Within minutes of Vidal and Jason arriving back on board, the Diligent left orbit, following the mystery ship through space.
With a shudder Jason heard the first warning bell sound. Captain Zackary was making his first jump early to try and close the gap between the two ships.
Shen, but the waiting was almost as bad as the jump itself.
As soon as he had lifted the shuttle off the planet’s surface, Vidal had at once removed the spray skin from his arms, and had then stretched his fingers and tentacles, with a sigh of pure pleasure.
Now they were back in their quarters on the ship Vidal was soaking his arms in cold water. He had been wearing the barrier for so long, that his skin and even his tentacles felt itchy, and the worst thing he could do, was to scratch them! He emerged through the door as the second bell sounded.
Jason forced a smile. ‘Feeling better?’
‘Much. It sounds like we’re almost ready to make the jump.’
‘Yes the second bell’s gone. If you’ve finished, I need to clean my teeth.’ Jason disappeared inside and closed the door with a sigh. Glad that the bathroom had normal shielding to ensure privacy. Stepping across the floor, he grasped the edge of the wash basin his knuckles white with tension. He stared at himself in the mirror, his face was pale, and there was a sheen of sweat on his forehead.
Any moment now! The bell rang out for the third and last time, and even though he was expecting the sudden ripping apart of his atoms, followed by the almost violent joining together of his molecules. He still found himself whimpering, and while he castigated himself for making such an infantile sound, he could not for the life of him stop the childish noise from leaving his mouth.
Shuven! He was going to throw up! Desperately he threw himself towards the head, making it only just in time. Then shaking like an Aspen leaf, he moved back to the basin and rinsed out his mouth. Only then did he realise that he was no longer alone. Vidal stood in the doorway. ‘What’s going on – are you ill?’ His voice was full of concern.
‘No, I’m fine. I guess it was something I ate.’ He projected that feeling as hard as he could into the ambient, suppressing all other emotions. For a moment he thought Vidal was not going to buy it, as he studied him closely for several seconds. Then he shrugged as he finally accepted the explanation his companion was offering.
‘Well that doesn’t surprise me. On occasion you eat far too much.’
Jason followed him out of the bathroom. ‘and you don’t eat enough.’
Both men grinned inanely at one another, realising neither would win this particular argument. ‘Pax?’ Jason asked hopefully.
‘Pax.’ His partner agreed, and peace reined once more between them.
‘By the way, I didn’t think you could zlin through the walls of the bathroom.’ Jason observed a short while later.
‘Hardly at all. But I heard you vomiting.’
‘Oh, that explains it.’ Jason murmured. ‘Have you any idea how many jumps we’re likely to make, and when the next jump is due to take place?’ He asked as casually as he could.
Vidal looked up from the small screen that he was studying. ‘It all depends on our quarry, doesn’t it?’
‘Yes of course it does.’ Jason felt a complete idiot. Fancy forgetting something like that.
‘Any particular reason for asking?’
‘No, just curiosity.’
‘Well we’ll know soon enough, once the bell starts ringing again.’ Vidal stated, and went back to his reading.
Jason activated his own screen, wondering if he could concentrate enough to read a visi-novel. He was still feeling jittery from the last jump, and if the bell sounded right now, he’d probably jump out of his skin. His partner could be a little too perceptive where he was concerned at times, even when he didn’t use his Sime senses - and when he did? Well that was why he dare not stay this close to Vidal, when the next jump came. He couldn’t claim it was something he’d eaten for a second time, could he?
Jason knew that even with decks and bulkheads between them Vidal might still sense that something was wrong. So he would just have to try and dream up a suitable excuse for leaving the cabin, that would satisfy the Channel. Then if he could get down into engineering, he might be able to put some of the hyper drive shielding between himself and Vidal. Hopefully, that should work!
After all his fretting, it was Vidal who left their cabin, when the Captain called him to the Astrogator’s station. Jason quickly calculated how many decks, bulkheads and cabins there would be between them – it might just be enough – especially if he also went into the bathroom.’
‘I’ll probably be asleep by the time you return.’
The Channel nodded. ‘I may have to stay for some time. When I do come back, I promise to be quiet. See you later.’
Once the door had closed behind him, Jason relaxed. Perhaps bed would be the best place for him. He could stay awake, but at least he would be resting. The decision made, he entered his sleeping quarters and closed the door. Both he and Vidal had separate sleeping accommodation that led off the main cabin, where if they wished, they could both relax or eat should they did not wish to visit the dining area. It was more than adequate for their needs.
Climbing into bed Jason dimmed the lights and asked the computer for music. Sighing as the mellow tones of one of his favourite pieces filled the small room.
He hummed along with it for a while, then closed his eyes wearily. When it was that his tired mind finally made the transition from awareness to sleep he had no idea, but sleep he did. Descending deeper and ever deeper, till even the sound of the warning bells did not disturb him.
The dream was strange, yet peaceful. He was alone in a hot air balloon. Many people on Earth used them for recreation purposes. He had seen them in the summer sky drifting along, but had never been up in one. Yet here he was piloting one, and of course as in all dreams he knew exactly what to do. Adjusting the flame on the burner that sent the balloon soaring ever higher into the azure blue sky.
Then he was looking down on the fluffy white clouds below him, and the fields even lower than that. A flock of geese flew majestically by. Ah, this was the life, this – a hollow cry left his lips, the bottom had quite literally fallen out of the basket in which he stood. Desperately he tried to grab the wicker osiers but to no avail. His fingers merely scraped down the side of the basket tearing off his fingers nails and he could see blood, dripping and dripping.
Then he was in free fall, tumbling faster and faster towards the Earth far below. His body spinning round and round now totally out of control. He had no parachute - there was nothing to slow his descent.
Silently his body hurtled on through the clouds, and his horrified eyes found not fields below him, but the wide open mouth of an active volcano directly beneath.
A scream broke from his dry lips, another one swelled up in his heaving chest fighting to force its way clear. Again and again he screamed, his arms and legs punching the air as he tried to slow his body, but to no avail. The movements only helped to increase his crazy speed. Then he could feel the heat from the white hot lava that waited to swallow him up and quite literally burn him alive! One final cry welled up inside him, and he screamed out with horror, his whole body shaking with fear…
‘Jason wake up! WAKE UP SHEN YOU!’ He was shaken again and again, as his partner yelled in his ear. Gasping like a fish out of water Jason threw off the arms that held him and staggered from the bed, still shaking with fear, his eyes wide with horror.
‘Shidoni, that must have been one hell of a nightmare.’ Vidal stated, as he grabbed the Gen, to stop him from falling down.
‘I..I guess it was. I er I don’t remember much about it.’ His chest was heaving and he was still panting as though he had just run a ten mile race.
‘You don’t? Well perhaps it’s for the best. If you can’t remember it, you’ll probably not dream it again. Are you feeling better? Do you fancy a glass of trin? I’m going to have one myself. It might settle both our nerves.’ Vidal said, and Jason realised that the Sime looked as bad, as he himself felt. Then he was instantly reminded – of course, it was Gen fear that brought out the predator in a Sime – and in truth Jason knew he had never been more frightened in his life, than he had by that jump induced nightmare. Thank heavens Vidal was a Channel and not a Rensime!
‘Yes I’ll have a glass of trin, but stop fussing, I’m okay now – really I am.’ Jason gasped out the words, trying to convince himself, as much as Vidal, as he followed his partner into the outer cabin. ‘I’m sorry if I woke you up.’
‘You didn’t. As a matter of fact, we were about to make another jump and I was just leaving, when you started to scream.’
‘You heard me scream from up there? I’m impressed.’
‘No, of course I didn’t hear you scream, but I sensed there was something wrong, and when I zlinned you, I was certain. I came back as quickly as I could.’
‘I’m still impressed. It’s quite a way to zlin isn’t it? Through all those decks and bulkheads that are in the way.’ Jason knew he was babbling, but seemed unable to stop.
‘Relax. Here drink this it’ll make you feel better. Doctor’s orders.’
‘I’d prefer hot chocolate.’ Jason admitted.
‘I know you would, but this is better for you.’ Vidal stated, then both he and Jason added the words, ‘ be careful it’s hot!’
‘We’re beginning to sound like a double act,’ Jason said with a loud chuckle, and if the sound was a trifle hysterical, then thankfully his partner did not seem to notice.
It was only a few hours later, shortly after Jason had finished eating breakfast, that he received the news he had been hoping for. The vessel they were pursuing had changed course and was now heading for the Bolarian system, and more importantly, at least as far as Jason was concerned, they would not need to jump again.
‘Do you know much about this Bolarian system?’ He asked Vidal, as soon as he returned from the bridge.
‘Not much. The Captain tells me there are only five planets, two of which are capable of sustaining life. However, we can probably narrow our destination down even more, to just one planet, because Tsunami is, as it’s name suggests, a water world.’
Jason frowned slightly. ‘They could still be going there, couldn’t they? After all, it’s not unknown for biospheres to be built under water.’ He pointed out. ‘They can be quite big and comfortable too, from what I’ve read about them.’
‘I agree. However Tsunami also means big wave, and believe me, from what I’ve heard, the planet is well named. The core is very active and consequently the water is in a state of constant upheaval. On top of that the water is swarming with marine life, similar to the oceans on Earth around the Mesozoic age.’
‘I see, so what’s the other planet called?’
‘Apollyon, and both the Captain and I are agreed that this will undoubtedly be our mystery ship’s destination.’
‘And what do we know about this one?’
‘Not much. Except that in contrast to it’s sister world Tsunami, it’s mainly desert.’
‘Great! I suppose you’re now going to tell me that it suffers from continual sand storms.’ Jason said with a grin.
‘No more than any other desert world. However, there are two small fertile areas on the planet, and these are situated at the poles.’
‘None – at least, no indigenous ones, but that doesn’t of course rule out transitory residents, like our kidnappers. However, most of the planet is barren desert with no surface water, definitely hostile. The fertile parts are very small, so it has been deemed unsuitable for colonisation. Again, like Tsunami, it is volcanically active.’
‘Just the place for a vacation.’ Jason joked, to hide the fact that he had gone quite cold inside. His nightmare – that had been about a volcano, hadn’t it? Could the dream itself have been a premonition? Rosina, the girl he had once been contracted to, had always insisted that traumatic dreams had a meaning, was she right? Quickly he shook his head, trying to shake off the feeling of imminent disaster, that had engulfed him.
‘Are you all right Jason?’ Vidal asked, zlinning him. ‘You’re not worried about this mission are you?’
Jason forced a laugh, ‘no, I think that bad dream last night has unsettled me that’s all. I’ll be fine.’ Only part truth he knew, but it was always better than telling an outright lie, especially where a Channel of Vidal’s sensitivity was concerned. To put his partner off the scent even more he went on. ‘You do know that Apollyon means the Devil, don’t you?’
The Sime smiled slowly, ‘yes, as a matter of fact, I do. But I didn’t think that you knew.’
‘Oh come now, you know I’m a mine of useless, and totally irrelevant information.’ Jason replied lightly. ‘Anyway I’m about to go to the viewing deck, I fancy a look outside. Coming?’
Both men were on the bridge when the Captain put the Diligent into an orbit around Apollyon that would make it difficult for those on the planet to detect their presence. Captain Zachary had already found the mystery ship, which was less than half the size of the Diligent, it was down on the surface, near one of the fertile areas.
Within the hour the shuttle left the ship with Jason at the controls and Vidal beside him.
‘I’ll try and bring us down as close to where the ship is situated as possible.’ Jason stated. ‘But we’ll still have to travel a few miles across the desert to reach it. From the pictures of the area taken by the Diligent, the buildings are well camouflaged. We were lucky that they couldn’t hide their ship amongst the Dunes, or we could have ended up scanning the entire surface to find them.’
Jason finally brought the shuttle to rest in a depression between two lines of high sand dunes, on what looked like a slab of rock, within five miles of their quarry.
Whilst Vidal called the Ship on a secure channel to let the Captain know that they were down safely. Jason went to unload the Sandfly. It was a small machine that moved along swiftly and quietly using anti-grav technology. It had two seats, one behind the other, and in the circumstances was the best form of transport they could use to cross the desert terrain.
His green eyes scanned the horizon in all directions. On three sides, apart from the undulating sand dunes, the terrain was flat. The other side to his left, was dominated by a long range of tall mountains, and judging from the smoke that rose from the craters and obscured the tops from view, the whole range was volcanic, as Vidal had intimated earlier.
He bent down and scooped up a handful of black sand, letting the tiny grains escape through his fingers, cascading in a glistening stream back down to the ground. It was far softer and finer than any black sand he had seen on Earth, and he wondered briefly what it was composed of apart possibly, from a large quantity of volcanic ash - but as he was no geologist, he quickly dismissed it from his mind.
Then for no reason at all, he found himself thinking of Granny MacKinnen, his maternal grandmother. He remembered her only vaguely, for she had died when he was quite young. But he did recall his mother saying that she had the sight. She also said it had skipped her generation, and she had looked for it in all her own children, without success. Jason like his father, was inclined to think it was just an old wives' tale, but would never dare to voice that opinion in front of her.
However, even though he did not believe in premonitions or omens per se, he decided to cover all his options, so while he waited for his partner to join him, he sent up a silent prayer. First that they would not need to venture too near to that ominous mountain range, and second that there would be no major eruptions close to them, whilst they were on the planet.
Vidal appeared at his side. ‘About time too.’ Jason muttered as the channel climbed onto the seat behind him, and the small craft began to move silently over the black sand.
‘Stop!’ They had not travelled more than half a mile when the Channel shouted the command in his ear, and Jason brought the Sandfly to a halt.
‘What’s wrong?’ He called back over his shoulder, as his eyes studied the barren horizon.
‘See that?’ Vidal pointed to one side with a tentacle, ‘and that too.’ He swept his arm around in an arc to point in the other direction.
‘What?’ Jason demanded, squinting at the black sand that surrounded them like an endless carpet.
‘Steam. Can’t you see it?’
Jason pushed the visor up on his helmet and focused his eyes in the direction his partner was still pointing. ‘Steam? Yes – you’re right, it does look like steam. Shall we go a bit nearer and have a look?’
‘No. It could be extremely dangerous. If I’m not mistaken we appear to be right in the middle of a thermal area. Can’t you smell the sulphur?’
‘Thermal? Of course, that explains it. I’ve been wondering where the stench was coming from, smells rather like rotten eggs doesn’t it? I’ve read of such places on Earth, but I’ve never actually seen one before.’ Jason confessed. ‘I wonder how far the field extends?’
‘I’ve no idea. But I’m not surprised that it’s here, not when you look at those.’ Vidal nodded towards the volcanic range. ‘It’s a fair bet that this whole system is connected down below by fissures and channels. On Earth such areas of intense thermal activity like this usually act as a safety valve for the active volcanoes near by. Steam, boiling water and mud escape through the crust and relieve the pressure on the volcanoes. Without geysers and geothermal steam, there would be a lot more eruptions.’
‘True. But our priority at the moment is to find this encampment.’ Jason gazed around apprehensively. ‘This field may extend for miles.’
‘Possibly, but we’re safe as long as we’re on the Sandfly, but once we have to abandon it and start walking.’ He shrugged and then fell silent.
‘Well there’s nothing either of us can do about it. Let’s press on and get as close to their Ship as possible before we have to get off and walk. We’ll see what the situation is then. We could be on the very edge of the thermal region right now. Because I shouldn’t think our kidnappers would be stupid enough to set up camp right on top of a wafer thin crust. Especially if it’s liable to break under them, and land them in a cauldron of boiling mud or water, or perhaps worse!’ He shuddered at the thought, and wasted no time in getting the Sandfly underway again.
For several minutes Jason had been studying the encampment laid out before him, through the special telescopic contact lens that he had slipped into place in his left eye. It brought the detail up close even though the camp was still a good half a mile away. Vidal was similarly equipped, but he was also zlinning. The temporary buildings, which were shaped like biospheres, had several figures moving around outside them.
‘I make it ten.’ Jason stated quietly, having counted the humanoid shaped figures for a second time.
‘Confirmed. I’m trying to zlin inside the structures, but I am sensing nothing. I don’t know what the walls are made of, but I’m unable to penetrate the outer covering.’
‘So we don’t know how many are inside the biospheres, or if the three Sanctuairians are in there either. Just great!’
‘I don’t think there is any doubt that they are on this planet, since their kidnappers are here. Of course they might be inside the ship still. I might be able to tell if we were closer.’ The Channel paused and took a deep breath.
Feeling that a lecture was imminent, Jason decided to change the subject quickly. ‘It must be really great to be able to zlin, I suppose you’re used to it by now?’ It was the best he could come up with on the spur of the moment.
‘Of course. But during my first year I would sometimes zlin things that were meant to be private.’ Vidal admitted honestly. ‘Extremely embarrassing at times. I soon learned that when I was away from home visiting, I refrained from zlinning as readily as I did at the Centre’s College. Insulation around bedrooms and bathrooms that we take for granted at both the Sime Centre and in the City, is not always so commonplace out in the country areas.’
‘The Sime version of peeping Tom.’ Jason grinned wickedly.
‘Hardly.’ Vidal retorted, looking affronted at the very notion. ‘It should be night in about an hour, then we can make our move.’
‘Agreed.’ Jason laughed softly. ‘I was just wondering Vidal. When you were in your teens, did you ever get the chance to zlin the girl’s shower room at the school Gym?’
‘No I most certainly did not!’ Vidal looked scandalised as he turned to his partner. ‘Where on Earth do you get such ideas from?’ He demanded.
‘The ideas come naturally. I’m a normal healthy Gen male!’ Jason grinned, ‘and I know when I was in my teens if I could have zlinned – well you must admit it beats peeping through a hole in the wall. One student, I can’t remember his name, had quite a good business going. He used to charge a credit a time for a thirty second peek. I always thought that in later life he’d go far!’ He laughed softly at the Channel’s shocked expression. ‘Come on be honest. Did it never even occur to you?’
‘Definitely not! A Sime is an adult from the moment he goes through changeover and is treated as such.’ Vidal stated, and then his curiosity getting the better of him he asked. ‘What happened to your friend?’
‘He went into sales, what else?’ Jason grinned widely. ‘A pity we didn’t know each other back then Vidal, I could have broadened your education. I know I established early, but I was still a regular teenage horror - all spots and hormones!’ Then sensing he was not going to get anything more interesting out of his partner. He went back to watching the activity taking place on the ground between the ship, and the three buildings. ‘By the way can you tell where our abductors come from? I’m not well up on alien species.’
‘Yes, I believe so.’
‘Well why didn’t you say so before?’ He looked across at the Channel with exasperation, as he waited for an answer.
‘I hardly had the chance. Seeing that you were more interested in my supposed clandestine activities around the female shower room.’ The Sime pointed out.
Jason sighed. ‘I think we’ve already agreed that you were definitely not a normal teenager, not as I understand the term anyway. So tell me, who are they?’
‘Tarlexians. At least, Tarlexian-Vey. Which is very strange, since they are the slave race. Yet I can’t see any of the Master race down there, not outside anyway.’ Vidal looked thoughtful. ‘Of course they may be inside the structures.’
‘Tarlexians!’ Jason remembered all that Vidal had told him about the race.
‘No, Tarlexian-Vey, the slaves – I just said that there didn’t appear to be any of the master race down there, didn’t I?’
‘Are you sure?’
‘Of course I’m sure!’
‘All right. Don’t get your tentacles in a twist. I’m only checking.’ Jason said soothingly, wondering if he had hurt his partner’s feelings, he could be so touchy at times.
‘I don’t make mistakes over something like that. If I wasn’t sure of my facts, I would not have mentioned it.’
‘Okay fair enough. So we may only have the slaves to deal with. Any idea why?’
‘No. And I hardly think that we can say unequivocally that we only have the Vey to deal with. Their Masters, as I just pointed out to you, may be inside.’
The Gen ignored him. ‘Or they could be waiting for their masters to arrive – couldn’t they?’
‘Possibly. However, unless the information the TIB have managed to gather over the years regarding the Tarlexian race, and the Tarlexian-Vey is wrong.’ Vidal paused. ‘The Tarlexian-Vey as we understand them, do not carry out any task without supervision. That’s what we understood, and from what I saw of them at the Golden Eye, that would be correct. Therefore, logically, the Tarlexians themselves must be near by.’
‘Well we can’t march up and ask the Vey can we? They wouldn’t understand us for a start.’
‘As they’ll obviously need to communicate with the Sanctuairian scientists. I would imagine they will have availed themselves of a universal translator.’
‘What are you suggesting then - that we do ask them?’
‘No of course not! We’ll stick to our original plan. Go in under cover of darkness, attempt to release the scientists, and then return to the
shuttle.’ Vidal replied.
‘Of course, it’s just so simple, especially when you put it like that. We just walk in collect their prisoners and walk out again - a mere bagatelle!’ Jason couldn’t keep the sarcasm out of his voice. They had discussed this on the Diligent before they came down to Apollyon, and he hadn’t liked the plan then, any more than he did now.
‘Have you a better idea?’
‘You know I haven’t. But we don’t even know which of those three structures they’re in, do we? And I don’t fancy our chances if we have to search all three!’
Both men then lapsed into silence, watching the encampment from the safety of the sand dunes.
‘Something is happening.’ The Sime suddenly spoke, although he did not move from his position.
‘Where?’ Jason scanned the area quickly. ‘It all looks calm enough to me.’
‘It is. However, do you see those two people at the far side standing alone? They just emerged from the middle structure. See they are beginning to walk across to the other building.’
‘Yes I see, but what…hey, wait a minute. They must be two of the scientists. I recognise the flowing clothes.’
‘Yes. However it also poses the question. If they are prisoners, why are they being allowed to roam around without an escort?’
‘Well there’s no where they can run to is there? Only into the desert, or towards the volcanoes.’ Jason stated the obvious. ‘Wait on - it looks as though they’re going back inside again.’
Both men watched as their quarry disappeared from view inside the middle structure.
‘Of course there’s one thing we haven’t taken account of.’ Vidal suddenly stated.
‘Their Astrogator. They must have one on board to enable them to jump into hyperspace.’
‘Yes of course! Why didn’t I think of that? I wonder how they got a Sime to work for them – coercion?’
‘Hardly. More likely someone from the Distect I would imagine, they work for all sorts of unsavoury groups you know.’
‘Well, unless they join the Organisation, I don’t suppose they have much choice do they?’ Jason pointed out. ‘I wonder how they go on for transfer? They can hardly pop into the nearest Sime Centre after all.’
‘In the Distect, Simes will often marry their transfer partners. It could well be a husband and wife team, or perhaps a transfer partner who was willing to go along just for the money.’ Vidal said bluntly. ‘I haven’t detected either Sime or Gen down there yet, but that is not to say they aren’t inside one of the other structures, or indeed inside the Ship itself.’
For a while they sat is silence simply watching. At last Jason glanced across at his partner to see if he was zlinning, and froze, as he stared at a creature that was crawling across the Sime’s shoulder. It was as black as the sand, and appeared to be a cross between a snake and a scorpion. ‘Don’t move Vidal.’ He hissed, and simultaneously knocked it off and onto the ground. Leaping up, he danced around trying to kick it away, but it had immediately burrowed its way down into the sand. ‘Did you see that? What the shen was it?’
‘Keep your voice down and sit down, before you alert the whole camp to our presence.’ Vidal ordered quietly.
Jason squatted down beside the Channel. ‘Did you see how quickly it disappeared into the sand? It could be really dangerous for all we know.’
‘It is not dangerous at all. In fact it is one of the few forms of life that Apollyon manages to sustain.’
‘You mean you knew the place was teaming with those things, and didn’t bother to tell me?’
‘As I said they are harmless. There was no reason to mention them. Besides which they are hardly teaming. That was the first one I have seen.’ Vidal stated and bit back a smile. ‘And will you please stay down.’
‘If you think I’m going to sit down there again and let them crawl all over me. You can think again.’
Vidal sighed. ‘Very well. But keep your head below the top line of the dune.’ They fell silent again. But this time Jason spent his time scanning the sand around them, and left Vidal to watch the encampment.
The planet had no satellites, so when night came, the darkness was immediate and complete. The black sky relieved only by the millions of stars shining like glow-worms high above them, and the dim light gleaming through the windows of the temporary buildings.
‘Most of the Vey are now eating, and several more have come out to join them. They too are Vey.’ Vidal said quietly, as the slaves gathered together beside the far structure, and sat down on the ground under the stars. ‘ I can zlin no activity outside the middle structure, it would seem that their captors have not set any guards.’
‘They must be very sure of themselves.’
‘Indeed. But it is to our advantage. Come we must make our move now - we’ll get no better opportunity.’
‘You’d better go first, I can’t see a damn thing.’ Jason observed, knowing his partner would use the glow of his selyn to zlin by.
‘Stay close to my side.’ Vidal wrapped his tentacles around the Gen’s arm as he spoke. ' Stay close to the ground, none of the slaves are looking this way.’ He said softly, ‘they are not expecting visitors.’
They approached the three rounded structures, knowing now that the scientists were in the middle one.
‘The material they’re built from looks really flimsy.’ Jason murmured. ‘It’s strange you can’t zlin through it.’
The Sime nodded his agreement in the darkness. Then boldly led the way into the front entrance of the structure. ‘Look there’s a passageway running down the centre, and the rooms run off to each side. It’s very basic in design.’
Without hesitating Vidal lead his partner along the passage, zlinning the way ahead. and pulling his long sleeves down over his tentacle sheaths as he walked. He did not want the three Sanctuairians fainting with shock.
At last they entered the room at the far end where they could hear the three scientists, Ludvic, Giles and Lucy, talking together. They were sitting at a table eating, and all three looked around in confused surprise at their unexpected entrance. Vidal placed one finger over his lips, in the universal human signal for silence.
For the first time, with his zlinning abilities back to normal, and his tentacles free from the spray skin effect, Vidal was able to take his first true reading of the three Sanctuairian fields and - they were neutral!
Yes, definitely neutral. The Channel frowned as he considered his conclusion. Each one of them were similar in many respects it seemed, to the nager of a child.
No. It was more than that – there was definitely something more! He zlinned deeper. Yes, he was right, for it now seemed as if they had all just donated. He could just sense an infinitesimal trace of selyn production. Yet the trace did not appear to increase, merely to dissipate away, even as he zlinned.
He would have to consider the matter further. It could be that they produced selyn at an extremely low rate, and used it themselves...he pulled himself quickly back to the present. There was no time now to evaluate and come to firm conclusions, that would have to wait.
He stared at the three Sanctuairians, there was something not quite right here, he could sense it, not in their nagers for, again like children they possessed none. This would definitely have to wait for further analysis.
‘Please, do not ask questions at this time. Simply follow me and I will lead you outside, there is a shuttle waiting. Bring up the rear Jason.’
‘Mr Trent, and Mr. Devere is it not? This is not entirely unexpected gentlemen, we thought you might follow, but could not be certain of course.’ It was Ludvic who spoke.
Vidal was surprised at the words, but pressed on. ‘We don’t have much time Sir. All your questions will be answered later.’
‘On the contrary young man we have quite a lot of time.’ Lucy stated. She was shorter than either of her colleagues, her white hair piled untidily up on top of her head in the form of a bun, and fastened there by two bright red combs.
Even as she spoke, four Tarlexian-Vey converged on the room. ‘Jason get..’ The Channel began, but got no further as the four slaves pushed through the narrow entrance, and pointed their weapons at the two humans. Betrayal – that was what he had sensed in the room – why had he not taken heed of the warning his senses had given him?
Vidal swore silently to himself. He had seen the third scientist Giles, touch something on the table. He now realised it must have been a device to summon assistance. What was going on here? Were the three Sanctuairians actually in league with the Tarlexian-Vey, and if so, to what end?
The Channel glanced across at his Companion, who was being unusually quiet. He could only hope that he wasn’t thinking of doing anything foolhardy. He tried to catch the Gen’s attention both nagerically and by eye contact, but without success. Jason simply ignored him, watching the slaves intently, his body as taut as a bowstring.
‘Would you mind explaining, what’s going on here?’ Vidal asked as calmly as he could. Then looked at each of the three human faces in turn, ignoring the weapons pointed at both Jason and himself.
‘First, I think you should tell us why you bothered to follow us here.’ Ludvic ordered.
‘That’s simple. When the three of you disappeared from Sanctuaire, representatives of your Government assumed that we had kidnapped you. To prove our innocence, and obtain the release of our two colleagues, we undertook to bring you back.’ Vidal said bluntly.
‘I see, so our ruse didn’t work for very long. Never mind. For the moment I suggest you place any weapons you are carrying on the table.’ Ludvic stated, ‘and please don’t be so foolish as to try and hold on to any of them.’
Both Vidal and Jason complied in silence. Then one of the slaves pointed a small device at each man in turn. ‘They have no concealed weapons.’ He stated, and Ludvic nodded his head in acknowledgement.
‘Hahn-Vey, go and tell the others to assemble outside, I wish to speak to them.’ The nearest slave ordered brusquely.
One of the Vey nodded, and left the room at once.
‘I suggest we get rid of these two first, and then get away from Apollyon as quickly as we can. We’re no match for their vessel.’ Lucy chimed in. ‘And we don’t want to end up being chased halfway across the Galaxy by their ship.’
Vidal’s eyes opened in shocked surprise at the scientist’s cold intention to dispose of them. This was something he had not expected.
‘If we’re not going to stay here on Apollyon, where do you intend going? We still have to assemble the System. ’ Another Vey spoke up.
‘Shut up you fool!’ Lucy yelled. ‘I thought you had more sense Nanda-Vey.’
‘Why shut up? They’re dead men. Who are they going to tell?’ Nanda-Vey sneered back. ‘Don’t you agree Henri-Vey?’ He looked for support towards the one who had ordered the other slave to go and assemble the others, and who also appeared to be their leader.
‘Excuse me for interrupting, but as the general consensus seems to be, that come what may, you intend to execute us. I don’t see that it matters what we overhear, does it? Would one of you care to satisfy our curiosity and tell us what this is all about? Call it a condemned man’s last wish.’ Jason suggested facetiously.
Giles gave a bark of laughter. ‘I like this man’s cheek. Why not tell them?’ He glanced at his two colleagues.
Ludvic shrugged, and Lucy humphed with derision. ‘You’ll do what you want to anyway Giles, no matter what we say.’
‘Please gentlemen. Take a seat.’ Giles had a slightly drooping moustache, and his slim hand moved to stroke it lovingly.
‘We don’t have time for this.’ Henri-Vey muttered, obviously annoyed at the delay.
‘Yes we do. Just go and make sure we’re ready to move, in say 40 units. We’ll leave everything we don’t need behind. We’ll take these two with us on board the ship, and deposit them in the middle of the Devil’s Bowl before we leave orbit. They wont get out of there.’ Giles stated.
Ludvic nodded agreement. ‘The Diligent will think they’re on board our vessel, and will follow us. With luck we can soon give them the slip. After all, your people know this area of space a lot better than they do Henri-Vey. And even if they come back here, by then it will be too late.’ Ludvic glanced across at Vidal and Jason with a cold smile.
‘The Devil’s Bowl by the way is the biggest geyser on this planet. The sides are totally sheer, and it’s almost half a mile in diameter, and blows regularly. Throwing boiling water and steam miles up into the air. Now if anyone happens to be inside the bowl when it happens.’ Lucy shrugged. ‘I’m sure I don’t need to paint you a picture gentlemen.’
Henri-Vey picked up the weapons the two humans had placed on the table, and glanced across at the remaining slave. ‘Cowry-Vey - remain here and watch them well.’ He strode from the room without a backward glance.
The Channel looked across at Jason, but neither his nager nor his face gave anything away, and left him wondering what the Gen was planning.
‘Now please don’t interrupt gentlemen, I haven’t much time to satisfy your curiosity.’ Giles stated. ‘I heard a colleague at the Institute telling you how our Government handles the dissidents on our planet.’
He poured himself a glass of water, as he went on. ‘Quite a number of our Government Ministers, together with members of the Institute, have felt for some considerable time that our methods with regard to them are very unwise. One day, either alone or in conjunction with other dissident groups, these people will try to overthrow our Government, but not through the ballot box.’
Vidal nodded. He too had thought that the Sanctuairians were storing up trouble for themselves.
‘We decided that while we are still the largest and the strongest group, that we need to find a solution now, and not wait for trouble to start. Some of these factions are already causing unrest by printing leaflets and distributing them amongst our people, and others are holding meetings and rallies. It is just the tip of a very nasty iceberg.
‘So we decided to find a planet to which they can be transported. It’s the obvious answer to the dilemma. Unfortunately all the planets in this sector, that are capable of sustaining life, are already inhabited. And on top of this, we do not ourselves have space travel.
‘However, for some years now our scientists have been putting all their efforts into developing a Selective Biogenic System. We have succeeded. The System can be programmed to seek out whichever DNA we choose.
‘A Selective Biogenic System – what’s that?’ Jason interrupted.
It was Vidal who replied. ‘A diabolical weapon that, as it’s name suggests, can be programmed to seek out the DNA of a certain specific race and destroy it! Earth has long had the technology to build such a device. But such weapons have been outlawed by Earth, and all other civilised planets.’ Vidal stated flatly. He signalled the Gen to say no more for the moment, and reinforced the order nagerically. He wanted to learn as much as he could from this garrulous old scientist.
Giles nodded his agreement of Vidal’s definition. ‘An over simplification perhaps, but close enough. We have therefore forged an alliance with the Tarlexian-Vey. As you are no doubt aware they wish to throw off the shackles of their Masters.
‘We have agreed to assist them in doing this, by testing our System on their home world. They know that the System has not been tried out before, but they are prepared to take that chance. In return, if it is successful, they will give us Tarlexian space ships.
‘In the first instance they themselves will deliver the System to their home planet. Of course the beauty of this, is that nothing else on their home world will be destroyed. Their Tarlexian masters, are themselves, not indigenous to Tarlex. Indeed, although superficially they might look the same, they are a totally different race from the Vey, whom they have enslaved for centuries. Also, all the flora and fauna on the planet will remain in tact, as will all buildings and structures.’
Vidal still feeling shocked at these revelations knew that he had to clarify the situation. ‘Do I take it that if the System proves to be fully effective, you will then use it on another inhabited planet? So that you can replace the indigenous population with all the dissidents from Sanctuaire?’ He asked cautiously.
‘But of course, and we shall need spacecraft to enable us to do so, why else would we help the Vey?’ Lucy demanded at once. ‘Which is why you sealed your own fate once you arrived on Apollyon. Having seen us with the Tarlexian-Vey, too many questions would have been asked. And not all of our people are in agreement with our aims. However, once it is accomplished, they will see why it was necessary. And now Giles I suggest we make a move.’ She looked at her associates as she stood up.
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