepted it as a matter of course, but it had not changed his own opinion. He shivered with revulsion at the memory.

Unfortunately he knew that Greg had not really understood him, when he had tried to explain his own reservations about monitoring.

‘And there lies one of the main differences between us my friend. Even in these so called enlightened times. If you were a householder born and bred, then, although you might not wholeheartedly embrace the idea of monitoring, you would nevertheless accept it with grace. Especially if your therapist deems it necessary. Which I do. So in some ways you are just as independent and stubborn as your Companion.’ Greg stated bluntly.

‘Let me think about it.’ Vidal had begged and left wondering how Jason would react to the idea. Perhaps he looked on transfer as just another bodily function, and it wouldn’t bother him at all? There was such a lot he still didn’t know about his unpredictable Gen. What worried him even more however, was whether he would ever truly understand him, and if not, could they – could he, live with that?

Indeed on a few occasions he had even found himself wondering if he had done the right thing in asking Jason to become his partner. Whilst on others he had broken out into a cold sweat at the very thought that the Gen in a moment of temper, to which he seemed prone, might actually walk out on him! Under normal circumstances such an event would be unthinkable, but Jason was not from the Tecton nor was he a householder. He was a Gen who had grown up "outside the system" on a remote island where the only contact with the Tecton had been the monthly visit by boat of a channel to take donations, and the occasional changeover case. In fact Vidal had started to wonder if the very idea of total commitment, meant the same thing to Jason as it did to him? It was a truly frightening idea, and one that could give any Channel nightmares.

 

Ten days later Vidal entered the apartment to find Jason throwing cushions onto the couch before lying down and activating the anti-grav field. ‘You’re back early.’ He observed and sighed with relief as he relaxed and closed his eyes, his body floating a couple of centimetres above the actual surface of the couch.

‘Yes. I want to speak to you.’ Vidal pulled up a chair and straddled it, his eyes staring down at his companion’s recumbent figure.

‘That sounds ominous. What is it this time, another lecture?’ He opened one eye to look sourly at the Sime.

The Channel explained as succinctly as possible that Gregory Rudd his friend and therapist, had suggested that their next transfer should be monitored, and why he felt it was necessary.

Jason was silent for several seconds as he absorbed the words then demanded. ‘What is he this friend of yours, just a voyeur or a plain old fashioned pervert?’

Vidal sighed and shook his head and then tried once more to explain.

Jason just stared at him coldly and then he spoke. ‘Let me get this straight. He wants someone to sit there and watch us and you want that too. Right?’

‘No! Shen it’s so difficult when you know so little Simelan. I’m sorry I know that’s not your fault, but there are so many words and concepts that just can’t be explained in English. ’

‘I can’t believe I’m hearing this! The answer is NO Vidal got that? NO!’ He suddenly bounced up off the couch and strode over to the window running a hand through his chestnut curls, before resting his other hand against the frame, and staring out at the early evening sky.

‘I’m not explaining this very well. There are several very informative books I can get for you to read that will.’ Vidal stopped as Jason interrupted him.

‘Forget it. You’ve explained enough. If you want this monitor present, then HE can give you transfer not me!’

NO!’ Vidal tossed the chair to one side and augmenting he rushed to his companion’s side. ‘I must take transfer from you. How could you think that I would even consider anyone else?’ His tentacles lashed around Jason’s muscular arms as he turned the Gen away from the window.

‘Hey take it easy. That was just temper talking not me.’ Jason soothed. ‘You caught me by surprise. I’ve told you before I’m not used to all this you know that. It just doesn’t seem right to me to have someone else watch, while we take transfer. Oh, I know it’s nothing at all like having sex - but it’s still sort of private - know what I mean?’

‘Yes of course I know what you mean. It’s just that sometimes I’m so frightened of your temper. If you should throw that amount of rage at me just before we have transfer.’ He shook his head and turned away. ‘As the time of our next transfer draws near I still wonder if I can trust you.’

‘Vidal I wouldn’t hurt you, you know that don’t you?’

‘I know you wouldn’t mean to. But the fact is - you just did.’ Vidal retorted softly. ‘I am still in control emotionally, but I will soon feel need far more keenly and if anything went wrong between us - I dare not even contemplate what could happen.’ He whispered as he turned away, his arms wrapped around his body.

‘Relax. It’ll be all right I wouldn’t do anything to hurt you.’ Jason soothed again resting his hands on his friend’s taut shoulders reassuringly. ‘And I trust you.’ He sighed. ‘The trouble is I don’t really understand most of the damn things they’re trying to teach me. Things about field gradients, basal metabolic rates, selyur nager, and what the hell is trautholo? Oh I know that basically it means total commitment but when he starts talking about the deeper meaning – I’m lost. Quich the Channel in charge of the class has explained some of it to me THREE TIMES! I just can’t tell him that I still don’t understand what he’s talking about can I? He already thinks I’m a cretin without my confirming it. Hell Vidal I just find it all so bloodyshen boring! Tell me. Why do I need to know all this other claptrap, just to be able to handle a simple transfer, that we both know I can do anyway?’

Vidal stared at his partner. He really could not even begin to try and explain anything to him now. He was getting too close to Transfer. Afterwards he would try. Afterwards it would be so much easier.

With a sigh of resignation, Vidal gave in. He knew that to become a fully trained TN-l, quite literally took years of intensive course work. How could anyone really expect a Gen, with only a few months training in the past, most of which he had forgotten, and barely six months now, to even begin to understand the deeper ramifications of what being a Companion, to a First like Vidal, really meant? In all fairness, he knew it was expecting too much.

The morning of their transfer dawned cold and crisp as the first chill of autumn touched the air. Vidal for the first time in his life was quite literally shaking with fear as against Greg’s advice entreaty and even threats, their transfer went ahead unmonitored.

Jason stepped away from his partner with a wide grin on his face. ‘That was the best yet.’ He enthused. ‘I told you not to worry didn’t I?’

Vidal touched the tips of his fingers with his tentacles, noted their steadiness and nodded his head in agreement. ‘Yes against all the odds. It was the best so far. But we must try to sort out our differences Jason. Don’t you think it’s ridiculous that this can be so perfect whilst the rest of our life together is.’ He paused as he searched for the right word that would not give offence.

‘Sheer bloody shen!’ Jason stated unequivocally.

‘Exactly, but what can we do about it?’ The Channel asked.

‘Search me, but find an answer we must. After all we’re both adults for heavens sake, and I admit that I for one have been acting like a spoilt brat, and so my friend have you.’ He grinned at his partner. ‘Let’s agree to really try this time okay?’ He held out his hand Gen style.

Vidal took the hand he offered and then wrapped his handling tentacles around his wrist as he accepted the challenge his companion had thrown down. Momentarily forgetting that immediately after such a fantastic transfer anything seemed possible, every worry had a silver lining, and no mountain was too high!

Feeling sexually aroused, as most Simes did after such a perfect transfer, Vidal hurried away to try and find his friend Zoë. With any luck she would be in her room or if not, then possibly the canteen. His luck held out!

The following day to Vidal’s surprise, for Jason had not yet completed his training, they both received a summons from Sam Betjeman.

‘Any idea what he wants to see us about?’ Jason asked as his flitter skimmed along, the jade green paint work gleaming in the bright autumn sunlight.

‘None. I gave up trying to second guess Sam, a long time ago.’ The Channel confessed as he relaxed beside the Gen, and studied the various trees with their leaves turning brown, red and gold, silhouetted against the clear blue sky.

Jason had only met his new boss once before, and had liked him far more than Helma Vestii, whose demeanour had been both cold and unfriendly. However, he knew very little about the man. Except that Vidal had informed him that he was a renSime and not a Channel, and was more than competent at his job. He was in fact virtually married to his work. Indeed Vidal had stated that he had never contacted the Bureau day or night, and not found Sam on duty and at his desk.

Jason suddenly yawned. Both he and Vidal had gone out last night celebrating, and they had not returned till the wee small hours. It was Vidal who had suggested that Jason ask a young Sime woman, who worked as a receptionist in one of the departments in the Sime Centre, to go with them, whilst Vidal brought Zoë. They were both brunettes. It was a first for Jason. He had often wondered what it would be like, but had never taken a Sime female out before, and he was surprised to find that it was not all that different from escorting a Gen. Vidal had actually laughed out loud, when his partner had confided this startling revelation to him.

The meal too, that they had enjoyed in one of the top restaurants, had fulfilled Jason’s every fantasy as far as food was concerned. As did the Night Club that Vidal had introduced them to afterwards.

To Jason’s satisfaction his credit rating had now jumped by three points from green up to blue. However he was not surprised to note, when Vidal had insisted on paying for the evening, that his badge was platignum with a gold stripe and as far as Jason was aware, there was no higher rating than that! He either earned a lot more than him, or he had money from some other source. Jason was inclined to believe that the latter was the case. Yet neither he norVidal had yet discussed their backgrounds in any great detail, and he knew next to nothing about his partner’s family.

‘Tired?’ Vidal almost went on to apologise for keeping his friend up so late the previous night, but drew the words back quickly. They were getting along fine at the moment but Jason could so easily misconstrue his apology. It was hard work having to think so hard before he spoke out loud, but for the moment at least he conceded, it seemed to be well worth the effort.

‘Yes, I expected to be able to sleep till Noon.’ Jason confessed honestly. ‘I think I’ll let you drive us back.’ He yawned again and glanced across at his partner. ‘Don’t you ever feel tired?’

‘Of course, but not as much as you. I can get by quite well on a couple of hours sleep, less if necessary.’

‘Lucky you. I’ve always felt that sleep was a complete waste of time. There’s so much I could be doing. I can rarely remember my dreams and even if I do it’s only the really bad ones, the nightmares that keep coming back to haunt me.’ They both lapsed into silence as Jason guided the flitter through the early morning crowds, who were either on their way to work, or home after working the night shift. ‘Do I go left or right at the next junction?’

‘Left then first left and second right. We can park where we did before.’

As they were ushered into Sam Betjeman’s office Jason’s eyes darted quickly around, taking a closer inventory of the room than he had the last time he had been in this building. It was big and totally different from all the offices he had seen before. It seemed that the Tecton took more care with the aesthetic appearance of their offices, and their own creature comforts, than the average Gen did. Helma Vestii’s office for instance had been completely utilitarian and functional.

He could feel the thick luxury of the dove grey carpet under his feet as his eyes first went to the wall of windows, that gave a panoramic view of the City, and the dark rain clouds that were even now starting to hide the blue sky. The other three walls were painted a soft egg-shell blue.

In front of the window was a huge Cherry wood desk. Sam Betjeman was sitting in a high backed swivel chair upholstered in a rich Zeor blue material, as were the other chairs scattered around the room. Small Cherry wood tables were dotted here and there between them. The other walls displayed paintings which whilst not to his taste, he knew were by well known modern artists. Everything was illuminated by discreet lighting, that had automatically glowed into life, as the rain clouds finally obscured the Sun, and the light levels dropped.

Sam looked up as they both advanced into the centre of the room. Standing up, he zlinned his two agents, and then stuck his hand out Gen fashion to Jason, his tentacles sheathed.

‘Trin?’ At their acknowledgement he moved to a side table, poured out the hot liquid, and placed the glasses before them. ‘I’m sorry I had to call you both in like this, especially as Jason hasn’t finished his training. But I had no alternative. All my other units are already engaged out in the field.’ He glanced at the Channel. ‘Have you had a chance to apprise Jason of what we discovered on Regis 9?’

Vidal nodded and sat forward instantly alert, the trin for the moment forgotten, as he zlinned Sam keenly.

The renSime rubbed his eyes with his handling tentacles before he went on. ‘First I’ve received some information concerning you Vidal.’ He paused as though uncertain how he should continue, then making up his mind continued. ‘I’m informed by a reliable source, that the people responsible for the drug situation on Regis 9, have you marked for termination.’ He looked seriously at the Channel sitting opposite him.

Jason gasped but Vidal smiled grimly. ‘It’s not the first time I’ve had threats like that.’

‘True. But we’re talking about the Organisation here.’ He turned to the Gen. ‘We’re almost certain that the people I’m talking about have their fingers into any number of dirty deals. Including drugs extortion armaments and.’ His eyes swung around to study the Channel, as he zlinned the Gen closely for his reaction, ‘possible Gendealing. All your TIS people achieved on Regis 9 Jason, was the closing down of a drug cartel. All we ourselves got, were the unimportant fringe element of juncts who were actually operating that cartel. Easily replaced as far as the Organisation is concerned.’ His tentacles emerged to emphasise his next words. ‘Take heed of the warning and keep alert Vidal. The Organisation doesn’t play games!’

Jason saw Sam’s eyes slide out of focus again as he sampled the emotions swirling around the various fields in the room, before he went on. ‘However that’s not the reason I called you both in today. For several days now we’ve been watching a house in the foothills on the fringe of the City. Two people who are known to us by sight have arrived at the house in the last twelve hours. From all the signs I think something is going to happen tonight.’

‘Such as?’ Vidal pressed.

‘I can’t be absolutely certain, but it has all the hallmarks of an arms sale. Unfortunately I’ve had to pull out the team I had covering this, and send them on another assignment. It’s one that they’d worked on previously. It suddenly came to a head and we couldn’t pass it up. Which is why you’re here.’ He shrugged his shoulders philosophically, he was a man who never expected everything to work according to plan, and consequently took it all in his stride.

Vidal nodded, zlinning the renSime carefully as he spoke, ‘and you believe that the Organisation’s involved in this too don’t you?’ Knowing the answer to his question already, he looked across at his partner. ‘Sam and I came to the conclusion some time ago that the Organisation is probably run by a group of both Simes and Gens, probably a dissident offshoot from one of the Distect groups.’

‘The Distect! But they’re just a myth aren’t they?’ Jason interrupted in surprise.

‘So the Tecton like the Gen population to believe. But they are not a myth, and never have been. Far from it. Oh, they’ve most certainly changed over the centuries. Quite probably their forebears wouldn’t even recognise them if they could see them today, but they are most definitely still around. Now don’t get me wrong, most of the Distect aren’t as bad as those involved with the Organisation. A vast majority just practice a different lifestyle and that’s all. They probably have no knowledge of the Organisation. Even so we still try to find all their enclaves, and so we follow up every lead.’ Vidal paused momentarily and then went on.

‘Can you imagine how the Gen population on Earth and her Colonies would react, if they knew there were Distect communities still thriving on other planets? Not even counting the fact that some of their members are probably operating from bases on Earth, even as we speak?’

‘Blind panic.’ Jason stated at once. Feeling pleased that they were being so open with him, which indicated clearly that he was not only trusted, but totally accepted as one of the team.

‘Exactly. Logic goes through the window, when fear rules. Which is why the Tecton keep a discreet silence.’ Vidal turned back to Sam. ‘You want us to go and cover this house straight away I take it?’

‘Yes. I have some of our local boys out there at the moment. Their remit is simply to keep the place under surveillance and let me know if anything further happens and wait for you to arrive, nothing else. I guess you’ll have to play this one by ear Vidal, I’m sorry I can’t help you more.’

‘What if some of the people in the house are Sime?’ Jason asked. ‘They’ll zlin us as soon as we arrive won’t they?’

‘That’s not the way they operate.’ Sam replied with a slight smile. ‘They always use Gens in these situations. We’re not exactly sure why, although various theories have been mooted. Just remember that where ever the Gens are, the Simes won’t be very far away!’

‘One final question if I may, are the Organisation selling or buying these arms?’ Jason queried.

‘In the past they’ve both bought and sold. At other times they act as middleman, they aren’t fussy as long as they make money.’ Betjeman retorted. ‘This time we believe they are selling.’ He stood up and stretched both his arms and tentacles. ‘You’d better get out there, here’s the address. I’m sorry to rush you into service like this Jason… just take care both of you.’

 

 

CHAPTER THREE

As they arrived at the address they had been given, it was obvious that something had gone radically wrong. A Gen raced towards them, a blaster in his hand panting heavily as Vidal jumped out of the flitter.

Vidal recognised him as Del Zade. ‘What’s happened?’ He demanded as Jason joined him.

‘Sorry about this Hajene. We were told to expect you. Everything was sweet and then all shen broke loose. We don’t know what happened except we must have been spotted.’

‘Anyone hurt?’ Vidal asked as he followed the Gen through the dense undergrowth.

‘We’ve got two injured. They’re being taken care of by Hajene Farrell. We fired back at them of course. We got one, but the others got away. It’s all still a bit confused.’

They stopped beside a Sime who turned to acknowledge their presence. ‘Marc Bay.’ He identified himself. ‘You can go in now. We did get one of them, but he’s dead unfortunately. There were three others but they got away. The whole place is fully insulated, even Zac couldn’t zlin through it.’

The four men walked into the house, Vidal zlinning as he approached. He crossed the room and looked down at the dead man, a Gen, but he didn’t know him. ‘Run a full check on this one Del, and let the Betjeman have the results as quickly as possible.’

‘Vidal!’ He turned at the hail, as Zac Farrell entered the room.

‘Before you ask, I’ve no idea how they spotted us. Of course none of them were Sime. We were lucky not to have more injured.’ He shook his head. ‘Sam’s going to be as mad as shen!’

‘Del says you’ve got two injured.’

‘They’re fine - just superficial wounds. I’ve stabilised them and sent them back to the Centre. We were lucky.’

‘Have you found anything?’ Jason suddenly chimed in.

‘My partner.’ Vidal introduced the two men.

‘No the place is clean. They probably wanted to get the negotiations over and done with first. Just our luck.’

‘There’s a call for you Hajene Trent.’ Marc Bay broke into the conversation. ‘Controller Betjeman wants you to go straight back. He says you’re to contact Matt Dagman who has some information he thinks may be of interest to you. He wants you to evaluate it, and get back to him if you think there’s any mileage in it.’

Vidal nodded as Farrell spoke. ‘Did he mention this fiasco?’

‘No, not a word Hajene.’ The Sime hurried away.

‘Shenshi. He’s going to chew me up and spit me out.’

‘We win some, we lose some. Sam’s a fair man.’ Vidal smiled grimly. ‘He may expect the impossible, but he doesn’t expect miracles Zac.’

 

‘No? I’ll just check that this place is secure, and then I’d better get back and make out my report before I get the summons to go upstairs. Wish me luck. Nice meeting you Jason.’

Leaving Zac and the others to clear everything up, Vidal and Jason returned to their flitter.Vidal climbed into the driver’s seat and they headed back to base.

‘You’re tired out.’ Vidal broke the silence as he zlinned his Companion. ‘Might be a good idea if I drop you off at the apartment first, while I go and see what this Matt Dagman has to tell us.’

Jason, who moments before had been thinking longingly of throwing himself, with total abandonment into a warm soft bed, immediately bristled. ‘Look unlike you I may not be able to stay awake all night with no ill effects, but I’m not a child you can send off to bed without his supper either. We’ll see what this Dagman has to say and then we’ll go and get something to eat. After that we’ll both think about going to bed. All right?’ Tiredness and hunger made his tone openly belligerent.

‘As you wish.’ The Channel replied coldly, and didn’t speak again till they entered the Law Enforcement Building and he asked for Matt Dagman.

An elderly Sime came over and took them to one side before he spoke. ‘Matt’s not here Hajene, he want’s you to go to the abandoned McVitie factory near the waterfront. Do you know where it is?’

Vidal nodded. ‘Yes. But why there? I understood he simply has some information to give us?’

‘No. His informant has the information, but he won’t come here. He insisted that Matt goes to see him. Look Hajene, I’ve known Matt Dagman for more than half my working life. If he says it’s important then it’s important, believe me.’

Vidal nodded again as he glanced across at his partner. ‘Looks like you’ll have to wait a while longer before you can eat. Unless you want to wait here for me, the canteen will be open?’ He offered tentatively.

‘No thanks, let’s go and get this over with.’ Jason snapped.

The Channel thanked the older Sime for his help, then shoulder to shoulder the two men left the building.

Vidal headed directly to the waterfront and found the abandoned factory easily. It was a large many storied building its hundreds of windows, some broken, stared sightlessly out into the dark night like vacant eyes. A high mesh security fence surrounded it but the gates stood open wide. Manoeuvring the flitter through them Vidal headed for the side of the building that was in deep shadow. As the boosters and antigrav died away, and the flitter settled down quietly onto the ground; Vidal zlinned the building and the open area around them. As Jason’s eyes became accustomed to the shadow he tried to penetrate the darkness that surrounded them but without success.

‘I can’t see anyone.’ He whispered at last. ‘Can you zlin anything?’

‘No. But there are a lot of areas inside the building that I can not penetrate. They could be there.’

Jason gave a bark of laughter. ‘ "Welcome to my parlour.’

 

‘What?’

‘Just an old nursery rhyme. Quite literally it means that there’s no sense in both of us walking into the Web. So you stay here, while I see if I can find Dagman.’ He began to open the door.

‘Wait! I can zlin, you can’t. It’s more sensible if I go and you remain here.’

‘Hold it right there! You just said you can’t zlin certain parts of the building right?’

Vidal sighed with resignation as his partner opened the door and stepped out. This Gen would turn his hair white if he went on like this.

Jason stood and listened intently as he drew the small compact selyn powered weapon he had been supplied with, and palmed it in his hand. Apart from the distant roar that denoted nightlife in the City, he could hear nothing in the immediate vicinity. Stepping away from the comparative safety of the flitter and crouching down low he began to approach the empty building. Maybe he should call Dagman’s name? It seemed a sensible thing to do, after all they had come here to meet him and his informant, whoever that was. Now if only the old parish lantern would come out from behind the clouds.

Suddenly a hand touched his shoulder.‘It’s only me.’ Vidal’s voice whispered in his ear.

‘What the hell do you want?’ Jason hissed back.

‘Sorry. I forgot you couldn’t zlin my approach.’ The Channel

murmured, ignoring the question. ‘Come, let’s get over there against the wall. We are too exposed out here.’

His eyes now accustomed to the darkness Jason peered around, but apart from the odd piece of rubbish that the wind was blowing about, he could see nothing.

‘Where are they? They must have seen us arrive. Why haven’t they approached us?’ Jason muttered.

‘There’s something wrong. I think we’d better get back to the flitter and call up some help.’

‘You’ll get no argument from me.’

‘That’s a first.’ Vidal murmured under his breath, and then continued. ‘Watch your nager, there may be Simes out there, and keep well down. Let’s go!’

Jason followed him, both pounding across the open ground. Vidal, augmenting slightly reached the far side of the flitter first, and had already got both doors open, as his partner skidded to a halt on the near side.

As Jason bent over to enter the low slung vehicle, a blow like a clenched fist, struck him in the back, just below his left shoulder, and he crashed face down onto the concrete floor of the yard. The last thing he remembered was Vidal’s voice shouting his name.

Zlinning what had happened, Vidal scrambled across the seat to the passenger side and slid down beside his partner. At least he wasn’t dead. However, he zlinned the parapet at the top of the factory where their assailant had obviously been hidden, before he gave his full attention to the Gen. It was deserted. Whoever it was had disappeared into the dark night and had left no trace behind, for he could zlin no fleeing figure or vehicle. Dismissing the mystery to be considered later, he turned his full attention on to Jason.

 

Shen it, why did the Organisation always have to use these crude missile projecting weapons? It wasn’t as if they couldn’t afford a more sophisticated arsenal. He sighed, because he knew the reason – they were harder to detect than either a selyn powered weapon or the much heavier blaster – both of which could be detected by the charge in their chambers.

 

Spreading his tentacles he covered the wound in the Gen’s back and stemmed the flow of blood. Luckily it was only a flesh wound. As soon as he was certain that it would not start bleeding again, he lifted Jason’s unconscious body into the flitter.

Vidal had one consolation as far as his wounded partner was concerned. The primitive weapon used would only bore a hole through flesh and bone – in most cases easily treated by a good Channel. Whereas a blaster, or indeed some of the other modern armaments in use today, would often burn away whole pieces of a persons body.

Even the smaller selyn powered compact weapons that the TIB favoured, if used on full power, could do a great deal of injury. More especially if the victim sustained a hit to the head. Vidal shuddered at the thought, and glanced down at the Gen. There was no argument as to which weapons were the most effective, but which he wondered, was actually more barbaric?

Having decided that it would be quicker to take the Gen straight to Hospital, rather than wait for an ambulance. Vidal skimmed the flitter along at its maximum speed, with a dexterity that would have made his partner’s eyes even greener, than they were already. Throughout the journey he zlinned Jason, making sure that the bleeding did not restart, that his blood pressure did not drop, and that he did not go into shock.

He brought the small machine to a halt outside the Accident and Emergency Department of the City Hospital, it was still rocking as the anti-grav unit was deactivated, and he jumped out.

He had called ahead to Sam, and then to the Hospital, with full details of the injury. A mixed team of Sime and Gen doctors and nurses rushed up with a gurney, as he carefully lifted his partner out of the flitter.

 

Vidal accompanied the gurney into an insulated room, and assisted one of the duty doctors in both cleaning and then healing the wound, for the Gen of course responded to his field, far quicker than he would to a strange Channel. He then accompanied his still unconscious partner to the Sime Centre, which was located in the same building but on the upper floor, for treatment in their intensive care unit. Vidal and the Channel in charge of the IC unit put his partner into a deep healing sleep. Knowing that he would not wake up for many hours, Vidal again called Sam Betjeman, and then made his way over to his office.

‘How is he?’ Betjeman demanded as Vidal entered the room.

‘Comfortable. It’s only a flesh wound, no vital organs are involved.’ He sat down uninvited, as the events of the past few hours caught up with him. He looked down at his quivering tentacles, and tried to draw them up into their sheaths before Sam noticed, but was unlucky.

‘That bad?’ The Sime sighed, and gave an understanding nod as he moved over to the table and poured hot water onto the trin leaves. Then taking a small bottle out of a drawer he poured a liberal measure into the glass before handing it to Vidal. It was a derivative of the deadly nightshade family, Belladonna, and although it acted as a mild relaxant on a Sime, the dose he gave to Vidal, could quite easily have killed a Gen.

The Channel accepted the glass gratefully and held it for a moment in his tentacles before he took a mouthful.

‘It seems that something went wrong tonight. It’s not like the Organisation to use an incompetent assassin.’ Sam said after a few

moments, and then gave a lop sided grin. ‘Between ourselves, one almost feels inclined to say that it must have been a Gen.’

‘I agree. However, you may well be correct. Only a Gen could possibly have mistaken Jason for me. ’ Vidal swallowed the remainder of the liquid as he stared out of the window behind the Sime. The sky was dark, the Moon still hidden behind a deep bank of cumulus cloud.

‘I got Zac Farrell to send some of his men out to the McVitie Factory after I heard from you.’ Sam informed him quietly. ‘They found two bodies, both Gen. Matt Dagman was one of them the other must be his informant, we haven’t got his ID yet. I think we will probably find, that both were murdered by the same weapon that was used on Jason.’

‘Jason was shot with an old fashioned missile projection unit, and we know the Organisation favour MPUs here on Earth.’ The Channel stated simply, only reiterating what both men knew. ‘So I don’t think there’s much doubt about who carried this out.’

‘I agree.’ Betjeman replied bluntly, underlining Vidal’s own conclusion.

A soft buzz signalled a call coming in, and Sam touched the activator. A small screen lit up to display Zac Farrell’s face.

‘Sorry to disturb you Controller. I thought you’d like to know straight away. The informant was called Ido Newman. He’s a well known petty thief and burglar, he lived with an ex-prostitute, Phillipa Oldham a renSime. According to the file she has the brains not him. She arranged all his little escapades. She might just know what it was he wanted to sell to Matt Dagman. She lives at..’ Sam scribbled the address down as he dictated it. Farrell paused. ‘Do you want me to call on her?’

‘No we’ll take it now. Thanks for getting back to me so quickly.’ He broke the connection and looked across at the Channel. ‘You’d better go and see her at once.’ He tossed the address over to him.

‘She might not appreciate it. It is the middle of the night.’ Vidal reminded him, committing the address to memory.

‘She’s Sime, I doubt she’ll be asleep.’ Sam reminded him mildly.

Vidal smiled briefly. ‘True.’ He placed the empty glass he still held on the desk and stood up. ‘I’ll let you know if I find out anything of

importance. If you want me tomorrow I’ll be at the Medical Centre.’ The door closed behind him.

As Sam had predicted Phillipa Oldham asked who was at the door as soon as he activated her call sign. Vidal introduced himself and asked to speak to her for a few moments. As he entered the apartment he could tell straight away from the depressive pall that clouded her field, that she had already been told of Newman’s death.

Vidal immediately worked the fields helping to ease her depression, but as he expected, she did not bother to thank him.

‘I’m sorry to intrude at a time like this. I wouldn’t have come, if I could have got the answer I require from anyone else.’ Vidal stated as he followed her inside.

 

She walked across the room and poured herself a drink, but didn’t offer him one. Throwing herself down into a soft chair she stared up at him over the rim of her glass. ‘Well say what you want, and then get out.’

‘Very well. I understand Ido Newman lived here with you.’ She nodded. ‘Did you know where he was going tonight?’

‘To meet Dagman you mean? Yes I knew. He was good to me you know. Did his best to provide for me and we managed fine, just as long as he stuck to what he knew best. Then he meets Matt Dagman who asks him to keep his eyes and ears open in the clubs and bars, and says he’ll pay him well for anything he picks up and passes on to him. Stupid lorsh that he was, he did just that! I told him to keep his nose out but no. Easy money he said, easy money. And that’s what got him murdered tonight!’

The field around her seemed to expand and then collapse as her grief burst forth. Vidal drew his own field away, trying not to get caught up in the outpouring of distress and misery. She had loved the Gen that was painfully obvious. He hated having to press her at such a time but he had no option, too much was at stake for him to back off now.

‘Do you know what it was he intended to tell Matt Dagman tonight?’ He asked softly, and tentatively worked the fields again trying once more to ease her pain.

‘Stop that you lorsh – let me grieve damn you!’

‘I’m sorry.’ Vidal said softly and dropped the fields.

She looked at him with obvious disgust before she spoke. ‘Dagman was going to pay Ido 300 credits. He’s dead now, so it’ll cost you another 400.’ She spat the words at him.

‘Agreed.’ He said at once, and then waited for her to tell him what she knew.

 

CHAPTER FOUR

As soon as he left the apartment Vidal spoke to Sam.

Jason! It was Jason they wanted dead, not him. Of course it made perfect sense now. He and Gavin had been after the juncts on Regis 9.

Jason and the TIS had been the ones investigating the Stardust drug; and it was Jason who had ultimately broken up the lucrative drug ring. And of course it was the closing down of the drug ring that had upset the Organisation. For whilst Parv Clifford and the other Simes were junct, they did not belong to the Organisation, so they were not interested personally in them.

In the past the Organisation had always made it known that anyone who interfered with the serious business of money making, had to be eliminated. It was one of the ways of keeping everyone else in line. Shen it, he was a fool not to have thought of that before!

The flitter raced along at top speed as he headed back to the Sime Medical Centre. Jason had been lying in bed virtually on his own for hours, first in the Hospital, and then in the IC Unit, with only the minimum of protection. Sam of course would be increasing that protection even before he himself arrived back there, but if anything had happened to Jason. A cold hand clutched at his heart at the mere thought of all the "might have beens", and all because he had been arrogant enough to automatically assume that the Organisation must be after him, and not his Companion!

Another thought suddenly entered his mind, and he wondered if the Channels of old hadn’t perhaps got it right. Gens were too precious to risk their being hurt, and they should be protected sometimes even from themselves. A mirthless smile touched his lips as he contemplated what his partner’s reaction to such an idea would be. The air would be blue with expletives! With a deep sigh he parked the flitter and entered the Medical Centre.

Vidal scanned his partner’s Medical Chart. The Channels had been working on him most of the night. He was now considered to be recovered, and was to be discharged first thing in the morning. He looked down at the sleeping Gen, no one would believe he could cause such havoc, just by being so shenning obstinate! Gavin would have had the good sense to wait in the flitter while Vidal went to find Dagman, but not Jason – oh no! He had to rush in head first!

Sam could of course, arrange for him to go to a place where he would be safe, but he knew what Jason’s answer to that would be! The Channel shook his head, then making up his mind he went to speak to Dino Ballik the Channel who was in overall control of the IC Unit.

It took him 10 minutes to talk the Channel into keeping Jason in the Unit for a further 12 hours "under observation".

Before he escaped from the Centre, Vidal left a package and a short message for Jason. Both were to be given to him as soon as he awoke. The package contained a small selyn powered weapon for his protection, whilst the message merely wished him a speedy recovery. After which he hurried out of the building. He had 12 hours respite during which he had to decide the best course of action to take, for he had little doubt that as soon as Jason left the Medical Centre, he would once again become a prime target.

In the end it was Sam Betjeman who unwittingly came up with a solution to Vidal’s dilemma. Unfortunately as the Channel soon realised, the solution could quite easily put his partner into far more danger than he was in already.

 

As Vidal walked into Jason’s room, he was braced for his partner’s bad temper. He was not to be disappointed.

‘Do you realise they’ve kept me a virtual prisoner in this damn room since this morning!? They admitted I was fully recovered. Yet they wouldn’t let me go.’ He was still fuming as he pulled on the fresh clothes the channel had brought him. ‘I asked the fellow in charge around here what he was playing at, and whether perhaps they don’t get enough critically ill patients to practice on!’

Vidal cringed and made a mental note to make a full apology to Dino Balik.

‘Are we going straight back to the apartment?’ Jason asked as he ran a comb through his hair, interrupting his partner’s apparent reverie.

‘No we have to go and see Sam first.’ He pushed open the glass panelled door and ushered the Gen out into the corridor. ‘This way, we’re leaving by the back entrance.’

‘Why?’

‘Because whoever shot you the other night could well be waiting outside for a second chance.’

‘But they were after you, not me.’ Jason stated as he followed his partner along the corridor.

‘So I thought but I was wrong. I’ll explain on the way.’

As the two men entered his office, Betjeman zlinned them both and looking satisfied with what he had been able to glean, he indicated that they both sit down.

‘I’ve got several feelers out around the City and I’m calling in a few favours too. Hopefully I should have a solid lead soon on who murdered Dagman and Newman, and almost got you.’ He said looking at the Gen. ‘Vidal seems to think that you should go away for a month or so, at least until we have a definite result on our assassin and normally I would agree with him. However, as I explained to him, that may not be possible now.’

‘Good! I’m just fine and I certainly have no intention of sitting around somewhere twiddling my damn thumbs!’ Jason interrupted angrily as he glared across at Vidal. Trust Mother Hen to have put that idea forward!

‘Calm down.’ The Sime begged and sensing Betjeman’s discomfort and realising he was only days off transfer, Vidal immediately juggled the fields removing his partners temper from the ambient. Sam’s tentacles emerged and he waved his appreciation.

‘If you can’t behave in a civilised manner Jason perhaps you should leave the room.’ Vidal murmured coldly.

‘Sorry I didn’t think.’ He said sheepishly.

‘You will probably get enough excitement before this affair is over to satisfy even you, my young firebrand.’ Sam stated and chuckled softly yet without any real humour for he was too close to need, and totally ignored the apprehension that Vidal was now broadcasting into the ambient, at his words.

‘Now what I have to tell you both doesn’t get repeated outside these walls.’ Not waiting for their automatic agreement, he went on. ‘The Northern Star, a freighter we’ve been using for some years to ferry new settlers to the outer worlds, went missing four months ago. We haven’t given the news to the Government yet, they have more leaks than a colander, let alone the media. In a way we’ve been lucky. By sheer coincidence Zelerod, a research vessel that has been operating in that area of space for several months landed a group of geologists, botanists and other scientists on a small satellite called Berol. They found the Northern Star on the surface. At first they thought it had tried to make an emergency landing but on closer examination it was soon obvious that it had been forced to attempt the landing.’

‘Were there any survivors?’ Vidal asked as the Sime paused.

‘Yes and no. The Northern Star was carrying a full crew of Sime and Gen, as normal. Also on board were 500 mixed couples, 350 of whom were Gen the remainder Sime. They were being taken to one of our very newest colonies on Gladya. The scientists found 223 bodies all Sime. Some had actually committed suicide. Others had simply died from a lack of selyn.’

‘Attrition!’ Vidal murmured in a shocked voice as he envisaged how they must have died, starved of the selyn they needed to survive. ‘No wonder some of them chose suicide.’

‘Quite.’ Betjeman stared into the middle distance for a moment. ‘What a way to die - it doesn’t bare thinking about.’ He whispered.

‘But I don’t understand.’ Jason said, his green eyes darting from one man to the other. ‘I thought all ships now carry large containers of pure selyn for just such an emergency? I know you reckon it "tastes" vile, but any port in a storm surely? It would have kept them alive for a while.’

‘Yes, you are correct of course.’ Betjeman agreed. ‘However, although the Northern Star according to her manifesto had the designated number of selyn containers stowed on board. The scientists found none when they searched the hold.’

‘Jason and I have missed the point haven’t we Sam?’ Vidal suddenly stated, as his tentacles danced out their sheaths and gripped his own fingers hard, turning them white.

‘Yes, I think you have.’ Sam sat back in his chair a deep frown furrowing his brow. ‘What has happened to the Gens?’ He hesitated. ‘There were, counting colonists and some Gen crew members, 377 Gens altogether on board. No bodies were found.’

‘Did they all go and hide for some reason?’ Jason asked as he tried to make sense of it all. ‘Was the entire surface of Berol searched?’

‘The Zelerod’s Captain scanned the surface, and below the surface too. Although there were no caves or fissures large enough, for them to have hidden inside.’

‘But if they didn’t hide, and they didn’t die from some sort of sickness that afflicted only the Gens - because if they had their bodies would have been found - that only leaves abduction. Why would anyone take only the Gens? It just doesn’t make any sense at all does it?’ Jason demanded, looking from one Sime to the other for an answer.

‘Unfortunately it makes perfect sense.’ Vidal replied softly. His black eyes stared into the renSimes, as their fields meshed in silent communication.

Will one of you please let me in on the secret?’ Jason demanded.

‘My apologies.’ Betjeman pulled himself together with an obvious effort as he turned to the Gen. ‘There can be little doubt that part of the Organisation is undoubtedly behind this.’

Sam stood up and walked to the window to stare unseeing through the window. ‘Earlier today I got word from Liji and Kane. They have been attempting to infiltrate the Organisation, which is why they are both on Paradise.’

‘Paradise?’ Jason looked at Vidal, but Sam answered his question.

‘Paradise is a vacation planet that relies mainly on tourism, so of course that involves all the usual recreational pastimes, gambling, drugs, and whatever other pleasures you care to name. Which is why the Organisation are so established on the planet. Anyway, the gist of Liji’s message said that they had picked up a piece of information that made little sense to them, so they decided to send it to me.’ He walked back to his chair and sat down heavily.

‘The word is out that a larger than usual number of tourists are expected on Paradise sometime in the next few weeks. Liji and Kane say the members of the Organisation that they are in contact with are getting really excited, but not it seems with the idea of making more money from the extra tourists. There appears to be something far more sinister involved here. Now normally I wouldn’t think very much about this. It would just be one of hundreds of such scraps of information that we receive at the TIB daily. Most of which has little real relevance to the work we are doing. It would be filed and probably in the course of time forgotten. However, in view of what has happened to the Gens on the Northern Star.’ He shrugged his shoulders helplessly. ‘We don’t want the same thing to happen to these Gens too.’

‘I agree. It does sound as though the Organisation is intending to seize some, if not all of the Gen tourists.’ Vidal stated.

Sam nodded. ‘Could well be. However, on the strength of it, I called a meeting of the TIB Inner Council a few hours ago. We’ve decided that this whole affair is too important to just be left. We must know what is going on. The Organisation has never before done anything like this, not to our knowledge anyway. They’re getting far to active for comfort.’

‘It’s got to be because of the success the Organisation has had lately. With all our best efforts, they are still getting away with a lot of very lucrative crimes.’ Vidal stated. ‘They probably think they can do what they like, and we can’t stop them, the trouble is - they’re right.’

‘I agree.’ The Controller unsheathed his tentacles, and stared at them reflectively. ‘We’ve traced one of the companies that send vacationers from Earth to Paradise regularly. I’ve arranged a booking for you both.’ He opened a drawer in his desk, pulled out two small folders and handed one to Vidal, and one to Jason.

‘Tickets, boarding passes for the Solar Wind, ID papers, and everything you’re likely to need for your cover. I’ve also included some general information about Paradise. Liji and Kane are making very little headway, you two will be fresh eyes. I want no false heroics. We need to know what is going on there, so that we can stop it. Two dead agents aren’t going to be of any help at all. Do I make myself clear?’ He was looking at Vidal, but zlinning Jason, as he spoke.

‘As crystal.’ Vidal replied for them both. ‘I see we’re due to board the Solar Wind from Luna Base One in five days. We’ve got a lot of work to do before then.’

The Sime nodded his agreement. ‘As of this moment you’re both relieved of all other duties. Just concentrate on this. Time as always, is of the essence. Good luck to both of you.’

 

As Vidal drove them back to the apartment, both men maintained a contemplative silence. They had a lot to think about. This would be their first real test as partners in the field. They each knew that Jason’s training was not finished, and there were still so many problems lying between them that had yet to be resolved.

‘Pull over Vidal.’ The Channel obeyed and then turned to look at the Gen his eyebrows raised in query.

‘I’ve been trying to weigh up whether I’m more tired than I am hungry. It’s ridiculous to feel so tired, when I’ve done nothing but lie in bed for days.’ He grinned at his partner, who let the exaggeration pass. ‘However, my stomach has just decided the argument for me. Fancy anything?’

‘No thank you.’

Jason climbed out and then bent down and looked across at Vidal with suspicion. ‘When was the last time you ate?’

‘I’ll have something when we get home.’ The Channel promised, not wishing to confess that he couldn’t remember the last time he had touched any food. Indeed he had even forgotten to take his vitamins. ‘Hurry up.’ He urged, and was relieved when the Gen nodded and darted quickly across the road and entered the small Café.

Jason settled back into the flitter and took a bite of hot savoury pancake filled with roast vegetables, nuts and a tangy tomato sauce. He sighed with contentment as he chewed and then swallowed. ‘Ambrosia, sheer ambrosia. You know Vidal, the stuff they had the gall to call food in the Medical Centre was probably the cause of more sickness than anything the patients went in with.’ He confided amiably.

He swallowed the last mouthful as they arrived back at the apartment, and contentedly licked his fingers then balled up the wrapping before tossing it into gutter at the side of the pavement. In the quiet of the night he heard the familiar sucking noise, as the nearest waste unit pulled the rubbish down below Street level for disposal.

As soon as they entered the apartment Vidal began to brew a pot of trin. Jason cut a thick slice of nut loaf and spread it with honey. ‘How you can even think of eating that after what you’ve just had, I’ll never understand.’ The Channel said as he poured out the hot brew and placed one down beside Jason.

‘It’s not for me, it’s for you. Eat!’

‘Jason please! I’ll have a piece of fruit..and some nuts.’ He bargained quickly, looking horrified.

‘Yes fine, you can have fruit and nuts, but not till you’ve eaten this.’ The Gen stated implacably as he pushed the plate in front of his partner.

‘Jason.’ He began in a reasonable tone of voice.

WHEN did you say you last ate? Don’t argue. I’ll get your vitamins too. No doubt you conveniently "forgot" them too.’ He suited the action to the words and placed them in front of the Channel.

With a sigh Vidal picked up the bread and began to nibble at the crust. ‘You’re a hard task master.’

‘Too true. And for goodness sake bite the damn bread it’s not poison, and even Simes need to eat. You should have tried some of that hospital food then you might appreciate what you’ve got there.’ He growled.

With a sigh of resignation and realising that he was not going to win this particular argument, Vidal manfully ate the food on his plate and then swallowed the vitamins with the hot trin.

Jason tried to hide a yawn as he helped to clear the table.

‘I suggest you try and get a few hours sleep now. I’ll read all the papers that Sam gave us and we’ll discuss them over breakfast.’

‘Fine, you’ll get no arguments from me.’ He murmured, and ignored the disbelieving bark of derision that came from his partner. ‘To be truthful I feel exhausted. Don’t wake me too early will you? Night Vidal, or is it morning, I’ve lost track of time.’ He disappeared into his room.

The next morning Vidal dutifully ate the hot milky oats that Jason had placed in front of him, trying not to look at the Gen’s plate piled high with fried potatoes, tomatoes and mushrooms, corn bread and honey on a side plate.

‘So tell me, did you manage to read all that stuff that Sam gave us?’ The Gen asked between mouthfuls.

‘Of course.’

‘And?’ His green eyes caught and held the Sime’s black ones as he waited impatiently for him to continue. ‘Honestly Vidal getting information out of you is worse than drawing teeth!’

The Channel pushed his empty dish away and propped his elbows on the table, his tentacles dancing between his steepled fingers. A smile spreading across his sensitive features.

Putting down his fork Jason tossed the vitamins across the table, and with a sigh Vidal picked them up, and swallowed the necessary dose before he finally spoke. ‘Did I see a guitar in your bedroom?’

‘Yes. Why? Don’t tell me you want me to give you a quick serenade.’ He grinned across at him as he chased the last mushroom around his plate, then speared it and deposited it into his mouth.

‘No. But you’d better start practising. Betjeman’s arranged for you to join a small group who’re booked as part of the floor show at one of the main Casino’s on Paradise - the Golden Eye.’ Vidal said casually.

‘The hell he has! And how I wonder did he find out that I play? I suppose I’ve got you to thank for that.’

‘As I recall, I may have mentioned it in my Report on Regis 9.’ The Channel conceded wryly.

 

‘And what has he chosen for you?’

‘I am to be a holidaymaker with a penchant for gambling and women. This in itself is somewhat unusual amongst Channels, as you are no doubt aware. But it is hoped that my apparent "aberration" will draw me to the attention of the Organisation as a likely candidate.’

‘Shen but that seems dangerous to me.’ Jason stated with a frown.

‘Of course. But we’re playing for extremely high stakes here my friend. We’ve lost nine top agents in the last five years to the Organisation. Which is why we both have to play our respective parts very well indeed. One mistake, one false move by either of us, could well mean both our deaths.’

Jason felt the blood drain from his face. ‘Vidal I don’t like the idea of having this much responsibility thrust upon me. Oh I’ll take a chance and gamble with my own life. I expected no less, but yours too? I’m not sure I’m happy about that!’ He took a large mouthful of corn bread and honey savouring the sweetness.

‘Unfortunately there’s no one else the TIB can send at the moment. However if you feel you would rather opt out, I do understand and I’ll go on my own. Thinking about it, perhaps that would be better. Thankfully Sam has arranged our departure so that we take transfer just before we land. I should be able to complete the mission in a month. If they have not taken the bait by then.’ Vidal shrugged, and then went on. ‘I could arrange for the Tomar to drop into orbit around Paradise before we arrive, and then you could relocate from the Solar Wind and wait for me there. That would have the advantage that should I be delayed, and need a transfer in a hurry.’

Jason nearly choked, but finally managed to swallow the food and clear his mouth, as he got his voice back. ‘Hey now just hold it right there! I only said I didn’t like the idea. I don’t recall saying I wouldn’t go!’

‘Agreed. But as I said, the more I think about it the more I believe it might be the better option.’

‘Well I don’t, so you can forget I said anything.’ He glared at his partner daring him to argue. ‘Tell me more.’ He ordered.

A slight smile touched the Channels sensitive lips. In some respects his Gen was so predictable he thought, and he was beginning to learn how to handle him. So Vidal capitulated gracefully and leaving the table lead Jason into his study.

‘Sit down. Here have a look at the ID papers and tickets.’ He placed them on the desk in front of him and waited as the Gen read through them.

‘Seems fairly straight forward. But "Johnny King", couldn’t they have thought of a better name than that?’

‘Well you must admit it does sound like the sort of name a performer would use.’ Vidal said with a grin.

‘Mm perhaps. Anyway the personal details more or less follow my own so I shouldn’t have too much difficulty remembering them. I just have to learn the name of the groups, and the venues I’m supposed to have played in the past. What about your cover?’

‘I am of course a Channel, I couldn’t hide that for very long in a place like Paradise. My name is Jesse Paree, my background is similar to one I used a few years back, so I shall have no trouble in remembering the details. They have added one small point however. I have apparently opted not to work for the Tecton, which means that I have to pay for every dynopter of selyn that I need, from a Tecton Donor. Hence the gambling. This too must make me appear vulnerable and open to Distect ideas. If I am not approached, I may decide to let it be known that I would not be averse to trying out a more exotic, possibly Distect, type transfer.’ Vidal shrugged. ‘There are many options open to me.’

‘Sounds all right.’ Jason agreed, and then went on. ‘By the way, I gather the Group must have needed a replacement, any idea why?’ The Channel shook his head. ‘I wonder how they got the group to accept me then, sight unseen, they must have been desperate.’

‘One of the renSimes who runs the Agency that they work for, also happens to work for us. There would have been little problem there.’ Vidal confided.

‘The TIB are certainly thorough, they’ve even included copies of some of the numbers the Group play regularly. I’ll get in some practice later.’ He glanced down at the notes again. ‘I can’t say I’ve ever heard of these "G-Strings", have you?’

‘No but I hope the name relates to their music, and not their attire!’ Vidal said with a sudden burst of laughter.

‘Shen I never thought of that! It’s nothing to laugh at you idiot. How would you like to stand up in front of a room full of people wearing nothing but a damn G-String?’ He fumed, and then scowled across at Vidal who was trying unsuccessfully to wipe the broad grin off his face. ‘Well I wont wear one, and that’s that!’ He muttered rebelliously..

‘Not to wear anything at all might cause an even bigger sensation.’ Vidal observed grinning. ‘Calm down Jason. When I read the files earlier this morning I thought it might not please you. So as I said I called the Agent. You can stop worrying, he informed me that their attire is the same as any other such Group.’ Whatever that might mean, he thought silently.

‘Well why didn’t you say that in the first place? By the way are we supposed to know each other or not? It doesn’t mention it here.’ He scanned the notes again as he spoke.

‘I think we’ll have to decide about that later.’ Vidal stated. ‘I have to admit that at this moment in time I am able to talk about our being apart with a certain blasé indifference. Words after all are cheap and we are not yet putting them into action. Also as we shall have transfer before we actually arrive at Paradise, again I shall probably not find it too difficult. However once I reach or pass turnover, it will be a different story. I know I shall find our separation very difficult to bear, and initially we will both be on our own - of that there is little doubt.’

Vidal sighed deeply. ‘We may find as time passes that it becomes expedient for us to strike up an acquaintance or even a friendship if so, then so be it. I shall obviously be frequenting various Casinos so I can always catch your act, and if we need to meet.’ He paused. ‘We will have to devise a pre-arranged signal that we can use for just such a contingency.’

‘You can always pick your nose with a tentacle. That would grab my attention!’ Jason said with a grin, remembering what Vidal had told him about Parv Clifford.

‘I think we can devise something a little more elegant than that. Now I need to go and arrange for a weapon to be made available to you.’

‘If the officials on Paradise use scanners like on Luna Base, I’d never get it passed them.’ Jason stated at once.

‘You will not be taking it in with you. It will already be in your hotel room awaiting you. Liji will see to that. I merely have to tell them what we want, and they will tell me where it will be hidden.’ He was informed calmly.

‘Sounds good.’ Jason conceded. ‘What about you?’

‘I have always considered myself to be a lethal weapon, without the need for further armaments. Even so, I can usually lay a tentacle on something more tangible, should it prove necessary.’

‘One last question Vidal. What do I have to do? I mean, how will I know who to cultivate, in other words, who are in the Organisation and who aren’t?’

‘Just keep your eyes and ears open. Notice if anyone is being shown more deference than is normal. Talk to some of the more wealthy females. Some of them will doubtless know members of the Organisation. I hardly think I need to give you lessons on how to chat up a woman do I?’ Vidal’s eyebrows rose in query, as a slight smile played around the corner of his sensuous mouth.

‘I’ll fetch my guitar, and get in a little practice while you’re out.’

 

CHAPTER FIVE

A sudden burst of applause broke out. It heralded the fact that the lead singer of the group had just stepped forward with his guitar, into the spotlight.

Four people, two men and two women, all Sime, sitting together at a small table looked up.

‘You know Tina, I usually prefer my men to be Sime and not Gen. But in his case I could easily make an exception.’ Lyanne, a tall slim blonde murmured to her friend, as she zlinned the young good looking singer.

Tina tossed back her long black curls, as a smile broke over her face. Her rather large white teeth suddenly giving her the unmistakable look of the predator, which was what nature had designated both her, and the others sitting around the table to be. ‘Now if that isn’t the embodiment of pure sin I don’t know what is.’ She murmured softly in reply.

‘Shidoni.’ Nik whispered to Vidal, ‘if that young stud didn’t bring in so many women..and men, I might be inclined to send him packing. I hate competition. Only trouble is most of the other places in town are starting to make him offers, so expediency must come before inclination.’

‘A wise choice Nik, always get your priorities right.’ The fourth member of the party conceded. He was tall, slim in the Sime manner, and elegantly dressed entirely in black, his ebony hair lay thick and smooth against his tall forehead, and fell in a deep wave each side of his well shaped head. His face with its coal black eyes under winged brows, and finely chiselled nose was undeniably attractive with more than a touch of arrogance, but he was not handsome in the accepted sense of the word. It was a very strong face, and only the sensitive lips gave a clue as to the passionate nature of the man. Slowly he turned away from Nicholas Cristo, and looked towards the object of their discussion.

The young Gen’s curly chestnut hair was tied back with a simple black velvet ribbon. His lightly tanned face was handsome. His emerald green eyes with their long lashes, had the barest hint of a slant, giving him an undeniably exotic look. He wore a sleeveless black vest that lay open to the waist. Several gold chains hung around his neck. The muscles in his arms and chest glistened with the sheen of sweat. Whilst the skin-tight black pants, which were fastened around his slim hips by a wide belt and buckle, were tucked into soft moulded boots.

Vidal as soon as he had entered the room had kept his field tightly reined in. Blending in with the ambient of the other Simes and Gens around him. Because of this he knew that his partner was not aware of his presence. He was however also pleased, that Jason was keeping his own field under equally tight control, and he only hoped that he would not broadcast too much surprise or startlement into the ambient, and cause suspicion in the Simes at his table, when he did finally spot him.

The lights at the front of the small stage and the spotlight above, all helped to cut off the Gen’s vision of the audience. Although he knew that Tina the girlfriend of Nicholas Cristo would be sitting at his table. Cristo was the owner of this particular Casino, and various other places dotted around Paradise.

Tina had made herself known to him, soon after his arrival a few days ago. The other members of the Group had warned him off, telling him he was playing a dangerous game - that Nik Cristo did not like competition, especially where his women were concerned. But he had put their words down to plain old fashioned jealousy, apart from which she was an obvious source of useful information.

Jason was due to meet Tina later that night. Luckily she was free because Nik was meeting a wealthy gambler from off-planet, and was planning on taking him to a high stakes game, plus any other entertainment that his taste might run too.

Since he had arrived on Paradise, Jason had quickly found out that when they said every exotic taste was catered for, they had not been making a misleading statement. Every taste was indeed catered for - in spades!

However the Organisation, and he had little doubt that Sam and Vidal were correct, and they were behind most if not all, the pleasures of paradise, also kept the vice well hidden. It was openly available for the asking, but not in a blatant "in your eye" sort of way. Which meant that Paradise attracted all sorts and types of visitors from many different planets. There were a lot of families too, who could make use of the many natural attractions of this lovely world, without having to be afraid that their children might see unmentionable vice displayed on the streets.

Who ever had originally drawn up the blue print and guidelines for Paradise had been a very clever man or woman, of that he had little doubt.

He had not seen Vidal – no, Jesse Paree - that was his undercover name (he must remember that!) since his arrival. He guessed that he would be busy gambling large amounts in the planet’s many Casinos, trying to get himself noticed. He wondered if he had managed to make any influential contacts yet, the sort who might well be members of the Organisation?

As far as Jason was concerned, he was fairly certain that if anyone knew about the fate of the Gen passengers it could well be Tina. She moved in the right circles, of that he was certain.

Victor the floor manager had quickly decided at rehearsal that as Jason was such an undoubted success with the audience, he should take his guitar at the end of their act and walk around the tables singing a medley of love songs, to the wealthiest looking patrons.

He was not keen on the idea, but as it would give him an undeniable opportunity to be both seen and noticed by a large number of people, he had not objected too much. Meeting people and listening to conversations and titbits of gossip was the reason he was here.

 

What he had not bargained for were the golden credit slips that the women, and sometimes the men too, pushed under his belt. He later found that the tips also included room keys, and in some instances written suggestions that made even him blush!

 

On board the Solar Wind on their way to Paradise Vidal had made him practice reining in his selyn field, and maintaining it for longer periods of time each day. It was necessary because his field would obviously grow each day that he was on the planet, and as he had to give Transfer to Vidal, he could not go and donate in the usual manner. Jason had tentatively suggested that he use the nanites again, but Vidal had squashed that idea at once with a whole string of Simelan expletives – some of which he had never heard before! Jason was still deciding which Sime he could approach for a translation!

Therefore he had no other recourse except to cultivate the knack of hiding his high field from the Simes that he would be associating with. Luckily it was extremely unlikely that he would encounter any first order Channels like his partner. So as Vidal, with both fingers and tentacles crossed had stated, "with a modicum of luck, you should be able to manage". Not exactly a ringing endorsement Jason admitted.

All of which sounded fine in theory, but in practice, Jason found it very draining. Especially having to maintain the illusion for many hours at a time. Consequently he escaped to his room at every opportunity, so that he could relax and recoup his strength in private.

Of course walking around entertaining so many customers, more than half of whom were Sime, as he was doing at the moment, again was not at all easy for him, because of course he had to be on his guard constantly.

He also knew that to some Gens like Gavin, who were brought up under a householding regime, controlling their field came as second nature. Indeed he knew that most Household and Tecton Gens probably didn’t even have to think about what they were doing. Somehow Jason doubted if he himself would ever be that proficient. He sighed, there was his inferiority complex again!

 

At last he approached the table where he knew Tina would be sitting. He smiled intimately down into her blue eyes acknowledging her with a quick wink, and then lifted his eyes to encompass her companions. For a moment he nearly forgot the words of the song as his eyes met those of Vidal, for the black eyes were undeniably filled with amusement. Instantly he wiped away any surprise that may have bled into his field.

Then for a split second he allowed his own eyes to cross, and just stopped himself from sticking out his tongue. The Channel gave a snort of laughter that he turned into a cough. Satisfied that he had come off best from that encounter, Jason then turned away and concentrated his attention on the two females at the table as he drew the song to a close.

With a wide smile he turned to acknowledge the final applause, as Victor the floor manager announced that both he and the Group would be playing again in three hours time.

He turned to leave, first thanking the table in general for the gold slips he had felt being pushed into his belt as he sang.

‘Johnny King isn’t it?’ Nicholas Cristo suddenly asked. ‘I’m giving a small private party in my suite in a couple of days time. I’d like you to sing for my guests.’

Although phrased like a question, Jason had little doubt that it was a direct order that he could not refuse.

‘Of course N’Vet it’ll be a pleasure. Ladies.’ He flashed a charming smile around the table and took his leave.

He returned to his room in the hotel section at the back of the Casino, preferring to go there rather than use the shared dressing room with the other Group members. He placed his guitar in the corner. Then removed the wide belt and stooped down to pick up the gold slips, together with one message written on a small piece of paper that fell to the floor. He tossed the keys onto the table to return to reception later. Then throwing himself down onto the bed, he opened the note wondering what unsavoury suggestion he might find written there this time.

"The S. Beach - 6.00am – tomorrow - Jesse."

Vidal! The South Beach belonged to the Golden Eye, and was well over a mile long. So there was little point in him trying to find his partner, he would have to leave that up to him. He was after all Sime, and well able to zlin the whereabouts of one particular Gen, with little effort at all.

Pushing the note into the wall disposal unit, he pulled off his clothes and stepped under the hot shower.

Counting his bounty of gold slips later, he was surprised at how much it added up to. Perhaps he should contemplate a change of career when all this was over? He glanced across at the wall chronometer. He had just over two hours before he was due on stage again, but thankfully next time they would do a shorter version of the act.

A door chime announced his evening meal. He had ordered it before the first performance. The automated food trolley trundled in and positioned itself in the alcove to one side of the room, plugged itself in to the power supply and commenced to heat the various dishes. ‘Music Sosu?’

‘Why not?’

‘Contemporary or classical?’

‘Contemporary.’

‘Have you any particular preference?’

‘No. You choose.’ He touched a button on the wall as he spoke, and the glass doors facing him slid open, to reveal the small balcony where he usually sat and had his breakfast. Soft music suddenly filled the silence. It was a tune that he knew, but could not for the moment name.

 

‘The food is ready Sosu.’ The expressionless voice interrupted his reverie.

‘Thanks.’ He spoke automatically in response, and was glad no one was there to hear him. He could imagine the comments if the other members of the Group heard him thanking - what was really little more than an automated trolley!

 

A second chime at the door drew his attention away from the tempting smells wafting up under his nose.

He walked across the room glancing automatically at the small visi-screen, that showed him his unexpected visitor. He was surprised to see Tina, she was looking rather apprehensively up and down the corridor. The whole building he knew was fully insulated not only for sound but also to make zlinning virtually impossible, it allowed complete privacy to all the bedrooms.

She stepped inside as soon as the door slid open.

‘I didn’t expect to see you till after the second performance.’ He smiled. ‘Not that it isn’t a pleasure no matter when you decide to call.’

She stepped into his arms, and he could tell that she was definitely post. She must have taken her transfer since he had seen her in the Casino Lounge Bar.

‘Hey, I’m flattered that you’ve come to me, but wont Nik be disappointed?’ He ran his fingers through the long black waves that shimmered and crackled with static electricity.

‘I told you before he’s taking that gambler friend of his, Jesse Paree I think he’s called, to a high stakes game. You must have seen him sitting at our table with Lyanne.’ Her arms encircled his neck her handling tentacles sliding out of their sheaths to caress his neck and shoulders inside his shirt. Without moving he drew her close against his chest. His fingers slid down from her hair and along her jaw line to position her mouth for his kiss.

A short while later he swung Tina up into his arms and carried her towards the bed, passing the trolley with the uneaten food. ‘Save the meal,’ he ordered brusquely, knowing he would be very hungry indeed later. He just hoped he’d have time to eat it.

He only hoped Vidal and Sam appreciated what he was prepared to do for the TIB! A smile touched his lips as he wondered if he was supposed to mention this in his report and if so, how much detail should he give? After all she was quite lovely, and he could not in all honesty say that he would find the task ahead of him any great hardship. Quite the contrary in fact.

Much later, he had to run to get back on stage, and made it with mere seconds to spare.

 

Jason fell out of bed as the wake-up call broke into his dreams. He stood under the shower with his eyes still closed and then pulling on a pair of swim shorts and a matching robe, ran a brush through his long hair and tied it back from his face. Even he didn’t like it quite this long, but at the moment it suited his image.

Exiting his room he made his way towards the side of the Hotel and the South Beach. In the distance he could see a couple of swimmers far out in the sapphire blue sea. Paradise was located in a binary system, and her twin Suns had risen within half an hour of each other. Now the sky was shot with pink, blue and gold.

Walking down to where the sea broke against the pink sand, he dropped his robe and towel and stepped into the warm water that was surging up the beach. Moments later he struck out towards the horizon, enjoying the unfettered freedom. Then turning he trod water and studied the beach that now seemed very far away. Vidal’s familiar figure walked into view then stopped near where Jason knew he had left his robe. He realised that his freedom was once more at an end, as he struck out for the beach. Vidal was undoubtedly zlinning him, and would know exactly where he was in the water.

‘Shen it, did you have to make it so early?’ Were his first words of greeting as he bent to pick up the towel.

‘And good morning to you too.’ The Channel said with a brief laugh. ‘As cheerful as ever I see. Not even the delightful Tina has been able to improve your ill humour.’

‘How did you find out about Tina?’ Jason demanded as he shouldered into his robe, and tied the belt firmly around his waist.

Vidal raised one eyebrow, but didn’t bother to answer the question.

‘You don’t think Nik knows too?’

‘Tina is only one amongst many as far as Nik is concerned. To be candid I don’t believe he’s interested enough in her to even bother to find out whether she is seeing anyone else. You can rest easy.’ Turning he lead the way along the shoreline heading for the base of a cliff in the distance. ‘Have you been able to find anything out?’

‘Not so far, but I’ll let you know as soon as I do.’ He promised.

‘I saw Liji and Kane the night before last.’

‘Liji and? Oh yes of course, what did they have to say?’

‘I was about to tell you!’ Vidal snapped back.

 

‘Sorry. Who says I’m the only one in a rotten humour?’

The Channel picked up a stone and skimmed it across the water, both men watching it till it disappeared below the waves.

‘They said that at some of these clubs you can apparently "enjoy" the thrill of chasing a wild Gen, like in the old days. And then have the dubious pleasure of taking a kill at the end.’

Jason stopped still and stared into his partner’s face. ‘You mean a real kill?’

‘No of course not! These places are obviously staffed by Simes and Gens who come from the Distect and live their lives according to their own tenets. In the Distect community you know, any Sime can demand a transfer from any Gen. Usually the Gen is willing because that’s the way they’ve been brought up, but if they aren’t willing then it can come down to an actual physical confrontation between them. Especially if the Gen concerned already lives with his or her transfer partner.’ He hesitated. ‘Two Simes fighting over the same Gen will usually end with the death of one of them.’ He said grimly.

‘Shendi.’ Jason looked into the Channel’s face to see if he was perhaps joking.

But Vidal went on. ‘Now here on Paradise I presume, and I must stress that this is only a conjecture on my part, there must be a Channel in charge of the type of places Liji was referring to. Someone who whilst he might not be trained as the Tecton understand the term, can nevertheless make an educated assessment as to which of their Gens is capable of serving the particular Sime client they are presented with.’ He paused.

‘That’s no doubt fine where renSimes are concerned, what about Channels?’ Jason asked at once.

‘The TIB have always assumed that because of their lifestyle, a large percentage of their Gens would be quite capable of handling a Third or even a Second Class Channel.’ Vidal stated, ‘and I would assume that if one of these places were presented with a First like myself, they would have the good sense to turn me away.’

Vidal stood in contemplative mood for a moment, and then went on. ‘I pray that I am wrong, but I am coming to the conclusion that some of the Simes who live on Paradise, at least those who are working for the Organisation, may have taken these so called "games" a step further. Although I have to admit I have not come into contact with any juncts here on Paradise as yet.’’

‘Well you’d be able to zlin them if you did.’ Jason said confidently.

‘Not necessarily. I take it you know what an attenuator is?’

‘Yes, old Quich said they were rings that a Channel could wear around his middle fingers to damp down or cancel out part of the selyn gradient, if he was in real need. But I don’t remember him saying they needed to wear three on each hand.’

‘Good that’s close enough. I see you’ve absorbed some of your lessons, and no six attenuator rings are not needed.’ Vidal smiled grimly as he went on. ‘However, we found out several years ago now that the Organisation, and other criminal fraternities too, have found a way to adapt the attenuators, masking their own selyn field from other Simes.’

‘So what’s wrong with that?’ Jason asked genuinely puzzled.

Vidal ignored him and went on. ‘Did you notice the three plain rings that both Nik and several other Simes are wearing on each hand?’

‘Can’t say that I did.’ The Gen confessed.

‘Well take my word for it, they are wearing them, and they are attenuators that have been adapted. Which means I can’t read their fields with any degree of accuracy. The very fact that they need to wear them at all, makes me think "junct".’ Vidal stated.

‘Sorry I must be dumb, but why does it matter if they wear them? It simply gives them a little privacy doesn’t it, and as they’re not in the Tecton, why shouldn’t they have some privacy? It doesn’t necessarily follow that they’re junct you know, I sometimes think you’re getting a little paranoid.’ He paused. ‘I wonder if they’d work on me?’ Then seeing the Channel’s angry expression Jason grinned widely. ‘Just a joke Vidal.’ He held up both hands placatingly.

‘In very bad taste.’

‘Possibly, but I’m not finding it all that easy to be constantly masking my selyn field you know.’

‘If you had paid more attention to your lessons over the last six months, you would not find it so difficult now.’ Vidal snapped back.

‘Okay, if you say so. Look I know how serious all this is, but we can’t afford to lose our sense of humour can we?’ He suggested quietly.

‘I can think of more things to laugh about than a junct Sime wearing a device that shields that fact from everyone else.’ Vidal retorted.

‘Okay I’m sorry – pax – you were telling me a few minutes ago about these "games" what did you mean?

 

‘I mean they do perhaps on occasion kill Gens.’ He said lowering his voice to a whisper, as though the cliffs had ears, and the words might bring the thought to fruition. ‘But not their own people of course.’

Jason took a deep breath to steady himself, and ran his fingers through his wet hair. ‘I know after I left the TIS and joined the TIB, you told me what you and Gavin were really investigating on Regis 9, and about the juncts you found there. I have to admit that truthfully it all sounded a little far fetched to me - but what you said was true wasn’t it – it wasn’t a joke?’’

‘Yes it was true.’ Vidal replied and then went on. ‘Now consider. What if the hierarchy of the Organisation, here on Paradise, have suddenly got a taste for the "kill". They would need a steady supply of Gens both now and in the future, and it would help to explain the missing Gens on the Northern Star wouldn’t it?’

‘You mean they would just kill them?’

‘No far from it, they need breeding stock. However I doubt they would set up pens as such. These Gens would not be given away. No it is far more likely they would be taken to a Genfarm. The Simes we are talking about are wealthy men and women after all, Simes who can indulge their every whim and fancy, no matter how far out or depraved that might be. I would also imagine that like in the old days, the best and most spirited Gens, would be auctioned off to the highest bidder. The remainder would be used for breeding before being auctioned.’

‘They’re sick.’

‘I agree. Unfortunately it’s a sickness that once acquired cannot readily be cured, save by death!’ He stared up at the twin Suns for a moment, and then looked across at Jason. ‘You must listen to every scrap of gossip. We must find out where and when the Gen tourists are going to be taken, and then we must know the place that they are to be taken to.’

‘Tell me Vidal, why are these tourists all Gen – a bit unusual isn’t it?’ He bent to pick up a shell examining it closely.

‘In this instance no. From what I have been able to find out, which is not very much. They all belong to the same Gen sports team, players and fans. There are no Simes with the Group simply because the Simes have their own team and followers. Unfortunately I’ve been unable to find out where they are coming from, which ship they are travelling on, or even when they are expected to arrive.’

Jason dropped the shell into the pocket of his robe.

‘Going back to what you were saying about listening to gossip. It wont be easy. I would imagine, if it’s what you think, no one will dare to breathe a word.’ Jason said.

‘Maybe. But consider, the top men who are the actual perpetrators of all this, would have sense enough to keep silent. However, luckily for us, not all the people involved are top men. Many are just little men and women, the small fry, who are in it for the easy credits. Some of these people, most of extremely low intellect, will want to boast of their supposed involvement with the top echelon of their society. Such people can be bought. They are out there Jason. Liji and Kane, you and I, we must find them.’

‘Of course, but you do know you’re preaching to the converted don’t you?’ Jason reminded him humourlessly.

‘I know. Come on you’re hungry and before you ask, yes I have eaten and I’ve taken my vitamins too.’ He smiled and then became serious again. ‘Now, in light of what I’ve just told you did Tina say anything at all that might be relevant?’

‘Well, she did say that she can’t stand Nicholas Cristo, and I did ask her why she stayed with him. She’s quite wealthy in her own right you know, she doesn’t need him as a meal ticket. She just giggled and then said he had promised her and some of her friends, a lot of fun in the future. To be honest I thought she was talking about some new exotic drug that might only affect Simes. But now - well she could have been talking about something else couldn’t she?’

‘Maybe, but we mustn’t jump to conclusions. It could well be nothing more than wishful thinking on our part. We need more real hard information. Otherwise we could go racing off in the wrong direction, chasing a totally erroneous conclusion, and wasting valuable time that we simply don’t have.’

‘Point taken. But if you’ll take a bit of advice from me keep a close eye on Nik Cristo. That man has a very nasty smell about him, and even the expensive perfume he wears doesn’t disguise it, and I don’t need Sime senses to know that. ’

‘I agree.’ Vidal set off at a brisk pace, back the way they had come.

‘You going to come and have some breakfast with me?’

‘Better that I don’t. By the way, did you find the weapon all right?’

Jason nodded, and stopped as they neared the hotel entrance. ‘Take care.’

‘You too.’ Then Vidal suddenly raised his voice. ‘Nice speaking to you Johnny.’ As he spoke a couple strolled out of the entrance making for the beach.

Jason grinned. ‘See you again Jesse. Glad you enjoyed the performance last night.’ With a perfunctory wave he walked inside the hotel, smiling at the couple as they passed by.

He returned to his room ordered breakfast, showered, and then lay on his bed waiting for it to arrive. Whilst in his mind he went over his conversation with Vidal once more. To be honest with himself Jason knew that up until this point, he had tended to treat the whole TIS and TIB affair as one rather exciting game - dangerous perhaps, but a game nevertheless.

Now as he had said to Vidal, it had suddenly been brought home to him just how serious this was. It was not a game. It was also strange but in all his short life he had never looked at the Sime Gen relationship in such stark terms as predators and prey before! It was a heart stopping thought.

Only the Tecton stood between the killer Sime and the vulnerable Gen. It was to the Tecton that the Gens would take their children who were in changeover to be looked after. It was the Channels who collected the selyn from the passive Gen donors, and it was they who passed it on to the ordinary renSimes. What would happen if the Tecton was no longer there? To whom would the Simes and the Gens turn then?

He had never had to consider such things before. On Dunedin the most pressing problem both his family and the other islanders had to face, was whether the harvest would be good or bad that year. Because if it was the latter, his mother and the other women, would be hard pressed to provide even one good meal each day. Just as important was the projected snow fall, for if it was bad, as it was most years, they would lose many of the sheep whose wool made up the bulk of their livelihood.

 

A sudden chime thankfully pulled him out of his dark thoughts and near depression. He hurried to the door and watched as the breakfast trolley trundled into the room, and just stopped himself from wishing it, ‘good morning’.

 

‘I’ll eat on the balcony.’

‘Very good Sosu.’ The trolley moved out onto the balcony, and finding its power source, began to prepare the food. ‘Do you wish for music?’

‘No. Do you..er..that is, can you pick up a newscast?’ He asked, staring up into the bright blue cloudless sky for the twin Suns still fascinated him. He had always felt awkward "talking" to robotic devices. They were used extensively on some parts of the Earth he knew, but very few were to be found on Dunedin where his family lived.

Indeed most of the people on the island, like his own family were far from wealthy, and none could ever have afforded agricultural robots, let alone robotic servants or other such sophisticated devices.

Both he and Mike sent money home regularly to help their family with the inevitable bad years that they suffered, mainly because of the atrocious weather conditions. Of course most of the burden fell on him, as Mike had always had a family of his own to support, but he had insisted on helping nonetheless - bless him – he thought fondly. He was an old grouch, and that was undeniable, but he was a kind one.

Shortly after he had first left home, Jason had tried to talk his father into moving his mother, and their five other siblings off the island, to somewhere where life would be a little easier for them, but so far, he had had no success. Yet he kept on trying.

‘Local, international or off-planet news Sosu?’

Jason pushed his wandering thoughts aside as he replied, and moments later he was hearing about the latest riot that was apparently taking place in one of the prisons on Mars. It was over something as ridiculous as "uninteresting" food. So what did the authorities really expect? They put Simes in charge of Gens and every one knew that food meant nothing to the average Sime. Just as long as it was nourishing and well balanced, they seemed to overlook the fact that it shouldn’t be the same menu every single day. Ergo – trouble.

In mitigation the authorities said that they had put Simes in charge of Gen prisoners mainly, or so the theory went, because they could zlin trouble before it happened. Well they’d been caught out this time it seemed. The Gens had broken up the entire kitchen and dining areas before they had been subdued.

It was laughable if it wasn’t quite so serious, for there were a lot of dangerous criminals on Mars, all needing to be rehabilitated. They had been given every comfort and facility for improving their education and knowledge. Exercise and sports of every kind were catered for. Yet something as fundamental as a lack of variety in the food they ate, had set the place alight.

As Jason cleared his plate, he realised that he had no idea what he had actually eaten, he had been far too intent listening to the newscast. But it was a bit late now to ask. So with a sheepish ‘thanks’ to the trolley, he made his way to the shower.

He had rehearsals in forty minutes. He would have to hurry if he didn’t want to be late. Some of the other members of the Group were already quite vocally registering their disgust, that the newest member was making such an impact on the audience, and more importantly making more money than them to boot!

He had started to worry about their attitude. But now since he had spoken toVidal, the whole matter regarding the Group had fallen into perspective, and seemed ridiculously trivial and unimportant.

Most modern day Groups didn’t play their own music, so a group like the G-Strings that actually made real live music was a novelty in itself. They had Ken on the Keyboard, Leo on the Double Base, Jimmy on the Drums, and Steve and himself both playing the guitar. They were all Gen, but singer he was replacing, had been a renSime.

The rehearsal went well, mainly because Jason didn’t bother to answer them back, as they moaned and carped about his supposedly bad playing. He knew his playing wasn’t bad, and more important, he knew that they knew that too.

Then the floor manager suddenly appeared beside him. ‘Just thought I’d remind you not to forget Nik’s party this evening. He wouldn’t be very pleased if you turned up late.’

‘Do you think we ought to go along too?’ Ken asked - Jason already had him down, as the loud mouth of the group.

‘He only asked for Johnny.’ Victor replied obviously flustered.

‘How much is he getting? That’s what I’d like to know.’ Steve shouted across.

Jason turned to the frustrated floor manager with a shrug of resignation. ‘Look forget any extra for me, just spread it around between all of us okay?’

‘Huh will you just listen to him? You got so many credits you can afford to throw them away now Johnny?’ Ken demanded.

‘Yeah and we can all guess how pretty boy makes his credits, can’t we?’ Steve sneered.

Jason tried to control his temper and failed. Turning slowly he faced his accusers. ‘Just what the hell are you inferring Steve?’

‘I’m inferring nothing sleezebag. I’m only saying what I saw with my own eyes.’

‘So come on let me in on the secret too.’ He honestly had no idea what the other guitar player was talking about.

‘Please boys let’s just calm things down.’ Victor interrupted weakly, wringing his hands.

‘That gambler guy sitting at Cristo’s table. He shoved something in your belt. What was it? Credits for services rendered?’ Ken jeered.

‘More like a note, making a rendezvous with lover boy.’ Steve’s lip curled with derision as he shoved his face close to Jason’s.

The next minute he lay flat out on the floor, as Jason’s fist connected with the jaw he had obligingly stuck out.

Jason whipped around to face his other accusers. ‘Any one else got anything to say?’

‘Please boys, please.’ Victor begged and then turned to look around the room where cleaners, waiters and electricians usually milled around each other, but for once the room was completely deserted. Victor turned back and tried again. ‘Boys listen to me! Nik will have our hides if anything happens to his pet singer here you know that,’ but everyone ignored him.

 

‘Well I’m waiting.’ Jason repeated softly, his fists still balled.

‘Go on Leo you can take him.’ Ken hissed at the one member of the Group who had been watching in silence. He was also both taller and stronger than any of the others, Jason included.

‘Not my quarrel. I’m not bothered what he does in his spare time.’ He stated, then turned and walked away without looking back.

‘You go too Johnny,’ Victor urged, ‘and don’t bother to come to either performance tonight. We can get by without you for one night, you just go up to Nik’s party. Things will have cooled down by tomorrow night.’ I hope, he added silently as Jason, like Leo, walked away without a backward glance.

CHAPTER SIX

Vidal stood next to Lyanne. The blonde was very beautiful, but unfortunately her main topic of conversation was fashion, followed by the latest holographic film from Earth. He bit back a yawn as he zlinned the room and then turned his attention sharply back to Lyanne.

‘Sorry I didn’t catch that. What did you just say?’

‘I said, I heard that that good looking Gen singer Johnny King, was involved in a fight earlier today. I can never understand why men and Gens in particular.’

‘Was he hurt?’ Vidal interrupted quickly.

‘I don’t think so. But one of the other members of the Group is apparently sporting a very large bruise on his face.’ She giggled inanely.

‘Is he still going to entertain us tonight?’ He asked, juggling the fields, as he endeavoured to stop the worry he felt for his partner from showing in the ambient.

‘I take it you’re talking about Johnny King? Why shouldn’t he entertain us?’ Tina demanded, as she joined them, glass in hand.

Lyanne went through the tale again for Tina’s benefit, while Vidal took the chance to escape. Seeing Nik who had just entered the room he moved to join him, and as Nik had won a very large amount of money from Vidal the previous evening, he was disposed to be even more friendly than usual.

Nik had been dropping broad hints about the various pleasures that he personally could provide for several days now. Vidal was not in need at the moment, indeed he was only just approaching turnover, the midway point in a Sime’s cycle. So to give encouragement to Nik, to put it crudely, he would have to fake it, but he was a good enough Channel to be able to do just that, especially in the present company.

He noticed that Nik was still wearing the rings. He would soon find out if the rings worked in both directions – not only damping down his own field to make him nigh impossible for even a Channel of Vidal’s calibre to read – but also making it equally hard for him to read Vidal’s field too!

Carefully the Channel broadcast need into his showfield, and realised almost straight away that Nik was not picking it up. It seemed his deduction was confirmed, for he had half expected that the rings would interfere with the fields in both directions. That being so, for the next hour by using various ploys and deceptions including the careful use of his tentacles, Vidal managed to convey the impression of a Sime in gathering need. With relief he saw that his strategy had paid off, and immediately acted as if he had only just realised what he was doing. Quickly retracting his tentacles, managing to look decidedly sheepish and apologetic at one and the same time.

‘It’s all right Jesse. We’ve all been there at some time you know. Have you made your arrangements?’ Nik asked quietly, lifting a glass to his lips.

‘Not yet. I was hoping I might find something a little more.’ Vidal’s tentacles emerged again and rubbed together, as if searching for the word he was after.

‘Exciting?’ Cristo supplied the word with a wry smile.

‘Well this is supposed to be Paradise.’ Vidal sighed. ‘But nothing seems to live up to expectations these days, does it my friend?’

‘Now don’t be too sure about that.’ Nik murmured and glanced around before he went on. ‘Just how much "excitement" are you up for?’

‘As much as I can get.’

‘I might just test you on that assertion Jesse.’

‘You’re free to try. But I have to warn you I’ve become pretty jaded over the years. Childish tricks like they perform in places like the Chicken Run, do nothing for me at all.’

‘The Chicken Run?’ Nik gave a hollow laugh. ‘I’m sure Paradise can offer a man of taste like you, something better than that. Just leave it with me Jesse. I’ll get back to you.’ He glanced across the room. ‘By the way, how much time do we have to play around with?’

Vidal knew what he meant. ‘ Two days,’ he said and hid his exultation at Nik’s words. He must not read too much into what he had said. It might prove to be nothing but talk, but then again. He cut off the thought, and looked across at Jason who had just entered the room. Thankfully the Gen looked none the worse for what had happened. He would have to find out later what it had all been about.

 

‘Nik was nodding slowly. ‘Two days is fine. Ah, here comes our aggressive young singer. His face doesn’t appear to be damaged. The ladies at least will be relieved.’

Vidal stifled a sigh. The trouble was of course that Jason was so very inexperienced. He had not even been able to complete his full training although that was not his fault, but he would have to learn that he could not afford to indulge in fights or anything else, not whilst he was on TIB business.

After all, what if he had injured himself, he could have jeopardised the entire mission and for what? The satisfaction of punching someone? He swallowed his rising ire at the Gen’s lack of judgement, and swore silently as he realised they were in for yet another one of their arguments, but he could hardly let the incident pass without comment.

Jason was dressed the same as before, but this time the outfit was in midnight blue and silver. Carrying his guitar he walked to where a high bar stool had been placed ready for him. Hitching himself onto the uncomfortable seat, he smiled around at his many admirers and then began to strum his guitar.

He sang for nearly an hour, a few of the men who wished to continue talking moved into the other room - no one seemed to miss them.

Vidal had a lot to think about after his interesting discussion with Nik. He sat down on a sofa at the side of the room where he could watch Jason unobserved, and thus ensure that he made no attempt to pick a fight with anyone else. He was being totally irrational he knew, but at times like this Jason always managed to bring out the worst in him.

The object of his thoughts stood up and placed his guitar against the side of his stool, promising to sing another medley later when he had lubricated his dry throat, and swallowed some food. He then crossed the room with glass and plate in hand and fetched up beside Vidal. ‘Hi chuckles.’ He grinned at the scowling Channel. ‘You know, if the wind changes you could get stuck like that.’

Vidal couldn’t help but smile at the cheeky comment as he zlinned the room surreptitiously. No one seemed to be taking any undue interest in either of them and most of the men were now in the other room.

He decided to take the opportunity of filling his partner in on the new development. ‘I have also found out from Liji and Kane that Nik has his own private computer up here which is completely separate from the Golden Eye network. I have been looking around since I arrived up here tonight but there’s nothing in either of these two rooms, so it must be in his office, which is further down the corridor. If I get the opportunity I must try to get in there.’ He mused thoughtfully.

‘I bet everything we need to know is in the damn memory of that box of tricks. It would be great to be able to down load the whole lot, the difficulty of course will be to get passed all the safeguards he’ll have built into the system.’ Jason replied thoughtfully.

‘Precisely, and unfortunately I’m not a computer expert.’

‘There’s little point in worrying about it Vidal – I doubt you’ll get the chance anyway.’

‘Agreed, and by the way what’s all this I’ve been hearing about a fight?’

‘It was nothing forget it.’ Jason said wondering who had opened their big mouth - because apart from Victor and the Group there hadn’t been anyone else present.

‘I’d like to know how "nothing" managed to cause a bruise on a man’s face?’ He persisted.

Jason ignored him. ‘I’m going to get some more food. Do you want anything?’

‘No thank you, and don’t try to change the subject.’

‘Have you eaten today?’ He whispered, trying to distract him.

‘Yes I have, and before you ask I had an apple, nuts and a handful of sunflower seeds.’

‘Oh yummy, it sounds like a real feast.’ Jason said sarcastically. ‘Carry on like that and you’ll get so fat, that we’ll have to put you on a crash diet.’ After which caustic comment he escaped in the direction of the food buffet where Tina joined him, and so stopped Vidal from following him, to continue the interrogation.

 

The following afternoon the Channel was sitting in the bar staring down into his glass, trying to hide his frustration at the lack of progress. The day had been a complete wash-out in every sense of the word, for it was raining outside too.

After his conversation with Cristo last night, he had expected to be contacted by him at some time during the morning. Well it would teach him not to take anything for granted. He took a swallow of the tart drink, it was made from fruit that was native to Paradise, but judging from the taste he doubted they would ever do a roaring trade exporting the stuff.

His mind turned again to his partner as it did so often lately. Had he been able to make any headway? If he had, he only hoped he would have the good sense to contact him and not go racing off on his own to investigate. Shen, he should have stressed that point to the Gen. The trouble was he kept forgetting that he was not dealing with Gavin. His ex-partner would have done these things without having to be told. Was that what he wanted Jason to be? Just another Gavin? After all his ex-partner had been brought up in the householder tradition, and Tecton raised. He was used to deferring to a Channel, in fact it came almost as second nature to him, but even he on occasion, had disagreed with him.

Of course Jason was such a contradiction in terms. He displayed little self-discipline and yet was almost naïve in many respects. He was completely fearless - which sometimes seemed to border on the foolish! Was he being unfair? Perhaps. The real trouble lay in the fact that Jason was a free thinker, he questioned everything, which in some respects was an excellent trait but - stop! He was going round in circles. He had to face facts. Jason was young and untrained. He was his tied partner in the TIB, and he was also as the Tecton designated him, his Donor. However, infinitely more important, Jason was also his Companion!

Face it, he had to admit truthfully that like most Channels he was completely possessive where his Companion was concerned. Transfer was perhaps one of the most, if not THE most important parts of his life. The only time he could really and truly brush it to one side was immediately after transfer and up to turnover. Apart from that, like all Simes it took precedence once more, and Jason for all his other faults was an excellent Donor. That being so, he would have to learn to live with everything else, and in time Jason might settle down and not be quite so volatile. Indeed he…

"..Jesse Paree..message in reception for Jesse Paree.."

Nicholas Cristo wanted to see him in his suite in thirty minutes. Before he went he had to let Jason know of this development. If anything went wrong, he and Liji and Kane had to know where he had gone. Not because he expected help from them, but because it could mean that they had been found out. That being the case, all three of them must have the chance to leave the planet. They could tell Sam that their suspicions were correct, even if they had not been able to find out about the arrival of the Gens. Also their knowledge of how the Organisation was operating on Paradise, would be crucial to any other units that Sam might wish to send to the planet in the future.

 

Jason was not in his room, therefore his only alternative was to leave a message for his partner, and trust that it would not fall into the wrong hands. He hoped he was not being too paranoid, but for all he knew they were all being watched - it was just one of the unpalatable truths that they had to live with.

His decision made. He left a short cryptic note before he made his way up to Nik’s penthouse suite.

‘Come in Jesse.’ Nik did not bother to zlin him as he entered the room, and Vidal noticed that he was still wearing the rings.

Vidal took a seat on one of the two long sofa’s that faced each other in front of a large open fire. It burned brightly with every colour of the rainbow in its flames, and yet gave out no heat at all. It was something that Vidal had only seen once before, and it was very beautiful and fascinating, in a strangely barbaric way. The fuel for such a fire came from a tree that on its home world was an endangered specifies. Therefore such fires were banned on Earth and her Colonies, and most other civilised alien planets. Somehow he was not surprised to find that the citizens of Paradise flouted this ban.

‘Are you one of those idiots that wait till the last minute before relieving the ache inside you?’ Nik demanded suddenly.

‘Sometimes one is not always in a position to do what one might wish.’ Vidal replied softly, ‘and yes I can control my need, perhaps more than others, but not from choice - only necessity. Such control has saved my life on occasion.’

‘Yes I can see how that could be. Which is one of the reasons I rarely go off-planet. I’m not used to using self-control. When I need, I take! Which is as nature intended it to be for all Simes, don’t you agree?’ As he spoke he ostentatiously removed all the rings from his fingers and dropped them into his pocket.

Vidal could now zlin Nik clearly for the first time and he immediately sensed his junct pathways. Before, even without being able to zlin him fully, he had sensed the strange oscillations in the Sime’s nager as it swirled around him. He had also felt a peculiar agitation in his field together with a touch of unstability. Which really in the circumstances was not so surprising - one had to be more than a little mad to do what he now knew Nik, and some of the other top members of the Organisation were doing.

Vidal realised that Cristo was waiting for an answer.‘Of course.’ He said firmly and may the Gods forgive me for such a blatant lie! If the Church of Purity could hear this conversation their every fear would be justified he thought grimly. The Channel allowed his intil to rise slightly and bleed into the other Simes field.

‘Have you ever considered what it must have been like in the beginning?’ Nik asked chattily as he crossed to a small Bar set to one side, poured out two glasses of a light brown liquid, then handed one to Vidal before sitting down. ‘Porstan. It’s not all that popular nowadays, but our forefathers loved it, though it is an acquired taste.’

‘The beginning? In what way do you mean?’ Vidal asked, sipping the mild beer, he had been partial to Porstan in his teens. It was still brewed and drunk in many of the outlying country areas on Earth.

‘I mean the time when Simes were the dominant species, and Gens served our need, with their lives.’

Vidal considered that the assertion of "dominant species" was a debatable one, but let it pass. He knew he was being zlinned for his reaction to the reckless words, and realised the Sime had taken off the rings simply because wearing them, had restricted his ability to zlin clearly as well. ‘I would imagine that there are very few Simes who haven’t day dreamed at some time in their lives.’ He said carefully.

Killbliss – I can zlin that you’ve never experienced it.’

Never.’ He agreed.

‘You said the other evening that you were looking for excitement Jesse.’ Vidal nodded, his black hair falling down over his brow. ‘For a price, I can arrange for you to take a kill. Would that be exciting enough for you?’

‘Of course. But tell me Nik, what the shen do I do next time, or the time after? I shan’t always be on Paradise, and once I become addicted to – more excitement!’ He shrugged his shoulders expressively as he waited for the Sime’s answer.

‘No problem. There are drugs - I can arrange that too. You can use the new drugs for up to a year before you’ll need to take another real kill. But by that time, probably before, you’ll be looking to experience it again that I guarantee, and that too, can be arranged.’

‘On Earth?’ Vidal asked, almost frightened of hearing the reply.

‘Yes, of course on Earth.’ Nik drained his glass and placed it on the table beside him. ‘What do you say?’

‘I’m interested.’ Again he allowed his intil to rise.

‘Only interested? I’m disappointed in you Jesse – does the price bother you?’

Vidal’s handling tentacles emerged and he waved the notion away dismissively. ‘Money’s no problem, but there is something else.’

‘And that is?’

‘I’m not a fool Nik, once I’m hooked - does the price go up each time? I’ve no intention of being bled dry you know.’ Vidal knew that he mustn’t appear to be too eager, but it was difficult to find a balance.

‘You’re a gambler by profession Jesse. Tell me, in your travels have you ever heard of the Organisation?’ He leaned towards Vidal his hands resting on his knees his tentacles frozen as he awaited his reply.

‘Yes of course I’ve heard of them – who hasn’t?’

‘I work for them Jesse - have done for years. They have a certain "reputation" to maintain, I can give you THEIR word that that wont happen.’ His tentacles lifted in a wait a minute gesture as Vidal opened his mouth to speak. ‘I know what you’re thinking, who the shen are these people and how can I trust them?’ Vidal nodded. ‘The Organisation is vast, if we have dissatisfied customers how long do you think we’d survive?’ He snapped two of his tentacles together. ‘That long!’

‘Yes I can see that.’ Vidal conceded pretending to capitulate, and at the same time allowing "need" to creep into his field yet again.

Nik grinned broadly as he read accurately the signals Vidal was now transmitting through his nager, as he went on. ‘Look, I can’t give you any written guarantees we just don’t operate that way. Besides you have to take some chances in life. Shen it Jesse are you a gambler or not? The ball’s in your court. If you want out you can walk through that door right now and no hard feelings.’ He spread his tentacles wide, shrugged his shoulders and then leaned back on the sofa a picture of self confidence.

It was time to capitulate openly, he had already let Nik know through the ambient that he had won. ‘All right, count me in.’ Vidal drained his glass his nerves as taut as a shiltpron string.

‘You’ve made the right decision Jesse, you wont regret it, I guarantee.’ Nik almost purred.

‘Three all important questions Nik. When, where, and do I get to choose the Gen?’ Vidal knew that that was the sort of response Nik would be expecting from him.

 

Jason stared at the note he had found pushed under his door, it was unsigned, but he knew it was from Vidal.

<It seems I was right Johnny. Sorry I can’t keep our liaison. We’ll have to make it some other time, unless you and your friends have already returned home. Take care.>

Vidal had obviously written it in such a manner that anyone reading it would assume that it was a note between two lovers. The first words must mean that what they had been discussing the other morning about the Organisation was indeed correct. He is unable to meet me, and therefore has obviously gone somewhere else. For the moment he had to assume that it was a voluntary decision. The next bit was more difficult. Was he telling him to go home, and did he mean by "friends" Liji and Kane?

Quite obviously Vidal was on to something, which he considered serious enough to tell Liji, Kane and himself to return home to Earth. However and this was the crucial point as far as Jason was concerned, there was no actual order in the note for him to return home, but he would contact Liji and Kane as soon as he could.

Reading the note through one last time, he then dropped it into the waste disposal knowing it would be immediately vaporised.

Jason then made his way down to the Group’s dressing room. He wanted to find out if they were rehearsing today before he decided on his next move. Stepping into the L-shaped room he looked around but the place was empty. He walked down the main part of the room then turned the corner wondering if anyone was sitting there, but he was completely alone.

He was just about to step back around the corner once more preparatory to leaving, when he heard the familiar whoosh as the door opened. Some sixth sense made him remain hidden and silent as at least two people entered.

‘You sure they only want us to play a few numbers? Seems a hell of a lot of credits for that. Some people would murder for less.’ It was Steve’s voice.

‘I was thinking much the same thing myself.’ Ken stated.

‘Shen it are you two against making a few easy credits?’ Leo demanded almost angrily. ‘Victor said that Nik Cristo asked personally for us. That’s good enough for me. He can do us a lot of good if he chooses.’

‘And a lot of harm too.’ Ken murmured.

‘Exactly. Which is why I say we do him the favour. He’s paying enough for it.’ Leo said.

‘Yeah I’d rather have him in our corner than against us, I say we do it.’ Ken retorted and the others murmured their agreement. ‘What about Jimmy?’ Ken went on to ask.

‘Jimmy’ll do as he’s told.’ Leo stated.

‘And Johnny?’ Ken asked.

‘Pretty boy makes enough on the side already.’ Steve stated, and they all laughed. Whatever they had come into the dressing room for they had thankfully found. Jason heaved a sigh of relief as he heard them leave and the door close behind them.

Well it seemed that the Group had been asked to play at one of Nik’s parties. He had little doubt that he would find out all about it fairly quickly, for he had soon discovered that it was impossible to keep secrets between the members of the Group. He was only pleased that they had not found him standing around the corner. It was bad enough being called Pretty Boy without them adding some other perhaps worse epithet to his name.

Surprisingly he discovered the answer to his question that same evening. The G-Strings had just finished their second stint on stage, the room in which they were performing seemed much hotter than usual, and Victor had cynically mentioned that the Bar Manager had had the temperature turned up to encourage more drinking. Apparently he got paid on commission and his quota this month was down.

His throat feeling almost painfully dry Jason walked over to the bar surprised to find Jimmy standing beside him.

‘It’s a pity we don’t get commission.’ Jason observed and they both laughed ‘I hear you and the others have a private gig arranged. Nik pays well, I did all right out of it the other night.’ He mentally crossed his fingers - Jimmy took the bait.

‘There’s a ship coming in to the Space Port with a few hundred vacationers on board. Mr Cristo wants them entertained for a few hours till he can move them out. They’re going on some sort of mystery tour I think.’

I just bet they are! ‘When’s that?’ Jason asked casually as he passed another glass over to the drummer.

‘Tomorrow night after the last show, you not coming?’

‘No I’ve got a date - enjoy yourself.’ He downed his drink and with a perfunctory wave walked away.

‘Shen his first piece of luck - it had to be the Gens they’d been trying to find out about, surely there couldn’t be two such large groups of vacationers arriving on Paradise at this time? They were arriving tomorrow night and Nik was involved. Indeed he intended to use the

G-Strings to keep them entertained, and doubtless stop them from asking too many awkward questions, until they could be spirited away. Most likely they would be taken to a Distect outpost situated on one of the many planets that they used. The chance of ever finding them again, would then be nil.

What should he do? Vidal, according to his note was incommunicado, and to attempt to contact him was out of the question. Vidal had told him to communicate with the other team only in the direst emergency, and if this didn’t qualify under that heading he had no idea what would. Perhaps together they could come up with a rescue plan? Well he had intended contacting them anyway about Vidal’s note. The new information he had obtained, just made it important not to delay any longer.

 

Somehow he found himself down in the main reception area. Sitting down in one of the many comfortable chairs the glass and marble area was adorned with holographic images of statues, the originals of which were either on Earth or one of her sister Worlds. He tried to bring all the threads of his many thoughts and ideas together into a cohesive whole.

His first priority was to hold a Council of War with the other TIB team about rescuing the Gens. The second was something that only he could carry out, and he had no intention of mentioning it to either Liji or Kane, one of whom was Sime, and Jason had little doubt she would object strongly to what he intended to attempt.

He had in fact half formed a plan in his mind the other night, when his partner had been telling him about Nik’s computer. On the way out of the apartment he had surreptitiously inspected the windows and the door. The lock on the door was thumb and voice activated so that was out, he could not gain entry that way.

The windows however were more simply secured, and he had no doubt he could open them. The least he could do was try, for he was well aware that the information contained in Nik’s computer would be vital to Sam Betjeman. He was not a computer expert, far from it, but he had a natural ability, almost an affinity with computers, and had not found one yet that he could not successfully hack into. As he had demonstrated in the Sime Centre on Regis 9. His course of action duly mapped out, Jason decided to go and call on Liji and Kane now, he only hoped they were in their suite.

He went first to reception and explained that he intended to do some rock climbing, and asked for the necessary equipment to be acquired and sent up to his room within the hour.

Taking the emergency stairs Jason then made his way up to Liji and Kane’s floor. He was certain that no one had followed him, and no one was in the corridor either when he stopped outside their suite.

Even as he made to press the chime on the door it was opened, and a small but pretty Sime, stood there looking up at him. The next second, before he could even open his mouth, he was pulled into the room catapulting across the carpet and fetching up against the far wall.

‘Hey, what the shen do you think you’re doing?’ He demanded.

‘Kane go and see if he was followed.’ And an equally short Gen, who was built rather like a gorilla, made his way to the door.

‘No, I wasn’t damn well followed. You’re Liji I suppose.’ Another arrogant Sime, were they all the same?

‘Yes. How did you get here?’

‘Up the stairs from the Reception.’ He said facetiously.

She ignored his sarcasm. ‘Did Vidal send you?’

‘No I’m a big boy now I decided for myself, and guess what, I came all the way up here on my own and I didn’t get lost either - do I get a gold star?’

‘After Gavin, I wonder how Vidal puts up with him.’ The gorilla interjected, speaking to his Sime partner.

‘My God it speaks too! Did you ask permission?’ Jason asked sarcastically.

‘Why you!’ Kane crouched and moved towards him.

Stop it both of you! Jason we appear to have got off on the wrong foot. Forgive me..us and please, satisfy my curiosity, why have you sought us out like this? I’m sure this isn’t meant as a social visit?’ She suddenly grinned infectiously and Jason found he could not help but return the smile, for it made her face, surrounded as it was by light brown curls, look very young.

‘You’re right.’ Quickly he told them what he had found out about the arrival of the party of Gens, and Vidal’s note.

‘Yes I think your analysis of the note is correct. However Vidal is quite capable of taking care of himself. We must decide on a course of action with regard to the Gens.’ She said at once.

‘Agreed and there is something else you need to know. My group the G-Strings are booked to entertain these Gens tomorrow night, straight after our second stint of the evening in the Casino Lounge Bar. I have no doubt I can accompany them to the Space Station where the Gens are to be held, till they’re moved on.’ He smiled across at Liji and Kane.

She glanced at her partner, with a wry grin. ‘His logic is irrefutable. I agree with everything you say Jason. I expect they will take the Gens to the main Waiting Lounge at the Space Port, so I will endeavour to gain entry, possibly as one of the catering staff. Then when you arrive - we will attempt the impossible.’

Arriving back in his room Jason found a huge pile of mountaineering equipment awaiting him, in the middle of the floor. He cast his eye over it approvingly, quickly ensured that what he would require was indeed there, and dragged it all into his bedroom and out of sight. If Liji or Kane paid him an unexpected visit, he did not want to invite awkward questions, which he would find it difficult to answer without lying. Because he doubted very much that he would get away with that, even though Liji was a second and not a first like Vidal.

The next day Jason slept till Noon but did not feel refreshed. For a while he lay there contemplating what he had to do later, and wondering where Vidal was, and what he was doing?

Jason had always been a loner, and to be truthful he had never really worried about anyone save himself. After all no one had ever been that close to him not since he had left the island, apart from Mike, and even he had always had his own family to care for. The rest of his family were still on Dunedin, and he rarely saw them. Not because he didn’t want to, but travelling long distances on Earth was expensive. Besides which he had never earned a large salary, apart from the few months he had initially spent working for the Tecton in his teens. More importantly, his family could make use of that money to pay their mounting bills, so he had always sent it to them instead.

Now of course there was Vidal, and yes, he was beginning to worry about him. Totally illogical when one considered how their quarrels were mainly over Vidal’s constant fussing. Now here he was, doing the same thing in reverse.

Rolling out of bed, he strode across to the window, and watched the rain beating down on the floor of the balcony. Shen, he hated rain! Probably because during his childhood on Dunedin he could hardly remember a day when it hadn’t rained. An exaggeration he knew, but that was how he felt. He also knew that his father had wanted him to stay on the island and one day take over the farm, but it was not for him. Perhaps one of his five younger siblings would feel differently about it? He hoped so, for his parents’ sake.

The rest of the day passed in a blur of activity, none of which he could even recall later. He had had a brief visit from Liji who had given him a tablet to swallow and he had dutifully complied. ‘What’s it for?’ He asked as he put down the glass.

‘It contains a location device in case we get separated tonight. Nature will dispose of it later in the normal way.’ She said with a slight smile. ‘And by the way I’ve discovered that the Gens are coming in on a ship called the Space Princess.’

‘I read something about her last year. She’s a luxury cruise Ship.’ Jason murmured thoughtfully.

‘I received a message from Captain Kelvan of The Tomar he’s now in orbit. He informs me that The Madeleine is on its way here at top speed. It’s a ship that we know for certain the Organisation have used in the past. She’s obviously coming to collect the Gens. The Tomar intercepted a message from The Madeleine, it was sent in space standard, so they don’t expect anyone else to be interested in them. It simply states that they expect to arrive at 04.00 p.m. Earth Standard Time which is 06.00 am local time. Therefore we have only a few hours to accomplish our mission.’ She finished grimly.

 

‘That also explains why Nik wants to keep all the Gens together in one place, once they’ve disembarked, he certainly doesn’t want them to disperse around the planet. It’s a clever idea to give them free food and drink.’ He shook his head. ‘If only they knew their fate!’

‘And they mustn’t know. Whatever the outcome they must never be told that.’ Liji stated firmly.

Jason nodded his agreement, watching her nibble on a tentacle and reminding him of his therapist on Earth. ‘I have still got no idea how we’re going to get all those Gens away tonight - there’s just so many of them.’ Liji stated.

‘I’ll think of something.’ Jason said with more conviction than he actually felt. ‘Just be ready when I make my move. But there is one other thing which must be said, if for any reason at all anything goes wrong and I’m not with the G-Strings when they arrive, don’t wait, just carry on without me. Not that I expect anything to go wrong of course.’ He said quickly - not wishing to put ideas into the Sime’s head – and he metaphorically crossed his fingers.

‘Understood. However I must admit I have a vision - or perhaps it’s a nightmare - of me trying to convince a room full of slightly drunk Gens that they have to follow quickly but I can’t tell them why! You know Jason, I still can’t understand how I’ve let you talk me into this. Three of us against God knows how many members of the Organisation we must be mad.’

 

Jason smiled. ‘Apropos of what you were just saying. We’re going to need some sort of transport if we are to move them all out of danger quickly. Any suggestions?’

It’s all taken care of, Kane has gone to see the local Tecton to arrange transport, and if we can get the Gens away we can take them all to the Centre. The only way Cristo could get them back would be to lay siege to the place, and I don’t think even he would be quite that daring. He must be aware the same as everyone else that Sime Centres, especially on far flung planets like this one, are well equipped to defend their Gens. Our visitors will be safe enough there, till they can be transported back to their homes.’ Liji replied confidently.

‘I hope you’re right, but with any luck we’ll never have to find out.’ Jason replied quietly.

CHAPTER SEVEN

In the early evening Jason set about putting his own plan into action.

The first thing he did was to call Nik’s penthouse to find out if he was in, and if not, when he was expected back. The automated voice on the other end stated that no he was not at home at the moment and was not expected back for several hours, and did he wish to leave a message?

Having established that the coast was clear, Jason dressed in his black jumpsuit and climbing boots. Picking up the coil of strong flexible rope, which was surprisingly light for its length, he placed it across his shoulder. Fastening various small tools and devices that he might require, on to his belt.

Once again making use of the emergency stairs, he made his way quickly up to the roof above Nik’s penthouse suite. Luckily the window he intended to enter was on the side of the building facing the Sea, and so there was less likelihood of him being seen, as he dangled from the rope.

Scouting around he soon found a suitable place where he could anchor and secure the rope, and making his way to the parapet he located the window he wanted, fastened various metal clips into position, and tossed down the rope. Moments later he was abseiling down the side of the building.

Suspended a few metres below the roof, and many metres from the ground far below. He set to work quickly on releasing the lock on the window, which he achieved easily enough. He was just on the point of pushing it open and congratulating himself, when he froze, his fingers a mere centimetre from the selyn powered sensors. Shenshay! He had not expected this! These had been installed by a Sime, and he knew that it was more than just foolhardy for a Gen to even attempt to disable them.

He stared at the sensors for several minutes as his shock slowly dissipated. Not in his wildest dreams had be expected to encounter this! Well that would teach him not to be so cocksure in future. There were only two choices now open to him - chance it, or give up! Having come this far, he did not like the idea of just walking away.

He turned his head and looked out to where the dark sea met the even darker sky as he tried to evaluate his position. There was one small advantage in his favour. During his training in space engineering, he had been taught to handle both selyn powered batteries, as well as selyn powered machinery. He studied the sensors more closely, he very much doubted he would be able to completely disable the sensors, he did not have the necessary tools with him for a start. But at the least he just might be able to interrupt the flow. At least sufficiently, for him to slide passed the deadly current, and gain access to the room. He smiled grimly to himself, as he thought of what Vidal would say if he could see what his partner was about to attempt. Yet even so, Jason knew that he had to try.

 

Almost an hour later and with two long selyn burns on his left arm as a souvenir, not counting the biceps muscle that was quivering from the residual shock, he finally scrambled into the room. He sank to his knees on the carpet, relaxing his aching back muscles, shen even climbing escarpments and mountains had never made him feel as tired as this. With a sigh he finally dragged himself to his feet, for he could not afford the luxury of resting here any longer.

 

The other night he had looked around the apartment for internal sensors and had seen none, which was probably why he had not expected to find anything similar on the windows. However, deciding not to take any further chances, he inspected each room thoroughly, glad he had thought to bring the small detection device - useful for just this purpose - with him. Once he was certain that the apartment held no further surprises, he set to work looking for the computer that Vidal had said he was certain was here somewhere.

As Vidal had said, there was nothing at all in the main rooms, so he went to the most logical place – Nik’s office. However Jason quickly ascertained that the only terminal in there was linked to the main one in the Golden Eye, and was not the one he was looking for.

Getting desperate, for time was ticking away, he began to search all the other rooms including the cupboards but without success. The last door he opened led into what was obviously the Sime’s personal bedroom.

Jason’s green eyes opened wide as he surveyed the luxurious interior. The thick carpet was pure white and the walls and ceiling were painted with erotic scenes that appeared to represent most of the various sexual mores in the known Galaxy. The room was dominated by a massive bed, which was almost hidden by at least a dozen white satin cushions. Jason began to smile and then froze, as his eyes came to rest on a flimsy white curtain that covered an alcove at the side of the bed. Striding forward he pulled it to one side, and grunted with satisfaction. This was what he had been looking for!

It look him a lot longer than he had expected to hack into the machine, he first had to get passed at least eight lines of encryption, followed by the computers many security systems. When he finally gained entry, he was too worried to feel elated, he had planned on leaving the apartment by now!

While he waited impatiently for the information to be down loaded into the miniature computer he had brought with him, he thought about his brother Mike, and what he was sure he would say if he could see him now. "You’re an arrogant bastard Jason Devere! Too big for your own boots!" He could almost hear his voice in the quiet of the room, and in some respects of course, he was right. Yet there were certain truths about himself of which Jason was sure. He could play the guitar rather well - he was a competent engineer, and he knew a lot about farming. However, where computers were concerned, he had never been formally taught, but he had always had a flair for them. Jack of all trades, master of none – could well apply to him.

Mike wasn’t alone is saying his brother was arrogant. Jason knew that he often came across like that, even to people who knew him well. But his arrogance was a cover, because in so many ways he felt totally inadequate, especially around people who had quite obviously grown up far more advantaged that himself.

His father had done his best with his limited resources, but Jason had only been able to attend the local school, and even that, for no more than the required number of hours per week, that the law stated that all pupils should attend. Jason, like all the other youngsters on Dunedin, had been required to work on the farm when not at school.

He could vividly remember the time when he had seen one of the new super computers for the first time. He and the other pupils from his school and been taken by one of the teachers to the Sime Centre on the mainland. The trip itself had been paid for by the Tecton, as part of their Sime Awareness Program in all schools.

Whilst they were there the Channels had taken the chance to examine all the children, even though most were all under the age of twelve. Jason had been one of those congratulated for establishing – he had just turned eleven. At the time, like most of the others, it had meant little to him, one way or the other. Although he knew that some of the rich kids on the mainland had parties when they established or went through changeover. To his parents it made little difference whether he was Sime or Gen, except that as he had now established, they might get enough money for his selyn to pay some of the bills.

Personally he had been far more interested in the highly sophisticated computer set-up, than the fact that he had established, and he had stayed behind when the others were taken on a guided tour of the facility, just so that he could look at it. Tentatively he reached out a hand to touch it. He had been taught about computers of course, everyone was, it was part of the curriculum at all schools, and much simpler ones than this, were part of their everyday life, both at school and at home, everyone used them. His father certainly did for ordering supplies for the home and the farm, no one could really get along without them, but he had never seen one anything like this before. He was fascinated.

‘What the shen do you think you’re doing!?’ The tall thin man who stood over him looked really angry, as angry as his father looked when he went through the bills at the end of the month. Although his anger had not been directed at Jason, but rather at all the things that seemed to work against him, and made it impossible for him to make the farm into a profitable concern.

He stammered an apology, trying to explain that he had only wanted to look at the it, not harm it. He had only touched a few of the buttons after all.

‘You’ve lost me a whole weeks work – do you realise that?’ Jason could still remember the man’s cold anger even now. It was the first time in his young life that he had ever been spoken to like that, especially by a total stranger. ‘Why they bother to bring you farm kids over here I’ll never know – it’s not as though it’ll do any of you any good, you’re far to thick and boeotian for that. What’s the point of trying to teach you anything more? Oh, get out of my sight you cretin!’

Jason ran, but he did not forget the words the man had hurled so thoughtlessly at him, and especially the word that he could not understand. When he arrived home, he had used the family computer to find out what it meant – boeotian – crass and dull. He had never forgotten that incident.

It was strange, but in all the years since then, that one episode had effected him the most. For the first time he had understood that kids like him on Dunedin, weren’t just poor, they were considered not worth educating. After all, if you were just going to be scrabbling around in the dirt for the rest of your life – what was the point?

From that day to this, he had never found out who the man was, or indeed if he was Sime or Gen, and had never wanted to find out either. He had been too frightened to bother to look for the man’s tentacles, and it wouldn’t have made any difference anyway would it? All he had seen was the furious face and the absolute scorn in the voice. A cold shiver ran down his back, even all these years later it affected him still, and he pushed the unpleasant memories away, once more burying them deep.

He glanced yet again at his chronometer – it was almost three hours since he had left his own rooms and come up here. He had really expected it to take no more than two hours maximum.

It took a further twenty minutes before he was finally finished, and gave a heartfelt sigh of relief. He left everything as he had found it and returned to the window to make his escape. Unfortunately he now faced the task of reinstating the selyn flow from the sensors that he had diverted. It was something he was not looking forward to. The burns on his arm were stinging already. He would have to dose himself with pain killers, for he would not have the time to get them treated properly before he had to be on stage. He could only hope that he wouldn’t get any more burns perhaps worse than he had already, before he finally got away from Nik’s apartment.

A feeling of exhilaration filled him as he stood once more on the roof and stared up at the black sky and twinkling stars. He had done it. He hoped that Vidal would be pleased, that he had managed to obtain all the relevant information from Nik’s computer. Indeed he felt like shouting out in triumph - but stifled the desire. He still had a job to do, it wasn’t over yet, and at this rate he wasn’t going to have time to eat anything either! He suddenly felt light headed, but whether it was with excitement or hunger he didn’t know.

 

Vidal realised at once that now he had accepted Nik’s offer, he was to be kept under close surveillance. Which was not really surprising for Cristo was still awaiting payment of the astronomical amount of money he had demanded, for the dubious pleasure of providing him with a Gen. Money that he knew his fellow Sime assumed, he had either made from gambling, or other more criminal pursuits.

Nik informed him that he would be taken to see potential Gens, and once he had made his choice, he could then take his kill whenever he chose. Whether he wanted to spend time with the Gen first, was up to him. Cristo explained that some people liked to get to know the Gen, it made the kill all the more poignant for them. Then he had shrugged, ‘it takes all sorts!’ He said philosophically, and for once the Channel was in total agreement with him.

Nik then took him to see a Villa he owned a few miles along the coast. Vidal put the time to good use carefully questioning his host, and gleaning quite a lot of useful information during the course of the day. Nik spoke quite openly about the places on Earth where he could get a prime kill. In fact once he got started Nik simply kept on talking, with just an occasional prompt from Vidal. Like most small minded people Cristo had a very inflated notion of his own self importance, and boasting was one way of convincing not only his audience, but also himself, of his own self worth.

That afternoon Nik reminded him that payment had to be up front, and Vidal used a hyper-link connection in his study to arrange for what amounted to a veritable fortune to be transferred to Nik’s account on Paradise. He hoped that Sam would consider it money well spent.

Vidal had no doubt at all that everything that had happened between himself and Nik Cristo had been faithfully recorded. If only as a safeguard in case he should get cold feet and pull out at the last moment. If he did go through with it, (at least as far as they were aware), then they would have that to hold over his head, again in case he should try to cause trouble for Nik in the future. Cristo probably hadn’t realised that the recording would be more damning against himself, than it would ever be against Vidal.

Once the money had been transferred Nik became even more vocal, as he bragged of the Organisation’s achievements as he saw it, on behalf of the Distect’s cause. Although he did admit that the vast majority of the ordinary Distect members had no idea of what the Organisation were doing.

Nik even told him about the arrival of the Gens, and Vidal cast around for a means whereby he could get word of this to his partner or Liji and Kane, but it was impossible to get away from his host.

However there was one consolation. Vidal had obtained some solid information about the Organisation’s operations both here and on Earth, and how they operated. So the fact that he probably would not be able to help the Gens, no matter how unpalatable, had to be accepted.

‘Where exactly are we going Nik?’ Vidal enquired, as he tried to shake off the pall of despondency that had fallen over him.

‘Back to the Eye. Patience my friend, I think you will be surprised.’

Nik had been correct, Vidal was surprised. As soon as they got back to the Golden Eye they had gone up to the penthouse floor, but did not enter Nik’s apartment. Instead Cristo pressed a panel and it slid open, to reveal a small turbolift that immediately took them down beneath the Hotel and Casino.

The Sime explained that this was the only entrance from the complex itself, and was for his personal use. The turbolift was concealed at both ends, and Vidal doubted, that without prior knowledge, even the most thorough search would fail to find it. The main entrance was situated over a mile away on the outskirts of the City. The reason for this was self evident. Should the underground complex ever be discovered, there would be no provable connection between either the Hotel or Casino and the complex.

As they stepped out of the turbolift a young female hurried towards them and Vidal’s dark eyes opened wide with surprise. She was Tarlexian. Superficially at least the Tarlexians looked humanoid, but there the similarity finished.

As far as Vidal was aware only a few rather unsavoury facts were known about them. First that the female of the species mated only once in her life cycle, and this having been accomplished, she then killed her mate and drained the blood from his body to feed the new life. Over a period of years the hatchling would go through two metamorphic transformations, until they looked physically like the young person standing before him now.

Secondly they were completely without any moral scruples – at least as far as humans understood the term – and they were known to be involved in all kinds of criminal activities on various planetary systems.

Lastly there was a second indigenous race that shared their home planet of Tarlex. They were called Tarlexian-Vey, and were virtual slaves. They looked to be physically similar to their Masters, but whether they went through the same metamorphic changes no one had yet been able to find out. It was also said that the slaves were kept in line by mind control, but this had not yet been proved, so Vidal kept an open mind on the subject.

The Tarlexians were certainly the only race that had been encountered in the Galaxy so far, that the Terran World Government refused to allow on to the Earth, or the planets that she controlled. This being so, perhaps it wasn’t quite so surprising to find them apparently working hand in glove with the Organisation.

‘Katlyn everything is prepared I trust?’ She nodded and he went on to introduce Vidal to her. ‘I’m leaving you in Katlyn’s capable hands. Just tell her exactly what you require. Remember that this is Paradise my friend, your slightest wish is our command. I’ll be back later Katlyn.’ Then with a broad grin and a wink for Vidal, he stepped back into the turbo lift and disappeared from view.

Katryn indicated gracefully that he should follow her down the corridor. Vidal looked around him and tried zlinning, but the place was so well insulated that he gave up trying to penetrate any further into the complex. Every few yards a guard was posted, and these were quite obviously Tarlexian-Vey – the slave race. They were discreet and stood in the shadows, but they were there, and the message was clear to anyone who entered the complex.

‘Your first time I take it Hajene?’ He nodded. ‘Well don’t be shy, we’re here to serve and to make the experience as memorable as possible, after all we want you to come back don’t we?’ He could definitely hear a slight hiss when she spoke. It was almost like the sound an insect on Earth might make by the movement of its wings or by the rubbing together of its hind legs. A cold shiver ran down his back, it was another reason to get away from here as quickly as he could.

As far as Vidal could tell there were no Simes in the immediate vicinity, and so he could relax for the first time in hours. The whole place was not as he had expected. It was tastefully, if luxuriously, decorated. No expense had been spared to satisfy the paying customers, even the most fastidious of tastes was catered for.

The Tarlexian stopped suddenly and the doors before her slid apart, and he followed her inside. There were of course no windows, but the walls were hung with rich blue velvet drapes and large gold rimmed mirrors, and the room was furnished with quite priceless antiques. Vidal was quite knowledgeable on the subject, his own family home having been furnished with them. Taking a quick inventory and ascertaining that they were indeed the real thing, and not reproductions. Vidal then wondered cynically where they had been stolen from?

‘Make yourself comfortable.’ She pointed to an old fashioned chaise lounge, which was upholstered in a pale green velvet that matched the carpet on the floor. ‘Now a few basic facts if I may. Do you prefer male or female?’

‘In a transfer partner? I have no preference. In a sexual partner? Female.’ He forced a slight smile as he spoke.

‘Good then I think I will let you view several male and female Gens from our prime stock. They will enter from the left and leave from the right. You may examine them or not as you wish. When you have made your decision you need only press the button there beside you, it will inform the keeper of your choice. Hans-Vey here, will bring you anything else that you require.’ With another smile she left the room.

The young man Hans-Vey she had referred to stepped forward deferentially. ‘Would you care for a drink Hajene?’ Vidal shook his head. ‘Can I fetch you anything else?’ He then reeled off quite a long list that included many exotic drugs, some he had heard of, and others he had not, most were illegal.

Vidal refused politely. He had planned well ahead, just in case he should find himself in this sort of situation, and a small phial nestled in his pocket. Kane had obtained it for him, it contained a drug that when administered to a Gen would induce a deep sleep, but do no other harm.

All he had to do now was put his plan into operation. Sitting in his hotel suite it had all seemed relatively simple, now that he was actually here, he began to think of all sorts of difficulties that just might arise. So much of his plan ultimately depended on timing and sheer good luck.

‘Very good Hajene.’ Hans-Vey left the room, and as the door closed behind him a shiltpron began to play.

He glanced around the room again. All this beauty yet he was here to supposedly choose a real live human being that he could kill at leisure. The idea alone made him nauseous.

A movement at the side of the room drew his immediate attention. He had not zlinned anyone there, and he felt a little disorientated, for he was totally "blind" as far as zlinning beyond these four walls was concerned.

The woman who entered the room was tall and slim for a Gen. She was dressed in a turquoise and gold trimmed evening dress, her pale gold hair was piled high on top of her head in a complicated coil. Jewels gleamed at her neck and ears.

However it was not the outer trappings that Vidal was bothered about. He needed a Gen who, as far as possible, was in perfect health.

He zlinned the woman carefully she was obviously heavily drugged which made her appear to be docile. He had little doubt that all the other candidates would be in the same condition. Personally he would prefer them to remain that way for it would make his task easier. But he knew that they would be given yet another drug to counteract the effects of this one, before they were presented to him.

He wanted someone who would not collapse with shock when a tentacle touched her, but he could zlin that from the state she was in, she could well drop dead from fear before he had even made lip contact. Perhaps he was doing her an injustice, but he did not dare to take the chance. He dismissed her.

The next was a young man. He was short and stocky with a typical Gen build. Both his hair and eyes were light brown. He was dressed in long black pants, his arms were bare, for the shirt he wore was sleeveless. More importantly he also had a slight heart defect, and Vidal dismissed too.

And so it went on. Fifteen men and women had been paraded in front of him before he finally made his decision. She was a young sturdy female whose bright red hair curled almost riotously around her pale freckled face. She might well be termed attractive, he thought, but never beautiful. However she had the one important attribute that Vidal had been seeking. A truly healthy body. His choice was made.

‘It will take a short while to prepare the merchandise. Would you like an emotion enhancing drug to be administered Hajene?’

‘No I have my own methods.’ Vidal stated firmly. The last thing he wanted was for the girl to be terrified and screaming at her own shadow.

While Vidal waited, he lay back and closed his eyes and again went over the rather sketchy plan that he had devised. If all went well he would put the young woman into a deep sleep till the drug could take over.

Hopefully whoever came to dispose of the body would not come until after he was well clear of the place. As far as he could see, the whole complex was staffed by Tarlexians and their slaves, and that being so, it might take a little time for them to ascertain that she was in fact drugged, and not dead. Still whatever the outcome he had no other choice, he just had to take a chance. The one important factor that he had come to accept during his life with the TIB was that Lady Luck so often played such a major role in all his activities, usually she was kind to him. He could only hope that she did not desert him now.

As soon as he left here he would go to the Sime Centre, and arrange for this place to be closed down. Even on Paradise outright murder could not be justified. He would give the Tecton Controller the irrefutable proof he would require about what had been going on here. As a Channel working for the TIB his word alone was sufficient for the Sime Centre to act. Once his statement was registered with the Controller, then the Paradise Governing Body would have to accept and condone any action that the Sime Centre saw fit to take. Failing which, the authorities knew that Earth would most certainly send her own officials to do the job for them - and that was the last thing they would want!

Vidal was under no illusions. The Organisation would open up again elsewhere on Paradise under a different cover and name, probably within days. But he had no control over that. Closing this one down had to be enough for now. Although he did know that once the Channel, who was also in charge of all the Sime Centres on Paradise, had been apprised of what was happening on the planet, he or she would have the good sense to keep a wary eye out for such establishments in the future, and act accordingly. Vidal doubted it would keep all such places closed to business, but it might well keep a few.

 

The next step after that was to return to Earth as quickly as possible, and acquaint Sam Betjeman with all that he had found out about the Organisation’s operations on the home planet.

He only had two regrets, the first was that he had been unable to gain access to Nik Cristo’s computer, and the second far bigger regret, was the large number of Gens who he knew would soon be spirited away to an unknown place, where they would be beyond his or anyone’s help.

On a purely personal level, at the back of his mind, was the fact that Jason thankfully was safe, and they would soon be reunited. For at this point in his cycle - as independent as a modern Channel might like to believe he was - in actual fact he would soon "need" to have his Companion within tentacle reach.

 

‘She is now ready for you and you do have a choice of settings.’ Katlyn stated as she entered the room. ‘If you’ll come this way Hajene.’

Once again he followed her along the corridor. She stopped before three small view screens, each of which depicted a different scene. Every one beautiful in its own way, yet each barbaric in that beauty – for all were a perfect setting for murder! Vidal was thankful that there was no other Sime present to read his feelings at that moment, for no matter how they tried to dress it up that was exactly what it was, murder! The forcible taking of selyn from a Gen. That under normal circumstances would always result in death.

In the beginning Simes had had no choice. They had to kill to live. Now there was no such excuse, they did have a conscious choice. They had all been freed from the dark side of their own nature. Yet even now some Simes preferred to walk on that dark side of life, from choice and not from necessity. It made a mockery of what generations of their ancestors had fought and died to achieve.

Vidal picked the least uncivilised of the three venues depicted. Entered the room and heard the door click shut behind him and looked around. It resembled a woodland dell. The trees the running water the flowers, they all looked real. Great trouble had been taken to give such an illusion, but he knew that most if not all the scenery was in actual fact holographic. The perfume from the many flowers was real enough, and even the birds sounded exactly as they should. Indeed he almost felt tempted to zlin them to see if they were really were sitting up there in the trees, hidden by the leaves.

His eyes moved to the young red headed woman who was sitting so primly on the grassy knoll her long skirt spread out, primroses surrounding her. Only the thin golden chains that shackled her in place, making movement impossible, spoilt the idyllic scene. That…and the undeniable look of fear that twisted her young face into a caricature of horror. She was wide awake, aware, and had quite obviously been told what do expect.

He moved towards her quickly momentarily forgetting that his overly fast Sime walk would probably frighten her even more. He stopped suddenly, then bent double with the power of her fear - it hit him like a sledgehammer in the gut. He had never in his life before reacted to fear like this, but then truthfully he had never felt fear like this before. He had to stop it right now! He could not let it go on. Sweat was running down his face as he forced himself to approach closer.

‘Calm down please I have no intention of killing you.’ He whispered and moved to touch her hand, his tentacles sheathed, as he tried to give reassurance, but she drew back, becoming if possible, even more pale as the blood drained from her face.

NO..per favour..NO!’ She screeched, jarring his ragged nerves even more.

The "no" seemed clear enough, but she wasn’t speaking English, was she? ‘Look I’m not going to kill you. You wont even hurt. I’m going to give you a mild drug that’s all, you wont die.’ Vidal tried to explain.

Non capisco.’ She looked at him her eyes wide, and then said again, desperation in her voice. ‘NON CAPISCO!

The two humans stared at each other neither understanding the other. Shen this was something he had not calculated would happen. She was obviously speaking one of the more obscure Earth languages, many of which had all but died out over the centuries. As Vidal spoke only English and Simelan, there hardly seemed much point in him finding out which one she was speaking. He would just have to manage as best he could. He had hoped to allay some of her fear, and perhaps get her to take the drug willingly. But now he had no choice but to press ahead and hope for the best. So much for his plan being simple!

Sitting down beside her, he began to murmur soft words and soothing phrases, much as one would comfort a baby. ‘Sh little one, keep calm.’ He broke the chains had held her, and immediately she began to struggle. ‘No, no, keep still you’ll only hurt yourself.’

Holding her shoulders with one arm his tentacles grasped her chin, and he forced her mouth open. Hating himself he emptied the contents of the small phial into her mouth and massaged her throat till she had swallowed it all.

Finally he took her in transfer position, his hands holding her wrists as his handling tentacles settled on her damp skin followed by his laterals. ‘Try not to pull away I don’t want to hurt you. Please little one, please.’

For a moment Vidal thought she was listening to him, that she could understand him after all. Then her mouth opened and he knew she was about to scream. Before she could do so - he leaned towards her his lips covering hers as he made the fifth and final point of contact.

Vidal knew that if anyone was either watching or recording the event, as perhaps they were. It would appear to all intents and purposes that he was indeed killing the girl. More especially if the one monitoring was a Tarlexian, as seemed likely.

Carefully then, using all the skill he had been taught, he took her down into sleep and then deeper still, into a healing sleep. Hopefully the drug he had given her would begin to work long before she woke up.

He knew she was still very much alive. At least this part of his plan had worked correctly. Standing up he took several deep breaths to calm himself. Then moved the girl into a more comfortable position, and turned her so that at first glance, the movement of her breasts up and down as she breathed could not easily be seen. Then walked over to the entrance door. Beside it was another door that he guessed would lead to a shower room and other facilities. Ignoring the second door, he pressed the release button.

As he stepped out into the corridor Katlyn appeared as though by magic. ‘She didn’t speak English.’ It suddenly seemed important to mention it, but he didn’t know why.

‘I understand she came from Domani, the inhabitants speak mainly Italian, a human language I believe.’ Katlyn replied at once. ‘Was it important that you know?’

‘No.’ He sighed and tried to drag his wandering thoughts back into some semblance of order.

‘It was good for you?’

‘Very good.’ He nodded and managed a weak smile.

‘Perhaps you would care to come to our recovery lounge?’

Vidal knew there would also be male or female company waiting there should he require it. ‘Thank you but I have made my own arrangements.’

‘Of course. We look forward to seeing you again Hajene.’ Thankfully she made no attempt to delay or argue over his decision. It was all so "civilised"! He thought cynically.

Moments later, Vidal stepped out of the turbolift into the corridor outside Nik Cristo’s apartment. For a second or two he hesitated, as he wondered whether he should attempt to break in and search the place while he had the chance. But logic dictated that it was not good sense. He had not come prepared for such a task, besides which even if he got inside, his knowledge of computers was not great.

More importantly his primary concern at the moment must be to get to the Sime Centre, other considerations really had to take second place to that. Once he had informed the head Channel of what was happening at the Golden Eye, then he and the Controller, with luck, might also come up with some ideas on how to rescue the Gens. If there was still time to do so.

His course of action decided, Vidal left the Hotel and made his way to the Tecton Centre.

 

 

CHAPTER EIGHT

 

Jason sighed, then tried to smile to hide his growing frustration. The final show of the evening was dragging as it never had before. He looked across at the chronometer behind the long bar. He was sure there were more people here tonight, than every other night. He was wrong of course, he knew he was wrong, but as request after request was called out or brought up to the stage by Victor, his nerves began to fray.

Thankfully the selyn burns on his arm were not at the moment hurting, but he had little doubt that the pain would be bad again once the pain killers he had dosed himself with had worn off. Even so he was careful to avoid even the slightest hint of his discomfort bleeding into the ambient. The only Channels in the Hotel that he could have approached for help, were Vidal and Liji – and of course neither of them were available.

Then at last, his wait was over, and the Group began to pack up their instruments.

‘I thought it was never going to finish.’ Jason observed to who ever cared to listen. ‘We’re going to be late for the other gig at this rate.’

‘Who said you were going with us?’ Ken demanded at once, taking on the role of spokesman as always.

‘Cristo did.’ He looked across at the keyboard player. ‘Why? Have you got some sort of quarrel with that? If so you’d better have a word with Nik.’ As he had hoped they all backed down at the mention of Cristo’s name. Still muttering amongst themselves they picked up their instrument cases and filed out with Jason jubilantly bringing up the rear.

They made their way to the Space Port, and then into the Waiting Lounge. It was already full of people and all of them apart from the catering staff, were Gen. They were clustered around long tables that were groaning under the weight of food. A Bar at one side was dispensing drinks into eager hands.

Then as the Group arranged themselves and their instruments on the small dais, Jason’s eyes quickly counted the number of Simes in the room. Surprisingly there were only six, they were dressed as waiters, but he had little doubt that most if not all of them were anything but. He guessed also from their general demeanour, that they expected little trouble from the Gens. After all from their point of view, they only had to keep them here till the shuttle from The Madeleine arrived. Doubtless the ship would then send down reinforcements should they be needed to herd the Gens on board.

Standing to one side and talking to a small group of the holiday makers, he suddenly spied Liji. In between talking she was busy trying to refill the plates as quickly as the Gens emptied them. He knew she would have zlinned him as soon as he entered, so he made no effort to catch her attention.

For the next hour the Group played their normal repertoire and Jason sang. At last leaving the Group to play requests, Jason took a break and made his way across to the table, which was being replenished with even more food. Filling a plate, he walked over to stand near Liji.

She got up and joined him. Making a point of asking for his autograph, which Jason obligingly wrote on a paper napkin, and then surreptitiously wrapped the miniature computer inside it, before he handed it back to her. ‘Take care of that. I down loaded all the information from Nik’s computer into it.’ He said softly.

‘How did you manage that?’

‘Don’t ask. I’ll explain it all later.’

‘Very well.’ She slid the napkin into her pocket. ‘ It’s getting late. We’ve got to decide what to do next.’ She said quietly, then paused. ‘You’re in pain, what’s the matter?’

‘I’m fine, there isn’t time to explain now. Can you get rid of the Simes?’

‘I’ll think of something.’

‘Good. As soon as I see them leave, I’ll act.’

Standing at the side of the table he automatically ate a number of small fruit pies and iced cakes. Then crossed his fingers as he saw Liji talking to the Sime who appeared to be in overall charge. Moments later both he and the others all left the room.

Immediately Jason forgot the food and strode across to the Dais. ‘Nik has just sent a message. He wants all of you back at the Golden Eye. He’s having an impromptu party in his suite and wants you to play. Oh and he said to take your break before you go up there, he might want you to play all night.’ Jason mentally crossed his fingers. Hopefully that might delay them a little more, and give Liji, Kane and himself time to get the Gens away from here. Because once Nik caught sight of the Group, he would guess that something was happening.

‘What about you?’ Steve demanded.

‘I’ve drawn the short straw this time. I’ve got to stay here and entertain the passengers. I’ll join you later.’ In ten minutes flat the Group had all packed up and left, eager to get away.

Liji stood at the door looking across at him. He could tell from the expression on her face, that she was thinking he hadn’t got a clue what to do next. She’s expecting me to fall flat on my face, so that she can come rushing up here and take over. Well, this Gen is not so dumb lady.

He stood at the front of the dais and faced the passengers, adjusting the tiny flesh coloured stud that pressed against his larynx to its loudest amplification.

Ah…Ladies and Gentlemen. Can I PLEASE have your attention!’

"Where’s the Group gone?"

"What are you going to sing now?"

Jason ignored the shouts and questions that were coming from all around the huge room.

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN – THIS IS IMPORTANT – WILL YOU PLEASE SHUT UP AND LISTEN!’

The room fell silent, as all eyes settled on him in surprise.

Right. We’ve just heard from the Medical Officer on the Space Princess. He says that the authorities on your planet of embarkation have notified him that they have an outbreak of a particularly virulent strain of Verbailing ‘Flu

They all began to talk amongst themselves.

IF YOU WILL PLEASE BE QUIET I WILL ANSWER ALL YOUR QUESTIONS LATER – RIGHT NOW as I was just saying, the Medical Officer has informed us that it is necessary for you to receive treatment for this immediately, as a precautionary measure. So if you will all gather together at the door over there. Where that young lady is standing.’ He pointed to Liji. ‘She will escort all of you outside, where transportation is waiting to take you to the local Tecton Centre where this can be carried out. It will only take a few minutes of your time, but without it, the authorities on Paradise will not allow you to leave your hotels.’

More moans and groans came out of the throats of the gathered Gens. Many were protesting, but eventually they all began to move.

PLEASE HURRY LADIES AND GENTLEMEN – AS QUICKLY AS YOU CAN NOW!’ He called out.

‘Yes of course the food and drink will still be here when you get back!’ He replied to a heartfelt question from a Gen, standing just in front of him.

Was Vidal correct? Did Gens really think of nothing but their stomachs? He wondered with mortification, and was glad that the Channel was not standing beside him.

Ten minutes later he gave the thumbs up sign to Liji, as she followed the last of the Gens as they trooped from the room. Many still grumbling about the precipitate way they had been made to leave the free party.

Jason took one last look around the room to make sure that no one had been forgotten, and then grabbed his guitar and made for the door that Liji had just exited.

He knew he would have to make his own way to the Tecton Centre because Liji and Kane would leave as soon as the holiday makers were all on board the transports. They could not wait for him, getting the other Gens to safety, was their prime concern.

HOLD IT RIGHT THERE!!’ Jason was half way to the door. He froze at the command and turned around slowly to see Nik holding a hefty looking blaster, which was aimed straight at him. One of his bodyguards stood behind him.

‘You’re too late Nik. They’ve all gone. Better luck next time.’ He allowed a surge of satisfaction to fill the ambient as he spoke.

‘You shendi-beflayed young bastard! I ought to blast you right now, but that would be too shenning easy. You’ll be begging for mercy by the time I’ve finished with you.’

Jason’s mind was racing. He had a choice. Force Nik to fire the blaster at him, or let the guard capture him and have Nik torture him before he was killed. He knew which he preferred! Besides there was always a slim chance that he might get the better of them. Nothing ventured after all.

He still held the guitar in his hands. Without stopping to think he threw it at Nik simultaneously diving to the floor and rolling to one side. The roar of the blaster almost deafened him, he had forgotten how loud they sounded in a confined space. He felt the force of the heat as it caught his upper arm and burnt a hole in his shirt and seared his flesh, he had been lucky, it was not a direct hit.

Still rolling he landed under a table drew out his own selyn powered weapon and fired back. He missed but saw the bodyguard whip passed him at top speed, obviously augmenting. Nik’s blaster roared yet again, and part of the table top he was hiding under disappeared.

As he scrambled to find cover under yet another food laden table, the bodyguard appeared from no where and landed on top of him, wrestling his weapon from his hand. Jason was surprised to find that he had remembered Ralf’s lessons, as he grasped the Simes wrist and tossed him over his head, then spinning around on the ball of his foot he grabbed his forearms, and dug his fingers in hard. A scream of pure agony came from the Sime’s mouth as he went down.

Jason followed him to the floor and wrenched his weapon back from the man’s numb fingers, then still on the floor he twisted around to fire at Nik. He did not have time to actually look at Cristo, or indeed line up the weapon. He knew where he had been standing and fired blind.

Nik fell silently to the floor, dead before he landed, the bolt of energy from Jason’s own selyn powered weapon had hit him directly in the heart. Only then did Jason see Vidal standing in the doorway. Nik had obviously been on the point of blasting the Channel, and Jason realised with a shock that he had only beaten him by a hundredth of a second. Vidal too could have been lying there dead!

The Gen glanced down at the cold metal in his hand. The charge button showed empty. Somehow he managed to stagger to his feet, unsure whether the pain he felt was entirely due to the slight blaster burn, or in part came from the selyn burns he had sustained earlier in the evening. A tired grin spread over his face. ‘Hi Vidal, you took your time. Missed all the fun.’ He called, and then crashed unceremoniously to the floor.

Vidal flew across the room calling his Companion’s name as he fell to his knees.

Fingers and tentacles prodded and poked at the unconscious body beside him.

All the while Vidal was muttering and swearing under his breath as he chastised his silent partner for his obstinacy, intransigence, and undisciplined wilfulness! Earlier when he had arrived at the Tecton Centre and they had told him where Jason was, and what he was doing! He gave a sigh of resignation, as he picked the Gen up in a fireman’s lift.

 

It was the evening of the following day before Jason finally opened his eyes and stared around at his strange surroundings. He was in bed, and he was not in space, that much was obvious, for he could neither feel nor hear the powerful throb of the engines. Ergo he was still on the planet. His right arm, high up near his shoulder felt sore, whilst his left forearm also ached. He moved his head to try and look down, but as the movement made him feel nauseous he lay back instead, and tried to recall the events of the previous day.

‘So you’re awake.’ It was a statement rather than a question.

Jason did not recognise the voice so he turned his head to see who had spoken, and then squinted at the bright light that was streaming through the window and dazzling him.

 

The Gen standing beside his bed was a small bearded man, who was almost as plump as he was tall, and had a wealth of ginger hair that was streaked with white on both his head and chin. It was what Mike would have called "salt and pepper".

He took Jason’s pulse, and then smiled broadly. ‘I’m Chas. How are you feeling son?’

‘I’ve felt better.’ He replied honestly.

‘I’m sure you have. If you’ll excuse me a minute I’ll just fetch Hajene Pyatt. He’ll want to check you over now that you’re awake.’ The little round figure disappeared swiftly through the door, almost before he had finished speaking.

‘Yes, but.’ He was too late. Jason settled back against the pillows to await his return with what patience he could muster. Which was not very much. Where was Vidal? What had happened after he had passed out? He could vaguely remember Vidal calling out his name, and then he was sure he had heard the Channel berating him as usual, for something or other he was supposed to have done. So what else was new? Trust old Vidal to find something to complain about. He sighed angrily. If they were lying there dead, Vidal would still find something to have a go at him about.

‘Ah, so you’re awake.’ A new voice proclaimed.

‘Apparently so, yes. Although I could be wrong.’ Jason retorted whimsically.

‘That bad eh?’

‘Yes. I feel lousy. Where’s Vidal?’ He stared at the young Sime, and doubted that he had yet started to shave. ‘Are Channels getting younger, or am I getting older?’ He asked grinning.

‘I apologise for my Companion’s bad manners Glen.’ A familiar voice suddenly broke in.

‘Vidal!’ Neither Channel could help but feel the wave of pleasure that the Gen sent surging through the ambient. ‘Are you okay?’

‘Of course. You are the one who was injured, not I.’ He gave Jason, no answering smile.

The younger Channel stepped back. ‘He’s coming along fine Vidal, he’ll be able to get up tomorrow, so you can leave when you wish.’

Vidal nodded. His face still set in lines of deep disapproval.

‘Excuse me for interrupting gentlemen. But there’s nothing wrong with my hearing, or my intelligence come to that – although according to Vidal that’s an arguable point! You can speak to me direct, you don’t need to communicate through a third person.’

‘Jason!’ Vidal began, but Glen cut him off with a wave of his tentacles a grin spreading across his face.

‘He is perfectly correct. I should have included him. My apologies Jason. I may call you that?’

‘Of course.’ He grinned sheepishly at the young Channel. ‘And I wasn’t being churlish. I was simply stating a fact. I was hit in my arm, not my head! And please Vidal, will you stop looking so po-faced!’

Glen gave a loud hoot of laughter. ‘Excuse me,’ he gasped, and practically ran from the room, quickly followed by Chas. The Channel leaned against the wall outside and continued to laugh.

‘Do you mind telling me what’s so funny?’ Chas demanded.

‘It’s Vidal. My family have known his family for years. He’s a really clever and intelligent man, and a very skilled Channel. I’ve always felt his channelling skills have been wasted since he joined the TIB.’ Glen shrugged philosophically. ‘But every man has to decide his own way in life. However, the whole family felt that the main trouble with old Vidal was his conservative nature. He’s so damn conventional. My younger sister always referred to him as old misery guts, behind his back of course! But to hear his companion call him po-faced! It’s priceless. I doubt he’d let anyone else get away with that!’

Chas smiled. ‘So what the shen is he doing with a Companion like that?’

‘I’ve been thinking the same thing.’ Glen confessed. ‘I’ll look forward to seeing them both in about five years’ time. They’ll either have found some sort of recipe for working together.’ He paused and shook his head. ‘Or they’ll have murdered each other!’

 

Jason looked around their cabin, and then sighed. Vidal and he were hardly on speaking terms, and he knew they could not go on like this. But as usual it was both their faults, not that Vidal would ever admit that, for they were both as stubborn as mules.

Also for some reason that Jason just could not fathom, he felt sure that Vidal had come to his room at the Centre ready to pick a quarrel with him. The trouble was, Vidal knew exactly what to say, and which buttons to press, to get him spitting mad. Indeed no one could wind him up quicker than that blasted Channel.

More importantly Vidal was only just over a week away from Transfer, and both men knew that their differences had to be resolved one way or the other before then.

However, until his partner was prepared to sit down and discuss what was troubling him, there was little he could do.

Jason glanced at the chronometer on the wall, the ship would be making a jump into hyper space in approximately two hours time. He was not looking forward to it, for he had now come to the conclusion that he was one of those unfortunate humans, who experienced and felt every aspect of the actual jump - very few did that.

The Tomar, being the type of ship she was, and carrying out the sort of work that was expected of both her and her crew, was fitted with the very latest in technological advancement. Captain Kelvan had explained that the jumps through hyper space were carried out more quickly and efficiently than the older, slower models that were in general use on freighters and other commercial vessels. This being so, theoretically fewer people should experience the phenomena, unfortunately in Jason’s case the reverse was the case.

Suddenly his thoughts shifted yet again. What was the date on Earth? He moved across to the computer terminal and called up the information he required. A sigh of relief escaped his lips, his birthday was still two weeks away. He had thought for a moment that he might actually have missed the date. It was the one day of the year when his family would all take the ferry from Dunedin to the mainland, and the nearest Visi-Sim.

Every year Jason would book whatever time he could afford on the Visual/Simulator. In recent years this had sometimes been only ten or fifteen minutes, for the cost was extremely high, but well worth every credit. To sit in a room with all his family was an experience he would not easily forego, and at times over the years he had lived quite literally on bread and cheese for a month to help pay the exorbitant fee. He still remembered the first time they had all gathered together in that room, yet they were half a world away from each other.

So well did the Visi-Sim work that he could not see where the two fields meshed together. All the viewing rooms were decorated in similar manner, so that floor, walls and ceiling all blended into one whole. On the first occasion they had all got together, so realistic was the illusion, that his mother had automatically reached out to embrace him, and the image had momentarily shimmered as she interrupted the field. He smiled at her naivete and innocence – she had actually believed that they could touch, and he recalled her disappointment with sadness.

This year to celebrate his new status, he had booked the viewing room for a full hour. It was a luxury he would not easily forego. Especially because on top of that, he was still able to send the usual number of credits back home.

His musing was suddenly interrupted as Vidal entered the room. He looked as grim as ever. Jason swallowed a sigh and forced a smile onto his face instead. ‘We’ve got to get this sorted.’

‘Agreed.’

‘Look I’m starving and I know you haven’t eaten in the last two days.’ The Channel did not deny his assertion. ‘Let’s get a tray of food and try to talk this out. We’re both grown men for shen’s sake.’ He touched his partner’s arm. ‘I know this isn’t the ideal time for you to discuss all this, but we have to. It’s not something we can sweep under the carpet is it?’

Later Jason spread the feast out on the table. Placing a small nut patty and a biscuit before the Channel. ‘I really can’t eat this.’ Vidal pushed the plate away with a slight grimace.

‘I thought you might say that. Here.’ He placed a glass of a brownish coloured liquid in front of him. ‘It’s a high protein and vitamin drink, try it.’ Jason nodded his head in satisfaction as Vidal obliged by taking a small sip, at least he wasn’t refusing it out of hand.

Jason contentedly ate through half the food on his plate before he again glanced across at his partner. ‘So tell me what happened with you and Nik.’ If they could just start communicating with each other.

‘It’s all in my report you can read it at any time.’

‘The cold facts are in your report, I know that. I want to hear about all the juicy bits that aren’t in it! Vidal don’t poker up. It’s only natural I want to hear about everything that happened to you isn’t it? Do you expect me to believe that you don’t want to hear my side of the story too?’ Jason began to chew another mouthful as he waited hopefully.

‘I’ve heard more than enough already of what you got up to - Sosu Jason Devere! How dare you take such a chance. For shen’s sake, abseiling down the side of the building like that! What if you had fallen? And fancy messing around with a selyn powered security system. I didn’t think even you would be that stupid! What did you think you were playing at? You could be dead now! As it was you were badly burned.’

‘But I’m not dead, I’m here talking to you – that’s the most important thing Vidal – I’m still here to drive you mad.’ He grinned wryly trying his best to lighten the ambient that swirled around both of them, cold and vaguely hostile. ‘Besides which, the information I managed to get was far more important than one Gen life, you know that. Sam said as much in that message he sent Captain Kelvan congratulating us.’

‘Not to me it isn’t.’ The Channel admitted softly.

‘I know that.’ Jason replied. ‘But I can’t work for the TIB and expect to be molly coddled too can I? It’s a contradiction in terms. The Galaxy is a dangerous playground Vidal, and that’s true even if we weren’t working for the TIB, but we are, and if we’re not prepared to play by the rules, then we have no right being out here.’ He paused to let his words sink in. ‘Now to get back to what we were talking about before. I’m still waiting to hear your side of the story – talk to me please!’

Just as he had almost given up on the Channel saying anything more. He began to speak.

‘Shen what a nightmare.’ Jason said, as Vidal paused in his narrative. ‘So what happened to this girl? Did she live?’

Of course she lived! She was only drugged. I didn’t try to kill her you know!’ He said stiffly.

‘No, of course not. I know that. I just wondered if she had died at their hands, after you’d gone.’ He said mildly, projecting calm into the ambient, and as his partner relaxed, he was surprised to realise he had succeeded!

‘No. They didn’t bother to treat her but that was to be expected. The place appeared to be run solely by Tarlexians. When the Tecton police raided the place to close it down she was found where I had left her, still asleep. I understand from Glen that she is recovering from the ordeal. I could not speak to her myself nor could she be told of my involvement, for obvious reasons.’

Jason nodded. ‘I know she mustn’t be told anything about the involvement of the Organisation, but what exactly was she told?’

‘That it was a vice ring involved with sex and drugs, partly true. The other Gens were told the same thing. They were also told that their captors had either escaped, or had died when the place was raided. There will therefore be no trials. I understand it satisfied all the Gens and the newscast reporters who have besieged the Centre with interstellar calls, which must cost them a fortune.’

‘Seems like I missed a lot of excitement while I was laid up.’

‘I would hardly call it excitement.’

‘You see Vidal. There you go again. You take me up on the most trifling detail. It’s just a figure of speech, nothing more.’ He swallowed a mouthful of food as he spoke, it went down the wrong way, and he began to cough and splutter. Picking up his glass he drank the contents as Vidal smacked him vigorously between the shoulder blades. ‘Okay I’m fine now thanks, there’s no need to get carried away and break my back.’

‘Do you have to exaggerate? I had no intention of..I apologise.’

‘Accepted.’ Jason grinned across at him, both of them were just so damn touchy. Then almost reminiscing, he began to fill his partner in on all the minutiae that had been missing from his own Report. ‘Are Liji and Kane on board?’ He asked as he finished the narrative.

‘Yes.’

‘Great. I want to ask her how she got rid of the Simes that night? And I also want to know what she thought of my idea to get the passengers out of there? Pure inspiration if you ask me.’ He said with a jaunty grin.

Vidal ignored the remark. ‘What I’d like to know is why you disobeyed my order to return to Earth.’

‘What order? You didn’t say I had to go back, not in the note you didn’t.’

‘To any reasonable person, the intention conveyed by my note would have been clear enough.’

‘Well it wasn’t clear to me. Besides, I don’t take orders in that sort of situation I don’t. We were both working on different aspects of the case, you know that. If I had done what I was told, those Gens we saved would have ended up in the Organisation’s hands! You’d never have arranged a rescue by the Sime Centre in time, you know that! Why wont you admit it?’

‘I know you feel you did the right thing, and perhaps you are right.’ The Sime conceded reluctantly.

‘There’s no bloodyshen perhaps about it! Did you want those Gens freed or not?’ Jason almost shouted, and then drew in a shuddering breath as he calmed himself down, seeing the effect he was having on the Channel. ‘This is getting us no where.’ He jumped up and walked across to the small viewing porthole, to stare unseeing at the emptiness of space.

‘I agree. You are being totally unreasonable.’

‘I am being unreasonable? ME! I can’t believe I’m listening to all this crap!’

For the next ten minutes they were both silent, each with his own unhappy thoughts. It was Jason who finally broke the wall of hostility that seemed to be building around them. There was a question he had to ask the Channel. He just wasn’t so sure that he wanted to hear the answer.

‘So what’s the real problem Vidal?’ He asked finally. ‘It’s nothing to do with any of this is it? Not really. Why don’t you just get it off your chest, whatever it is?’ He leaned across the table and laid his hand on the Channels forearm. ‘Do you want to dissolve the partnership? Don’t you want me as your Companion any longer? Is that the trouble? You only have to say the word you know. I’ll understand. I know I’m a bastard to live with and’ He stopped as the Channel’s tentacles lashed around his hand.

NO! No it’s nothing like that. Don’t even think it. Since you became my Companion I have never been more content or at peace with myself.’

‘Forgive me Vidal, but there must be something drastically wrong with both my sight and hearing, because you don’t seem very content or at peace to me! All I can say is this, if you really do feel like that, then you have a very strange way of showing it.’ He smiled. ‘However, if you are really certain that that is not the problem, I’ll take your word for it. And that being the case, I’ll ask you again, what’s wrong?’ Silence greeted the question, so he tried again. ‘I think I have a right to know Vidal.’

The Sime nodded reluctantly. ‘Yes you do. Very well. It is the thought of losing you. You are so independent. You don’t seem to care anything for your own life.’ Vidal stated with anguish. ‘Shidoni, just look at what you’ve been doing lately. Absailing and tampering with a selyn based security system for shen’s sake,’ he began to tick the perceived transgressions off on his fingers, ‘taking on Nik armed with a blaster, not counting his bodyguard – both Sime! what did you think you were playing at - or have you perhaps got a death wish?’

‘You’re blaming me for saving your life the other night?’ Jason demanded in surprise.

‘Not for saving mine no - for risking your own!’

‘But I had no choice Vidal! Do you honestly think I enjoyed being embroiled in all that? I was quite happy to follow Liji and the passengers out of that place. It was Nicholas Cristo who stopped me. He had a blaster levelled at me for shen’s sake, what was I supposed to do? Walk away? He’d have shot me anyway, probably in the back. You know that. In which case I’d be dead now, not sitting here arguing with you.’

The Channels tentacles closed more tightly around Jason’s hand. ‘I hear and understand what you are saying. I just don’t seem able to accept it.’ He whispered honestly.

‘Did you have this problem with Gavin?’

Vidal shook his head. ‘No. But then, he wasn’t my matchmate.’

‘Well at least we’ve got it all out into the open.’ Jason observed. ‘We’re going to have to work around this you know.’ He paused. ‘Do you honestly think I don’t worry about you too? Do you know why I passed out as soon as it was all over? It wasn’t the blaster burn. That wasn’t even a direct hit. It was seeing you standing there in front of Nik, and realising you could have been dead if I hadn’t fired at him when I did. Just a split second between his death or yours. If I had hesitated – I can’t even contemplate what the consequences would have been.’

‘Is that true?’

‘Yes of course, zlin me. And there’s one more thing, and I wouldn’t admit this to anyone else. In a lot of ways you’re closer to me than Mike, he has his own life to lead, and the rest of my family are half a world away. ’ Jason stated quietly. ‘I like being your partner, even if you are the biggest nag I’ve ever known.’

 ‘You really mean that don’t you?’ Vidal said in amazement, zlinning him deeply.

‘Of course. I don’t usually say things, just to hear the sound of my own voice you know.’ He chided gently.

The Channel picked up his glass again and began to sip the tangy liquid.

‘You know this really is a crazy galaxy we’re living in. The Organisation wont go away without a fight, if at all.’ Jason gave a crooked smile. ‘I know you’ll think I’m mad but in some ways I look forward to the challenge, and we both know it’s a job well worth doing – how many people can say that?’

Jason leaned back in his chair and picked up his own glass. ‘I’ve always been a great believer in fate. I sometimes think that our lives are mapped out for us from the day we’re born, and that being so, we wont die until the time comes for us to move on from this life.’ His eyes caught and held the black ones of the Channel. ‘Vidal, there is nothing you or I or anyone else can do to alter destiny. But I’ll make you a solemn promise. I will never knowingly put my life in danger, unless I have no alternative. Okay?’

‘Okay.’ Vidal smiled, the frown he had worn for the last few days suddenly disappearing. ‘And I promise you, I will not interfere - no matter how many chocolates you eat.’

‘What more can I ask?’ Jason laughed softly, as the tension in the room eased. ‘At the moment it seems to be "one step forward and two steps back" for us, but we’ll get there Vidal. It’ll take time, but we’ll make it.’ He promised.

‘I hope you are correct.’

‘I am. Trust me. Now, seeing that we’re well on the way to sorting out one of the major problems in our life. Let’s hope we don’t find ourselves with an even bigger one.’ And he suddenly became serious, but there was a twinkle in his green eyes. ‘Since you and I are so very much alike. I just hope that we don’t, at some time in the future, find ourselves fancying the same woman. It could prove to be a catastrophic disaster, at least ten on the Richter Scale.’ He warned. ‘Because as my dear brother Mike will tell you. When I was a child I never shared my toys with anyone.’ Jason did not bother to explain that there were very few that he could have shared, as he went on. ‘And I certainly don’t intend to start sharing my women either!’

Not The End -- Comment to the Author and then Read Part 3 now..

 


Companion in Zeor is Copyright © 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001  by Sime~Gen Inc.    All rights reserved.  
A New Beginning, Part II, One Step Forward by D. Dabinett is copyright © 2000 by Sime~Gen Inc. 

The Sime~Gen universe was created by Jacqueline Lichtenberg. This story and its setting may not be reused without explicit permission of Sime~Gen Inc.

 

 

 

This Page Was Last Updated by JL  12/24/00 02:11 PM EST (USA)


 





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