Published as a part of A Companion In Zeor #13, 14, 15 & 16
Tony opened his eyes and stared up at the grey rock above his head. Then he closed them just as quickly and listened to the silence, trying to decide if he was alone or not.
He could hear someone else breathing close beside him on his left. Who was it? Suddenly the breathing stopped, and Tony lay there immobile, trying not to draw a breath as he wondered what he should do next? Had the other person died, or like him were they too holding their breath; or had he only imagined there was someone else there? He knew only one thing for certain, lying here like this wasn't helping him to find out.
Taking a deep silent breath to steady his nerves, he opened his eyes and rolled his head slowly to the left, to find himself looking straight into Jason's green eyes. 'Oh it's you!'
'Yes, who were you expecting? The World President?' Jason asked facetiously, as he moved his arms and legs carefully, thankful to find he wasn't tied up. 'I take it we're the only ones here?'
'I don't know. I haven't looked yet,' Tony confessed sheepishly, 'I haven't been conscious very long.' He sat up abruptly and looked around the cave in which they were both lying, and it was indeed nothing more than a cave, and no attempt had been made to disguise the fact. The walls were rock, as was the floor with patches of sand here and there, and a single light shone down from high up on one side. There appeared to be no furniture, apart from the small narrow bunk bed on which they were both lying.
'My mouth feels dry, I could really do with some water, and I wouldn't say no to some food either.' Jason stated as he too sat up, and then swung his legs to one side of the bed as he stared around him. 'Not exactly the height of luxury is it?'
'Well at least we're still inside the complex.'
'And what makes you think that?' Jason demanded looking at the other Gen his eyebrows raised.
'Well this is a cave, so we're obviously underground. If they'd taken us out onto the surface we'd be surrounded by jungle wouldn't we?'
'No. Not necessarily. According to what Roy and Wil told us back on Earth, most of this planet is covered with caves, some really huge, and some small. We could have been brought outside onto the surface, and then down into this small cave. Besides which I can't hear any air pumps, can you?'
Tony listened with his head on one side, and then shook it in negation. Straight away he wished that he hadn't done so, as it immediately started aching. 'Well it doesn't matter much whether this is part of the main complex or not does it? A cave is still a cave.' He said irritably, rubbing his forehead with one hand. 'And we're still stuck here. 'Cause if I'm not mistaken that small box just outside the entrance there, is generating a force field that's strong enough to burn us up if we try to get out.'
Jason nodded. 'You're right, that's exactly what it is. But this cave is definitely outside the main complex.'
'How can you tell?'
Jason sighed, 'Because the cave's alive, not dead.'
Tony stared at him, 'And what does that mean?'
'Well, if I'm not mistaken there's a type of lichen or moss growing on those rocks over there.'
'So my friend, a dead cave similar to the one that makes up most of Sector VII, is exactly that. Dry and dead with lots of rock formations, tunnels and crevices, some natural, some man made. There's nothing green growing in there, not like that stuff over there. It simply wouldn't or couldn't grow there. Whereas a cave like this one that has air and possibly water coming in from outside, is alive. Which also means it could have stalactites or stalagmites, including green plants, like that moss, all growing somewhere in here if we cared to look.'
'That's all very interesting I'm sure, but rather than giving me a lecture on caves, don't you think we should be looking for ways to get out of here?' The other Gen demanded irritably.
'Yes, perhaps we should, but since we've already agreed that that force field over there is obviously strong enough to do us a serious injury, I don't see that there's very much we can do to get out of here. Of course if you want to try, don't let me stop you, be my guest.' Jason waved his arm towards the entrance, as he went on. 'But to be honest with you, unless you have a device hidden somewhere on you that will blow one of these walls away, I fail to see what either of us can do, except sit here, and make idle conversation.'
Tony sighed, and glanced down at his wrist. 'They've taken my chronometer.' He got down off the small bed and began to walk around the cave.
'Mine too. Time always seems to pass more slowly, when you have no way of telling what it is.'
'True. It was probably a Sime - their idea of a joke.'
'Shen it, they've even taken our weapons.' Jason said bitterly, although truthfully he would have been highly surprised if they had not removed them.
Thankfully however Jason realised that they had missed the switch knife he wore in a sheath on the inside of his ankle. It wasn't much, but it was better than nothing at all. Glancing around him again, he decided not to tell Tony. After all he had no way of knowing if their conversation was being monitored, which in the circumstances seemed highly likely.
'Tony come over here.' The Gen looked at him in surprise, but after a moment's hesitation, he complied. 'No, come closer than that! Sit next to me here.'
Jason almost laughed out loud at the expression on his face, 'because I want to whisper sweet nothings in your ear! For shen's sake Tony, don't give me a hard time, just do it okay?' Jason realised he had made an unintentional pun, and shook his head still grinning. 'Believe me, you're not my type.'
'Never thought I was,' Tony muttered blushing furiously. 'So what do you want?'
Jason placed his lips against his ear. 'The wall on our right, top left hand corner, can you see that small shadow?' Tony's head nodded imperceptibly. 'It looks to me like that could once have been an opening, and they've filled it in with rock, but someone was careless. What do you think?'
'They may bring us something to eat and drink soon. When they do, I'll see if we can get them to turn the light off, they might agree, at least it's worth a try. Of course they may only be listening to us, and not watching us at all.'
'They might not even be doing that.'
'True.' They both fell silent.
'What if they don't come? They may decide to let us starve to death.'
'Yes they might.' Jason whispered back, biting back a grin. 'But they've gone to a hell of a lot of trouble just to bring us here to starve, don't you think? They chose to fill the Comcab full of knock out gas; they could just as easily have used poison.' He pointed out logically.
'I never thought of that.' Tony admitted honestly.
Jason just managed to swallow back his immediate response because somehow baiting and snapping at Tony, seemed very similar to kicking a puppy, and not at all the same as having a go at Vidal or even Jordan. Both Channels knew the rules of the game, and could give back as good as they got - sometimes even better!
'Jason. If we're being held by the Organisation, do you think they might torture us?'
'Shen no! We haven't got anything to tell them that they don't know already, have we? Jordan and you made damn sure of that! Okay, I'm sorry. I didn't quite mean that like it sounded.' Jason said as he saw the look of hurt on the other Gen's face; and went on quickly.
'Besides there are far simpler methods of getting information from us, without having to resort to force,' he said the words as consolingly as he could. 'Possibly a quick injection, or they might even use a truth hood.' Jason had only read about the latest interrogation device, he had certainly never seen one in operation.
'Does it hurt?'
'What, a truth hood? No of course not. Stop worrying.' Jason had no idea if it did or not, but had no intention of confessing that fact to Tony. No more than he would tell him that there were certain people in all races who got pleasure from torture, and would not use an easy method, even if one were available to them. 'Besides, we'll get out of this, I promise.'
Jason glanced across at the other young Gen to see if his few words of comfort had worked, and was shocked at the expression in his eyes. Shen, the last thing he wanted or required at the moment was hero worship that was not something he could live up to.
Once they were out of this predicament, he would have to put young Tony straight. Tell him that he had never had the education that Vidal and Jordan had both enjoyed, and that most of the things he did if they turned out to be correct, were usually based on brute force and ignorance, and very little else. On top of that he was foolhardy, but not brave. Indeed, he would have no hesitation in running just as fast and as far as the next man, to try and escape being hurt, if it were possible. It was just that sometimes it wasn't feasible to do so, and then you simply had to turn and fight, whatever the consequences of that action might turn out to be.
'How long have we been here now?' Tony suddenly asked, as he moved to sit at the far end of the small bed.
'Since I don't know how long we were unconscious, I have no more idea than you.' Jason confessed, 'any particular reason?'
'My stomach thinks my throat's cut, I'm famished.'
'Yeah - mine too.' With a sigh, Jason slid off the bed and walked towards the right hand wall. He stared up at the small shadow high up at the top left.
Then walked back to the bed again, 'Come on give me a hand.'
'What are you going to do?' Tony asked as he moved to stand beside him.
'See what that is up there. If it's a way out, we'll use it.'
'But what if the people who are holding us here see what we are doing? They'll come running, won't they?'
Jason grinned. 'Yes I suppose they will. At least it will have achieved something; any response is better than none at the moment. Far better than just sitting here doing nothing, right?'
Tony nodded slowly. 'Yes I suppose so, and we'll know if they're watching us too.'
'True. Grab hold of the bed and help me drag it across to that wall.'
Seconds later the bed was wedged against the right-hand wall of the cave, and Jason was standing on it poking at the rock with his fingers. The rock was loose and he managed to pull a sizeable piece forward, jumping back as it fell onto the bed.
'Pile these rocks up over there Tony.' He ordered, as he worked away at loosening the next piece. Before too long he had made a hole big enough for them both to scramble through. So he jumped down off the bed. 'Can you hoist yourself up there, or do you want any help?'
Tony stared up at the hole high up on the rock wall. 'I can manage.'
'Good, I'll go up first, you can follow.'
'What if we find ourselves in another cave, just like this one?'
'Tony for shen's sake stop being such a damn pessimist, you sound just like Vidal! We can't be any worse off than we are at the minute can we?'
Within a few minutes Jason was standing on the other side of the wall in what appeared to be a long narrow passage with a sandy floor that led slightly upwards. An odd light here and there buried in the rock wall provided sufficient light for them to see by, and from the slight movement in the air around his body, he knew and hoped that it would eventually lead to the outside.
A few minutes later after much panting and heaving Tony finally dropped down beside him.
'You okay?' Jason asked brusquely.
'I think so. Where are the lights getting their power from?'
'I reckon the same selyn power box that is operating the force field back there, is also supplying the lights.' Jason retorted. 'Now if you're okay, there's little point in hanging around here much longer. We obviously weren't under surveillance, but it doesn't mean they aren't close by, so the sooner we get out of here the better.' Jason set off at a quick trot, not waiting to see if Tony was following him.
Minutes later he stepped out of the cave entrance into complete darkness.
Turning around he grabbed Tony by the arm and dived to one side, realising immediately that they were now in very thick undergrowth.
'What the hell!?'
'Shh. Save it for later.' Jason hissed in his ear, 'and hang on to me, we don't want to lose each other now.'
Tony obeyed instantly, grabbing hold of Jason's belt and stumbling after him in the dark.
Jason tripped over again and again, not sure whether it was the roots of plants, or the trunks of fallen trees plants or vines, he simply couldn't see well enough to tell. The dark air that surrounded them was both hot and humid, and sweat was already running down his back like a river.
Jason swore angrily as he almost measured his length on the ground and only just saved himself in time. His night vision was usually quite good, but this planet had no Moon, and the thick canopy of leaves high up in the trees hid even the stars from their view.
'Can we rest now?' Tony's voice broke his concentration, as he tried to penetrate the darkness that surrounded them, but without success.
'No!' Jason wanted to put as much distance between themselves and their captors as he could in case they were pursued, for he had little doubt that as soon as their escape was discovered, they would be followed.
His legs were starting to tremble with the exertion of hurrying through the thick undergrowth, and his lungs were stretched to capacity in the humid air his heart pumping furiously. When, almost an hour later as far as he could calculate, he finally decided to call a halt to their flight through the dense jungle, he felt absolutely shattered, and knew that Tony must too.
Looking around him, he sensed rather than saw that he was standing beside a large tree. He ran his hands around its huge trunk and discovered it was split in two from quite near the ground. Obviously it had been hit by lightning or something similar at some time in the recent past. Bending closer to the ground Jason scrambled on hands and knees under the large leaves that were now growing around the base of the tree. Turning quickly he pulled Tony unceremoniously in behind him.
'Hey, are you sure there aren't any snakes or spiders in here? I wouldn't want to argue with them, not if they feel they have a prior right of possession!' Tony said, fear evident in his voice.
'No I'm not sure. But if there are any we'll have to evict them.'
'Is that the only shenning word you know? NO!'
Jason glared at the spot where he knew Tony was lying. 'Look I'm hungry, thirsty, tired, hot and sweaty! And at this moment in time, I really don't give a crap who I may be sharing this place with, okay? If you don't like it, find your own place.'
Tony was silent for a few moments, and then murmured, 'I feel the same. I'm sorry!'
'Me too, forget it.' At some point during the long night they must both have fallen asleep, because they woke to find the Sun beating down onto the canopy of leaves above them, turning their resting place into a virtual sauna.
Jason rolled over and found himself looking into Tony's eyes. 'If we're going to survive at all on this godforsaken planet, we have to find water.' He stated unequivocally, without bothering to say good morning.
'I know. I tried sitting up just now before you woke up. I couldn't. Every bone in my body is aching because this ground is damn hard, and I'm so thirsty I'm almost spitting sand.' Tony gave a long sigh and began trying to get to his knees.
Jason stood up almost effortlessly, then stretched down a hand to his friend, who took it gratefully. 'How come you aren't as stiff as me?'
Jason grinned. 'I spend more time in the gym than you do, and besides I've slept on the ground before.'
'Why was it so dark last night? I couldn't see my hand in front of my face, could you?'
'There's no Moon. Besides which there's often a low cloud base especially at night on this planet, so not many stars show through that.' Jason stated. 'On top of that if you look up there, that canopy of leaves is really dense.'
Tony ran his fingers through his hair, before he observed. 'Of course this planet is only borderline M class, isn't it? What did they say, bad weather patterns or something?'
'Yes. We'll just have to hope we can find a way back to the main underground complex before a really bad weather front moves in. I don't know how we'd fare being stuck out here without proper shelter.' Jason stretched his arms up above his head, and then touched his toes several times to loosen up his back muscles. 'But that's the least of our worries at the moment. If we don't find something to drink before long, we're going to be dehydrated. You ready to move?'
'If I must.'
'Unless you want our friends back there to find us, I'd say we haven't got much of a choice.' Jason informed him dryly.
'You're right of course. So which way are we going?'
'As far away from the cave back there as we can, but first of all one of us has to climb this tree and make a survey.'
'Survey for what exactly - water?'
'I doubt we'll be that lucky, but we can at least try. Otherwise we just have to hope that we stumble on some, which doesn't seem very likely either. Unless you've got a better idea of course; I'm willing to listen to any and all suggestions.'
Tony shook his head, and Jason watched as the other Gen shuffled his way across to the base of the tree before leaning against the trunk with one hand, his other hand rubbing the bottom of his back, a grimace of pain on his face.
'As bad as that?'
Tony merely nodded his head and closed his eyes.
'Go and sit down.' Grasping the part of the trunk that was still growing straight upwards, and using the other half that was resting almost horizontally on the ground as a step, Jason began to climb towards the dense canopy many metres above his head.
'Be careful.' Tony's warning drifted up to him as he climbed steadily higher and higher.
The view when his head finally popped up above the leaves was spectacular. Jason first looked back in the direction they had fled during the night, and was surprised at how far they had come. He estimated a distance of perhaps five kilometres. It was a long distance to travel, both in the dense jungle, and more especially in the dark. Fear certainly added wings to the feet, he thought wryly, as he watched several small birds that he had disturbed fly up into the clear sky.
Thankfully however, in the bright light of day and as far as he could see in all directions, everything looked quiet. The face of a cliff that he knew must house many caves rose almost vertically from the jungle floor, but even there, he could still see no movement.
Either no one knew they had escaped, or no one was bothered about it. Perhaps they expected them to perish in the dense jungle from lack of food or water. Whatever the reason, for the moment at least they were safe from pursuit, and that had to be a good thing.
Jason turned his head slowly, first one way then the other. Until he finally spotted what he had been looking for, a wide area covered by large fleshy and very distinguished looking green and yellow leafed plants.
He knew that the plants did not in themselves indicate water. But they did look very similar to the plants that Roy had told them about. He had said they were like cactus plants back on Earth. Except it was the leaves of these plants which retained water and not the plants themselves.
Roy had also warned them that the liquid was rather foul tasting but was not in any way harmful. At the moment Jason would have been only to willing to drink anything at all that even resembled water, no matter what it might look smell, or indeed taste like.
He managed to descend once more down to the jungle floor without mishap, although he had collected quite a few scratches both on his way up and down.
Tony lay flat out on his back, staring up at him, a hand held up in front of his face to shield his eyes from the Sun that was filtering through the canopy.
'Did you see anyone looking for us?'
Jason began to shake his head, and then saw that Tony was no longer looking at him. 'No. It looks to me as if they were either leaving us to sweat it out without food or water. Perhaps so that when they finally came to question us, we'd be only too keen to answer their questions.'
'Or, there has to be an "or," right?'
'Right, or - they intended leaving us there to die.' He looked across at Tony who seemed to have gone several shades paler.
'And you really believe that that's what they intended?'
'Why not? As we said before, they already know everything that we could tell them, what would they want to keep us alive for? Far better to leave us there, and then come back and dispose of our bodies later,' Jason stated.
'Then why go to the trouble of taking us there in the first place?'
'Again why not? We already know that the Organisation doesn't want us to talk to the Distect. So if they get rid of us, then that takes care of it doesn't it? No fuss or bother. Job done.'
'You mean they could be disposing of Jordan and Vidal at this very moment?' Tony asked, appalled.
'I suppose so - yes.' Jason sighed. 'Look, don't take all this as gospel. It's only speculation at the moment. They could have some other reason for taking us which doesn't necessitate murdering us. But if so, I have no idea what it could be.'
'But you don't think that's very likely do you?' Tony pressed.
Jason shrugged his shoulders, 'No, I don't.'
They both fell into a contemplative silence as they made their way through the thick growth, until Tony suddenly asked. 'If they really wanted us dead, why didn't they murder us in the Comcab, why go to all the bother of taking us to that cave?'
Jason sighed. 'Even here in the Distect two dead bodies discovered in a Comcab would cause some questions. But we wouldn't have been found in that cave for months perhaps even years, perhaps never. Now stop asking stupid questions.'
Aryanus had a large Sun that they could see above them between breaks in the dense canopy. It appeared to be larger than the Sun in their own Solar System. Yet although it was undoubtedly hot, it was more the humidity that surrounded them like a thick blanket that was worse than anything else.
'I feel as though I could literally eat the air!' Tony's voice drifted to his ears from somewhere close behind him. 'How much further is it anyway?'
'Not much.' Jason replied automatically then pointed, shouting. 'Hey, there they are!' The large tall succulent leaves of the plants could now be seen growing above the other undergrowth, and they were less than half a kilometre ahead of them. Both men found that the mere thought of water added wings to their feet, as they stumbled forward.
'Shen, just look at the thickness of those leaves. How are we going to cut through them?'
'No problem.' Jason bent and drew the switch knife from the sheath on his ankle, with a flourish. 'Always be prepared as my Grandfather used to say.'
'I thought they took all our weapons. Where did that come from?' Tony demanded, but Jason was too busy slicing through the leather like skin of one of the plants to bother with an answer.
The water when they could see it, was a milky colour, and was obviously mixed with the plant's sap. As Roy had warned them, the taste was bitter having an almost metallic flavour once it hit the back of the throat. The smell was even worse.
'I never thought I'd be pleased to drink something like this,' Tony confessed, as he sat crossed legged on the floor and pulled a face.
'The secret is to hold your nose and drink it down as fast as you can saying "yuk!" after each mouthful.' Jason informed him with a grin, as he set to work on yet another plant.
'Pity we can't carry some of the water with us, but we've nothing to put it in.' Tony pointed out. 'I hope this stuff doesn't make us ill or act like a laxative or something equally as bad.'
'Roy would have told us if it did.'
'Yes, so would Jordan, I suppose. You know what an old woman he can be sometimes.'
Jason grinned, 'Vidal too. But I've got to admit I wish he was here now, if for no other reason than I'd know he was safe.'
Tony nodded his agreement, and then watched as Jason began to hack more leaves from the plant. 'Don't cut any more for me, I'll be sick if I try to drink another drop.'
'These aren't to drink now, they're to carry with us. I reckon we can manage about half a dozen each. I don't suppose they'll last us very long, but at least they might see us through to nightfall, if we're sparing with them.'
'Have you any idea which way to go?'
Jason indicated with his arm. 'I'm taking us in that direction. If I'm not mistaken that range of hills on the horizon is close to where we've hidden the shuttle. If we can find that, we should be able to find our way to Sector VII without a problem. Come on let's make a move, or we'll never get there, and I don't fancy spending another night wandering around out here. We've been lucky, but Wil did say there are a number of predators and dangerous insects that live here, so we don't want to push our luck too far.'
'I expect they're wondering where we are.' Tony observed as he followed behind Jason, half carrying and half dragging his own supply of leaves.
'They've worked out what's happened to us by now.' Jason replied with certainty. 'Trust me - neither of them are fools.'
Read Chapter 9
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