Published as a part of A Companion In Zeor #13 , 14 & 15
The shuttle, with Knightley his father's personal pilot at the controls, weaved its way through all the various space stations and other traffic both commercial and private, as it made its way to the dark side of the Moon. It was here that most of the large business enterprises had their warehouses and offices.
Vidal turned from watching the Moon grow larger in the window, to study the young Gen sitting quietly beside him. Unlike Jason he was unconsciously working as a Companion all the time. A more relaxing Gen he had yet to encounter, Vidal was certain that he would never have to remind Tony of his obligations.
'You never did tell me what Jordan spoke to you about.'
Tony returned his smile. 'My Sectuib sometimes makes unusual requests of people, but rarely without a very good reason.'
'Right. So I will consider myself duly warned. Now, what did he say?'
'As you already know, there is only one day between your transfer cycle and ours.' Vidal nodded his agreement, 'because of this, Jordan has suggested that we go ahead with our transfer, but he has decided to wait as long as he can before he takes his. In the hope that Jason can be rescued before he too will need to take transfer. In which case he has suggested that, with your permission of course, and his, he takes transfer from your Companion.'
'He what? I always used to think Jordan was slightly mad you know - now I'm certain of it. Tony - Jason, my Companion, is nothing like you. Does the idiot know that I wonder?'
The Companion's eyes narrowed, but no anger entered his field. 'If you're referring to my Sectuib, then yes Hajene, he knows,' he hesitated, and then went on. 'But you're far more worried about something else, aren't you?'
'You're very perceptive. While we were on Dunedin, Jordan suggested that I tell Jason all about Rockall, which I did. To say he was not pleased about the situation would be a gross exaggeration. I won't tell you what he actually said about Zeor's part in the whole affair, and more especially Jordan's of course. Suffice it to say - the very idea was repulsive to him! I made Jordan aware of this at the time.'
He paused wondering whether to say anything more, and then decided that Tony, as Zeor's First Companion; had a right to know any facts that might affect the welfare of his Sectuib.
'Jason has never had any great feelings for Householders, one way or the other. But, because of what I told him about Rockall, his emotions about Zeor and Jordan in particular, are currently at rock bottom. Do you really think, even if Jason agreed to this crazy proposition - which I very much doubt he will - that transfer with a Gen, one who harbours such bad feelings towards him personally, would be healthy for him? If I were Jordan, I'd run a hundred kilometres under full augmentation, just to get away from him!'
'Unfortunately, like your Companion, my Sectuib is also a very stubborn man.'
'Tell me about it!'
'Then you will understand why he feels, as we are to work together as a team. There is really no better way to get to know a strange Gen, than to take transfer from him?'
'Yes I can understand that, and normally, I'd agree with him.'
'But, Jordan has been spoiled all his life, by having Companions like you. Believe me Jason is a law unto himself. Even I, after all this time, still find him totally unpredictable.' And sometimes, a little frightening, he admitted to himself.
'Sectuib can handle any situation.' Tony said at once, lifting his head proudly as though daring Vidal to deny the assertion.
'Well I've had my say. If Jason agrees, then in the final analysis, it's Jordan's decision.' He almost went on to say "it's his funeral", but thought better of it, and mentally crossed his tentacles, as the two men lapsed once more into silence.
They came up on the Moon quickly after that. Vidal watched as the small craft swung passed the bright sunlit area and entered the dark side, heading for one of the docking bays belonging to the Trent warehousing facility.
The gauge showed that the outside temperature had plunged by 400 degrees as they left the sunlight behind. It was at that moment that he realised just how calm and serene he felt. Glancing across at Tony he saw that the young man had his eyes closed, though he knew he was not asleep.
'We've arrived.' Vidal's eyes went back to the window as he spoke. The small craft was already approaching the huge cargo area, and the pilot was beginning the complicated docking procedures. With a yawn his colleague sat up, and stretched his arms. 'You're very - comfortable, to be around Tony.'
'It's my job.'
A tight little smile touched Vidal's lips, as before, those three words said it all, and defined exactly the difference between the two Companions. Vidal knew that to Jason it could never be - just a job - but was quite simply, a commitment between two friends.
Almost eight hours later Vidal lead the way into one of the main restaurants that, although it catered for aliens, also had the foresight to realise that the eating habits of one race, might well be abhorrent to another. Accordingly therefore the management had sectioned off the various areas, in case they should wish to eat apart, but the choice was left to them. The two humans were given a table, and whilst Tony ordered a full vegetarian meal, Vidal had a glass of trin.
They had visited seven different sites on various pretexts since their arrival, and Tute's men had also been searching, all without result.
'Hajene, I realise you and Jason don't keep to the same strict regime that Jordan and I normally do. But perhaps you should consider taking transfer before we leave here?' He left the question hanging in the air.
'I've considered it Tony. But at the moment I think it's best if I don't. Jason 's field will be rocketing by now, which means if I stay in need, I stand a far better chance of finding him.' He smiled across at the Gen, who was controlling his nager, and projecting serenity into the ambient at the same time. 'With me not being around, if I know my Companion, he won't bother to control his field. Unless there are other Simes in the vicinity of course.'
'I can understand your reasoning Hajene, but perhaps you shouldn't leave it too long?'
Vidal laughed harshly. 'I may not be a Farris Tony, but delaying transfer, doesn't mean I'm going to go berserk you know. After all, when I operate in the field, there are times when I have no alternative but to go over the limit.'
'I realise that. I merely make the point that this is not one of those times, and when you wish to take transfer - I am forin.'
Vidal's tentacles moved to touch the Gen's fingers. 'I'm sorry, I didn't mean to snap at you. It's just that I'm worried sick about Jason, and young Tomar too.' He confessed. 'I'll contact my father later and see if he's heard anything new.'
'I imagine you would have heard from him by now, if he'd been contacted again.' The Gen replied, and then his eyes lit up as his desert arrived.
'I agree. But we're running out of options.'
'I've been thinking, I know that it seems more logical for the abductors to hide Jason and Tomar amongst all these storage areas. But they could also have decided, that it would be better to hide a rising field like Jason's, amongst a few thousand travellers, rather than around here.' Tony speared the last slice of peach and piece of pancake with his fork, and then pushed the dish to one side. 'Just an idea.'
'You could be right. I'll speak to my father, and if he's heard nothing more, we'll take a look at the last two places on Tute's list. After that, we'll do what you suggest, and head around to the other side.'
Vidal left the Gen sitting in the Lounge Room with a glass of trin, while he went to speak to his father.
Tony looked up; eyebrows raised in query, when he returned a short while later and sat down beside him. 'Well?'
'Don't take this the wrong way Tony. I know I can trust you completely, but this does not just concern me, it also involves the business affairs of both my father and the Trents. I must ask you not to repeat anything that I am about to tell you - to anyone.'
'You have my word, unto Zeor.'
The Channel nodded his thanks. 'Well, my father did wonder, for various reasons, if Stephen Bancroft might be in the frame for the kidnap. It now seems that he was correct. In fact, no actual money is being requested from the family for the release of Tomar. However, that's not the end of the matter.
'Trent's has been organising a hostile take over bid for Bancroft's for some time now. Our kidnappers have ordered that my father backs off from this, and makes a statement to that effect in the media. My father is not the type of man anyone can dictate too, especially where his own Companies are concerned.
'To say he's furious, would be an understatement. To be honest with you, I'm more than a little worried about his health.' He accepted the glass of trin that Tony passed to him. 'On top of that, my father is convinced they have also stolen an invention from us, that has the potential to earn.' He shrugged, 'let's say the amount involved is astronomical.'
'No wonder he's furious!'
'Agreed. However, that's not the only demand they've made. They left instructions with my father, that I myself am to make a substantial payment into an off World Bank Account - he has the details. If I don't make this payment, I will not see Jason again.'
'How much have they asked for?'
'Ten million credits.'
The Gen almost choked on his trin. 'Shen! Can you raise that amount?'
'Yes. I have already spoken to my bankers, it will take them a few days to organise, but there should be no difficulty.'
Tony was quiet for a second or two before he spoke. 'You realise, that there's no guarantee that he will be returned alive, even if you pay such an amount.'
'I know. But if we can find no trace of him on any of the Bancroft premises. I shall have no option but to pay up, and then keep my tentacles crossed that they will honour the agreement.'
'And if they don't?'
'If they don't. Then I shall do the same as my father threatened that he would do. I will place exactly the same amount, as a reward, on the head of the people who organised this.'
'There's little honour amongst thieves, especially where such an amount is concerned. You should get a result quickly.'
'Well, it hasn't come to that yet - I can only hope that it never does!'
'What I can't understand is why Bancroft is bothering to ask you for this money for Jason? If he gets his way over the take-over bid, and your father backs off and he already has the blueprints for the invention. What does he want with the ransom money?' Tony shrugged. 'It just doesn't make any sense does it?'
'We thought it strange too. Tute suggested that it's probably Bancroft's way of paying his men off, without him having to lay out anything himself.'
'Yes, that's feasible I suppose.'
Vidal replaced the empty trin glass on the tray, and stood up purposefully. 'Anyway let's go and finish the search and see what we can find.'
Looking through the small observation panel, Jason frowned as he looked at the large space station that was quickly filling his field of vision.
'There aren't many lights.' Tomar, who was looking over his shoulder, interrupted his thoughts.
'I noticed. Just navigation lights as far as I can tell. I can't see a name either, but maybe we're looking at the wrong side. Not to worry, we'll find out who's operating it soon enough. Hold on tight, we'll be docking shortly.' Even as he spoke Jason touched the necessary buttons.
The small pod responded at once, and began its automatic procedures for docking with the orbiting station. Within minutes both of them felt the slight roll as the pod lined itself up for the final link up.
Then as a small thunk followed by a hiss, informed them that the operation was complete, Jason released the breath he had been unconsciously holding.
'Can we get out now?'
'Yes. But remember, the computer on the station will have warned the personnel on board, as soon as the pod docked. So leave all the explanations to me. Come on.'
The round door opened smoothly, and Jason rolled out of the small capsule, quickly followed by Tomar. Standing up and rubbing his back, Jason was surprised to see no sign of the welcoming party that he had fully expected to find awaiting them.
'Where is everyone?' The boy asked as he too climbed to his feet and looked around the empty hold, deep in the bowels of the station.
'Search me.' Jason glanced around at the few dim lights. It seems they've only got the emergency light and gravity power unit on. Why, I don't know. I think we'd better make our way to the upper levels, there's sure to be someone up there, and we can find out what's going on. Come on, this way.'
Jason lead the way across to the bank of elevators, but after playing with the controls for several seconds he finally gave up. 'No good. It seems all unnecessary power is off. Now does that mean it's off throughout the station I wonder, or just down here? They must have some sort of problem with their supply. It would explain why no one's come to meet us.'
'And why they've only got the navigation lights on outside.' Tomar added.
'Yes, that too.'
'There's some steps over there.' Jason looked over to where the boy was pointing. They were metal and fixed to the wall and disappeared up through a hole in the ceiling a good twenty metres or so above their heads. He glanced down at his young colleague. 'Do heights bother you?'
'No - of course not!' He looked disdainful of the very idea, as only a boy could.
They walked across to the steps, and Jason looking up, saw they disappeared into complete darkness.
'You'd better go up first so that if you slip, I can stop your fall.' He instructed before they set off. Moments later they began to climb, Jason following, with his eyes fixed firmly on Tomar's feet, which were about two steps above his head.
Once they had reached the gap in the ceiling, and had climbed up through it, they found themselves climbing up inside what appeared to be a metal cylinder, just about wide enough to take a grown man.
'There aren't any lights up here!' Tomar called down to him.
'No, this is just a maintenance shaft. I guess there's no need for emergency lighting. The Engineers would no doubt carry their own with them. Especially if the main power was off, like now. Just feel each rung with your hands; I'm right behind you, you're not going to fall, I promise.' They began to climb once more.
Without realising that he was actually doing it, Jason was silently counting each step, but lost count when he reached three hundred and fifty, and Tomar stopped.
'What's the matter now? Why have you stopped?'
'I'm tired, and my arms are aching.'
'Okay take a short break, then we must keep going Tomar.' Jason stated as he too clung to the steps. His head was resting on his hands, his eyes firmly closed, as he tried not to think, just how tired he had suddenly become, and how much his shoulder was aching. He should have slept when he had the chance, but he had been too worried to do so.
A few minutes later Tomar began to climb once more, and taking another deep breath Jason followed. By his calculation they had climbed at least another eight hundred steps before he was brought out of his reverie by Tomar's voice informing him that he had reached what appeared to be some sort of a ledge. 'There's a small emergency light set into the wall towards the back as well.'
'Can you get onto the ledge?'
'Then do it. We need a rest.' Moments later they were both sitting on the wide ledge. Set into the wall behind them were several small crawl-ways, and the single emergency light, Tomar had referred to.
'What's this ledge used for?' Tomar demanded as he sat on the edge, his feet dangling into space, while he looked around.
'I told you, it'll be used by the maintenance engineers.' Jason was sitting as far away from the edge as possible, so he could stretch his body out on the hard floor and relax his shoulder.
'My legs feel funny, they're quivering.'
'Your muscles are tired, that's all. Mine are too. Come over here and sit next to me. Good.' Jason began to massage the boy's thin legs, wondering how much further they had to climb, and what would happen if Tomar's legs gave out altogether? Could he carry him on his back, and still climb? And just as important, was there room enough for him to do that?'
Jason rubbed his eyes trying to push his own tiredness to one side, as he acknowledged that for the moment at least, he had no wish to contemplate an answer to either of those questions!
Leaving Tomar to rest, Jason moved carefully towards the edge, knelt down, and tried to look up into the darkness of the tunnel. He also noticed that the air up here was warm and humid, and smelled far from fresh. Perhaps there was also trouble with the air conditioning and purifying unit?
When they had been climbing up here, Jason had tended to breathe mainly through his mouth and not his nose, and therefore had not really noticed the dank smell before.
'Can you see anything?'
'Not really, it's too dark.' He moved his shoulder carefully trying to ease the pain. He could only hope that it didn't lock up on him.
'So am I. But we can't do anything about it, not till we get to the top and find someone, and we're not likely to do that sitting here. Are you ready to go?'
'Look, if you're really tired, would you rather stay here and rest while I go on up? I'll come back down for you.' He promised.
'No way Jason. I'm not staying here on my own!'
'Okay calm down, it was only an idea.'
They began to climb once more, and another twenty minutes dragged by, and Jason was just beginning to doubt his decision to climb into the shaft at all, when Tomar suddenly gave a loud yelp.
'What's the matter? Have you found something?'
'My head's just hit the top! I can't climb any further, and I can't see anything.'
'Feel around with your hand, see if you can find another ledge or something similar at the side.'
'There's nothing here. No, wait a minute, I think there's a trap door or something above my head. It feels different than the walls, but I don't think I can open it.'
'Try pushing it with both hands. Hold on, I'm climbing a bit closer to you. That's better, I can feel your legs. I'm going to wrap my arms around them and anchor you to the steps. Now let go with both hands and try and push the hatchway open.' He ordered.
'It won't move! And my arms are too tired anyway.'
'No, it's no use Jason. Maybe it's locked on the other side.'
'Shen! Okay, climb up as close to it as you can. Can you feel your head resting against it again? When you do, put both your hands onto it and then try to straighten your arms.'
'It's moving, but I can't push it hard enough.' Tomar shouted down to him. 'My arms are all quivery now, just like my legs.'
'Okay don't panic. Give me a minute to decide what to do.'
Jason was of course well aware of what he should do. He should change places with young Tomar, so that he could tackle the trapdoor himself. But that was easier said than done. The boy was already physically exhausted. To expect him to change places at the top up here and then to hold on with his tired limbs to the rungs with no one underneath him to catch him if he fell. Shen! - It was just like a nightmare. But if they didn't at least try, then what was the alternative? Climb all the way down to that ledge again?
'Tomar. We're going to go a few steps back down the ladder. I'm then going to take off my belt and I want you to put it first around your waist and then around one of the rungs on the ladder, so that you are anchored to the side. I'm then going to climb up passed you, so that I can see if I can open the hatch. If I can get it to open, we'll have to go through the whole procedure again, so that you can climb up through the hole in front of me. Okay? Is that clear?'
'Yeah, but you're never going to get passed me, there isn't enough room.'
'Yes there is! Just remember to breathe in, unless you want to climb all the way down to that ledge again. And remember to hold on as tight as you can.'
The manoeuvre seemed to take forever, but finally, his belt around the boy fastened him to the ladder, and Jason was above him.
It took three attempts before he managed to get the hatchway open, the muscles in his arms and legs were shaking with reaction, and his shoulder was giving him absolute hell.
However, in his eagerness to get passed Tomar yet again, so that they could both make their way up into the safety of the room above them. Jason missed his footing, and for a moment he found himself scrabbling around, trying to find a purchase with at least one of his feet. Having finally managed to do so, he climbed down the few steps to reach young Tomar and then squeeze passed him once more.
He watched with satisfaction as the boy climbed up the last few rungs as quickly as he could and disappeared through the hole.
Jason frightened in case his tired quivering muscles would finally give out, followed as quickly as he could. The thought of finding himself stuck on the steps, and unable to move - just didn't bear thinking about!
With a final effort he scrambled through the opening and lay beside Tomar on the cold metal floor, having closed the trap door.
Then with a heart felt sigh, he sent up a silent prayer of thanks. Grateful that they had at least managed to get up here in one piece. Tomar might be a spoilt brat, but he did have spirit and pluck.
As his euphoria slowly subsided, and he reminded himself that they had still not found any sign of life on board the Station. He rolled to his feet to look around, as he tried to assess their situation.
There were only two small emergency lights in the vast empty room. These were situated at either end, and threw large pools of darkness in the middle.
Spotting a door at one side, he called to Tomar to follow him, and headed towards it. If full power had been on, the door would have opened automatically. As it was he could see no handle, and in his frustration at coming this far, only to find another empty room that they still could not escape from, he smashed his fist against the unyielding metal.
Shen it, he'd hurt his fist, what a stupid thing to do! Even as he acknowledged the fact, he started to grin, and then began to laugh at his own foolishness. Fancy striking an inanimate object like that. Wryly he thought of Vidal's pained expression, and what he would have to say about Gens, who had no control over their emotions!
'What's so funny?'
'Nothing. Everything! Just my frustration that we've climbed all this way up here, and we're no better off! I might just as well say "open sesame" to the shenning door for all the good it'll do.' He began to move away.
Tomar opened his mouth to reply, and then both humans turned to stare at the door as it suddenly slid silently open. 'Did I do that?' Jason asked in surprise.
'Intruders. You are trespassing on Nyle-Conroy's premises. You will come with me to the holding bay where you will remain until I inform the appropriate authorities.'
The corridor outside the door was in total darkness, and the man who had spoken, for it was not a female voice, could not be seen clearly by either Jason or Tomar. Just an outline of a humanoid figure was visible, a man who stood perhaps two metres high - tall by anyone's standards.
The voice had neither accent nor inflection, and before Jason could draw breath to reply. The words were being repeated in Simelan.
'Excuse me interrupting, but we've actually come here seeking your help. The boy here and myself were kidnapped, and I would be obliged if you would inform.'
He got no further as the figure stepped forward into the dull glow of the emergency lighting in the room, and Jason was able to see the small stun gun in his large hand.
Opening his mouth to assure the man that he would have no need to use the weapon, he shut it again almost at once as he realised he was not facing a human guard, but a robot.
Like a number of humans, both Sime and Gen, Jason could not bring himself to fully accept robots no matter how useful they were, and the more humanoid they appeared, the less affinity he had with them. He knew it was totally illogical, but even so, he felt himself freeze, as his eyes opened slightly wider, and the saliva in his mouth dried up.
In the last few years he had come into contact with robots more and more during the course of his work with Vidal and the TIB. But a vast majority of these robots had been more like machines than humans. A cleaning machine trundling around the rooms and corridors of an establishment. A waiter in a hotel, another working in an office, filing and doing a hundred and one mundane tasks, that no human would wish to do. Now that was something he could cope with, but not this humanoid robot.
He had never come to terms with robots that were anatomically the same as humans. In fact, the more lifelike they actually appeared, the less comfortable he felt. And he felt even more uncomfortable actually addressing them, or talking to them as individuals.
On one occasion he had discussed the matter with Vidal, who had put a completely different complex on the matter. He had suggested that Jason, probably without realising it, was subliminally aware of most humans through their nager. Although not in the same way that Simes could read fields of course.
However, where robots were concerned, again like Simes, he had no feed back from them, and this, far more than anything else, could be why he was so averse to them.
In other words, his eyes told him that he was looking at a humanoid that he should be able to "read" as a warm living breathing person, in the normal manner. Whilst his other senses met a total blank - a complete emptiness.
Jason had little doubt that what his partner said was probably true. However, right now, he had no intention of worrying about it. Because unfortunately, at this moment in time, he had no choice but to try and communicate with the damn thing!
'I...er... we are hungry, and I also have to send a message to.' He got no further. The robotic guard moved the hand that held the stun gun ominously.
'Intruders. This Station is temporarily closed down. My orders are to detain anyone who comes on board without authorisation. You are trespassing on Nyle-Conroy's premises. You will therefore accompany me to the holding bay where you will remain until.'
'Shen it, the damn thing does nothing but repeat itself!' Jason almost shouted, drowning out the rest of what the guard was saying, as his nerves got the better of him. 'How the hell can you get it to just listen for a change?'
'Attention Guard Number 3. I am giving you a direct order that overrides all or any other orders you might have been given prior to this date. First you will put away your weapon since we are unarmed. Second, you will take us straight to the eating area where you will provide food for two humans. Third, you will then go to the engineering section and turn on full power. Fourth, you will remain there until called. Is that clearly understood Guard Number 3?'
Jason stared at Tomar in shocked surprise. Was it really him who had spoken in that authoritative manner? He turned to look again at the robot who was now standing like a statute before them. The fact that he was both assimilating the orders he had just been given, was processing the information, and was weighing up whether these new orders could be accepted as overriding his original orders. Could not be seen by either human. For his facial expression, which was extremely limited, because his status did not warrant such sophistication. Did not alter in any way that was visible to the human eye.
Then just as Jason was coming to the conclusion that the robot must have blown a fuse, and had no intention of ever moving again. The Guard slid the weapon he was holding into a hole that opened in his hip. Then turning, he began to walk up the corridor.
'Come on, we have to follow.' Tomar whispered, and fell into step behind the tall figure.
'How the shen did you do that?' Jason hissed.
The boy put one finger to his lips and shook his head. 'Not now.'
Within a short time they arrived at the kitchen area where food would normally be prepared. The guard stopped in the middle of the room and without appearing to either speak or touch a thing, a door opened and another robot stepped out. It was then that Jason realised that the robots on this station were able to communicate with each other non-verbally.
The robot that Guard Number 3 had summoned turned towards them. 'There is no power for heating food. The meal will therefore be cold.' Immediately after informing them of this, he began preparing the food, again without a word passing between the two robots.
The Guard then turned to face Tomar. 'I am unable perform your third order Master.'
'Explain yourself Guard Number 3?' The boy's young voice, even to Jason's ears still managed to sound imperious.
'The main power supply was not turned off Master. It has failed. The station is operating on emergency power only.'
'And there is no maintenance team on board who can fix it?'
'No Master. All engineering and maintenance robots were ordered to leave when the Station was closed down.'
'If the main power is off, am I to understand that there is no communication to or from this Station with the outside world?' Tomar demanded.
'Yet you are able to communicate with the other robots. Why can't you communicate with Earth? Explain.'
'Built in communication between units is only short range.'
'Shall I now carry out your last order Master?'
'No, wait outside the door.'
The robot obeyed instantly, the door closing behind him. Jason watched him leave.
'I'll ask you again young man. How come you could override Number 3's previous orders like that?'
'It's not difficult, just as long as you remember that even to the most intelligent and sophisticated robot, a human being is still, and always will be, it's Master. That is one of the most basic concepts of their programming.
'Which also means, that as long as you act like you're in control, they have to accept your authority. They don't have any alternative. And just as long as the new orders you give them, do not contradict their previous orders, too much. They will carry them out.
'In his case, his primary order as a guard on the station, was to stop any intruders from actually leaving the station again, once they had come on board. Which is why I didn't ask him to let us leave the Station. I merely gave him new orders that would allow us the virtual freedom of the Station - but without interfering with his primary function. Which is to keep us here.'
Jason laughed. 'I don't suppose I need to ask who taught you all this?'
'I told you before, Grandfather uses a lot of robots in his businesses. He says most of them are far more quick-witted and intelligent, than the average Gen.'
'Thanks a lot Granddad!'
'It was easy enough to get the better of Guard Number 3. After all, I've overruled level 8 robots before now!' Tomar stated, and then admitted honestly. 'But Grandfather was there at the time.'
'Careful, if your head gets much bigger my young friend, you won't get out of the door. Now tell me. How did you know the guard was a Number 3?' As he spoke, Jason led the way over to the table where the duty robot had laid out a selection of cold food.
'If you know what to look for it's simple.' Tomar helped himself to large amounts, busily cramming it into his mouth.
Jason joined him, also eating quickly, but soon stopped. He seemed to have lost his appetite. 'So tell me. Can I go down to engineering and try to restore full power or will old Number 3 blow a fuse or throw a fit or something?'
'No problem, he should let you do that all right. After all, that will be a help to the Station by re-establishing the communications link with the outside world again. But I wonder why they haven't sent anyone from the Earth or the Moon to fix it yet?' The boy asked.
'Oh that's simple. They probably don't know that anything is wrong.' Jason replied, using the same tone of voice that Tomar had used to him. 'After all, they would only expect to hear from the Station if they have any problems to report - like us arriving here for instance. And as there are only robots, and no life forms on board, they'll assume that no communication from the station means everything's fine, and there's nothing at all for them to worry about.'
'What shall I do while you're down in engineering?'
'Well, you could come and help me if you like. But first, I'd like you to see if you can get it into Number 3's head, that we just might get a visit from the Stephen Bancroft Space Station. Because I have little doubt that Conor will know we're gone by now. So if you can also tell the Guard that if they do come here looking for us, our lives will be in great danger. That would be a help. Think you can get that across to him?' Jason asked, and noticed that the boy looked worried again, as he was reminded of their kidnappers.
'Good. Now look Tomar; don't worry too much. With any luck Conor will assume we've gone straight down to the Earth. It's the logical conclusion for him to come to after all. In which case they won't come here at all.' He said comfortingly, and stood up. 'I'll see you later, down in engineering, if I can get passed old ironsides out there.'
'You will. But he's not made of iron you know, there is some metal, but he's mostly plastic. Anyway, I think we'll only have trouble with the robots now, if we try to leave the station. Otherwise they'll let us do, and go, where we want to. '
'I wonder how many robots are still on board?'
'Most of the lower category robots, like the one who prepared the food for us, and several guards like Number 3. But most of them will remain inactive, unless they're ordered to do a specific task.' Tomar said knowledgeably.
'Well, I'll be happy just as long as they stay that way.' Jason stated, and made no effort to hide his relief.
Once down in engineering, and having finally traced the problem, he began to work on the fault. However, he soon realised that he was not feeling well at all. In fact, he was feeling decidedly sick.
He had a splitting headache, and felt nauseous. Could it have been something he'd eaten? It seemed unlikely, the food had both smelled and tasted fine, and he hadn't eaten very much of it anyway. In fact, he seemed to have lost his appetite. Also young Tomar hadn't complained, and Jason had little doubt that he would have been the first to do so. Perhaps he'd just eaten it too quickly, in his haste to get down here and start work? Summoning all his effort, he managed to push the sickness to one side.
Minutes later he purposefully turned his mind to other things. For he was more worried about Conor and his men than he had admitted to the boy. Indeed, he could only hope that he would be able to establish a communications link before too long. And he didn't really care if it was with the Earth or the Moon, either would do.
Another wave of nausea swept through him. 'Shen it!' He muttered the words under his breath, and began to wonder if he had picked up a virus when they came on board the Station? Not all that surprising when you considered that most of the main power had been off. Which meant that neither the air conditioning nor the air purifiers would have been working at full capacity for some considerable time! In actual fact, he had no way of knowing, nor had he thought to enquire of Number 3 as to just how long the Station had been without full power? They were probably lucky that the limited power supply had at least controlled the temperature, and allowed air to circulate and the gravity unit to operate. Another wave of nausea hit him.
Glancing quickly around the room, Jason saw there was a door leading to a bathroom facility close by. Doubled over and almost running, in his haste to get there, he crossed over to it quickly, and was thankful that he managed to reach the head before he threw up.
Feeling slightly better once his stomach was empty, he washed his face and rinsed his mouth before he returned to his task.
Oh wasn't it all just great!? He thought miserably. Illness - and all that that entailed! Now wasn't that just what they wanted - especially at a time like this? He railed angrily at himself. Then it hit him! He was stupid, stupid, stupid! He looked at Tomar's chronometer to verify what he already knew must be true. He should have had transfer with Vidal almost a day ago! Shen! He hadn't realised what the problem was before, because quite simply, it had never affected him quite like this in the past!
On top of that, maybe he was also experiencing a touch of space sickness? Lady luck stepping in, just to make matters that little bit worse perhaps? He smiled grimly. "There you go Mike. It's the shenning luck of the Devere's again, isn't it?" He said out loud to the room at large.
Well, there was one consolation. Vidal was down on Earth. Which meant the Tecton would be able to arrange for someone else to give him transfer. For a brief moment, a wave of jealousy ran through him at the very idea. He paused from what he was doing, and his brow wrinkled in concentration as he wondered in genuine surprise - where that particular feeling, had come from?
'What's the matter - trouble?' Tomar had just arrived in engineering to find Jason sitting down and staring into space. 'Can't you fix it?' The disappointment was evident in his young voice.
Jason turned to smile ruefully at him, as he laid down the tool he had been holding. 'It's fixed. Although I haven't had a chance to look at the communications console yet to see what the fault is there. But I am wondering whether or not we should turn all the lights back on.'
'Why bother to fix them if we're not going to use them? Oh, I see what you mean! You're worried in case Conor and the others see the lights, and decide to come over and investigate before anyone else does?'
'Yes, I am worried about that. But more than that, what if the robots decide not to help us, should Conor actually to come on board?' He asked, and then smiled. 'Which brings me to the important question. Did you manage to convey our dilemma to Number 3 by any chance?'
'I think so. The trouble is you have to be exact when you give them an order, more so if you're trying to overrule a previous order. Grandfather says, " you must never leave any margin for error, because if you do, as sure as 'first need', they'll go and misinterpret the whole shenning directive!" And I know you're going to say I shouldn't say that, but I'm telling you what Grandfather said!'
'Okay, let's hope that Number 3 got the message loud and clear.'
'Even if he didn't, he wouldn't allow any real harm to come to us. His programming wouldn't permit it.'
'I know. The trouble is, it is only a robot. It might not realise Conor Lockwood's real intentions towards us.' Jason reminded him, then he finished the thought off silently. At least not before it was too late!
Tomar walked across to look through one of the windows, and with his back to the room asked. 'So what are we going to do? Switch the lights on, or we just sit here and wait for the New Year?'
'There's no need for any cheek from you young man.' Jason stated, and then snapped his fingers. 'Of course, why not? Rather than just switch the lights on and hope for the best - we could try that!'
'Well, I was brought up on a rather remote island. We had all the latest equipment for communication purposes that goes without saying. But luckily I belonged to an after school group called the Sea Cadets, similar to the Space Cadets I suppose. We were taught all kinds of things to enable us to survive if we were lost at sea, or on one of the more remote uninhabited islands.'
'Such as?' Tomar was beginning to look interested.
Well, things like, how to navigate by the stars, and perhaps more importantly, as far as we are concerned at the moment. How to send messages during the day by using hand signals or a mirror, and at night by using a torch and flashing out a code! The same way the Gen and Sime armies did during the Wars. You must have read about it at school?'
'Of course. But no one's going to see us if we start waving our arms about at one of the windows, are they, and we don't have any torches!'
'No. But we do have lights. We can switch them on and off. Come on, let me show you what I mean.' Jason jumped to his feet as he spoke. 'We'll just have to keep our fingers crossed, and hope that there will be someone watching, who also has an interest in military history! At least it's worth a try.'
Read Chapter 7
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A New Beginning is copyright (c) 2000, 2001 by Sime~Gen Inc.
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