Published as a part of A Companion In Zeor #13, 14, 15 & 16
'How soon could you contact this Gen and get him to come here?' Quin asked as he turned to order another round of drinks.
Vidal thought of Tony waiting outside, and wondered whether he should go and fetch him into the club. More importantly of course, was it wise for him to do so at this time, without first consulting the others? If anything went wrong, neither Jordan now Jason would know what had happened, and could easily walk into a similar trap themselves.
Vidal opened his mouth to speak, and then froze. Shen and Shid! He knew without having to turn and look, that Tony had just entered the club, and was standing inside the entrance looking around. He was shielding himself of course, and far better than Jason ever could, but Vidal would know that nager anywhere and had little doubt as to who it was. Why had he gone against his specific orders and come inside? If it had been Jason, he could have understood it, after all his partner only followed orders if he thought it expedient to do so, and had no sense of danger at all. But Tony!
The Gen had now reached the Bar and was sitting down. Moments later Aubrey arrived back at their table and also sat down, and Vidal watched as a fresh round of drinks was placed before them.
'You were suggesting bringing a Gen here to verify your statements?' The Channel murmured. 'I've just spoken to Martin, he's the manager here. He says he can arrange for us to have a room for a few hours should we require it.'
'Would tomorrow night be suitable?' Vidal asked taking a sip of his wine, as he metaphorically crossed his tentacles.
'I can't make it tomorrow,' Amanda said at once.
'Neither can I.' Quin replied and glanced across at Aubrey Butler his eyebrows raised in query.
'I have a business trip scheduled for the day after tomorrow. I'll be away for five days.' Aubrey stated, 'Which means I can't arrange another meeting for at least a week.'
Vidal sighed as he regretfully made up his mind. He did not like the way things were going, but unless they wanted to sit around contemplating their navels for a week or more, he had to act now.
'Can you arrange for us to have the use of a room for the next few hours?' He asked the other Channel.
'No reason why not,' Aubrey replied at once. 'Does that mean you're able to contact your friend tonight?'
'Yes it does; if you will excuse me? I too, have just seen someone I know.' Vidal got up, his wineglass held between two tentacles, and walked towards the bar; while Aubrey signalled for the Manager to come over to the table.
Tony was attempting, rather unsuccessfully, to get rid of the attention of one of the many hostesses.
The Channel bit back a smile as he approached the couple. 'Sorry to have kept you waiting Tony, we're sitting over there.'
Turning slightly he smiled across at the young woman and placed his credit chip into the slot on the bar, removed it again and dropped the printed slip the slot had spewed out into her empty glass, 'For your trouble, another time perhaps?'
Her eyes opened wide as she saw the value of the slip, and nodded her head vigorously, her yellow and purple curls bobbing around her pretty face. 'Any time, you just ask for Jasmine the next time you come in here, and I'll give you both a good time.' She danced away to sit with a group of her colleagues at a table in the corner.
'Thanks, I couldn't make her understand I wasn't interested, it was like she was speaking a different language.' Tony confessed sheepishly.
'What possessed you to come in here Tony?'
The Gen fidgeted on the barstool, and glanced around to make sure he was not being overheard. 'Well it seemed a bit stupid to stay outside, when they might have taken you out through another exit.'
'I see, and this I assume, was entirely your own idea?'
Tony felt his face get hot as he struggled to reply, after all he would never get an outright lie past the Channel. But he didn't want to get Jason into trouble either. 'Yes it was. At least, what I mean is, I did have a talk to Jason before I came here. But he didn't tell me to come inside he just said that if he was coming here instead of me, he would have come inside.'
Vidal sighed, 'I should have known. Very well don't worry about it Tony. Perhaps I, better than most know what my Companion is like.' He placed his now empty glass on the bar. 'However, as it transpires your coming inside has proved to be quite fortuitous, because we've got a slight change of plan,' and he proceeded to explain what had happened, and what he required Tony to do.
He then took the Gen across to the table and introduced him to the others, and moments later Aubrey led the way to the room he had managed to reserve for the next few hours.
They entered what was obviously an exotic boudoir and Vidal immediately zlinned the large room, aware that Tony was looking around at the strange décor with open fascination. It was, as the Channel knew, a place used by the club's very mixed clientele to entertain both males and females.
The carpet on the floor was pure white, while the predominant colour in the room was a rather nauseating pink. A large shell shaped canopied bed stood on a raised dais, the drapes were pink and white and hung from an ornate gold ring high above on the ceiling, cascading down rather like a giant fan. While the bed itself, which dominated the large room, was heaped with pink white, and gold cushions.
The walls too were hung with pink water silk drapes, broken only by large mirrors and erotic paintings, all set in ornate gold frames and suspended by long gold chains fixed into the roof. The ceiling above the bed was covered with mirrors, whilst huge gold painted wicker baskets of freshly cut highly perfumed wild flowers from the jungle outside, stood at strategic points along the walls. The hidden lighting was both subdued and subtle.
In a strange rather sickening way the overall impression was erotic. Biting back a grin, Vidal placed a tentacle under Tony's chin and closed his mouth, which had fallen open. 'Not to your taste?' He asked softly.
'Taste doesn't come into this,' Tony replied, his eyes still darting around the room, 'But it is - overpowering - in a sickly sweet sort of way.'
'Mmm, I agree, it's rather like walking inside a huge dollop of pink cotton candy isn't it?' Vidal asked with a broad grin.
The other three Simes, were taking the surroundings in their stride, as if they had been here many times before, as indeed perhaps they had.
The two men moved to sit on the edge of the bed, whilst Amanda had tossed a couple of pink satin cushions onto the floor, before sitting down on them her knees close together to avoid flashing the room.
Vidal fetched a stool from in front of the elaborate white and gold vanity unit, and Tony simply lay down on his front on the carpet. He was propped up on his elbows, and his chin was cupped in his hands whilst his legs were stretched out behind him.
Jordan studied the chessboard closely before finally making his move. Jason hardly hesitated before he followed suit.
'It's quite some time since I've had to work this hard to win a game,' the Sectuib admitted slowly, and frowned slightly as two tentacles hovered above one of his pieces, undecided whether to chance moving it or not.
'Hey, don't jump the gun there Jordan, who says you're going to win?' Jason reminded him wryly.
'True.' He retracted his tentacles and sat back to study the board once more.
Jason sighed. 'This is the only thing that bores me about chess. The waiting around! Move it for shen's sake. Just looking at it isn't going to alter anything is it?'
'Perhaps not, but it is a game of strategy my friend, and as such is not to be rushed; each move should be carefully thought out.'
'Yes, yawn, yawn, I know all that. Just get on with it will you? I'm starting to fall asleep here.'
The Sectuib smiled indulgently. 'If I needed any further proof that you are a man of action, and not a great "thinker" I now have it.'
'Oh, believe me, I think, I really do, but not all the time.' Jason replied, and then sat forward as the Sime finally made his move. 'At last!'
The Gen stood up slowly and walked across to spoon trin into the teapot with an air of great satisfaction.
'You've just been chasing me to make my move, and now you've walked away from the board,' the Channel complained.
'Mmm yes, I know. Trin?' The Sime nodded his head, studying the board closely, as a certain smugness he could feel in the Gen's field, began to worry him.
'Yes, I'd look carefully if I were you.' Jason said softly. 'It's checkmate in three, if I'm not mistaken.'
'What? How!? You're right! Now how did I come to miss that?'
'Too much thinking, and not enough doing; it's what I always tell Vidal. Not that he ever listens to me.'
'But that can't be right, Chess is based on strategy and planning.' Jordan argued again.
Jason poured the hot water onto the leaves in the pot and set it to one side to brew, before he answered. 'So, do you let me beat the pants off you again, or have you had enough for tonight?'
'I think perhaps we should leave it for now. Perhaps I've been thinking too much about Tony and Vidal. I'm worried about them.'
Jason smiled as he poured out the hot liquid. 'Yes, I'm sure that must be it. You couldn't possibly have lost for any other reason, could you?'
The Sectuib looked up and nodded his thanks, as the glass of trin was placed in front of him. 'I'm not trying to detract from your win,' he assured the Gen quickly. 'I really am worried about both of them.'
'Yes, I know, so am I.' Jason assured him, as he packed Blake's chess set away in its box, a smile still hovering around his lips. 'But Vidal can take care of himself.'
The Sime rubbed his forehead with a tentacle, 'I wish I could say the same about Tony.'
'Stop worrying, he'll be fine, they both will.' Jason sat down opposite the Channel, and stared down into the depths of his glass of trin, before looking across at the Sime again. 'Are you feeling okay Jordan?'
The Sectuib opened his mouth to say he was, and then closed it again because it would be an outright lie. He was feeling rotten.
'Not exactly,' he confessed.
'Entran.' Jordan smiled ruefully as he said the word. 'This is the second time in less than two days but Tony was able to take care of it last time. It isn't life threatening of course or anything like that, but it can be extremely painful and uncomfortable.'
'Not pleasant I know, I've heard it can be really bad. But I can't say I've really experienced it with Vidal, not badly, anyway.' he admitted honestly. 'Can I do anything for you, or would you rather wait for Tony?'
'I should be grateful for your help.' He said at once.
'Okay, so tell me how you want me to do this, standing up or sitting down?' Jason got up and walked around the table, to stand beside the Sime who had also gotten to his feet.
'Just here is fine.' Jordan stated, and Jason held out his arms and waited while the Sectuib extended his laterals and grasped his wrists. Then braced himself as the Sime leaned against him with a deep sigh of relief. Jason then cleared his mind and concentrated all his attention on the Channel and simply waited. A short while later Jordan straightened and stepped away from him to sit down at the table once more.
'Thank you, that was - excellent - not that I expected any less from such a talented Gen.'
'You're sure that's enough?'
'Yes,' Jordan assured him, and then smiled up at him. 'Vidal is a lucky man.'
'I don't think he'd agree with your assessment somehow. I'm sure he thinks I'm a stubborn bastard most of the time'
'Doubtless you can be rather - trying - at times.'
Jason nodded. 'Yes, I can't help myself some times, he's such a prime target. But he can be equally as trying, believe me!'
Jordan picked up the two glasses and walked across the room to wash them and replace them in the cupboard.
No sooner had he returned to the table than the door burst open and Blake looked across at them. 'Guards at the front,' he said quickly. 'Lock this door behind me and keep quiet. I'll try and get rid of them, but if I can't and you hear them start to search the place, leave by the back entrance.' Blake paused and then observed. 'If they start looking for these rooms behind this rock wall, we'll know someone has informed on us.' He disappeared back inside.
Jason sprang across the room and threw the inner bolt, it was a primitive lock, but might if necessary help to hold the Guard at bay just long enough for them to get away.
Jordan moved to stand against the wall straining his ears and attempting to zlin, as he tried to ascertain what was happening in the other part of the dwelling.
'What's happening?' Jason mouthed at him.
The Sime merely shook his head, and remained stationary in position. Then he stepped away from the wall and whispered, 'I believe they are in the outer rooms now. Perhaps we should leave?'
'Sounds like a good idea. But if someone really has put the Guard onto us, and they know about these rooms, mightn't they also know about the back entrance and be waiting there for us to come out - like rats in a trap?'
'Unfortunately we don't have many options open to us. If we stay here and fight, then we blow Blake's cover too. I think we have to take the chance, no matter how slim.'
Jason nodded decisively. 'You're right. Let's go!'
There was no one outside as they both exited through the rear entrance, and crept along the alleyway that had been carved out of the sheer rock. They kept going till they had gone around several bends in the rock that narrowed and widened at intervals, and were soon well clear of the dwelling.
'If someone did turn us in to the Guard, they obviously didn't know about the back entrance.' Jason murmured.
'Yes, you're right.' The Sime whispered back, then stopped and turning around, he faced Jason before he went on. 'I suggest we wait here. I'm sure Blake will come out and let us know when the coast is clear.'
'Fine by me, but what if they've found the two rooms with all our belongings, they could have taken him away for questioning.'
The Channel nodded his head as he conceded the point, but then said logically. 'If they'd found the rooms and our things, they would also have found the back entrance by now, and we would hear them coming after us.'
'True. So for the time being - we wait?'
'Yes, we wait,' Jordan agreed quietly, and then leaned back against the rock wall his eyes closed.
Jason, too, leaned against the rock for a while and then stated. 'I hope Vidal and Tony don't come back while the Guard are still in there.'
The Channel sighed. 'Thank you Jason, as if we haven't got enough to worry about without that too.'
'Sorry. But it's possible, we have to face that.'
'I know, I am fully aware of what could happen, but since we can do nothing about it...' Jordan left the words hanging in the air, as they both fell silent once more.
Almost constantly the Channel kept trying to zlin back along the alley, so that he could give them both some warning if the Guard came down that way; but as he could not zlin through the solid rock wall on either side of the opening, they had to rely more on their ears. The slight rattle of stones back along the crevice brought both men to attention as Jason mouthed. 'Someone's coming.'
The Sime nodded his agreement as he whispered back, 'I was about to say the same thing.'
Jason automatically drew one of his knives from its sheath and crouched against the rock waiting, when Jordan suddenly grasped his hand and pulled him back. 'It's all right Jason, its Blake,' he said, as a familiar figure appeared around the rock face.
'I thought you might be waiting here. They've gone, and they didn't find anything.' He turned and led the way back, followed closely by Jordan. Jason brought up the rear, and did not put his knife away until he reached the back entrance. No one spoke until they were back inside.
'How many were there?' Jordan asked as the lock clicked into place behind them.
'Ten, although two waited outside.'
Jason looked at the two men, 'Now that's what I'd call excessive! Did they say what they were looking for?'
'Oh yes, the usual - contraband.'
'Now am I wrong, or is that a lame excuse?'
Blake shook his head. 'Not really Jason, they've been having a lot of trouble with smugglers from off-planet. No one really cares what they actually bring in or export out again for that matter, after all there's free trade in everything. But they do have to pay some taxes to the various Committees for the privilege. If they try to avoid paying this duty, then the penalties can be high, even death for repeated transgressors. Which means only the really stupid ones try to avoid paying; the clever people pay up and smile, because the amount levied is comparatively very small in relation to the profit they make. But you always get the greedy ones.'
'I doubt they were looking for smugglers when they came here tonight.' Jordan observed quietly.
'I won't argue with that.' Blake said at once.
Jason moved to sit down again before he asked Blake. 'Do you think they'll still be out the front watching?'
'Yes, it's possible.'
'Well in that the case we'd better warn Vidal and Tony or they'll be walking straight into trouble.'
Jordan nodded, 'I was thinking the same thing. Except I don't believe Vidal would want us to contact him while he's still inside Devil's Paradise, we could do more harm than good.'
'You're right, gate crashing the place is out. So before we do anything else, I suggest we find out if we're being watched, agreed?'
'Jason, even I cannot zlin through several feet of solid rock,' Jordan informed him.
Blake looked up, 'I think I may have a solution. It's possible to remove some of the smaller rocks from the front wall, enough to allow a gap through which you can zlin.'
'Sounds good to me, what're we waiting for? Let's go!'
The Channel grinned wryly across at Jason, 'Your boundless enthusiasm exhausts me,' he admitted honestly.
'Yes, I've heard that old age can do that.' The Gen observed with tongue in cheek.
Blake gave a bark of laughter as he saw that the Sectuib was at a loss for words.
'Well, that's our offer, and it is open to negotiation,' Vidal said finally and waited to see what their reaction would be, since he could only zlin Amanda and Quin's reaction but not Aubrey's, for he was not allowing anything to bleed into his field. So said deliberately, 'you can see I'm telling the truth Aubrey and you can read Tony too, and a Gen could never lie to a First.'
'It is a good offer,' Quin murmured at last, and Amanda agreed with him.
'Perhaps too good,' Butler said softly. 'After all, we have everything we need for living here on Aryanous. Why should we move to a planet where we don't have these facilities? Remember also that we'll be leaving ourselves open to attack from both Earth and her colonies once we move away from here.'
'You believe it's a trap?' Vidal asked, his attention solely on the Channel, for he was the one he had to convince.
'If you look back through history, our dealings with both Earth and the Tecton have not been good.' Aubrey reminded him almost bitterly.
Vidal silently conceded the point, as the Distect Channel went on.
'We have a different way of life to the people on Earth. Yet once in the dim and distant past we were as close as only householders could be. In the beginning the founder of Rior, Hugh Valleroy, was Companion to the Sectuib of Zeor. Remember too, it was Zeor who threw it all away, not Rior. You see, I too, have read our history.' Aubrey said cynically. 'So tell me, when has the Tecton ever given us cause to trust them?'
Vidal again conceded the point.
Amanda sighed and looked up at the Channel. 'I agree Aubrey we have everything we want here on Aryanous. But I for one would like to live my life without the thought of constant attack, and with one eye always on instant flight.'
'I agree, but that's my point Amanda. Here at least we have a modicum of protection from our enemies. The Tecton want nothing more than to destroy our way of life. Surely you must see that Quin? You lost your brother in that raid on Arrex Prime, and wasn't that attack totally unprovoked?'
Quin nodded his head briefly, sorrow and anger filling his field, before he could stop it.
'I'm not here to defend what has happened in the past, there's been fault on both sides,' Vidal said quickly and opened up his field completely for both Simes to read, as he went on. 'Like you, I could list unprovoked attacks by the Distect on both Earth and her colonies, but that is not why I'm here. If this is to work at all, as painful as it might be, we have to put all these things behind us.'
'You're asking a lot,' Butler murmured. 'Perhaps too much.'
'Yes, I know. But I offer a lot in return.'
'I for one would be willing to trust him, for the chance of a better life,' Amanda joined in, and looked at her two colleagues. 'Think please, both of you. Imagine waking up to a blue sky and real sunshine, trees and flowers. To see the stars shining above you at night; and what about our children, what are we bequeathing to them? Are they to become true troglodytes? Is that their future, and ours? I know some of us are able to go off world from time to time, but most of us cannot. Not unless we join the Organisation. But the rest of us have to live here - we have no choice.'
'Amanda I'm not saying the picture you paint isn't seductive, and doesn't touch all our lives and the very future of the Distect, because it does. But is it truly worth it? Especially when the chance is also there that we shall all be wiped out, if we accept this supposed hand of friendship?' Aubrey asked his colleagues, sincerity in every word he spoke as he went on.
'Remember our history. Didn't Ilyana leave Rior to go into the outside world to ask the Tecton for help for her illness, and what did they do? They brainwashed her and sent her back to us accompanied by Digen, the Sectuib in Zeor himself to spy on us and destroy us.' He leaned forward as he spoke. 'You know what happened then. Every child is still taught about how the Tecton headed by Zeor, betrayed all of us! And between the two of them, they tried to destroy Rior. Only luck prevented them from succeeding.'
'You can't live in the past forever Aubrey, no one can.' Vidal said quietly.
'I know that you believe what you're saying Vidal. But you have never lived your life under constant siege. Besides, how do we or even you for that matter, know whether your precious Tecton isn't fooling you as well as us? They know we can read your field for the truth of your words. It would be easy for them to tell you, what they want both you and us to believe, would it not?'
Vidal glanced across at Tony before he nodded. 'Yes, that's true. Would it help if I said I trust them implicitly, and would be prepared to offer my life as security, if necessary?'
'Fine words, but too late once they've destroyed us.'
Vidal closed his eyes and took a deep breath before he spoke. 'So your answer I take it, is no?'
Aubrey got up from the bed and walked across the room to study one of the pictures on the wall. 'No. I can't make this decision on my own. I have to admit it's far too important an offer to just dismiss out of hand. It's only fair that the others should have a chance to hear and discuss it, and to give their verdict.' He turned around to face them again. 'The Distect, contrary to the lies you've been fed by your Tecton, are truly democratic. When something as important as this comes along, we all decide what the answer will be, ultimately by referendum. We don't rely on just a roomful of men and women making the decision on our behalf. Many of whom no doubt have their own vest interests and reasons for what the outcome should be.'
'So your suggestion is...?'
'That you leave it with me. I will bring it to the attention of my Committee. They will discuss it with all our people, and if they consider it worth pursuing they will then send an emissary to the other Committees both on this planet and others on which we have colonies, who will do the same.'
'That's going to take quite a time.'
'Yes I agree, it will. But we're talking about reversing the very course of our history. Remember too, that there is a lot of animosity and hatred among all the Distect, towards Earth.'
'If there's no quicker route, then I suppose I must accept,' Vidal replied. 'But there is one other point I have to raise with you.'
'And that is?' The Channel walked across the room and sat down again on the bed.
'We know that the Organisation recruits people from the Distect and.'
Quin held up a hand as he broke into the conversation. 'The Organisation, I grant you, is not everything it should be. But over the years it has done a great deal of good for the Distect; not least by providing us with medicinal drugs, and the very basic necessities of life itself at a time when no one else, least of all the Tecton, would help us.'
'Yes, and remember too that the Organisation was actually founded by members of the Distect. In a lot of cases they are still the kith and kin of many of our people.' Amanda stated.
'I know, and I realise the ties that exist between you, but you have to face the fact that the Organisation is first and foremost a criminal body. They deal in everything rotten, including blackmail, terrorism, extortion, robberies, torture. They even sell arms to other terrorist groups, and they're supplying arms to both sides in any number of Wars on alien planets.' Vidal said with feeling. 'We also have a list of over a hundred murderers, men and women, who are paid assassins, all members of the Organisation. Even their bounty hunters are notorious. Do I have to go on?'
As the others remained silent as they digested his words, Vidal went on. 'I realise they've helped you out in the past, and no doubt they still do. But I would be very surprised if they don't bleed you dry for every credit they can get, for their so-called favours! While at the same time enticing your brightest youth to join them; believe me, they are no friends of the Distect. They merely use you, and if you're honest with yourselves, you know I'm speaking the truth!'
Surprisingly Aubrey nodded his head in agreement. 'I can't dispute what you say. Our Committee has been discussing that very problem for years now. They recruit our children straight from school, and because of the way we are forced to live; we can do very little about it. After all, what do we have to offer them, to get them to stay here?'
'But doesn't that underline what I said earlier?' Amanda demanded, and all three Simes began to talk amongst themselves.
Vidal glanced down at the Gen who lay close to his feet, his head now resting on his crossed arms, his eyes closed.
'You asleep Tony?' He asked softly, knowing he was not.
The Gen's eyes opened slowly and he yawned. 'No, just resting my eyes. How much longer do you think this is likely to take?'
'Not much longer now I hope, I think we've at least got them thinking; now it's just a matter of answering their questions, and getting them to believe and trust us.'
'Is that all!?' Tony replied, amusement in his voice.
Vidal smiled. 'Yes. It sounds real easy if you say it quickly! Now go to sleep if you want to. Just try not to snore.'
'I don't snore.'
Aubrey was now holding out his hands, his tentacles extended in a bid for silence.
'Well?' Vidal asked hopefully.
'As I said before, whatever my own reservations, we can't just dismiss this. Are you prepared to leave it with me for the time being? I should be able to speak to most of my own Committee members before the end of the month. I can then get back to you and tell you what we have decided. If we decide to take it further, then emissaries will be picked.'
'It sounds fine, but I should mention that as far as the Organisation is concerned they do know why we're here, and it's in their interest not to allow you to make your own decision on this matter. They have already tried on several occasions to stop us.'
'We won't ask how.' Quin murmured, 'I think we all know the methods they use. There's not much we can do to stop them at this stage. If we decide to accept your offer, subject to certain safeguards of course, perhaps we can offer more help then.'
'So for now, we're on our own?'
Aubrey nodded his head. 'Yes, I'm afraid so. But I would warn you to take extra care where the Guard are concerned, they owe far more allegiance to the Organisation than they do to us.'
'We too are always under surveillance from them.' Amanda murmured.
Vidal smiled grimly, 'I rather gathered that, but thanks for the warning, and...'
An intermittent buzz filled the room, and without ceremony, the door burst open and the Manager stepped inside. 'It's a spot check. I suggest you leave by the back way, they might wonder what members of the Committee are doing in a room with transients,' and he glanced meaningfully at Vidal and Tony.
'Thanks Martin.' Aubrey sprang to his feet as the Manager exited the room and closed the door behind him, then striding across the room he revealed a hidden opening behind one of the life size paintings. Vidal pulled Tony to his feet, and they both followed the others through the opening into a dimly lit tunnel, and Quin made sure the door was sealed behind them.
Read Chapter 12
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