Published as a part of A Companion In Zeor #13 , 14 & 15
Jason having already eaten his own share of the food on offer watched with satisfaction as young Tomar helped himself to another sandwich.
They had been ushered into yet another utilitarian room, this one on board the space station. Jason picked up Tomar's arm and glanced at his chronometer and saw that they had been in the room for almost three hours now. Although no one had yet come near them, apart from Geno, who had brought them the food, together with a jug of plain water and two mugs.
'It might be a good idea if you let me wear your chronometer.' Jason suggested, and was surprised when the boy removed it without argument, and handed it across to him.
In one way, Jason decided, the fact that they were being left alone was a good sign. It meant that this was just an ordinary kidnap, if any kidnap could be called ordinary, and nothing at all to do with the fact that he belonged to the TIB. Which also meant that they were not going to be hurt in any way, in an endeavour to get information out of them! He was grateful for that, at least for the boy's sake. For he had been entertaining visions of Conor and Geno hurting Tomar in some way, to try and force him to give up any information that they might erroneously assume that he had.
However, the main problem was still with them. Once Conor and his men got what they wanted from Maxwell Trent. What then would happen to Tomar and himself?
Jason sighed, obviously he had to get Tomar away from here, and as quickly as possible.
'We'll have to try and find a way to get away from here.' He murmured, speaking his thoughts out loud without realising it. His eyes scanned the room, from the bare floor, the narrow beds to the tiny grill above the door. Unfortunately it was much too small for him to get through. Another room lead off, but it contained nothing more than basic facilities, and offered no way to escape.
'Get away from here? How?' Tomar demanded. 'We can't go out into space without life suits, and even if we had some, they wouldn't be much use to us would they? I mean, where would we go, even if we got outside the airlock?'
'To another space station? They do have emergency thrusters on the shoulders of the suits. So we could manoeuvre a bit.' He knew he had to try and keep the boy's spirit's up, even if the ideas he came up with were pretty outlandish by anyone's standards.
'Yeah - I saw the Space Cadets on the Vid channel once, they were using them in an exercise on the Moon. It was great. I told father that's what I wanted to do.' He fell silent.
'What did he say?'
'He told me not to be stupid! He said he and Grandfather had more important things for me to do, than float around in space with a bunch of morons who had no ambition.'
Shen the Trents! As if his father couldn't have played along with his Son, just for a while. What did he hope to achieve by shattering his daydreams at such a young age?
'I see. Well just remember one thing Tomar. Whatever you finally decide to do with your life, it's got to be your decision, not your father's, or your Grandfather's either. They've lived their lives!' Jason said earnestly. 'And as far as we know, we only have one life - so don't you dare to waste it, right?' Before Tomar could answer, the door opened without ceremony, and Geno came in.
He removed the tray in silence and they heard the lock click as he left.
'Tomar I have an idea. Look, we both know that if we want to escape from this station we're going to have to go out into space at some time.' He paused. 'But if you'd rather stay here and wait for me to bring help. Then that's okay by me.'
'I'm not staying here on my own! What if you don't come back?' Tomar was both nervous and adamant.
Jason grinned. The boy looked as though he quite expected him not to return. 'I wouldn't just leave you, I'd come back. Unless for some reason I couldn't. You do know that, don't you?'
'Grandfather says that Gens don't have principles, not like Simes.'
'Indeed? It seems that Grandfather has a lot to answer for. You shouldn't take his word as final you know. Perhaps you should have a word with your Uncle Vidal about that. Besides, I've told you before, you could still establish.'
'I know.' For the first time the boy was at least admitting the possibility. 'But what would I do then?'
'Well, I don't suppose your Grandfather would want you in the family business if you were Gen. You could always join the space cadets, couldn't you?'
The pale face brightened a little. 'Yes, I could, couldn't I?'
Jason smiled. 'You know. My Grandfather used to say to me - "as one door shuts, another door opens" - try to remember that, it's good advice.' For a short while they sat in companionable silence, as Jason considered the fact that he still had one advantage over their captors. They were not aware, as far as he knew that he was a qualified space engineer and pilot. It was one small detail that might well prove to be useful.
Tomar yawned loudly, and Jason looked across at him. 'Why don't you close your eyes for a few minutes.'
'You won't leave while I'm asleep?'
'Of course not! I just promised, didn't I' He stared at the boy with surprise. 'Do you really think I'd just go and leave you here?' Tomar hesitated, and then shook his head. 'Good, now look, just you remember one thing young man. You're Vidal's nephew, and there is no way that I will go anywhere without letting you know, first - where I'm going, and second - what I intend to do. Okay?' Besides, he thought silently. I can't really see either of us leaving here for some considerable time yet.
'Okay.' Within seconds of laying his head down Tomar was fast asleep.
While the boy slept, Jason tried to decide on a plan of escape. More to pass the time, than with any real hope of success he acknowledged, for their options were practically non-existent. But if an opportunity did present itself, then the most promising idea seemed to be for the two of them to try and reach another space station. Though whether they would ever be able to actually achieve this, was a debatable point, and one that Jason had not yet resolved. His eyes went once more to the tiny grill, but escape by that route was out of the question.
Less than an hour later, as Jason waited for his young charge to wake up, the calm was shattered once more by the arrival of Geno. Another human stood at the door holding a blaster on the two of them as Geno strode across and shook Tomar by the shoulder. 'Get up. Conor wants to see you.' As he stumbled to his feet rubbing his eyes, Geno looked towards Jason. 'Not you, you can wait here.'
'I'm not going without Jason!'
'You'll do as you're told kid, or do you want to feel the back of my hand?'
'Lay one finger on him.' Jason warned softly.
'And you'll what?' Geno laughed out loud as he looked towards his colleague. 'Doesn't he just scare the pants off you Jem?'
For the first time Jason wished that their abductors were Sime. At least he could try a genslam. Ralf, Gavin's cousin, and Ryn, who was Gen and a Companion of Dar, had been instructing him in its use for several months now.
He grinned, as he recalled that he had felt both grateful to, and sorry for the renSimes, who had volunteered - with many safeguards - to be on the receiving end of his feeble attempts. But he did feel he was finally getting the hang of how to do it properly.
As it was, Jason had to watch helplessly as Geno grabbed the boy's arm and tugged him towards to door. Suddenly he yelled out loud as Tomar buried his firm white teeth in his hand, drawing blood. A stream of expletives left Geno's mouth as he drew back his other hand to cuff the boy across the face. Jason immediately moved to intercept the blow, and received the full force of Geno's fist in his own face, knocking him to the floor.
Before he could jump up again, the door closed, and once more he heard the click as the locking mechanism activated. The last sound he heard was Tomar's muffled screams of protest, as he was dragged away down the corridor.
Raising his hand to his face, Jason realised that his lip was cut, and blood was running down his chin. So much for getting Tomar away from here safely! He had certainly let the boy down badly, he thought, as he lowered himself on to the bed to await his return.
He had no idea why Conor wanted to see the lad. Unless of course Maxwell Trent had insisted on speaking to his Grandson, to satisfy himself that he was still alive. After all, he would hardly hand over a large number of credits, without making sure first that the boy was indeed unharmed.
Taking a deep breath, Jason tried to force calm on himself, as he awaited Tomar's return with some trepidation. For he had little doubt, that if the lad refused to co-operate with their captors, they would without hesitation, force him to comply.
When they had been brought to this room from the shuttle. Jason had not noticed anyone in any of the corridors. In fact the whole place had looked to be completely deserted.
Even though Bancroft's presumably owned this station. He doubted very much if Bancroft himself, or even one of his associates, would be involved in something like this. After all, his assets were almost on a par with Maxwell Trent, and ransom money to him would be no more than petty cash.
No, it was far more likely that this station had been abandoned for some reason not yet apparent to him, and Lockwood's gang of thugs had been aware of this, and had simply turned it to their own advantage.
An hour or so later, it was a very subdued boy who was pushed back through the door. Only Jem was with him this time, and the door was once again locked. Jason's eyes skimmed over the thin body, but thankfully he could see no signs of abuse.
'Are you okay? They didn't hurt you?'
'What did they want you for?'
'I had to speak to Grandfather.'
'And what did he ask you?'
'He asked if I was all right, and if I was being treated well? I said, yes I was, and that I didn't like it here, and when could I go home?'
'And what did he say?' Shen this was like drawing teeth!
'He said I must be patient, and to remember I'm a Trent, and that I would be able to go home soon.'
'And that was all?'
'Did he or Vidal ask about me?'
'No, and I didn't see Uncle Vidal.'
Tomar's face was blotchy and his eyes were pink, and Jason guessed that he had been crying.
'Mmm?' His eyes rose to look consideringly at the grill high up on the wall, as he answered the boy.
'If I hadn't bitten Geno, he wouldn't have hit you like that would he?'
'Don't worry about it. If I get away from here with nothing more serious than a split lip, I'll count myself lucky.' Jason walked back and sat down on the bed beside him. 'While you were gone, I've been going over our options. See that grill up there above the door? Do you think you could possibly squeeze through it?'
'I don't know, maybe. But it's not very big is it?'
Want to try?' Thank God the lad was almost painfully thin.
'Good.' Jason knew that whilst the décor inside most of the modern space stations in orbit of the Earth, might be very different one from the other. Years of experience, coupled with many practical reasons, caused most architects to actually lay out the interior rooms and corridors, along very similar lines.
Also this room had certainly never been designed for use as a cell. Therefore, no one had ever considered the possibility that anyone would try to use a child to get through such a small grill, and then utilise the space between the two bulkheads, as an escape route.
'Tomar. I want you to crawl along between the bulkheads till you come to the next room. When you reach it, you'll have to use your feet to kick out the grill, and then lower yourself down into the room by your arms. I'm hoping the door won't be locked, after all, there's no reason why it should be is there? You can then come back along the corridor, and open this door. As far as I can tell, it's just a normal external lock found on all these Stations. You simply dial in the number on the door, I noticed this one is "22", and then press the "open" button. Okay?'
'Can't these locks be programmed using other numbers?'
'Yes they can. But that's only for use by the people who work permanently on the station who want to safeguard their privacy. I can't imagine Geno or Jem bothering to programme in a personal code on all these doors, can you? They'll use the easiest and simplest method. After all, they know we can't open it from inside, and all they want to do is keep us in here.'
'I guess so. But what if the door in there is locked, and I can't get out of the room?'
'You'll just have to wait till they come and let you out! Look Tomar, do you want to try this or not?' Jason asked quietly. 'If you don't, then say so. After all we can discuss all the "perhaps and might be's" all night long, and it won't change a damn thing. In the end we just have to try, don't we? Believe me, if I was thin enough to do this myself, I would.'
'I know, but you can't help that. All Gen's are fat.'
'Thanks, you've convinced me that when we get away from here, I should go on a diet! But at the moment I just want to know if you're going to help this fat Gen to move one of the beds?' Quickly suiting action to words, Jason pushed it towards the door, with Tomar's help. Then he picked up the bed cover and tore off a long strip of material. 'If I stand on the bed and you get on my shoulders like before, you can tie this strip to the grill. Then get down again, and I'll pull the grill cover off. Once you get up inside the hole, I don't want you to touch anything at all. All the wiring and circuitry will be channelled through there so be very careful, okay?'
The plan was completed with surprising ease, and as Jason lead the way along the deserted corridor, he began to hope that their luck was about to take a turn for the better.
Stopping in front of the safety door, he turned to smile with satisfaction at the lad, before he ushered him into the room, closing the door silently behind them. Pleased that he had been correct, and as he had assumed, most of the station's safety equipment appeared to be stored in this room.
It was Tomar who had found the light sensor; both humans blinking as the sudden brightness hit their eyes.
'Look Jason, the suits are over here! Ah shen, they're all far too big for me to wear.'
'Don't swear.' Jason said automatically.
'You're not my father!'
'No, and be glad I'm not young man, because if I was, I'd tan your hide for you.'
'You swear, and far worse than me. I've heard you!'
'I'm an adult - it's allowed.' Now why did such a response seem so unfair Jason wondered, as he bit back a grin. 'Shut up a minute chatterbox and let me think.'
He glanced around the room once more, and then strode forward to push aside a large empty box. A grunt of satisfaction left his lips as he found what he had half expected. A round metal door. Bending down he manipulated the dial and grinned broadly as the round door swung inwards with a loud hiss.
'What's that? What's inside there?' Tomar almost yelled in his ear.
'This my young friend, is our salvation, or if you prefer - it's an escape pod. Most of the crew in an emergency situation would leave in the main escape shuttle. But there are a few escape pods, just like this one, dotted around the station. They're for use by anyone who happens to get cut off from the shuttle, or who remains behind to shut down the power.' He explained briefly.
'It doesn't look very big.'
'It's only meant for one person that's why. However luckily, and contrary to popular opinion, I'm not really very fat, and neither are you. So we'll manage. Come on get inside.'
'There's no proper control panel.'
'It's an emergency escape pod Tomar, not an interplanetary shuttle! We're not going to pilot it to the Moon, or the other planets in the Solar System!' Jason informed him. 'But there is a small thruster jet, sufficient for our purposes.'
'Where are we going to go then?'
'We have two choices.' Jason said as he climbed inside and pulled the door closed behind him and looked through the small viewing panel. He then pointed to the row of buttons with various symbols on them. 'Press that one and we descend to Earth. The only trouble with that is, I don't know for sure where we would land. Those three buttons there, well the middle one keeps us more or less in a straight line, while the one on the left takes us to the left, and the other takes us.'
'To the right! That's obvious!' His young partner interrupted with a snort of derision.
'Okay smarty pants, but it also means that as long as we stay on the same trajectory as this Station, we should be able to marry up with the next Space Station in line, using the thruster. That large button there, initiates automatic docking, and as you probably know, all Space Stations have empty docking pads to accommodate pods like this in an emergency, together with universal docking systems.'
'That's a communication panel just there isn't it?' Tomar's small finger pointed, as he spoke.
'Don't touch it! If you open that, every Space Station up here could pick up the call - it's tuned to the emergency channel, which means.'
'That Conor and Geno will pick it up too?'
'Exactly. You're not so dumb as you look, are you boy?' When he saw the expression on the young face beside him, he held up his hands in surrender. 'Sorry, that was a joke - honest.'
'Not much of a joke if you ask me.'
'You're right. Vidal is always telling me that my sense of humour leaves a lot to be desired.'
'He's right.' Tomar agreed.
'So what shall we do? Go down to Earth or try for the next Space Station along the line?'
'I'd rather try for the next Station.'
Jason nodded leaning forward and then swore softly as his chestnut curls fell forward over his face, and he had nothing he could use to tie it back. He'd have to get his hair cut when they got back - if they got back - he qualified the thought, before he said. 'I agree. I think that's our best bet too. Hold on, here we go.'
As he spoke, his fingers moved to depress the handle that broke the airlock seal and catapulted the escape pod out into space. Almost simultaneously he pressed the button that operated the small thruster, and seconds later they were on their way.
Vidal fought to keep his temper as his father switched off the recording and turned towards him. 'Well?'
'Why didn't you ask to speak to Jason?'
'Because I'm not interested in him.' His father said frankly.
'Shen it, You should have called me. I should have been here!'
Maxwell chose not to answer him, as he went on. 'I'm only surprised that they haven't yet said, exactly what they want from us!'
'Did you ask them?'
'What do you think?' Maxwell looked at his son with disdain.
'I have the feeling that there's going to be more than just credits involved.' Vidal said, then broke off, as they both looked towards the door, zlinning the approach of two renSimes. It was Tute, Maxwell's head of security, and Fay Barker the scientist in charge of the Trent Interstellar Communications and Research Section.
'Well?' Maxwell barked at them, before they'd even entered the room, or closed the door.
It was Fay Barker, a small red haired woman, who had a worried expression on her plain face, who answered the question. 'I'm sorry N'Vet. It was impossible to pin point the source of the signal.'
'Impossible? What the shen are you trying to tell me woman?' The older Sime bellowed across the room. 'That the most up to date equipment and facilities in the entire Solar System, all of which you have available to you, aren't good enough?'
Vidal was pleased that neither Sime was in need. Indeed they both appeared to have had transfer in the last few days. However, whether they had had transfer or not, did not seem to worry this Father, who was still screaming abuse at his two employees.
'N'Vet please.' Tute jumped in quickly as Maxwell drew another breath to continue the tirade, saying quietly. 'The entire message we received, came in on a signal which was less than one million/millionth of a micro-second in duration.' As he spoke he met the older Trent's dark eyes and nodded his head slowly.
Vidal winced at the crude word that he had always believed; no gentleman would utter in mixed company, if at all. He glanced across at his father, eyebrows raised in query, asking for an explanation.
'The Research Department of our Interstellar Communications Section has been developing a new method of sending messages from deep space, that is both quicker and more accurate than any of the present systems. We came up with the IC 902, and after more than a decade, it has finally been perfected. There was to be an announcement next month.'
'However. It seems we are too late for that.' Tute murmured. 'The kidnappers not only appear to have the plans of the IC 902, but have built a working model. The message we received was sent on the very lowest setting, for terrestrial use only.'
'I've seen no mention of this in any of the journals,' Vidal murmured, knowing that he could never expect his father to divulge such information, even to his Son, until it was out in the public domain.
Maxwell ignored the remark, and turning to Tute again, demanded. 'How did they get hold of it?'
The Sime looked grim. 'I don't know, but I intend to find out.'
'You'd better!' He all but snarled the words at Tute, before he turned towards his female employee again. 'Barker! What have you got to say about this? Didn't you manage to get anything at all on the origin of the call?'
Vidal could sense the woman's distress without having to lay a tentacle on her. 'N'Vet, I er... I...' She broke off and swallowed hard before she continued. 'Not really, no, we didn't. That is to say, I think, that is - I'm not sure if...'
'For shen's sake woman, pull yourself together, can't you answer a simple question? I'm beginning to wonder if we've got the right person to.'
'Father!' Vidal could stand it no more. His father might not wish to acknowledge the fact that he too was a Channel, but Vidal had no such inhibition, and even though he was not a working Channel, he knew he could not permit this near torture to continue any longer. 'Stop browbeating her father! She's trying to answer you, but you're not giving her a chance.'
He turned to the renSime. 'Please, forgive us. My father is naturally very worried about his grandson. Will you try to tell us anything you can?' He smiled encouragingly at the woman, manipulating the fields so that neither she nor Tute could sense the anger and frustration that Maxwell Trent was pouring, without thought, into the ambient of the room.
She nodded her red head and directed the answer at Vidal. 'We have been developing a direction finder which we've designated DF55, and we've been hoping to market it side by side with the new communications system. Normally, when it's used, we would already know roughly the direction that a message will be coming from. In this case of course, we had no idea at all, so the DF had to start from zero.'
Vidal nodded. 'And with the message coming in so fast.'
'Exactly. It was a genuine test of the equipment.' She agreed at once.
'And did you manage to get any idea at all of the origin?' He pressed gently.
'I think so. I can say definitely that it was off world, but fairly close to Earth. Certainly not from another planet.' She hesitated and then went on. 'Possibly the Moon, but I don't really...'
'Why the shen didn't you say so before?' Maxwell Trent jumped to his feet. 'You stay here Tute - you - get out!' He dismissed the female renSime with a rude flick of a tentacle.
It was Vidal who escorted her outside and apologised once more for his father's dreadful behaviour. As far as he was concerned, nothing, not even the kidnap of Tomar, could justify such a total lack of manners. More especially, as the recipient was an employee, who could not easily answer back.
However, it was not only that that worried him. For he had also sensed that his patriarch was almost apoplectic during the encounter, and if he was not very careful indeed, he could well bring on a stroke, not unknown in Simes of his father's age. Sighing, he returned to the Study, just as Tute was leaving. He bade the man goodbye, and turned to his father to find out what they had decided in his absence.
'Tute is going to order his men to concentrate their search on the Moon. If that's where he is, he'll be found.'
'But we're still none the wiser about the ransom are we?'
'No. But Tute made an observation that I think is quite relevant. He says that if they've not only got the design plans of the IC 902, but have built a working model.'
'Which we know that they have.' Vidal murmured.
'Then even though we've patented it here on Earth. The patent will only apply to our Solar System, and the other Earth Colonies, where we already trade.'
'Well, there are hundreds of planets out there that aren't even affiliated to Earth. The lorshes, whoever they are, will make a fortune when they market it - as they most certainly will - to every shenning alien with the money to pay for it.' His tentacles waved in the air with frustration as he spoke.
Suddenly Maxwell jumped to his feet to walk quickly around the room, showing his growing agitation. 'Which brings up the point. Just what can they ask by way of ransom, that could be worth any more than that?' He sat down once more, looking exhausted.
'I shudder to think.' Then without asking his father's permission, Vidal walked to the desk and ordered a tray of trin.
Both men sat in silence, with only their thoughts for company, till Thorne arrived with the tray. His father sipped at a glass of the hot liquid. Then as though suddenly making up his mind, Maxwell leaned forward in his chair, lowering his voice. 'There's something else I should perhaps mention Vidal. I had a meeting with all my Corporate Presidents and top people the day before you arrived here. It was decided that, in view of several different mining techniques that we have developed, we should make a take-over bid for Bancroft's.'
'Stephen Bancroft?' Vidal's dark eyes opened wide. 'A hostile bid I take it?'
'What do you think? He got wind of it of course, and to be blunt, he told me to put my tentacles where the Sun doesn't shine!' Maxwell laughed briefly, 'Bancroft may be a bastard, but he's also one of the few Gen's that I have a modicum of respect for.'
'Which I take it means you're two of a kind?' His son said bluntly.
Maxwell snorted rudely. 'Hardly, he's good, but not that good!'
A mirthless smile touched Vidal's handsome face, for he knew that his father liked nothing more than a good battle involving a hostile take over. 'I take it you expect to win?'
'Do you doubt it?' The tone of his voice intimated that it was already a foregone conclusion.
'And your reason for telling me this now?'
'Tute suggested that there might just be a connection.'
'With the kidnapping?' Vidal became attentive once more. 'In what way?'
'He could attempt to use this whole affair to try and get us to drop the take over bid. Far-fetched perhaps, but nevertheless it's something we should bear in mind. However, until he actually makes his move - if indeed it is Bancroft - then we can do nothing about it.' His father warned.
'Where are his headquarters situated?'
'On the Moon.' As the older Sime said the words, both men looked at each other.
'I shall require a list of every office or storage facility on the Moon or the Earth, that is owned by Bancroft's - no matter how small or out of the way they may be.' Vidal said at once, jumping to his feet.
'But Tute will be searching.'
'True, but Tute will be searching hundreds of different facilities, not just Bancroft ones. Besides I am a Channel and a First, Tute is not. On top of that Jason is my Companion, and at this moment in time his field is very high. Doubtless Tomar will be with him. If anyone can find Jason - I can.'
Maxwell did not argue further. 'Tute will arrange for you to have a list.'
'Of course, they could be holding the two of them on Earth. Just because we think the message was sent from the Moon, doesn't mean that Tomar and Jason are actually there.' Vidal pointed out logically.
'And the fact that I saw Tomar, and spoke to him?' his father asked.
'Means absolutely nothing. After all, knowing the operating speed of the IC 902, the message could well have originated on Earth, been sent to the Moon and then returned to us here on Earth. All in the time frame used - just to mislead us. And we'd be none the wiser, would we?' Vidal replied. 'However, I intend to concentrate on the Moon first. It does seem the most rational choice.'
For once his Father sounded uncertain, as he asked. 'Are you sure that it's necessary for you to go there Vidal? Tute does have it all in hand, and he is efficient.'
'I'm sure he is - but my Companion is involved - and there is a commitment between a Channel and his Companion.'
Maxwell sat up straight, and laughed harshly. 'If you intend going, well that's up to you. I know I can't stop you. Just don't get yourself or Tomar injured while trying to save this Companion of yours.' His lip rose in a slight sneer as he said the last few words, almost as if he had a nasty taste in his mouth.
'I shall of course endeavour to comply with your wishes.' His Son's voice dripped icicles.
Vidal found Tony sitting out on the terrace in the sunshine.
'Sorry to have been so long.'
'I've been talking to Sheldon, and I had a call from my Sectuib.'
'We're leaving for the Moon in a couple of hours. I'll fill you in on
what's happened while we pack overnight bags. You can tell me what Jordan had to say, at the same time.'
They had completed packing a change of clothes when Tute brought Vidal the list of Bancroft sites that he had been waiting for.
Read Chapter 6
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