Published as a part of A Companion In Zeor #13, 14, 15 & 16
Jordan looked across at Vidal as he stood up and stretched his arms and tentacles. Neither man mentioned their Companions, after all they had already exhausted all avenues of discussion, and knew that at the moment there was little more they could do to find them; for they had no idea who had taken them, where they had been taken, or indeed any other relevant information.
Vidal finally broke the silence for both of them, as he pointed out. 'I suppose we'd better go and see this fellow Neels at the Council. He'll be expecting us.'
The office the two Simes were shown into an hour later, was both small and utilitarian, and was furnished with nothing more than a desk and several straight backed chairs, while a large computer system dominated one wall. Quin Neels, the Gen they had spoken to last night, jumped to his feet and literally beamed across at them.
'You're early, come in and sit down. I've contacted two friends who are keen to meet you. I must admit, they're as intrigued as me to find out what this proposition you wish to propose is all about?' His bushy eyebrows rose in query as he looked from one Sime to the other.
'We have another problem that you may be able to help us with,' Jordan said as they both sat down.
'Well of course if I can help you in any way, that's what the Council is for.' He looked once more from one to the other.
'We've been travelling with two Gen friends,' Jordan began.
'You mentioned them, last night. Your transfer partners, as I understand it?'
Jordan nodded. 'When we got back to our lodgings, we found they'd gone.'
'Gone? You mean they've left here, gone to another Sector perhaps?'
'Not exactly,' Vidal interceded and then zlinned the Gen deeply, knowing that Jordan was doing the same, as he said bluntly, 'Someone sent a message purportedly coming from me, which asked them to go to Starless World.' He paused. 'We know they never arrived there, and neither have they returned. Do you have any idea what might have happened to them?'
Neels held his hands out, palms upwards. 'I have no idea at all. Why should I?' Both Channels knew at once that he was telling the truth. If he wasn't, then he was able to mislead both Channels at once, and neither believed that that was possible.
'Thank you for being so open with us, as you can imagine we're very worried by their disappearance,' Jordan said with a sigh, he had been hoping that Neels might know something.
'Yes of course that's understandable. But if they've decided to move on, on their own, it's not a total disaster is it? I mean, there are plenty of Gens only too willing to help out a couple of good looking men like you.' He grinned broadly and winked at them.
'Normally what you say might be true, but unfortunately Vidal and I both have a speed and capacity way above normal. It's the reason we've stayed with the same partners for so long.' Jordan explained quickly.
'Yes, I can see how that could be awkward. But you're fortunate. Only a few months back we followed Sector V's lead, and set up an agency for dealing with awkward cases like you. We'd been averaging two or three kills a year in this Sector for a long time, accidents of course, then a couple of years ago this suddenly increased for no reason that we could see.
'Simes similar to yourselves were attacking Gens as a final resort, even though they knew that the Gens couldn't meet their need.' He shook his head. 'I'll give you the address of the agency, they can supply you with a list of Gens who should be a match, and who will be more than willing to help both of you.'
Jordan nodded his head in thanks. 'However, we're more worried about our friends whereabouts and safety. The fact that they're also our transfer partners, is secondary to that.'
'Yes of course,' the Gen got up and walked across to a wall which was covered in graphs and maps of the immediate area. Standing there with his back to the room he began to bite his nails. The action only confirmed what both Channels already know - he was nervous - the question to be answered, was why?
Both Simes zlinned the approach of two Simes, before a discreet buzz from the door heralded their arrival. Neels almost ran across the carpet to greet them as it opened. 'Ah good you're here, come in,' he waved them both inside.
The two renSimes were not tall, but both were almost painfully thin, even for Simes. The Gen closed the door behind them, as the man sat down alongside Vidal, and the female walked across and sat down in Quin Neel's seat behind the desk.
Quin indicated the male Sime; this is Graham Shorne, and my cousin Amanda Neels. They're both on the Area Committee.' Introductions over the Gen moved to hitch his hip on the edge of the desk, one leg swinging in the air as he left the floor to his cousin.
'Quin tells us that you have a proposition to put to us? How can we help?' Amanda came straight to the point.
'Well before we go any further, are we correct is assuming that there is no central committee in overall control on Aryanous?'
She stared across at Jordan, a hint of doubt entering her field for the first time. 'If you're Distect, you know that.'
'Of course,' Vidal jumped in at once, worried in case Jordan revealed too much about them, too soon. 'We've been off planet for several years, there've been a lot of changes in our absence. We just want to get our parameters clear. Bear with us please.' Vidal broadcast calm into the ambient of the office, quickly supported by Jordan.
Quin Neels had been doing what he could since Vidal and Jordan had first arrived, but he was only an ordinary Gen with no formal training at all, and once the two Simes had entered the equation, his efforts such as they were, had been little short of useless.
Vidal smiled at the woman, and was relieved when she responded to his overture and she blushed slightly as she nodded her head in acquiescence.
"Thank you, Jason." Vidal thought silently, for the Gen had reminded him on many occasions that a smile would often get you much further than a frown, especially where women were concerned. Vidal felt the Sectuib's surprise momentarily flair in his field as he watched his friend flirt with her, for Amanda Neels was not attractive in any accepted sense of the word.
'Thank you Amanda,' he said softly, and smiled again into her eyes. She clasped her hands on the desk in front of her, her tentacles dancing between her fingers as she gave him her full attention as she went on.
'I'm afraid there's still no overall Government. It has been discussed from time to time, but you know what we're like. A Government would inevitably lead to a Prime Minister or President, and that smacks far too much of Earth and the Tecton.' She shuddered delicately. 'Besides, can you imagine the Distect agreeing to having one man in absolute control?'
Graham Shorne laughed out loud. 'I don't think anything would lead to Civil War quicker than that. We are individualists after all.'
Quin nodded his agreement. 'A leader would have all the powers of a dictator, the Distect would never agree to it.'
Amanda laughed. 'You must be aware gentlemen, of how long it has taken us to get as far as we have? Local Councils and Area Committees - decades! Mind you I hate to think of what it was like before.'
'Chaos!' Shorne murmured. 'My grandfather can even remember a time when fighting on the streets was the accepted norm.'
'And we have no one to blame but the shenning Tecton for most of it,' Quin stated bitterly.
'No, it's not entirely their fault,' Amanda murmured. 'Right from the very beginning they were frightened of us. People are always frightened of those who don't conform. We made a lot of mistakes back then. Instead of trying to ram our ideas down their throats, we should have been more subtle about it, taken things step by step, and got them to accept one of our ideas before we moved on to the next one.'
'That would have taken forever.' Quin Neels replied.
'Maybe, but at least we wouldn't be living like this,' she waved her tentacles gracefully in the air, to encompass the room, 'Underground like rats. Still in virtual hiding, and having to rely on the Organisation for most of the luxuries of life, and if we aren't careful it won't be long before they take over the Distect altogether.' She warned, obviously voicing an argument that had been raised many times before.
Shorne nodded his agreement. 'That's true, but at least for the moment we can live free, and according to our own tenets.'
'But for how much longer?' She sighed softly. 'My apologies, we seem to have gotten ourselves side-tracked gentlemen. Perhaps you would like to tell us exactly what this is all about?'
Vidal caught Jordan's eye. Did they take these three Distect members into their confidence or not? It was a hard decision to make. If Jason was present he would probably say that "yes" they should do so. But the Gen would also be quite prepared to draw a weapon and take drastic action to enable them to escape, if any of the three tried to hold or detain them.
Over the years Vidal too had come to look at things in a different manner than his fellow Channels. Realising that sometimes the end - did indeed - justify the means. But he had little doubt that Jordan would not agree with that analysis.
For the first time he suddenly understood what Jason had meant when he said that Jordan and Tony could ruin the whole assignment if they acted like bleeding hearts, and not the hard-nosed agents that they were supposed to be. At the time he had been annoyed with his Companion, but much as he hated to admit it, Jason was right.
Indeed, if he were brutally honest, he would also have to admit that almost from the very beginning of their time together, Jason had always been the harder, and in some ways the stronger of the two of them.
This assignment was important. The future relationship between Earth and the Distect was at stake; which was far too important to allow a couple of Simes and a Gen to ruin the whole mission by turning them over to the Distect Guard. As Vidal knew, the Distect hated spies, and executed them without bothering too much about a trial.
Vidal touched his hip with his hand, feeling the disruptor under his fingertips. If necessary, like Jason, he now knew he would be quite prepared to draw that weapon to enable them to escape from this room. With luck he would not have to fire it, and hopefully he would only injure and not hit anyone fatally, but even if he did, then he was fully prepared to do so. Vidal was not proud of it, but it was a fact and could not be denied. He also knew that Jordan would never do so, whatever the circumstances, and there lay the basic difference between them.
Glancing across at the Sectuib, even without zlinning him Vidal knew from the expression on his face, that his friend was not happy with either him, or indeed the way the meeting was going. Jordan often had the uncanny knack of seeming to know what he was both feeling and thinking, without him saying a word.
Only Quin Neels was surprised when the buzz sounded and the door opened almost immediately. 'There's an external call for you Graham.' A young Gen girl stated standing in the doorway without entering the room.
'Excuse me, I'd better take it.' Graham Shorne got to his feet at once and headed for the door.
'Rather than have you repeat everything again when he comes back, I think we'll use this time to fetch a tray of trin. Give me a hand Quin.' Amanda ushered her cousin out of the room.
Vidal gave a sigh of relief as the door closed behind the other two, 'I was trying to think of an excuse for us to have a few minutes alone,' he stated, as Jordan turned to face him.
'Tell me I'm mistaken Vidal. You are actually considering drawing a weapon on these people if things don't go our way? Am I wrong?'
'No, far from it, this isn't a game Jordan. We're here in the middle of one of the biggest Distect territories known to us. Jason and Tony are - well we don't know where they are. And we have to find them before they're tortured or worse! Shen it to hell Jordan! This isn't a game, I only wish it were. I'm sorry, but you're right.' He admitted biting back a sigh as he went on.
'If they aren't happy with what we've got to tell them, then yes, I do intend to get us out of here by any means possible, and if that means using this.' He indicated his disruptor. 'Then believe me I will use it. If I don't, and they hand us over to the Guard, we'll be executed within days. And who do you think will help Jason and Tony then? Besides which, our mission will have failed completely.'
'I don't like it.'
'No, neither do I. This is just the sort of situation that I tried to explain to you might arise, before we ever came here.'
Vidal stared at Jordan for a moment, and then placed a tentacle on his shoulder before he spoke again. 'Look, if you prefer, go back to Dave and Milly's now and see if you can do anything to find Jason and Tony. I'll handle things here.'
'Don't be ridiculous, I have no intention of walking out of here and leaving you on your own.'
'The decision is yours.' Vidal said softly. 'You don't have to draw a weapon, but don't do anything to try and stop me from doing so,' and he stared challengingly into the dark eyes that were so very like his own.
After a moment Jordan nodded his head, once up and then down.
Vidal sighed as he sensed in his friend's field the shock that he felt at his words; and much as he hated to do so, Vidal knew he had to make his own position crystal clear to the Sectuib. 'Jordan look, I never thought I'd have to remind you of this, but you signed the death warrants on hundreds of innocent Gens during your time on Rockall. Jason didn't agree with what was happening there, and to be honest neither did I. But we accepted it, because YOU said it was necessary.'
Vidal hesitated. 'This time I'm asking you to believe me when I say we're dealing with Distect members here, who are more ruthless than anyone you have ever come into contact with before. I'm not asking you to participate Jordan, but I am asking you to accept my assessment of the situation; as we once accepted yours - and do nothing to interfere.'
'That was below the belt, Vidal.'
'I know.' He almost squirmed as he saw the expression of hurt on his friend's face, but held to his resolve.
'Very well, I don't like it, but since you leave me no alternative - I will not interfere with any action you take.'
'Thank you, that's all I ask.' Vidal glanced at the door zlinning the corridor outside, then watched as Amanda and Quin came in carrying a tray of trin.
'Graham got called away, his wife is expecting their first child. He sends his apologies and if it is another false alarm, he will try to get back before we're finished.' Quin informed them, as Amanda cleared a place on his desk for the tray.
It was more luck than good judgement that caused the two Gens to quite literally stumble across the shuttle.
Tony gave a cry of delight as he realised what he was looking at, and called to Jason. 'Come on let's get inside and raid the emergency rations, I'm starving.'
Tony broke out the rations and they both sat in silence eating ravenously.
Jason then fetched two cans of the energy drink with which the shuttle seemed to be well stocked. Picking up the can he poured half of the contents down his throat before he put it down again, and gave a contented sigh.
'It's starting to get dark, shall we spend the night here and set off again in the morning?' Tony asked hopefully.
'We're very close to the main entrance into Sector VII. If I know Jordan and Vidal they're going to be worried sick about us by now. Don't you think we should try and get back there tonight?' He asked, leaving the ultimate decision up to Tony, who looked exhausted.
'Yes, you're right of course. I'm just being selfish. Okay, let's go.'
'Hey, hold it right there my friend! We've got to replace the weapons they took from us. We can't go out there naked, so to speak. Now let me see, as far as I can recall Vidal said there were replacements in the cupboard under one of the seats back there.' Moving purposefully across the small cabin, he fell to his knees and soon had the cupboard open, and was pulling out disruptors and knives, pushing some towards Tony.
A few minutes later they were ready to go and Jason lead the way, turning his head to see if the other Gen was following him.
'What's that stuff you're carrying Tony?'
'Just a few clean clothes.'
'Put them back inside the shuttle. I mean it, you can't carry that stuff with you, you idiot.'
He saw the confusion on his colleague's face as he asked 'Why not?'
'Because there's still time for our abductors to attack us, that's why not.'
Jason snapped back. 'And if they did attack us, you'd have to put that lot down first, then reach for your disruptor, get it out, aim and fire. And by the time you've done all that, you'll be lying on the ground dead and your attacker will be back home with his feet up sipping a glass of trin, or something stronger. Believe me, I do know what I'm talking about.'
'I thought we were safe now.' Tony confessed.
'No way! I wish we were, but this happens to be the most dangerous part of the whole journey. If they know we've gone, and they must know by now. Then they also realise we have to get back inside Sector VII, and there's only one way in.' Jason smiled grimly at his friend, 'A good reason for us to make our move now, in the dark. Not much of an edge I'll grant you, but better than nothing.'
'Unless of course they intended for us to die there,' Tony reminded him.
'Yes unless, the trouble is we can't rely on that, we have to go with the worse case scenario. Come on let's make a move.' They exited the shuttle and hid it once more with underbrush and branches. 'You know its not often I wish Jordan and Vidal were here, but we could really use them right now.'
Tony fell into step beside him. 'You mean in case there are Simes out there?'
'Yes. We're going to show up like a couple of beacons. At least Vidal and Jordan could hide our fields.'
'We can do that for ourselves - to a degree.'
'You can maybe, but not me. I can only manage it for about a minute, maybe two at a pinch.' Jason admitted ruefully. 'Which is why I want you to go in first, with any luck you just might evade them. We'll use the rocks as much as possible for cover, and I'll watch your back, and then make my own run for it. But if it does come to a fight, don't hesitate to use the disruptor.'
'If you think I'm going to leave you behind and try to save my neck while you...'
'Yes, Tony, that's exactly what I think you should do. I know it might seem all heroic for you to risk your life when it isn't necessary to do so, but what's the point in both of us ending up dead?' Jason demanded harshly. 'You get yourself inside the entrance and hightail it back to Dave and Milly's. We have only one thing working for us; we registered with the computer on our arrival; so we don't have to do it again. So don't wait around for me. I can take care of myself. One of us has to let Jordan and Vidal know what happened to us.' He saw the obstinate look on Tony's face as he spoke.
Turning to face him full on, he grasped his shoulders in both hands, and stared into his eyes. 'I'm pulling rank here Tony. I want you to do exactly as you're told, okay?' He shook him slightly, 'Okay?'
'Yes, okay, but I don't have to like it.'
'No you don't have to like it, just as long as you do as you're damn well told and follow orders,' Jason said harshly.
When they set off once more, it was already growing dark, and only the noise of insects and small night creatures broke the silence around them.
'We should have brought a torch.' Tony muttered as he tripped over a branch and nearly fell flat on his face for the third time.
'Yes, and we might just as well shout and let them know exactly where we are.' Jason said quietly. 'A light of any sort would be seen for kilometres in this sort of stygian darkness. Now shut up we should be getting close. Keep down low from now on and use the rocks as much as you can, we don't want them to zlin us if we can possibly avoid it.'
'You know I never realised how much light we get from our Moon on Earth.' Tony murmured.
'Yes, surprising isn't it? Shh.' Jason's voice dropped to a mere breath. 'If I'm not mistaken that's the entrance over there.' And he pointed to a half circle of lights that illuminated the entrance into Sector VII. It had appeared almost like magic out of the pitch-black night, as they rounded a tree.
Jason closed his eyes, for in this type of situation when he was listening for the movement of people, sight could actually be a hindrance. Placing his lips against Tony's ear he murmured. 'I can't hear anything out there, not on either side, can you?' He felt his friend shake his head, and then instructed. 'Stay here and don't move.'
Jason then crawled forward on his stomach, edging ever closer to the entrance. His eyes probed the darkness, which seemed to fall from the trees around him filling the spaces underneath to become ever darker. Yet as there was no light near him, neither were there any shadows, except near the entrance itself. For several minutes he lay and simply stared around him into the jungle. If there was indeed anyone out there watching, then they were good, very good.
Crawling back to where he had left Tony was difficult, and they actually bumped heads in the dark. Jason's immediate reaction was to automatically push his friend's face down into the soft soil to stop him from speaking out loud. Tony spluttered as his mouth filled with dirt and leaves. 'Sorry about that,' Jason breathed into his ear, 'Are you okay?' Tony nodded.
'As far as I can tell, it seems to be safe. Just keep close to the ground till you get inside the entrance to the tunnel; then stay as near to the inside wall as possible. Don't look back and don't stop for anything. I'll see you back at Dave and Milly's.' Jason touched his shoulder and whispered. 'Off you go; and good luck.'
Jason felt but did not see Tony move away, sliding along on his belly. After about half a minute Jason slid after him, stopping at the edge of the clearing in front of the entrance to Sector VII. He watched as Tony slid forward still clinging to the dark till he had no alternative but to enter the small pool of light and shadow cast by the circle of lights.
Taking out his disruptor, he saw Tony rise up, his body still bent over as he raced inside the tunnel, but before he had actually reached the wall, all shen broke loose.
'Shit!' The expletive escaped Jason's mouth, as the muffled roar of a blaster broke the silence, and a flash of light momentarily lit up the night and an energy bolt hit the wall just behind Tony's head. To his relief the Gen dropped even lower but kept moving.
Jason hoped that Tony was safely inside the tunnel as he dragged his eyes away from the scene, and fired his own disruptor at the spot where he had seen the flash of light. Instinctively he rolled quickly to one side as he did so, not surprised when two blasters fired back at where he had last been hiding. Jumping to his knees, he fired just to the right of where he had seen the two flashes, and heard a scream instantly cut off, and knew he had hit one of them, before he scrambled forward on his knees using only one hand, his disruptor still clasped tightly in the other hand.
Standing up, but bent over at the hip, Jason fired twice in the direction of where he had heard the scream, and then ran zigzagging as fast as he could towards the entrance. He heard the shrill roar as at least two blasters fired at him again and again, hitting the ground beside him and then the wall near his face as he entered the tunnel, shattering a piece of rock that hit him on both the cheek and forehead.
He was just congratulating himself on escaping virtually unscathed, when the shrill whistle of another weapon echoed in the tunnel and he was thrown to his knees as an energy bolt from a particle weapon hit his shoulder. Luckily it was not a direct hit, or it would have blown half his body away. Scrambling to his feet, his head bent over, and one hand on the wall to guide him, he kept moving and did not dare to look back.
Almost without warning the tunnel swung suddenly to one side and Jason straightened up as fast as he could, when he saw the Guard on duty at the Visitors Entrance.
As Jason was on the residents' side of the tunnel, the Guard simply glanced up, acknowledged him briefly, and then looked down at the small screen in front of him; allowing the computer to automatically verify who he was, that he was indeed registered as residing in Section VII, and that his tax was paid up to date. Apart from glancing at those brief details on the screen, the guard thankfully was not interested in him.
Jason momentarily closed his eyes and whispered a silent thank you to whatever deity was watching over him tonight that the guard had been Gen and not Sime.
He was unaware that he was leaving a trail of blood on the floor behind him from the wound in his back. Although he could definitely feel the warm stickiness as the blood ran down his face, and dripped off his chin to be absorbed by his tunic.
>From this point on the tunnel became steel lined, and Jason was grateful for the moving floor that carried him along without the necessity of having to walk under his own steam.
He was of course aware that something had hit him in the back, for he felt the burning hot sensation almost as though a red-hot poker had stabbed him in the shoulder. But as there was little he could do about it at the moment, he just had to try and ignore it as best he could, and keep moving.
Relief swept over him as he stepped out of the tunnel into the vast cavern they had first entered when they had arrived here. He placed one hand against the wall beside him, and looked around for the Comcab signaler he had used before, pleased when he saw it was only a few steps away.
When the vehicle finally arrived he almost fell into it, thankful that it was unmanned as he gave instructions for it to take him to Number 644 on level 5.
Collapsing back in the seat he closed his eyes, and concentrated hard on simply not passing out, hoping that Tony would be waiting for him when he arrived back. He also wondered briefly as to what he would say to Vidal, let alone Jordan, if the Gen had not returned safely, and knew it was something he had no wish to even contemplate at this moment in time.
It was Dave who opened the door to Tony. Vidal and Jordan had arrived back only minutes before, which meant Dave, had been standing closest to the entrance.
The three Simes appeared in the hallway almost simultaneously, all zlinning Tony before they even spoke.
'Are you all right?' Dave demanded at once, 'Where's Jason?'
'I was just about to ask that,' Vidal admitted.
'Will you all stop crowding him like this, and let him come in, he's tired out.' Milly instructed, as she led the way into the kitchen.
Tony gratefully accepted Jordan's help till he could sit down on the nearest chair, his legs suddenly feeling weak.
'Jason will be here soon.' He managed to say, and then couldn't think of another word to say.
'He'll be here soon?' Jordan repeated as he straddled a chair, his arms folded along the back, his tentacles tightly sheathed, as he faced the Gen.
'Take your time Tony.' Vidal said and fell to his knees beside him, looking up into his face. 'It's just that we've been worried about you, both of you. Now tell us what happened from the time you both left here.'
Milly placed a glass of trin in front of him. 'Are you hungry?'
'No, we got some food from the shuttle.'
Jordan's tentacles danced out of their sheaths. 'You went back to the shuttle, why?'
'Jordan please; let him speak.' Vidal begged. 'Go on Tony, tell us all about it,' he said encouragingly.
Tony sighed and tried to get his thoughts into some kind of order, he had just come to the end of his narration without too many interruptions, when Jordan jumped up and ran down the hall towards the door at full augmentation followed by Vidal. Seconds later he returned carrying Jason in his arms.
He took him straight into the bedroom and the two Channels quickly undressed him, then laid him face down on the bed, and Vidal set to work on his injuries. Milly removed his blood stained clothing, and brought water and towels to clean the dirt and blood from his body and face.
Vidal soon healed the cuts on Jason's cheek and forehead, and then set to work on his shoulder.
'Do you require my help?' Jordan asked quietly as he watched.
'No, thank you, he's responding very well at the moment,' Vidal said with obvious satisfaction.
'It's bad isn't it?' Milly asked, and then winced at the pain the Gen was broadcasting into the room.
Jordan nodded. 'He's lost a lot of blood.' He smiled across at her, 'There's nothing more you can do here for the time being anyway, perhaps you should go and wait in the kitchen?' He suggested, knowing that the Gens would protect her from any more of Jason's pain.
'I think you're right,' she acknowledged reluctantly, and went to join Dave and Tony.
'This wound wasn't caused by either a blaster or a disruptor,' Jordan said categorically once they were alone, and he bent forward to examine the Gen's shoulder more closely.
'I was thinking the same thing. The edges are more ragged, different somehow, it's almost like the fleshy part of his shoulder has been removed. It's lucky there was no bone in the way; but just a couple of millimetres in either direction and it would have been a different story.' Vidal stated as he looked up into his friend's eyes, then they both fell silent as he set to work on the horrendous injury once more.
A short while later Vidal sat back, 'If I'm not mistaken this was caused by a particle weapon,' he stated firmly.
'I've never actually seen a wound like this before, but you could be right,' the Sectuib agreed at once, 'I'm looking forward to hearing exactly what happened to him.'
Vidal smiled wryly, 'Getting the full story out of Jason will be like drawing teeth.'
Read Chapter 10
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