‘This way!’ Vidal grabbed his partner’s arm and pulled him to one side. ‘We’ll never make it down that face in time, the flow is coming this way,’ he yelled over his shoulder, as he began to augment, with the Gen trying desperately to keep up. Which was difficult, because the ground they were on was now heaving up and down.
They slipped and slithered their way down the even steeper face that now confronted them. The side up which they had recently climbed, in order to get to the plateau, was now covered by a molten river of white hot lava.
My premonition! The words repeated over and over in Jason’s brain as he all but fell down the rocky slope beside his partner. True he had seen himself falling into a Volcano, and not running beside a lava flow, but as far as he was concerned this eruption was much too close for comfort. Besides which, he was definitely not in the mood to quibble over semantics!
Finally they reached the bottom. ‘The shuttle’s in that direction. We have to get across there before the lava comes down here, and cuts us off.’ Vidal yelled above the almost deafening noise that was bombarding their eardrums, as he urged the Gen along.
‘We’re never going to make it.’
‘We have no choice. If we get cut off, it’ll take days to find a way around it.’ Vidal stated. ‘Come on, hurry.’
‘I’m hurrying for shen’s sake!’ Jason’s foot disappeared down one of the steam holes, and he swore loudly as he pulled it out, glad that the ground did not cave in around him, and also that he was wearing boots. ‘OH SHEN!’ He glanced to the side, where he could see the flow, silent and menacing, and travelling extremely fast. It was only thirty or so feet away from his present position. He moved forward, and then gasped out loud as he realised he had at the very least, sprained his ankle.
Even as he hesitated, he was lifted up off the ground, and found himself looking at the sand from a completely different angle, realising that he was hanging up side down over his partner’s shoulder. The Channel had turned back for him, and was now augmenting as he made his way across in front of the fast flowing lava stream. Running and leaping over steam holes, and cracks that were now opening up in the crust.
Jason closed his eyes. If Vidal should slip!
Then they were jogging along at a more reasonable pace. Jason opened his eyes and discovered that they were well clear of the flow, and heading for the shuttle.
‘Vidal! Put me down – I can manage on my own now.’ He called.
The Sime ignored his request. ‘You have wrenched your ankle. The pain you would broadcast as you hobbled along would effect me far more than if I simply carry you. I will take care of it for you when we reach the Shuttle.’
‘Okay.’ Jason fell silent. Willing himself not to feel nauseous as he was bounced up and down.
They finally arrived back at the Shuttle, and both men were relieved to find that it was exactly as they had left it. The Vey had not found it, which Jason guessed was also thanks to Vidal, who had doubtless made sure that he lead his pursuers away from, and not towards, the small craft. Carrying Jason inside, the Sime deposited him without a word onto one of the bunks, and went to try and contact the Diligent.
‘Any luck?’ Jason asked as Vidal came back into the rear cabin.
‘Yes, they have reversed course. I have arranged a rendezvous with them. Now let me see your ankle.’
A short while later Jason circled his foot first one way, and then the other. ‘It feels fine.’ He stood up, cautiously putting his weight down onto the recently injured appendage. ‘It really doesn’t hurt at all now. Thanks.’
Vidal forced a smile. ‘You’re welcome.’
‘How do you feel?’ Jason studied his partner closely.
‘I was not injured.’
‘That’s not what I was asking. You’ve been augmenting and using up selyn like it’s going out of fashion.’
‘I’m fine.’ The Channel drew his tentacles further into their sheaths as he noticed Jason studying them.
‘Like hell you are! I’m not a complete fool you know. I can tell when you’re holding out on me – and you are doing that right now.’ He grabbed his partner’s hand and pointed to the quivering tentacles. ‘See that? I think we should have transfer now, we’ve plenty of time.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous! It’s almost ninety six hours to Transfer, you’re acting as though I’m almost in attrition! I admit, I was worried about you, but now that I know you are safe, and are ready to give me Transfer whenever I ask, I’ll be fine.’
‘Vidal this isn’t an endurance test. We’re fully autonomous you and I, which means we can have Transfer when it suits us, not when it suits anyone else.’
‘I know. But believe me, the discipline is good for me. There may come a time when I will have no alternative but to wait, and if I am used to having Transfer more or less on demand, without waiting for my full cycle. I could be storing up trouble for both of us.’ He warned.
‘Okay, if you want to be a masochist I can’t stop you, I’ll play along, but I still think you’re a fool.’ He sat down to pull on his boot. ‘I don’t know about you but I’m famished. And as I can’t interest you in having Transfer, we’ll eat instead. You can get some rations out of storage, while I get us up into orbit.’
Vidal watched his Companion as he walked into the front cabin to ready the engines for take off. Vidal got their food supplies out of the cupboard. Then followed his partner, wondering if perhaps the Gen was correct. It did seem foolish to delay having Transfer, his stay on Sanctuaire has taken a lot out of him, and he had used up much selyn in the last couple of days, and this mission was still far from over.
He sighed, what was he really trying to prove? After all, as his partner often pointed out, they were answerable to no one only themselves. Not for him, the near agony of waiting for yet another Tecton donor to arrive for transfer. Then wondering if he or she would be a good match for his need this time, or perhaps merely adequate? Gavin had never satisfied him like Jason. Shen, but what had he ever done to deserve being this lucky?
He smiled briefly as he zlinned his partner’s hunger pangs. What was it he had just said? " I can’t stop you, I’ll play along." Jason still had no idea at all, of the power he had over him. Not just as a Gen, but as his matchmate! Perhaps it was as well that he remain in ignorance, for the time being at least. For whilst he trusted his Companion implicitly, he wanted to make his own decisions, and not be influenced by anyone else. No matter how well meaning that someone else might mean to be.
Once they had achieved orbit, and were waiting for the Diligent to arrive at the rendezvous. Jason’s mind turned to food. ‘Come on Vidal. If you don’t want to satisfy one appetite, I’m not going to let you refuse this one as well. Sit down and eat.’ He pushed the plate with the small wrapped package in front of his partner, it was marked "Sime". Vidal reluctantly opened it, then pushed the contents around his plate, till he eventually found an opportunity, while Jason was checking the instruments, to drop the whole lot into the disposal.
Three hours after docking with the Diligent, the two men had made their reports.
Jason sipped his hot chocolate, and looked at the Sime over the rim of his cup. ‘I understand that Captain Zackary monitored the explosion.’ He stated.
The Channel nodded. ‘As expected, the ship was vaporised.’
Both men were silent for a short time, until Jason placed his empty cup down onto the table. ‘So what are we going to do when we get back to Sanctuaire?'
‘In what way?’
‘Vidal, I have no intention of playing cat and mouse games with you. You know what I’m talking about. Some of the Sanctuairians, and we don’t know who they are, are not going to be exactly ecstatic when they hear that we have destroyed their SB System, their three scientists, and the Tarlexian Ship they were travelling in!
‘Mind you, I don’t suppose they’ll be very worried about the Vey. Although I can’t see them giving us any medals either, can you? That being so, I’ll ask you again. What are we going to do when we get back to the planet?’
‘At the moment, to be honest, I haven’t a clue. I take it you have none either?’ He cocked his head to one side in query as he glanced at his partner.
‘None whatever. Let’s sleep on it. I couldn’t come up with a plan now, not even for a million credits.’ Jason grinned wearily. ‘I’m shattered. I hate to think how long it is since I’ve had any sleep.’ He got up and walked to the door, and then turned to look across at the Sime, yawning widely. ‘At least try and get some rest.’ He urged.
‘Of course.’ The Channel looked at the closed door for a few minutes, zlinned that the Gen had settled down to sleep, and then went to lie on his own bed fully clothed, his hands clasped behind his head. He closed his eyes for a few moments as he collected his thoughts, and then went over yet again, all the events that had taken place since they had landed the Shuttle on Apollyon.
Jason slept for six hours straight, and woke up only when Vidal brought him a glass of trin tea. He knew the Ship had made a jump while he had slept. Sheer exhaustion and a double dose of sleeping tablets had ensured he stayed asleep. But the sight of his own torso with its arms and legs missing, had almost frightened him awake, and even now the horrific sight still remained with him whenever he closed his eyes. ‘What’s the emergency?’ He demanded as he swung his feet off the bed, and ran his fingers through his tangled chestnut curls.
‘There’s no emergency, as you well know.’ The Sime replied as he placed the trin down on the small shelf beside the bed.
‘I don’t suppose you slept?’ He asked as he yawned loudly and stretched his arms above his head.
‘Almost two hours. Since then, I have spoken to the Captain, and been down to talk to the Astrogator – Sheldon is my cousin.’
‘He told me you were related.’ Jason looked at Vidal with interest. It wasn’t very often that his partner ever talked about himself or his family. Then again, neither did he, so he couldn’t very well complain. ‘What did you talk about?’
‘He explained to me how you had sabotaged the Tarlexian Ship. He said it was ingenious. He wants to speak to you again - when you have the time.’
‘Yes I’ll do that.’ Jason swallowed down the trin. ‘I’m going to take a shower. Are you going to join me for breakfast?’
‘I’ve ordered for you.’
Jason reached the door and then looked back studying his friend critically. ‘How are you coping?’
‘No problem.’ Vidal forced a smile, feeling glad that his Companion couldn’t zlin his prevarication.
‘Like I said before, you’re a rotten liar!’ The door slid shut behind him.
An hour later, Jason’s green eyes scanned the table to make sure there was nothing left to eat. Then with a sigh of contentment he pushed back his chair.
‘Have you come up with a plan while I’ve been asleep?’
‘Captain Zackary and I have discussed various options. We know that some members of the Sanctuairian Government know all about the SB System, and the unholy bargain with the Vey. The trouble is, we don’t know which members. That being so, we both feel that we should leave well alone for the time being, and say nothing to anyone about our suspicions.
‘We are also agreed that these conspirators will try again. Although it will undoubtedly take them quite some time to organise everything. After all, it’s extremely doubtful that they’ve got another spare SB System, just lying around!’ He smiled grimly. ‘So that should hold them up for several months, if not longer. On top of that, the Vey will also have to arrange to commandeer another Ship. Not an easy task I would imagine, knowing their Tarlexian masters.’
‘But at least it should buy us some time. So we can hand the whole mess over to the TIB, and they can get the diplomats out here to try and sort it all out.’ Jason stated.
‘They may also decide to warn the nearest star systems to be on their guard, but that’ll be up to them. At least we wont have to worry about it.’ Vidal rubbed his eyes with his tentacles, then noticed how his laterals were moist with ronaplin from his glands, and quickly lowered his arms out of sight under the table. He knew he really shouldn’t be in this condition, not this many hours from Transfer. Perhaps he had depleted himself more than he’d realised?’
‘I wonder what Paul and Vicky have managed to dig up?
‘Quite a lot I hope.’
‘I agree. But there too lies another problem. The first thing Marcus Hebden will want to know is what’s happened to his three scientists? We can’t very well tell him that they’re all dead can we?’ Jason asked.
‘Why not? We tell as much of the truth as we can. We explain that the kidnappers were in actual fact Tarlexian-Vey. We went in pursuit of them, just as we said we would, but their ship blew up. But we don’t know why!
‘Captain Zackary has recorded evidence of the ship actually disintegrating. We can show that to Hebden. I don’t think he will take much convincing, because if you recall the scientists knew we might be following them.
‘We could be wrong, but the Captain and I are almost certain that Marcus Hebden, and at least some of his superiors, are in on the conspiracy. We also believe that the initial idea, as we already know from Giles, was for us to be blamed for the kidnapping. Thus keeping the Vey out of the picture, at least for the time being.
‘But of course we did go in pursuit, and we saw the Vey. And as Giles told us, by doing that we signed our own death warrant. Captain Zackary and I have little doubt that once the Diligent returned to the planet to pick up Vicky and Paul. Presumably after they had disposed of us. The Diligent too, would then have been destroyed.’
‘I can see why they’d want to get rid of you and me, but why everyone else?’ Jason asked.
‘It’s fairly obvious if you think about it. If all had gone according to plan, then they would need a scapegoat to pin it all on. Remember, not all the Sanctuairians are in on plot, and not all would agree with it if they knew about it. So who better than us? Strangers! Humans from a planet that they know very little about, except for some pretty grizzly horror stories.’ Vidal smiled grimly. ‘I can see the newscasts now - "After centuries the monster Sime mutants have come to bring havoc to peaceful Sanctuaire!" ’
Jason laughed. ‘No other planet in the Galaxy would believe that!’
‘Possibly not, but that wouldn’t bother the Sanctuairians. At least they’d have someone else to blame. Which would exonerate the Government in the eyes of their own people. And I don’t think they’re bothered about what other planets or races think about them anyway. After all, they are primarily isolationists. I began to realise that when I noticed some of questions they were throwing at me, at the Institute.’
Jason nodded, ‘I see what you mean. By the time they’d got around to wiping out the indigenous population on some other unwary planet. The people on Sanctuaire would be only too ready to believe whatever they’re told.’
‘Exactly. But remember, this is only one scenario, that appears to fit in with what we already know. In all probability their plan was far more sophisticated and better thought out than ours, but you get the general gist don’t you?’
‘Well, if I hadn’t been to Apollyon, and heard from Giles own lips what they intended to do. I’d think both you and Zackary were living with the fairies! Hey, you don’t think when we finally leave Sanctuaire, that they’ll still try and destroy the Diligent, with all of us on board, do you?’
‘Extremely unlikely. Thanks to you, their plan has fallen apart. As I said, it’s going to take them a long time to get everything organised again, and until they’ve done that, there is little point in involving Earth or any of us, at this time. I have no doubt that they’ll be glad to see the back of us.’
‘I hope you’re right. What do you think the TIB and TIS will do about the situation down on the planet?’
‘In what way?’ Vidal asked.
‘Well, do you think they’ll tell the Sanctuairians what some of their own people had been planning to do? Or indeed what they may try to do again, at some time in the future?’
‘That would be difficult, since we have no idea who in the Government is involved in the conspiracy, and who is not. They’ll have to assess the situation carefully before they do anything at all. The last thing they’ll want to do is destabilise the planet.
‘However, knowing the way the bureaucratic mind operates, I wouldn’t advise holding your breath, not if you’re waiting for action in the near future.’ The Channel stated with a touch of cynicism.
For a few moments each man was alone with his thoughts, till Jason broke the silence.
‘You know, there’s one thing I keep meaning to ask you, and I either forget, or there simply hasn’t been the time. You were pretty close to the Scientists down on Apollyon, and you were able to zlin them unrestricted. Come on Vidal tell me, are they or aren’t they?’
The Channel grinned. ‘I’ll be honest. What I’m about to tell you, sounds weird, even to me. However, I’ll try to explain.
‘Let us say I was required to answer that question categorically now. I would have to say that yes, they are. Because looked at in one way, they are - and yet.
‘At first two of them seemed to zlin the same as children would, who had not yet established. Whilst the third was different. He appeared to me, to be similar to a Gen who has just donated.’ He paused.
‘Then again I could sense a trace of selyn production in all of them, but before I could tie it down, it just – dissipated away, as though it had never been.’ Vidal shrugged. ‘You explain it - because I can’t!’
‘Yes, I’d say that’s weird all right.’
‘Quite. However, what it really boils down to is quite simple. I need to study it further. It could just be that they produce a tiny amount of selyn which they use themselves. Leave it with me. I’ll let you know as soon as I myself am sure.’ Vidal promised, and with that, Jason had to be content.
The Diligent went into orbit around Sanctuaire an hour before planet’s dawn. Vidal replaced his spray skin once more, and both men prepared to take their places in the shuttle, knowing they would be relieved when this assignment was finally over.
Jason in particular was beginning to find it difficult to hide his annoyance. The Channel was still refusing, stubbornly from his point of view, to even consider Jason’s suggestion that they have Transfer, before they descended to the planet’s surface. Even though strictly speaking their scheduled time was only about twenty four hours away, by Ship’s time.
He decided to give it one last try. ‘We both need, and I do mean need, to be on top form when we speak to Marcus Hebden and his cohorts.’
‘I realise that.’
‘Do you? I’m not sure that you’re really fit to make that assessment at the moment Vidal.’
‘You’re trying to force me into having Transfer aren’t you?’
‘Quite frankly, yes I am.’
‘Well I don’t need you to make those sort of decisions for me.’ The Sime paused and took a deep breath and then went on. ‘Look Jason, I understand what you’re saying, and believe me I do appreciate your concern.’ His tentacles emerged from their sheaths as he tried to make the Gen understand. ‘Thanks to you, all my systems are working at peak efficiency now, and half the time I don’t think you’re even aware of what you’re doing to me, are you?’
‘Half the time?’ Jason laughed out loud. ‘Most, if not all of the time! ’ He confessed ruefully.
‘And you’re telling me that’s okay? I don’t actually do anything Vidal. I notice you’re upset or hurting in some way, and I want desperately to help, and no sooner have I thought it than you seem to be a lot better. But I don’t physically do a damn thing! I really don’t understand any of this you know.’
‘Yes, I know, but that’s because you’re a natural. You do by instinct, what it takes others years of training to achieve, and they are never as good as you. Believe me I do know what I’m talking about. I also know that we’re going into what could potentially be a very dangerous situation. But even so, I don’t want to have Transfer now. I feel it’s got to be my call this time. Will you accept that?’
‘I still think you’re a stubborn fool! But yes, I’ll accept it. And I hope I don’t live to regret it! Come on let’s go and get this over and done with. This planet may be a veritable paradise, but it has quite a few very nasty serpents lurking about in the undergrowth.’
Jason brought the shuttle down to rest beside the helicopter which this time, was already on the ground waiting for them.
‘Why I wonder, do I feel in more danger landing here, than I did when we arrived on Apollyon?’ Jason asked quietly, as he closed down all the systems, prior to leaving the craft.
‘I don’t know.’ Vidal replied shortly. ‘As I said before, there’s no reason now for anyone on Sanctuaire to harm us. Their plan has been derailed, and it’s going to take a very long time to get it back on the tracks again – until that happens we’re perfectly safe.’
‘Okay I’ll take your word for it. I just hope the Sanctuairians agree with you.’ Jason grinned wryly. ‘Perhaps I’m just being paranoid.’
The two Sanctuairians who escorted them back to the City were strangers, and spoke little on the journey. Except to say that they were being taken to the National Scientific Institute first, as Vicky and Paul had apparently been doing most of their research there.
However, the first place they were taken when they arrived at the Institute, was into an empty office. Moments later Marcus Hebden entered the room.
Vidal bowed and gave the formal greeting. ‘You received our report?’
‘Yes. Not a very successful outcome.’ Marcus sat down in the chair behind the desk and waved to them to sit down.
‘I take it you also received the evidence Captain Zackary sent you, showing the last few seconds of the Tarlexian ship’s existence, before it was vapourised?’ Vidal pressed.
‘Yes. Our technicians ran extensive tests. It appears to be genuine.’ He said grudgingly.
‘But of course. Perhaps you can now tell us where the Tarlexians fit into all this? More importantly, why they would wish to abduct your scientists?’ Vidal asked as though he were totally ignorant of the whole situation.
‘And who wanted them dead?’ Jason added, determined to do his bit to help things along. ‘Someone destroyed their ship, do you know who it was?’
‘Of course we don’t. How could we? Our people are looking into the possibility that all three scientists were perhaps working on a project, that the Tarlexians were interested in acquiring.’ Hebden stated.
‘Right, well when you find out, my superiors on Earth will be looking forward to hearing from you. After all we were dragged into all this very much against our will, and that being so, the final outcome will be of immense interest to us.’ The Channel said coldly.
‘That’s not up to me. I’ll inform the Minister for External Affairs of your request.’ Hebden began to stand up.
‘Oh, it wasn’t a request Mr. Hebden.’ Vidal said softly. ‘But I’m sure your Minister will understand that. Now, perhaps we can see our two colleagues? They are working in one of the offices here I understand?’
A short while later they were both lead along the corridor by a young woman, who was guiding them to where Paul and Vicky were working. Jason grinned across at his partner. ‘You handled that quite well,’ he conceded quietly. ‘But I’m afraid our friend Marcus is not a happy bunny.’
When they entered the room where their two friends were working, it was to find Paul standing by the window and looking out onto the garden courtyard outside, while Vicky was bent over a terminal.
They both rushed forward, obviously pleased and relieved to see them.
‘We’ve just been to see Marcus Hebden.’ Jason informed them.
‘He told us what was in your report.’ Paul stated. ‘The way he carried on, you’d have thought it was your fault their ship was destroyed!’
Jason grinned broadly at both of them, but said nothing in reply.
‘Well, I’m glad you both got back safely.’ Vicky said, and her eyes flashed the message that she would have a lot more questions to ask both of them, once they were alone together.
‘How did you get on?’ Vidal asked, and walked across to where Vicky had been working.
‘We’ve accumulated mountains of data. And I’ve noticed quite a few things, that apropos of what we were talking about before you both left, might prove to be very interesting indeed.’ She said softly.
‘Good. Now I get the feeling that we will soon have outstayed our welcome on Sanctuaire. So how long do you think it’s going to take to finish up here?’ Vidal enquired.
‘Well, to be honest, Paul’s not much help with this side of things. As he’d be the first to admit. So I reckon twelve hours, if I work right through.’ She smiled at her partner, who managed to look sheepish.
‘It’s not exactly my forte.’ Paul admitted.
‘If I give you hand, we should be able to finish up in half that time.’ Jason offered.
‘Thanks, that sounds good to me. What are you two going to do with yourselves?’ Vicky looked at the two other men. ‘There’s no point in you just sitting here for the next six hours.’
‘I understand there’s a museum near here.’ Vidal stated. ‘It might yield some interesting facts. I think Paul and I should pay it a visit, while we have the time.’
‘Are you going to be alright?’ Jason murmured, both feeling, and looking worried.
‘Paul is going with me. While he could never replace you, he is Gen, and surprisingly steady. Don’t worry, if I feel distressed, we will return straight away.’ He promised quietly.
‘Just make sure you do.’ He watched Paul and Vidal leave the room, not even attempting to hide his apprehension. Dammit, I said we should have had Transfer before we came down here, but would he listen? He asked himself angrily. Would he hell!
‘Are you all right?’ Vicky frowned across at him.
‘Yes, I guess so.’ He pulled up a chair and sat down beside her, pushing his concern firmly to one side. ‘So, what do you want me to do?’
Vidal noticed a rising tension in Paul, but refrained from questioning him about it. Before long however, and more especially in his present condition, it started to irritate him.
‘Is there anything worrying you Paul?’ He finally demanded as they climbed the long sweeping steps up to the museum. The front of the building was decorated with stone statues and pillars. It was one of the oldest buildings they had yet seen, and one of the most magnificent too.
‘No. Yes dammit! Look, don’t get me wrong. As a general rule Simes don’t bother me at all, but you’re a Channel, and a First - and from the way Jason was hovering around you, I take it you’re approaching need aren’t you?’ Strangely there was no fear in the Gen’s nager, just confusion and curiosity.
Vidal gave a brief smile, most Gens donated as a matter of course. Yet even those who had to associate with Simes in the course of their work, were still so ignorant about the basic facts. ‘Paul, the very fact that I am a Channel and a First, should tell you that I am no danger to you. Besides technically, I am still more than eighteen hours away from need,’ he paused. ‘I’m not trying to disparage you in any way, but you are only a GN3. Jason on the other hand is my Companion, he’s only a short distance away, and is "forin" - ready and willing to serve.’ He felt the Gen’s nager lighten at his words.
‘Sorry Vidal. You’re right of course, and I did know that intellectually, but.’ The blonde shrugged, and then went on with obvious chagrin. ‘I had all the usual lessons about Simes and the Tecton when I was at school, but you know how quickly all that is forgotten. So I read a couple of books on the subject, when I knew we were teaming up. I guess I didn’t understand them very well.’
Vidal nodded, now he understood. ‘Which were they?’ He asked, and Paul told him. ‘I’m not surprised they confused you. Both are written for donors who are entering the profession, and are based on the assumption that the reader is already well acquainted with slightly more than just the basics of the subject. If you’re still interested, I can recommend a couple of books written by friends of mine, that I guarantee you’ll find far more enlightening and easy to understand.’
‘Thanks. I’ll take you up on that. In our line of work you never know what sort of situation you’re going to find yourself in next, do you?’ The blonde stated.
Vidal agreed, and chastised himself for having pigeon holed Paul as an intellectual light-weight, before he had even got to know the man. It was a mistake he would not make again. Quickly he led the way across to the reception desk. Where having declined a guide, and picking up a direction finder instead, they both set off.
The building that housed the museum was immense. The main hall had various galleries running off it, and like all such places, each was devoted to a different subject or theme.
‘There’s no point in our bothering with the geology or history galleries, or anything ancillary, we’ve downloaded the whole lot already.’ Paul informed him. ‘You can study them at your leisure.’
Vidal nodded. ‘I’m more interested in myths and legends and books that deal with them. He set the dial on the direction finder, and moved off again quickly, following the route it was indicating. ‘Ah ... here’s what I’ve been after. We need to go to Annex C.’ He began to stride along and then stopped. ‘Sorry, I should have asked. Is there anything you’d rather go and look at on your own?’
‘No, I’m quite happy to tag along with you. Besides, as I’m acting as your substitute Companion – I’d better stick close by.’ Paul stated seriously.
Vidal had to fight to keep the amusement off his face. The idea of a GN3 being a Companion, substitute or otherwise, was just so ridiculous. Yet the blonde’s nager indicated that he was sincere, and Vidal would never say anything to hurt his feelings.
When he found the section he was looking for, the Channel soon became engrossed in his research. Paul was left to wander up and down, sometimes looking over Vidal’s shoulder, and then walking to one of the many windows to stare out at the gardens.
‘Found what you’re looking for yet?’ He asked at last, pulling a chair across and flopping down beside Vidal. Obviously bored stiff.
‘I believe so. The stories and nursery rhymes that were written shortly after Sanctuaire was colonised are interesting. Many of course can undoubtedly trace their origins straight back to Earth, which is natural. Others were obviously written several years later, and involve the experiences of settlers living on this world.’
‘So?’ Paul stifled a yawn.
‘So, I want to compare what I have discovered here with some of the factual history texts that you and Vicky have already copied.’ He glanced up at the Gen. ‘You’re hungry. Jason would be jumping up and down now if I’d let him go this long without food. My apologies. I’m sure there must be somewhere here that you can eat.’ Vidal stood up and collected the notes he had been making. ‘Come. While you’re eating. I’ll find one of the curators and arrange to have these texts downloaded for me.’
Having spoken to one of the assistant curators, and having arranged for all the books he was interested in to be copied. Vidal made his way back to Paul, who had found a rest area that also provided food. The blonde was busy demolishing a plate of cakes filled with cream.
‘I didn’t order anything for you. But I can recommend the cream cakes.’
‘I’m not hungry.’
‘It’s a good thing I didn’t get anything for you then. Vidal keep looking straight at me, and don’t look around. Do you remember Jason and I talking about a ferret faced man who was acting strangely when we met the academics for the first time at the Institute? Well he’s sitting on his own at a table near the exit, he’s with another younger man, who’s standing across the hall. I noticed the younger one, while you were occupied with reading. I didn’t say anything because I wasn’t certain if he was watching us or not. Now I’m sure. When you went off, ferret face came in here, and the other followed you.’
‘I was aware of them.’ The Channel conceded. ‘To be honest I expected someone to be following us. After all, knowing Marcus Hebden, it’s hardly conceivable that he would allow us simply walk around the City without an escort, unless he had us followed, is it?’
‘I suppose you’re right.’ Paul replied. ‘But I don’t think we should let them know they’ve been spotted.’
‘Are you able to zlin them?’
‘No. I’m still using the spray skin. I have no choice, because if I didn’t wear it, I couldn’t stand the emotions that this planet appears to arouse in me.’ He glanced at the Gen. ‘You seem to be a lot better, how are you coping?’
‘Fine. I don’t appear to have any further problems. By the way, you must have got close to the three scientists. Did you find out what they are?’
Vidal sighed, and then gave the same answer that he had given to Jason.
‘Oh.’ Paul managed to look totally confused, before he finally decided to dismiss the problem from his mind, and to leave it up to Vidal to work out. Having settled the matter to his satisfaction, he swallowed the last of the cakes, and considered whether he should order more. Then noticing Vidal’s obvious desire to leave, changed his mind regretfully, and stood up.
It was mid-afternoon when they arrived back at the Institute, to find that Vicky with Jason’s help, had already finished the task.
‘I don’t know what you three think about it, but I suggest we say our farewells to either Nathanial Henderson or Marcus Hebden if one of them is available, and then go straight back to the hotel, collect our things, and leave Sanctuaire tonight.’ Vicky suggested hopefully. ‘I’ve had more than enough of their hospitality, and there’s nothing to keep us here any longer.’
Jason finished packing up the computer, as he and the others all agreed wholeheartedly with Vicky’s suggestion.
Less than an hour later they were ready to leave the Hotel. Paul had already informed Captain Zackary and had arranged a rendezvous.
The helicopter was waiting for them with the pilot and co-pilot already in their seats.
As before the noise on board did not allow them to talk, and all four were once more wrapped up in their own thoughts. Jason had little doubt that the others, like himself, felt only relief that they were now leaving this planetary paradise behind.
The machine landed close to their shuttle, the rotary blades still idling round as the pilot did not bother to close down the engine, as he had no intention of staying.
The three Gens jumped down and formed a line to toss their cases from the helicopter to the shuttle. Laughing as they did so.
Vidal watched them indulgently as he wondered whether he should help, then decided to let them use up their excess energy, for they would all soon be confined aboard the shuttle for quite a few hours. Turning he bent to pick up the computer and the boxes that could not be thrown about with such reckless abandonment.
Placing them on the ground he jumped down, just as Paul passed the last case to Jason.
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