They broke for lunch at mid-day, and Vidal sighed with resignation as he watched his colleagues and their hosts, tucking into more mountains of food. Standing to one side and surrounded by at least six academics, the Channel tried his best to look as if he was at least interested in the small round pastry, that sat in isolated splendour, on the heavily decorated plate he held in his hand.
It was at times like this that Vidal missed being able to zlin both the people and his surroundings with impunity. Indeed, it was brought home to him how limited Gens were, when confronted by their fellow humans, like now, in this type of situation. They all had to rely on the spoken word and the body language of the person they were speaking to, to try and assess not only what they really meant, but also whether they were sincere, or indeed even telling the truth. A hard task, the difficulties of which he could only begin to appreciate when, like now, he was unable to zlin himself.
Thankfully the formality of the meeting had quickly broken down as the morning had progressed. The Channel had not really been surprised. He had yet to meet a group of academics and scientists who given a chance to both talk about, and explore the boundaries of their own particular subjects, would not take full advantage of the situation offered to them. In less than one hour local time the four humans found themselves being bombarded with questions on every conceivable subject, and in their turn, managed to ask many of their own.
Vidal had little doubt that it would take a long time tonight, when they got back to their hotel, for them to compare notes and discuss all the information that they had gleaned today. All their conversations were recorded, and later they would each make a report on the meeting from their own perspective. After all, it would be very helpful to get more than one overview. In that way too, there was less chance of something really important being overlooked.
However, one thing at least was already crystal clear to Vidal. The Sanctuairians were terrified - even after all these centuries - at the very thought of simply seeing, let alone meeting, a Sime. In various ways this had come up time and again. It was obvious that myths, no that was the wrong word - horror stories – that was what he was looking for, had been handed down from generation to generation over the centuries.
Jason had whispered to him during the morning that they had created bogeymen for adults. Vidal tended to agree with him.
It had taken long enough to break down the wall of terror that had built up on Earth, and that had in some ways been far more understandable. After all the Gens on Earth had actually lived through the nightmare, as they considered it to be.
On this planet it had only been simple, word of mouth stories. Yet even something that was now little more than just a racial memory, could still cause blind panic in the people living here. How to get around that? Was a question that needed to be answered. More important perhaps, could one get around it, and was it wise, even to try?
‘Your female colleague said earlier that at one time the non-tentacled people on Earth were kept in pens like cattle.’ One elderly man stated, his voice betraying not just his abhorrence of the idea, but his fear too.
Vidal nodded slowly. ‘Yes, to the shame of most humans on Earth, that is correct.’
‘So, what our history and literature tells us, is true.’
‘From what I have been told of your past, and what I know of ours, then yes – unfortunately - you are correct.’ Vidal conceded honestly.
‘Many people on Sanctuaire have long argued that as we left Earth at the very beginning of the mutant horror, it could not possibly have been as bad in actuality, as our ancestors assumed it would be. From what we have been told today, it seems they underestimated the problem.’
Vidal could not argue the point, so he asked tentatively, ‘you are absolutely certain that there were no changeovers amongst the early immigrants?’
‘Absolutely certain. Luckily we had two people amongst the settlers on the ship, one of whom was commissioned to keep a full and accurate account of everything that happened from the moment they set foot on Sanctuaire. The other of his own volition kept a diary of events, which also included his own personal views of the situation.
‘Not one word was ever written by either of them to suggest that we had brought the horror with us from Earth. If we had, there would have been no reason to hide the fact. Indeed I doubt if we could have done so, even if that had been the desire at the time. After all, from what you have told us of your own experience on Earth, they would still be with us now.’ He shuddered at the very idea.
‘I should very much like to see these written accounts, if that is possible?’
‘But of course. Every school child has access to them. They are after all, part of our planet’s history. I will see that you are given complete copies of the texts before you leave.’
Every question that was asked and answered, only seemed to bring up a thousand more ancillary ones. Yet one truth shone out and was apparent to Vidal. That for as far ahead as he could envisage, no Simes or Gens must be allowed to come to this planet. He was basing this decision on first impressions that was true, but he had never before had to change his initial viewpoint, and did not expect to have to do so in this instance either.
The Sanctuairians would have to be isolated, until the population had been re-educated. If such an undertaking was even feasible, let alone possible to achieve; or more importantly - wanted, by the inhabitants. For in the final analysis, without their full co-operation, nothing of this nature could be changed or accomplished.
Suddenly he brought his wandering attention back to the two men and four women standing in front of him, one of whom was obviously waiting for an answer to a question. ‘I’m sorry. I’m afraid I was wool gathering. You were saying?’
‘It was something you were saying earlier,’ the elderly woman said at once. ‘You said that Simes and Gens now live in complete harmony together on Earth?’
‘Well I don’t think I said complete harmony, but the two communities do indeed live together amicably. It is to the benefit of both after all.’
‘And intermarry?’ Another asked, a note of scepticism in his voice.
‘Yes indeed . We also work together. In fact we co-operate with each other all down the line.’ Vidal assured them with a brief smile. ‘But I must stress that this has not always been the case. As Paul my colleague explained this morning. We went through centuries of upheaval and war, before we began to achieve this. It was not an easy passage to travel. At times we didn’t think we would ever come out into the sunlight again, but we did, and we feel that we are all the better for having walked this path.’
‘Far better to smother them at birth!’
Vidal glared at the elderly speaker, it was a long time since he had come up against such blatant prejudice, and said calmly. ‘Since it still cannot be told, whether a child will ultimately be Gen or Sime, that would seem a little extreme.’
‘Shouldn’t all your scientists and your resources be turned to finding an answer to just that question?’ Another asked.
‘As I said, there are several tests that have been developed over the years, unfortunately none has proved to be consistently accurate in every case.’
‘But surely even tests that are not a hundred per cent accurate, are better than none at all?’
‘Why?’ Vidal asked quietly turning to the new speaker.
‘Why? Well surely that is self evident. If there is the slightest chance that another Sime is likely to be produced, then that life should be instantly terminated, for the good of all.’
Vidal bit back his anger at such a cold blooded suggestion. ‘By that reckoning Sir, one might say that any child who is born deformed or handicapped, should not be allowed to live.’ He observed, and then went on quickly trying to hide his shock at their unfeeling attitude. ‘On Earth at the present time, we have a population well in excess of two billion.
‘Whatever tests we have available, apart from their known inaccuracy, cannot be given to every child that is born. Many births take place far from hospitals and clinics, indeed in a lot of cases not even a doctor is available, only a midwife. Besides which a Channel knows, at least as soon as he or she is old enough to be aware, that they will be a Channel.’
‘Can your real people.’
‘I take it you are referring to Gens?’ Vidal interrupted cynically.
‘But of course. Surely your ... Gens can decide to live separately from Simes, and have nothing to do with them?’
‘They could, but for obvious reasons it wouldn’t work. Although there are some religious sects in the recent past who have advocated such a policy. Even they, unless they lock themselves away in Monasteries and such like buildings, must now donate. However, there are a few people who are simply unable to conform - true Simephobes - who would rather commit suicide, than donate. These unfortunates are usually sedated before their selyn is taken.’
‘On the contrary. Most of these people wish to lead as normal a life as possible. They can’t help their phobias, and as long as they are able to donate without being aware that they are doing so, they are quite happy to do it that way.’ Vidal stated.
‘They go to a Sime Centre, a Gen gives them an injection to put them to sleep, then the next thing they know a Gen is giving them a glass of trin, and they are on their way home again. They never see a Rensime or a Channel during their entire visit.’ He hesitated, and then went on to try and explain.
‘A Simephobe may still have to live or work where he will see Simes, even if only at a distance. There is no way he could do this and be high field. It would only encourage an attack – which is what we do our best to avoid.’
‘Is there no dissenting voice or protest – or is such disagreement not allowed by the authorities on Earth?’ An elderly male demanded to know.
‘I wont lie to you. On a planet as vast as ours, as I’ve already explained. It is inevitable that some people have differing views. However, no one objects to this, as long as they don’t cause trouble, or carry out acts of terrorism in the furtherance of their views,’ Vidal explained. ‘We are after all a democracy, and our laws are made to accommodate the many, and not the few.’
‘And what if the few don’t agree with your laws?’ The old man pressed.
‘As I said, they don’t need to agree with the laws, just as long as they abide by them. They have a chance to put their views forward at elections after all. If they still don’t agree with the majority view, then they’re free to leave the planet. If they don’t leave, but nonetheless still cause trouble. Then they are punished.’
‘And what form does this punishment take?’
‘Well any punishment must obviously fit the crime. If it is just some minor infringement, they would probably only be fined. If on the other hand they turned to violence they could be imprisoned, or perhaps even deported to a penal planet, such as Mars, for rehabilitation.’ Vidal stated quietly.
‘So people on Earth are only free, just as long as they abide by the majority view. You do not allow for individualism at all?’ Another voice demanded from behind him.
The Channel turned his head slightly to look at an even older man who was slightly stooped and had a thick grey beard. ‘Yes of course. But only if those views do not hurt or interfere with the lives of others. Everyone has to live by rules, without them, there would only be chaos, as we on Earth know only too well. I understand you have a similar system here.’
‘Yes. But we have a large planet, and a small population, which means that those who do not wish to conform can go and live their own lives without interfering with us, or we with them. Then again of course , we don’t have Simes living amongst us to cause dissension.’ Grey beard stated.
‘I see.’ Vidal did indeed see. At the moment they could afford the luxury of catering to everyone’s views or idiosyncrasies, and virtually washing their hands of various dissident groups in their society. Vidal doubted that they realised what trouble they were storing up for themselves in the future. One day a clash would come, and they would not be prepared for it.
Let their population increase by a few more millions, as indeed it would in the course of time, and they would then be forced by circumstance alone to change their ideas and philosophy. By that time the dissidents would be entrenched in their own ways, and more importantly organised. They would not be so easy to deal with then, especially if they decided to try and impose their own views on the majority.
It was also plain to him that when that day dawned, as inevitably it would. Then there would indeed, be trouble in paradise.
However, he kept his views to himself, and maintained a discreet diplomatic silence as he awaited their next question.
He knew the other humans were asking their own questions, but Vidal decided that he was learning a lot more about these people, by simply listening to the questions that they asked him.
Jason meanwhile was desperately trying to answer the questions two younger women were bombarding him with. ‘What if the Gens say they do not wish to give selyn to the Simes?’
He sighed as he tried to explain once more. ‘Well Gens like me produce selyn every month. This selyn is of no use to me, but it can keep a Sime alive. I would have to be very selfish indeed not to give – donate - what I have no use for myself, to a fellow human, and thus save his or her life, don’t you agree?’
‘You are not answering my question, what if the Gen has no wish to do so?’
‘There are still a few planets in the Galaxy where Simes are not very welcome. I suppose they could go and live there.’
‘In other words they have no other option. They either "donate" or are made to move away from their home planet. Not much of a choice is it?’
‘You have to remember that Simes are still predators in the strict sense of the word. They are fully civilised now of course, but it is not only uncomfortable for them to live and work amongst Gens who might not have donated their selyn each month, but it is grossly unfair for us to expect them to do so.’ He paused reflectively, and then tried again. ‘It is as if I sealed your lips together with glue so that you could not eat or drink, and then expected you to walk around amongst tables full of food and water, whilst you starved to death. Wouldn’t you call that torture?’
‘Of course, but you are missing the point. Why should I be made to give something that is mine to someone else, if I do not wish to do so?’ The first one asked yet again.
‘Your female colleague said this morning that Gens are paid for this selyn. If it is right to donate each month as you have said, how do the Gens justify such avariciousness?’ The other woman demanded.
‘Many don’t. There are a lot of Gens who refuse to accept payment for something that has cost them nothing at all to produce, and yet means life or death to a fellow human being. Then again, some take it because they need the money, or simply because its offered to them.’ Jason smothered a sigh, for the question touched a sore point with him too. ‘There is a movement on Earth now, to try and change people’s attitude to the donating of selyn. They feel that it is wrong, in fact totally immoral, to expect payment for something that means life or death to another.
‘After all, Gens donate blood to hospitals. Centuries ago they were paid for this as well. Now it would be considered disgusting and mercenary to expect payment for such a life giving necessity. After all, if you give blood, one day you might well need blood yourself. So in a way you are paid back.
‘Remember too, that all medical care is now free to all citizens on Earth. Although once only the wealthy could afford it. Again it’s the sign of a truly civilised society. In time selyn will be free to all Simes, I guarantee it.’ He grinned at the two women. ‘Sorry I didn’t mean to preach, but it’s a favourite hobbyhorse of mine.’
The first woman humphed as the other asked. ‘So tell me, what is it like to be touched by – them?’
The two women suddenly clung to each other, and Jason could almost smell their fear, as their pupils dilated and a fine sheen of sweat glistened above their top lips.
‘You mean to be touched by tentacles I suppose? Well, apart from the laterals, they are silky smooth and dry, not moist at all. Sorry to disappoint you.’ He grinned again at each of them in turn. ‘But surely you must know that already, if you’ve read the literature we gave you?’
‘Yes we did. But it’s far better to speak to someone who has actually experienced it.’
‘Well I can assure you that everything you have read in the pamphlets is true. Ordinary Gens feel nothing when they donate to the Channels. This selyn is then passed on by the Channels to the Rensimes. The only Gens who do feel anything, donate to the Channels for their own personal use.’ Jason stopped, he had almost said, like me!
‘What does it feel like?’
‘I don’t know from personal experience of course, but I understand from speaking to those who have done so, that it is very satisfying indeed.’
‘Similar to an orgasm would you say?’
Jason felt himself blush, damn. He hadn’t done that, when discussing sex with a woman, since his teens. ‘Er not quite. A Channel can take selyn from any Gen, it doesn’t matter whether the donor is male or female. A sexual partner is totally different.’ He explained, and desperately tried to think of a way to change the conversation onto safer ground. Thankfully a bell sounded at that moment, cutting off further discussion, and the gathering began to drift back to the meeting hall once again.
It was early evening when they all arrived back at the Hotel. Vidal had requested that they be served dinner in their suite, and consequently most of the evening was spent eating and discussing what they had learned that day.
‘You know, I sometimes wish I could zlin.’ Paul suddenly stated.
Vidal gave a bark of laughter, as he admitted. ‘So do I, at this moment in time.’
‘Seriously. Did any of you notice that small ferret faced man who moved from group to group. He seemed to be listening, but wasn’t asking any questions of his own?’
‘No,’ Vicky stated, and Vidal too shook his head.
‘Yes. I think I know who you mean.’ Jason said slowly. ‘Although I must admit that I noticed him only because he was wearing that dreadful purple coloured outfit. Most of the others were more soberly dressed, he stood out like a sore thumb. But I didn’t really notice his features.’
‘Purple? Yes, that’s him.’ Paul agreed at once.
‘What about him?’ The Channel demanded looking from one Gen to the other, as he waited for an answer.
‘Well I don’t know about Jason, but there was something strange about him. Sorry I can’t be more specific.’
‘He was a bit peculiar, I’ll grant you that, but I can’t honestly say that I felt anything more about him.’ Jason admitted honestly, ‘he did indeed seem different from the others, but it was probably because he wasn’t really participating, just watching and listening. Like Paul said.’
‘But all those people were there to watch us and to listen. That’s what the whole thing was about.’ Vicky reminded them, and Vidal tended to agree with her, as he joined in.
‘I think we’re all letting these people overwhelm us a little. Remember, we’re all here first and foremost, at least as far as the inhabitants are concerned, on a fact finding mission. Our second goal – which is to find out for our bosses back on Earth whether we’re dealing with a pre-Sime society here or not – is entirely separate from the first. We mustn’t lose sight of either of these two goals.
‘And quite honestly a ferret faced man wearing a particularly garish colour, does not seem to be relevant one way or the other to me, and certainly doesn’t answer any of our questions either. I suggest we ignore him. The poor man appears to have done nothing more wrong than, in Paul and Jason’s eyes at least, have a rather unfortunate dress sense!’ And Vidal joined in the general laughter as he finished speaking.
Paul and Vicky retired first, both stating that they intended to record their reports on the meeting, before they went to bed.
Jason said goodnight and yawned, ‘I think I’ll do mine in the morning. What about you?’
Vidal nodded his agreement. ‘After what I’ve heard today. It’s even more important that I am able to zlin some of these people.’ He looked down at his forearms with disgust. ‘By the way did you see that picture of a Sime that Steffan produced this morning? Apparently it was drawn just after their ship arrived here, and was the only picture of a Sime they had, till Captain van Tacx gave them more accurate ones.’
‘No I missed that. Was it good?’
‘About as accurate as a five year old would make it.’
Jason grinned. ‘Perhaps it was a five year old.’
Jason leaned forward conspiratorially, ‘Vidal, I’ve got the answer to your problem! I know how you can get your tentacles on at least one of these people.’ He lowered his voice by an octave. ‘We call for the room attendant, and when he arrives I jump on whoever it is, and then knock him out. You examine him, and afterwards we drop him over the balcony.
‘Then later, if anyone asks, we deny all knowledge of the event. What do you think?’ Seeing Vidal’s appalled and incredulous expression, Jason began to laugh, holding his hands up in surrender. ‘Joke! It was a joke. I didn’t mean it you blockhead.’ After a moment or two, he stopped laughing and stared at his partner. ‘Surely you didn’t think I was being serious – did you?’
‘No, of course not!’
‘Now tell me my friend, why do I get the impression that you’re not saying that with very much conviction?’
‘Because you sometimes come out with the most ridiculous things, and when I’ve got this shenning stuff on my arms, I can’t always tell whether you’re serious, or it’s just your dreadful sense of humour!’ Vidal snapped back, and rose to his feet. ‘Now I suggest you go to bed, we’ve got another tiring day tomorrow.’
Jason yawned again. ‘I agree, there’s nothing more tiring than listening to a bunch of eggheads jabbering on for hours on end, and asking interminable questions. To be honest I nearly fell asleep a couple of times today, but the seats were too uncomfortable.’
‘I’m grateful that you didn’t,’ Vidal retorted with feeling, as he entered his bedroom, and closed the door behind him.
It was while they were eating breakfast the next day that their serenity was shattered. The door to their suite burst open and without ceremony, half a dozen armed guards entered the room.
‘What the hell?’ Paul and Jason reacted at once, jumping up and knocking their chairs over behind them. Jason crouched ready to spring forward as Paul picked up a knife off the table, the only weapon in sight.
‘No Paul! Jason don’t! Calm down all of you!’ Vidal shouted the order as he stepped in front of the three Gens to face the guards, his hands palms showing, held out in front of him, to indicate that he was unarmed. ‘What’s all this about?’
The nearest guard stepped closer. ‘I’ve been ordered to bring all of you to Head Quarters Sir.’
At least they were still being civil, Vidal thought. ‘And I take it you have no idea why?’ It was a rhetorical question, and Vidal did not wait for an answer. ‘Very well. If you will give us time to get dressed we will accompany you at once.’ He glanced around at the Gens. ‘The sooner we get this sorted out the better.’
Both Vicky and Jason nodded mutely – Paul snorted rudely. ‘I said we should have brought weapons,’ he hissed at the Channel, who ignored him.
They were taken in a closed vehicle and so had no idea where they were going. When they arrived at their destination, they were hustled inside. All of them were locked into a room that had a small bathroom attached. Apart from that it had only basic comforts, a table and four straight backed chairs, but no windows. The guard locked the door as he left.
‘So what the hell is all this about?’ Paul demanded of the room at large, as he kicked the door in frustration.
‘We don’t know any more than you! So just calm down.’ Vicky snapped angrily. ‘Words may get us out of this mess, but throwing your weight about wont!’
Paul straddled a chair, his arms crossed along the top, a scowl marring his handsome face.
‘Well I can think of nothing that we might have done wrong. Neither do I believe that we have broken any protocol or law. Unless of course one of us has done so inadvertently.’ Vidal stated.
‘Since we’ve always been together, and none of us has gone anywhere without the others. I can hardly see how we’ve had the slightest chance to offend them,’ Vicky observed quietly.
The Sime nodded. ‘Agreed. Therefore it must be.’
‘Great!’ The blonde interrupted him rudely. ‘I can hardly believe I’m sitting here listening to all this crap! Less talk and more action, that’s what we need! Let’s think of a way to break out of here.’ Paul’s fist hit the table at the side of him with a dull thud.
Vidal winced, feeling the blow even through the spray skin on his arms. Jason immediately placed himself between the two men.
‘Just one more word out of you Demetrious, and I’ll smack you in the mouth.’ He warned, whilst trying to shield the Channel from the tense atmosphere that was building up rapidly in the small room.
The blonde began to stand up. ‘You don’t expect me to be frightened by threats from you, do you? Because if so.’ As he spoke Jason stepped closer his hands balling into fists.
Vidal grasped his companion, pulling him out of the way, across the room, and Vicky grabbed hold of Paul who was trying to get at Jason, and pushed him down onto the chair again with little ceremony.
‘Just what is going on here Paul?’ Vicky demanded shrilly. ‘Aren’t we in enough trouble without fighting amongst ourselves? Sit down – I said sit down! – and just one more word, and I’ll be filing a report when we get back that’ll have you out of the TIS so quick, your feet wont touch the floor. I mean it Paul! Don’t push me any further.’’
‘Calm down Vicky.’
‘Me calm down? That’s rich coming from you.’
‘People – everyone – please.’ Vidal collapsed onto a chair, the colour draining from his face.
‘Now look what you’ve done!’ Jason shouted, placing his hand on the back of Vidal’s neck as he concentrated, and then narrowed his attention onto the Channel, cutting out the other humans completely.
‘Is he alright?’ Vicky asked in a whisper.
Jason nodded but didn’t reply, he was concentrating too hard.
Moments later Vidal sat up straight and glanced at his companion. ‘Thanks, I feel much better.’
‘I’m sorry,’ Jason murmured. ‘That was my fault wasn’t it?’
‘Not entirely. Tell me Paul how long have you been feeling like this?’ He asked glancing across at him.
Demetrious shrugged. ‘I don’t know. It just sort of crept up on me. I’m not usually like this, am I Vicky?’ He looked at his partner for confirmation.
‘No he isn’t. Not that he’s ever been all sweetness and light, to say that would be an outright lie. But I just don’t understand what’s going on here, is he ill or something?’ She asked looking at Vidal for an answer.
‘I don’t know. But I can tell you that I am suffering from the same thing. Jason will vouch for that.’ He glanced up at the Gen. ‘I don’t know why, but even with this skin on my arms, the ambient in this room is still overpowering me!’
‘Jason and I discussed it between ourselves, and Jason came up with an idea that may be relevant, especially since Paul too may be effected.’ He hesitated, and then went on. ‘I don’t usually like to put forward a theory for which I have no real evidence, and which for the moment at least, is based on nothing more tangible than speculation.’
‘Spit it out!’ Paul demanded belligerently.
‘As I said I too have felt this – for wont of a better word – malady - dating from our first arrival on the planet.’
‘Yeah, so have I.’ Paul admitted ruefully. ‘There are times when I could cheerfully argue with my toe nails!’
‘Jason has suggested that it could be caused by something totally outside our control, here on this planet. Perhaps something in the air we are breathing.’
‘Wouldn’t that have shown up in the scans taken of the atmosphere by both the Venture and the Diligent?’ Vicky asked at once.
‘Not necessarily. It could perhaps be a cocktail of various innocuous things, that alone are perfectly innocent, but together – who knows. It’s only a theory.’ Vidal shrugged. ‘Only one thing is certain, something is effecting both Paul and I. That fact I would say, is indisputable.’
‘I can’t see that it’s bothering you very much.’ Paul murmured.
‘On the contrary. If I was not wearing this spray skin, I would be as effected as you.’ He glanced down at his forearms. ‘In this instance it is both a hindrance, and a help. Strange is it not?’
‘Hilarious.’ Paul said sarcastically. ‘Can I put some of that stuff on my arms too?’
‘Unfortunately it would have no effect on you whatsoever. I believe it’s only effective on me because I get so much sensory input through my tentacles.’
‘So we’re no further forward are we?’ Paul said bluntly.
‘No. But at least we are aware of the problem, and can therefore try to exercise a little self control.’ Vidal suggested tactfully.
‘It’s strange that it hasn’t effected either of us.’ Vicky said looking across at Jason.
‘Not at the moment perhaps. But then Jason is not usually given to hitting out, even under extreme provocation, as he almost did a few moments ago. Years ago when we first became partners, I could not have said that.’ He smiled at the sheepish expression on his partner’s face. ‘Which could indicate that he too is affected, but perhaps, not so much as Paul and I.’
‘Well speaking for myself, I feel fine.’ Vicky observed, ‘but I’ll have to rely on all of you to tell me if I start acting out of character, and Paul think before you give in to your bad temper again okay?’
Paul nodded and they all fell silent, each of them alone with their thoughts.
It was midday when the door was finally opened and they were taken under escort, to an office on the same floor.
There was a desk at one side behind which sat a man they had not met before. Four chairs had been placed on the opposite side of the room, facing the desk. They sat down. One armed guard moved to stand in front of the door and one in front of the window. The others remained outside the room.
They all studied the man facing them. His hair was sparse, and would once have been a mousy brown. He was quite short, and was almost as wide around the girth, as he was tall. Far more relevant perhaps was the fact that he also had the far from subtle demeanour, of a law enforcement officer. It was unmistakable Jason thought wryly, no matter where you went in the Galaxy.
Vidal too had come to the same conclusion as his partner, and had decided that therefore, this was obviously a civil matter. They had perhaps broken some local law or regulation. That being so maybe their situation was not so serious after all? The others had obviously come to more or less the same conclusion, for he saw them relax.
The Channel was just starting to formulate a question, when the door opened. The man sitting behind the desk jumped to his feet, surprisingly agile for a man of his size, as another man came in. The newcomer nodded to his colleague and sat down in the chair he had just vacated. This one was of average height and size, his head on top was bald except for a circle of hair around the base of his skull, and his pale eyes blinked at them myopically from behind the thick lens of his spectacles.
Vidal sensed at once that the newcomer was not an ordinary law officer, unlike this colleague, who now stood almost rigidly at attention behind his chair. This man’s arrival obviously raised the stakes, as far as he and his fellow Gens were concerned. Their "crime" if such it was, was apparently far more serious than they had first envisaged.
‘Right.’ The man leaned forward, his hands clasped together on the desk in front of him, as though in prayer. ‘Thought you’d got away with it eh? Thought you were dealing with a bunch of rustics on a backward planet did you? Only we were too quick for you weren’t we?’
They were all staring at the man in open surprise. Vidal found his voice first and decided the time for discretion, and allowing Vicky to do all the diplomatic nice talk, was now at an end. This was far too serious for that. He met her eyes questioningly, and she nodded her assent.
‘I’m sorry Sir, but we seem to be at cross-purposes here. Since neither I nor my colleagues, have the slightest idea what you are talking about.’ He began reasonably, only to be cut off.
‘Oh yes Trent, very glib. I’ve talked to people like you before you know.’
‘You’ve had visitors from Earth before? You surprise me. I understood that apart from Captain van Tacx, we were the first off-world humans to come here.’ Vidal said politely.
The pale eyes blinked furiously behind the thick lenses, as he was momentarily at a loss for words.
Vidal stepped in quickly, taking advantage of the situation. ‘Can I make a suggestion Sir? We are clearly being accused of some sort of crime against your planet. However, since we are strangers here, we have no idea what it is that we are supposed to have done wrong. If we have transgressed one of your laws, I can assure you that it was done in all innocence. So would you please tell us exactly what we are accused of?’
‘Oh you’re good, very good. Did you honestly think you’d get away with kidnapping three people - Ludvic, Giles and Lucy – citizens who just happen to be eminent scientists as well!’
‘Kidnap! But we’ve kidnapped no one. Why should we?’ Vidal demanded in surprise signalling the others to remain silent, as they had all begun to react to the accusation. The Channel remembered the three scientists well enough, he also recalled that two of them had the same surname – Martin, and the other was called – Wheatley.
‘I just told you the reason why. They’re scientists aren’t they? You’re after our secrets of course.’
‘Ridiculous! I’m sorry Sir, but that is ridiculous. Look, I have no wish to sound disparaging or arrogant – but technologically - in fact in every conceivable way, we are quite literally at least a century more advanced than your planet is, at this stage in your development. That being so, why would we want your scientists? For what reason?’
‘How do I know what your reasons are? It’s for you to tell me isn’t it? Since you’re the ones who took them.’ Agitated, he pulled off his glasses, rubbed the lenses with his fingers and put them back on. Vidal had little doubt they were now smeared with both oil and sweat from his skin.
‘We don’t appear to be getting very far do we? Can’t you just assume that we don’t know what we are supposed to have done, and give us the details?’ Shen it, if only he could dispense with this spray skin. Even with only half his zlinning abilities intact, he could probably still read the man’s emotions, and know better how to deal with him.
‘All right. If you want to play games I’ll accommodate you. You had a meeting yesterday at the National Scientific Institute. Afterwards the representatives broke up into smaller groups, some returning home others going on to various other commitments. Three of the Institute’s members, Ludvic Giles and Lucy, decided to go out to dinner.
‘They arrived at the restaurant, and were walking across the forecourt when a small craft suddenly descended. They were bundled inside, and it took off. The whole event was seen through the windows by both the staff and some of the guests.’ He stated bluntly with more than a touch of triumph, as though that settled the whole affair.
‘This craft, what did it look like, and how do you know it was ours? Couldn’t it just as easily have been one of yours’ Vidal demanded.
‘Since we do not have the technology – as you yourself pointed out a few minutes ago – to build such a craft. It had to be yours! Besides which there were witnesses to the abduction. There was no mistake.’
He said with finality.
‘But it’s simply not possible,’ Vidal murmured, and then went on. ‘You’re saying they were taken by our shuttle? Were the markings the same?’
‘How do I know? But I can assure you there wasn’t a mistake. We have at least twenty independent witnesses.’
‘So you are telling us that our shuttle is no longer where we left it at our landing pad. Is that correct?’
‘No. Your shuttle is still at the landing area.’
‘Well then surely that proves the accusation is false – Mister - shen it, what is your name?’ Vidal tried to keep the exasperation out of his voice.
‘I’m Marcus Hebden, I work for the Government.’ He looked as though he expected them to know exactly who he was. ‘As I was just about to say. We know why your shuttle is still there.’ The Sime’s eyebrows rose in query at his assertion. ‘You or some of your people came down from that ship of yours, that is orbiting our planet - yes Mr. Trent we do know there is one up there still.’
‘We’ve never made any effort to hide the fact,’ Vidal interrupted, ‘we obviously didn’t come all the way from Earth in a shuttle, and common sense would tell you that our ship would await our return. Besides which, it is the only direct link with Earth that we have.
‘And as far as your theory about our using the shuttle to kidnap your people is concerned. Why would we return the shuttle to your planet afterwards? Surely the rational thing would be for us all to return to our ship in the shuttle, and not come back? Why should we stay here, and let you arrest us? Does that make any sense to you?’
‘But I don’t even know what your plan is do I? Perhaps you intended to kidnap members of our government too!’
‘Now that really is far fetched.’ Vidal almost laughed at the very notion.
‘We’ve got more than enough politicians of our own, without wanting any of yours, believe me!’ Jason stated, and then fell silent when Vidal looked across at him with a pained expression.
‘Mr Hebden, you said a short while back that you were aware of our ship in orbit of your planet.’ The Channel suddenly demanded. ‘That being the case, surely you must have detected the arrival of the other vessel, and its subsequent departure?’
‘No other vessel but your own, has been detected by us.’
Vidal was momentarily surprised, but then decided that their equipment must be even more primitive than he had expected, and immediately changed tactics.
‘At the moment there are only two feasible explanations that I can come up with for this abduction.’
‘Only two?’ Their accuser said sarcastically.
‘At the moment yes. There may be another later, when I have more facts.’
‘Indeed? Well do carry on. Never let it be said that you didn’t receive justice on Sanctuaire, have your say Mr. Trent.’ He waved his hand in the air in a magnanimous gesture.
‘Thank you. The first is obvious. By your own admission all your people know about our shuttle through your media outlets. That being so, suppose a dissident group decided to make a mock-up of the shuttle, built around one of your own flying machines? In the darkness, in the confusion, the witnesses could easily have been misled and would think it was our shuttle they were seeing.’
‘What dissident group?’
‘Don’t ask me! You must know who the most likely candidates are surely? And I know that you have such groups. One of your academics told me yesterday, that if some of your people decide not to conform to your laws, they are allowed to simply go away, and live as they choose – correct?’ Vidal did not wait for his reply. ‘Although to be honest, I have no idea at all why they would want your scientists. But you can probably answer that better than me as well.’
‘And your other explanation?’ Hebden all but sneered.
‘It’s simply a hoax. A publicity stunt of some kind, for the benefit of the media.’
‘For what purpose?’
Vidal sighed. ‘I have no idea,’ he confessed ruefully.
Before Hebden could speak again a guard entered the room and whispered something to him. ‘Very well, I’ll come straight away. Return the prisoners to Room 4. I’ll speak to them again later.’ He left the room, his rotund little colleague bouncing along behind him. Moments later they all found themselves back in room 4, with the door locked behind them yet again.
‘I thought we were never going to be left alone.’ Paul stated, as he produced a miniature device from inside his boot. It was he who had been sending the regular signals regarding the Group’s status to Captain Zackary. ‘This thing has been vibrating for the last hour. The Diligent’s been trying to get in touch with us.’
‘Well call them back.’ Vicky ordered. ‘Let’s see what they want.’
‘Keep an ear out in case they return for us, if they take this away we’ll have no way of getting in touch with Zackary.’ Paul stated, and was soon busy whispering into the tiny transmitter.
Vidal moved to stand beside the door.
By the time Paul had replaced the transmitter into its hiding place, the other three humans could hardly contain their impatience.
‘Well?’ Jason demanded. ‘What does he say?’
‘Quite a lot.’
‘Well tell us!’
‘Be patient. It seems that ten hours ago ship’s time, the instruments on board detected another vessel in orbit more or less on the same trajectory as the Diligent.
‘However, it was around the other side of the planet. It maintained the same speed as the Diligent, and the same distance from the planet. Captain Zackary tried to increase his own speed to bring the other ship into view, with no success. The other vessel simply maintained the status quo.
‘And as we have the shuttle down here on the surface, the Captain had no way of getting any nearer to them. And needless to say they didn’t respond to his hail either.
‘Anyway, the Diligent then detected a shuttle entering the planet’s atmosphere, and a few hours later it returned. The mystery ship then left orbit. The Diligent is still tracking it on long range viewers, but it will soon be too far away.
‘He has no idea who the ship belongs to, or where it comes from, or indeed where it is going. Although its present course would appear to indicate our Solar System. However, once it goes into hyper drive and then starts to jump, well its anyone’s guess where it will end up.’
‘It looks as though we owe the Sanctuairians an apology.’ Vidal murmured.
‘Apology? What for?’ Vicky and Paul demanded together.
‘Because we should have taken more care to hide our movements. It seems evident to me that someone, probably from Earth, has got wind of this planet, and what we’re doing here. It could mean there’s a leak in the TIS or the TIB. I just hope whoever these people are, they’re not connected to the Church of Purity or some other deviant grouping.’
‘No, it’s not them. They wouldn’t have the money needed to even attempt something like this Vidal, you know that.’ Jason interrupted. ‘I reckon whoever it is either has ships of their own, or sufficient money to hire one together with the necessary crew. We’re not talking about some little tin pot outfit here.’
‘The religious fanatics might have the money if they got organised and worked together.’ Vidal stated. ‘But thank the Gods, you’re probably correct, they’re much too small minded for that.’ The Channel locked eyes with his partner as both of them suddenly thought about the Organisation – they would have the ships and the resources, but that idea had to be kept from the other two Gens, for the time being at least.
Nodding her head slowly, Vicky lowered her supple body into a chair beside Paul.
‘You agree then that these kidnappers appear to have come from our Solar System - which in my eyes, makes them our responsibility.’
‘Mmm perhaps.’ Vicky didn’t sound convinced by the argument, although she was conceding the point to Vidal. ‘Supposing you’re correct in your assumption, what do you suggest we do about it?’
‘Obviously we have to go after them.’ Jason stated unequivocally.
‘And you think Hebden and his little mob are just going to let us return to our shuttle and take off, purely on your say so? Or have you forgotten that we’re still under arrest, and can’t go anywhere?’ Paul reminded him sarcastically.
‘I tend to agree with Jason. We must ask to speak to Hebden straight away. And at least put the proposition to him.’ Vidal replied.
Consequently, when they were at last shown into his presence, all three Gens were hyped up with anxiety, as they wondered if they could convince Marcus Hebden to agree to their plan quickly, before the mystery ship was out of range. Only Vidal appeared to be fully in control of his emotions.
Calmly the Channel explained about the message they had received from the Captain of the Diligent. Then put their case forward both clearly and concisely, answering every question before it could be raised, ticking the points off on his fingers. As he finished speaking, the other three humans leaned forward in their chairs eager to hear Hebden’s response.
However, the first thing that Hebden did was to demand they hand over the transmitter. Which he promised would be returned to them, if and when they were allowed to leave Sanctuaire as they had requested. Reluctantly and with a grimace Paul complied with the order.
Marcus Hebden then continued. ‘I don’t want to make a unilateral decision on this. Leave it with me and I’ll get back to you when I have spoken to my superiors.’
‘No. I’m sorry Sir, you’re missing the point. The ship that Captain Zackary detected in orbit, will soon enter hyper drive, and once it makes a jump, if we are not close behind at that time, we will have lost it. It is crucial that we leave orbit in pursuit, as soon as possible.’ Vidal stressed.
The Official walked to the window and stared out for several moments, then turned back to face them. ‘Very well. I will go now and see what I can do. You will wait here for me. I can’t promise success, but I’ll do my best.’
Once Hebden had exited the room, time began to drag yet again. Even Vidal began to look tense, which was hardly surprising, for he, amongst all of them, was the only one who was aware of how the seconds were ticking slowly, and inexorably by.
Finally the door opened again and Marcus Hebden re-entered.
‘I placed your offer before my superiors. They have agreed to let you undertake this endeavour. Actually, we have little choice, if we want our people back, since we don’t have a vessel capable of space travel, and can’t go in pursuit of the kidnappers ourselves. However, they do insist on a few changes in your plan.’
‘Which are?’ Vidal asked quietly. He had not said anything to the Gens, but he was not entirely surprised that the Sanctuairians were asking for changes.
‘First, we cannot allow all four of you to leave the planet together. Two of you may go, and two must remain as our guests, to ensure your early return. The decision as to who goes and who stays, is entirely up to you.’ Hebden stated baldly. ‘Secondly, one of our people must go with you.’
‘We agree that two of us will remain. However, your second request is a little difficult. You do realise that we have Simes on board our ship.’ Vidal looked at Hebden enquiringly.
The man looked stunned. ‘We had not considered that aspect at all.’ He confessed. ‘In light of what you’ve told me, this would obviously have to be a volunteer mission. We couldn’t order anyone to undertake something like this. The trouble is, I doubt we would find anyone suitable, who would offer to go, not under these circumstances. Are there many er ...Simes up there?’
‘Oh, half the crew, maybe more.’ Vidal said blithely, hiding a smile.
‘Well that changes things doesn’t it?’ Hebden chewed his lip thoughtfully.
‘I take it then that the two of us will be going alone?’ Vidal pressed after a moment or two, and was relieved when Hebden nodded his head in assent. ‘Right. Then may we now have a few units alone, in which to decide which of us is to go?’ Vidal asked formally.
Hebden nodded. ‘Ten units. I’ll inform my superiors of the change in plans.’ He left the room. Still looking shocked.
‘It looks like Vicky and I had better go. I can pilot the shuttle, and Vicky’s pretty good working in the field.’ Paul stated at once.
‘I agree that Paul should go, but perhaps the rest of us should draw lots as to who goes with him.’ Vicky suggested diplomatically.
Jason stood up and walked to the window, then turned around to face the room. ‘What do you say Vidal?’
The Channel was silent for a mini-unit, momentarily stunned by the fact that his partner was obviously conceding the final decision, as far as they at least were concerned, to him. They had come an awfully long way in three years!
‘I think Jason and I should be the ones to go.’
‘Yes, you would say that wouldn’t you?’ Paul snapped back.
‘Please, hear me out before you pass judgement Paul. First, as far as piloting the shuttle is concerned, Jason is qualified to do that. Second, once we are away from this planet, I can remove this spray skin from my arms, and hopefully my zlinning ability will be back to normal. This being the case, I should be able to help the Astrogator in many ways, including help with calculating the jumps. And you must also see what an advantage my being able to zlin will be in actually dealing with these kidnappers when we catch up with them? And finally, once we find the three people who have been abducted, it will be an ideal opportunity for me to make a full lateral examination of at least one of them.’
‘Okay let’s say that you go, why should Jason go too? It hardly seems fair just because he’s your partner.’ Paul argued.
‘He is also my Companion. In all probability if we follow the mystery ship and it heads for our Solar System, it does not necessarily follow that Earth will be their final destination. That being the case, we have to remember that not all other planets have facilities to cater to my needs, without prior arrangement – and in less than two weeks I will need to take selyn from someone.’ Vidal paused to let his words sink in. ‘Do either of you wish to give me Transfer at that time?’ A slight smile touched his lips, as his eyes moved from Vicky to Paul his eyebrows raised in query, as he awaited their reply. They all knew that both Vicky and Paul, were only general class donors.
‘So we’ve got to sit here and twiddle our thumbs for the next – God knows how long – while you two have all the excitement.’ Paul grumbled.
‘I am sure that Hebden, if he is asked in the proper manner, will allow both you and Vicky to continue with your work here on the surface. After all, as long as you remain here, that is all they are really bothered about, and once we have left, there is no way that you can escape from the planet.’ Vidal looked sympathetically at Paul. ‘Who knows what you may discover?’ He said encouragingly, for he was reminded somewhat of Gavin, he too was a man of action. Paul would find it difficult to remain here on Sanctuaire asking and answering questions, collecting information, and making out reports, it went so much against his nature.
‘Okay, we’ll go along with that.’ Vicky brought the argument to an end.
‘Good. Now there is one other thing that both of you might try to find out.’ Vidal suggested. ‘First speak to as many geologists and geophysicists as you can get hold of. We must know as much about this planet both under the surface as upon it. Get copies of any scientific papers or books that have been written over the years about the make up of the planet. Go back in time as far as you can. Find out which rocks and minerals can be found on both Sanctuaire and on Earth. Then find out those that appear on one planet and not on the other.
‘I think you’re getting the picture. We need to know as much about the geophysical makeup of this planet, as we do about Earth itself.
‘Second botany mustn’t be left out either. We want to know as much as the Sanctuairians do about all their flora, and perhaps what they don’t know as well.
‘You’ll require a computer to collate all the information. The ones they have down here are little more than sophisticated calculators, no good for the job I envisage at all. So I’ll get the Sanctuairians to bring one of the shuttle’s computers to you before we leave.’
‘I hope you’re not expecting Vicky and I to do the full analysis.’
‘Of course not. Your job is to collect the data. The boffins back home will have a marvellous time sifting through it all, and coming to a hundred different conclusions.’
‘You’re really hoping we’ll find out why you and Paul have had these emotional problems aren’t you?’ Vicky asked.
Vidal smiled across at her. ‘See what you can come up with.’
Find out why we so vigorously support amazon.com
Read about the Star Trek Connection underlying simegen.com
And find out about those working
to bring you an ever expanding assortment
of resources for the reader & writer
Make payments with PayPal -
it's fast, free and secure!
This Page Was Last Updated by JL 12/24/00 12:31 PM EST (USA)
contact Sime~Gen Inc.