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DIATA
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DIATA 

CHAPTER ELEVEN

 

Crayle was in his office when Careen got back to the shuttle. He looked as if he had been sleeping in his clothes. He had not shaved for days. He looked up when she walked in.

“So you are back. Have a nice time with your friends? At least you look well enough. Normec is going to inform us of the result of his report to with the Governors. He said that as soon as he has analysed the written instructions that have been given to him, he will let us know. In other words, we are to sit tight and wait,” Crayle said, “As if we haven't been waiting long enough already. This week has been the longest week of my life. Not knowing what is going to happen to me. Us.”

“Don't you think I've been worrying about that as well?” asked Careen. She did not want to talk to him at all but she knew that she had to keep on the right side of him under the circumstances. She felt that she could never forgive him for hitting her as he did or for trying to rape her. Crayle, for his part, could feel the tension in her and he realised that their relationship, for what it had been, would never be the same again.

Councillor Normec sent his shuttle to pick up Crayle in order to explain the position and to give him his instructions. Careen wondered why Normec couldn't have asked to see them both She was not particularly concerned, Normec disliked women that held any position and she preferred to be alone rather than with Crayle. She had thought a great deal about Crayle's attempt to rape Diata and herself. She knew that Crayle had considered her to be a loose woman. Maybe she was, she thought, but she hated a man that thought he could take what he wanted from a woman. She liked to give herself to whom she wanted.

Crayle did not come back until the following day. When he returned, she noticed a change in his attitude. He appeared to be quite excited but did not enlighten her at all. She endured his silence for an hour or so before her impatience got the better of her.

“Well. Is it top secret or can you tell me what's happening? You've been strutting around as if you have been made a Councillor or something,” she said, finally confronting him. Crayle grinned at her.

“No such luck. But there is a bit of good news. We have to stay here for a few more weeks and I've, or rather, we've been promised inconvenience pay.”

“What do we have to do while we are here? They must expect something to pay us for staying here.” Careen could not stretch her imagination enough to believe that the Governors would give away anything. They had the whole Empire of planets paying them taxes and extortionate rates for goods that they supplied to the colonies. The more they got, the greedier they became, as her experience in selling these goods showed her. This little escapade with Diata must have cost them a lot already and they would not be pleased with that.

“All we have to do is sit tight. They want us to keep an eye on the natives and make a list of all the leaders. That's all we have to do. We don't even have to try to sell to them any more,” said Crayle, rubbing his hands with glee.

“What do they want a list of the leaders for?”

“Normec didn't tell me that. You don't ask Councillor questions. You do what you are told. He just said that he has to leave and will be back. In the meantime we are to make that list of names and addresses.”

“It doesn't sound right to me. Why couldn't they do that themselves? I mean, We are not exactly cut out for this kind of thing, are we? We are sales representatives.”

“Who cares? We are off the hook! We could be going down to the end of the queue for our subsistence benefit, instead.” Crayle was getting annoyed.

Careen sensed the annoyance in his voice and decided to say no more. He was so relieved at what he considered a reprieve that he failed to see that it was entirely inconsistent with the Governors normal attitude.

 

Normec returned two weeks later with an Empire warship that was, at least, more comfortable than the freighter. On board were all the conveniences that Normec considered necessary for one of his standing. As soon as the warship was established in orbit around Diata, and all the arrangements had been made for the long stay, Normec contacted Crayle. The first thing that he requested was the list of the leaders' names. When Crayle said that the First Father had banned him from leaving the vicinity of the shuttle and that the list was incomplete, Normec wanted to know why. Crayle declined to reveal the true reason for fear of retribution and decided to say that he didn't know.

“The first Father and a few others came here and imposed the ban upon us here. He stated that he wanted us to leave the planet as soon as possible,” said Crayle.

“And you, of course, obeyed the First Father and remained in the shuttle,” said Normec, sarcastically. Crayle wished that he had not said anything about Peto's order of confinement. Things were bad enough without his making it worse.

“There was nothing that I could do, Councillor. There were several of them here and as you know, we have no weapons on board the shuttle. I could do nothing but obey them.” Crayle knew that he was grovelling but he also knew that Normec could destroy him at any time he wished.

“That will soon change. The Governors have put me in charge of an invasion force. The purpose of the invasion is to ensure that the sycnel becomes the property of the Empire and used for the common good of the Empire's subjects. Martial law will be imposed and objectors will be taken captive and punished according to the law of the Empire. The purpose of the list of leaders, that you failed to obtain, was so that they could be arrested as soon as possible so as to cause us no further trouble. Without leaders, people tend to become demoralised.” Normec was being very informative, which was unusual for him.

“What will happen to the rest of the natives here?” asked Crayle.

“That is something that you don't have to worry about. They will have the choice to remain here and mine the sycnel or they can become rebellious and end up as slaves mining on one of the remote satellites or worse. The women that rebel will certainly be appreciated by the troops of the Empire. From what I have seen of them, they are quite attractive. Of course, if there is any conflict with the natives, they will all be annihilated. That is what I personally would like to happen. Then we can take the sycnel when we want it.” Crayle was curious. He wondered what part he and Careen was expected to play.

“What is required of Soman and myself then? We are not troops. We are not even military minded.”

“This is the first time that the troops have been used in seventy years. They have had it easy acting as policemen in various places and maintaining a show of strength to those colonies that were on the verge of becoming rebellious. Your cargo shuttle will be used to transport the troops from the warship to the planet and to transport the necessary equipment for them. It will also be used as the headquarters of the troops. You and Soman will assist them. That is all I have to say at the present.” Normec closed the meeting, as always in such a way that one could not ask any further questions to satisfy curiosity.

Crayle explained to Careen everything that Normec had told him. Careen was shocked.

“You mean that Normec is going to annihilate everyone on the planet?” she asked.

“If they start a rebellion, yes. Or they will be sent to the mines or other places as slaves. The women will be used as prostitutes for the troops or for entertainment on the planets that don't have women, to further line the pockets of the Governors. Serve them right. They should have accepted our offer in the first place,” replied Crayle.

Careen felt sick. She had made friends with so many here and they had accepted her as one of them. The thought of them suffering at the hands of the troops and the Empire's slave traders was too much for her.

“We've got to warn them. Those troops are trigger-happy. They haven't had anything to shoot at for decades. These people here haven't hurt anyone! We must warn them, Edwan.” Careen looked at him, pleading with him. Crayle shook his head.

“No! No, I'm not going against the Empire! Normec's already got it in for you and me. If we get caught even thinking of helping Peto and his friends, we are as good as dead!”

Careen saw the fear in his eyes at the thought and realised that further argument would be futile. She walked out of the office and went to her room. She sat for some time thinking, then making up her mind; she crept out of the shuttle and took a hovercar. She raced to the village and stopped at Peto's house. Jumping out of the car, she ran to the door and hammered on it until it was opened. Peto stood there.

“Careen, what's the matter?” he asked. Careen pushed her way into the house and breathlessly told him what she had learned from Crayle.

“You've got to give in! They will kill you all! Give them what they want and things won't be too bad for you,” she pleaded.

“What do you mean, they will kill us all? Why would they do that? All we want is to be left alone. We know that all your Empire wants is what they call sycnel, but we don't want to be any part of this Empire. Why should they kill us for that? Don't worry. We have our plans too,” said Peto. As he spoke, Shim entered the room. Careen ran to him and threw her arms around him.

“Shim! You must persuade Peto to co-operate with Normec. If he doesn't there will be many of you killed! They will send in the armed troops. The Empire is ruthless when it wants something. Nothing will stop the Governors from getting it in the end!”

Diata came into the room to see what the commotion was about and heard Careens mention of troops.

“There are no armed forces any more. War was outlawed over two thousand years ago. There weren't any armed forces when this planet was found,” she said.

“That was before the Empire! The old World Government was overthrown and the Governors took control. They are invincible now. They rule by force. You are so out of date here! You can't possibly survive against them,” cried Careen, her tearful eyes pleading with them to listen to her.

“Shim held her and looked into her eyes.

“Careen. Believe me, there is nothing to worry about. Now calm down and decide what you are going to do. You can go back to the shuttle and Crayle won't even know that you have been here or you can stay here with us. We will protect you. I advise you to stay here but you will have to make your own mind up.”

Careen looked at him in despair. They were so primitive in their ways that they didn't understand the danger that they were in. They couldn't be blamed for not comprehending the awesome power that was at the Empire's disposal. She tried again to explain to them. They listened to her, smiling and nodding their heads in understanding, then Peto said, “We know all that. But I am sure that they will not hurt us. Do you want to stay with us and take that chance?” She screamed in frustration but she knew that she would rather be with them and die than with Crayle and Normec and live. She could not understand why she felt like that. She looked at Shim. He was smiling at her confidently. He knows that I'm going to stay, she thought.

“I'm staying. Don't ask me why, I must be a fool,” she said, resignedly.

The first sign that she was missed came from Crayle four hours later. He called her on the communicator, demanding to know where she was. She told him that she had decided to take her chances with the Diatans and that she would not be coming back.

“You fool! You won't stand a chance! Normec has just called to say that we have to start loading the supplies for the invasion tomorrow. What do you think he is going to do when he finds out you have turned traitor?” Crayle was more worried about Normec's anger being directed at him. He was Careen's superior and he should have made sure that she was loyal to the Empire.

“I'm staying here. There is no future in the Empire for us now, anyway. Normec is using us because we are here. Once we are no longer any use to him, we are finished.” Careen was adamant. She had made up her mind and was sticking to her decision.

Peto called a meeting with the leaders to discuss the situation. There were many suggestions made for plans of defence against the invasion, some of which seemed to be quite practical for short-term use. It was the long-term results that he was worried about. They had no plans, or even hope, of defeating the Empire.

He listened carefully to the suggestions and finally they decided on a plan of action for the immediate defence of Diata. The plan was carefully worked out to the last detail before they were finally agreed to put it into action. The following day was spent rehearsing the strategy they would use.

The attack began three days later. It consisted of a force of about a hundred troops under the command of a young and obviously inexperienced lieutenant. All were heavily armed with lasers. They deployed themselves around Hometown, using armoured hovertrucks for transport. When they were in position, the lieutenant gave the order to advance and take the First Father prisoner and to shoot anyone that resisted them. He had been thoroughly briefed and assured that there appeared to be no weapons in the hands of the enemy and was confident that there would be no trouble in carrying out his mission successfully.

The troops advanced warily at first, not trusting the information that the lieutenant had given them. Most of the troops had no knowledge of the real reason why they were here and the action that they had seen in the past was to put down colonies that had rebelled against the Empire. That usually meant that there would be lives lost on both sides during the battle. However it soon became apparent that there would be no resistance and they marched into the village. The villagers were going about their ways as if it was just another day.

Some of the younger troops felt disappointed that their triumphant march into the village had lost a great deal of the glory they were expecting.

The lieutenant grabbed hold of one of the villagers and threatened him with his hand laser.

“Where is the First Father's house?” he demanded. The young man looked surprised.

“If you mean The Father's house, it is just there,” he said pointing to Peto's house.

Releasing the young man, the lieutenant ordered the sergeant who was with him to proceed to the house and arrest the First Father. As the sergeant called for four of his men to accompany him, the door of the house opened and Peto appeared.

“Arrest that man!” shouted the lieutenant. The sergeant and the four troopers broke into a run towards Peto. Peto continued to walk towards them. When they met, the four troops surrounded him, not expecting him to smile at them and offer no resistance. The sergeant noticed that the other villagers casually looked in the direction of the troops and then carried on with their business. He felt foolish. That stupid lieutenant is causing more disturbances than the enemy is, he thought, he has never worked through the ranks. No doubt he had rich parents who had bought him his position. He turned to the lieutenant and saluted.

“Sir! We are meeting no resistance and the villagers seem to be quite passive. Perhaps it would be a good idea to proceed in a casual manner to complete our mission. We do not want to alarm them and provoke resistance,” he said. The officer looked at him, then around at the villagers.

“Yes sergeant. I was going to suggest that myself. I wanted to make sure that we had at least one leader under arrest first, we can then use him as a hostage to flush the others out,” he replied, “Carry on the search for the other leaders. Crayle said there are likely to be others in the house.”

Peto was placed under guard and the sergeant and the four troopers returned to the house. Ordering two of the troopers to station themselves at the rear of the house, he knocked with the butt of his laser and a small child opened the door. The sergeant pushed the door wide and entered. If he was surprised at seeing Eelan, he did not show it. He had seen plenty of half-naked girls in his time. Eelan was dressed in the fashion of the natives. The two troopers with him, on the other hand, exchanged looks and did not try to hide their obvious appreciation of the beauty before them.

“I am looking for any village leaders that may be here, miss. I have orders to search this house,” said the sergeant.

“The only leader that was here has just gone out to meet you. You must have seen him. He is called The Father here,” Eelan said with a smile.

“Yes miss, but I understand that there are others here as well.”

“No. There were some here earlier but they have all gone back to their villages now, I'm sorry,” Eelan smiled at them again and called to the child.

“Cali, come and drink your fruit juice.” Cali went to her and they went into the kitchen, leaving the sergeant and the troopers to do whatever they pleased. The sergeant hesitated for a moment, then turned to the two soldiers.

“All right. Let's go. There are no leaders here,” he said, then as one of them opened his mouth to speak, he added, “No, you can't search the house. I'm satisfied that there is no one else here.”

They returned to the lieutenant and reported that there were no other leaders in the village. Peto was taken to the cargo shuttle for interrogation to find out where the other leaders were. No interrogation was necessary. Peto informed them that all the leaders would be at his house that evening.

“You will be able to talk to them then. We have a meeting scheduled.”

“We can't wait till this evening! What are the names and addresses of the leaders? We will pick them up from their villages.” The lieutenant was anxious to demonstrate that he was in charge of the situation and not Peto. Peto obliged him and gave him a full list of names.

“We can check that these names are correct, you know. We have Crayle here,” said the officer. He could not understand the willingness of Peto to betray his own people. He also found it difficult to understand why the Governors wanted troops here at all.

“I'm sure that Edwan will confirm that all the names are correct. How is he, by the way?” Crayle entered the room as Peto inquired after him.

“I'm fine. How is Careen? She is a traitor, you know. When she is found things will not be too good for her,” he said, “ She has virtually committed suicide.”

“Oh, don't be so morbid. You know, things may not be so bad for her as they may seem. She wanted to stay with us and she did. Maybe she thinks that she has a better chance with us than you have with Normec,” said Peto smiling. Crayle thought that Peto was not fully aware of the situation. If he were, he would not be smiling.

The leaders were arrested without any trouble, each one willing to co-operate with their captors. They were confined in the hold of the shuttle and told that they would be taken to the warship that was orbiting the planet. When Peto and the leaders were left alone, they took the opportunity to talk.

“So far so good,” said Peto, “Do you think they will keep us here for long?” Shim shook his head.

“No. The lieutenant has orders to take us to Normec as soon as he has us all. We should be on our way soon.” Shak looked worried.

“I'm worried about the women. Will they be able to cope with the troops if they try to take advantage of them?”

“There should be no trouble there. Chon and his team are ready to see that the troops are well under control,” said Shim, “We have to worry about being on board the warship. We don't know if our powers will work beyond the atmosphere of Diata.”

Peto nodded in agreement. Their powers were the result of being exposed to the sun's radiations. There had never been an opportunity to try them in space. If they could not use them, their plan would fail and they were in grave danger.

Shim was correct. They did not have to wait long before they felt the shuttle lift off and begin the journey to the warship. They settled down to wait, each one immersed in thought.

The shuttle eventually arrived alongside the warship. Peto and the others were divided into two groups and transferred to two heavily guarded rooms. The separation was no problem as far as communication was concerned. They found that their telepathic powers had not been affected by being in space. Shak, who had been separated from Peto, reached for his father's mind.

“Everything seems OK, Dad. My powers have not been affected at all; neither have the others here with me. How are you?”

“We're fine. Space hasn't affected us, either,” Peto replied.

They did not have to wait long before two guards came and took Peto to a room in which Normec was seated at a desk. Peto was made to stand before him.

“You see, your stubbornness has brought you nothing but inconvenience. You have caused us a great deal of trouble. Had you been co-operative, you would still have your freedom and your people would be able to live almost normal lives. Now, because of you, they will have to work for the Empire as slaves. You and the other leaders will be taken to a penal colony on one of the remote satellites. I'm sure that you will enjoy mining penthoc. I understand that it keeps one extremely fit in every respect with one exception.  Apparently, those that work in the mines gradually lose their sight. It doesn't matter as the work faces of the mines are in total darkness, anyway. As a result, they cannot be transferred to other work, so they are destined to remain in the mines until they die.” Normec took great pleasure in informing Peto of the fate that was in store for him. Peto remained silent. Normec, since Peto was not going to reply, continued. “But, you can still help your people by telling them to submit to the Empire. They will be allocated work in various fields and if they co-operate, they will not suffer too badly.”

“I'm afraid that the people of Diata will not submit to your Empire. They would much prefer to be left alone,” said Peto, “They have the freedom to make up their own minds and knowing them as I do, they will never submit.”

“Yes, I thought you would be as stubborn as ever. Still, without leaders they won't have any guidance. You will be on your way to the mines soon and we will be teaching them a few lessons to help them respect the Empire. We don't expect it to take too long.”

Normec waved his hand in dismissal and the guards took Peto back to the other leaders. Peto lost no time in linking his mind with Shak's. They had all been listening in to Normec's mind and knew what had been said.

“That means that we have to act tonight,” said Peto.

“We are all ready,” replied Chal, one of the leaders.

They were given no food or drink. They assumed that Normec was trying to make them suffer some discomfort. Beyond the locked doors of their prisons, they sensed the minds of two guards posted at each end of the passage. Still further beyond was the confusion of a thousand minds, the crew, the officers and the troops that made up the invasion force that was to subdue the inhabitants of Diata.

They waited, patiently, until the night was well along, then Peto told Shak that it was time.

“Shak, you take Chal and Bryn to take care of the communications. I'll take Derk and Nyto and fix the navigation charts and co-ordinates. Be careful, we don't want anyone hurt. Shim, you and Nye take care of the guards outside.” The men that Peto had indicated nodded. Each one had rehearsed his part and knew exactly what he had to do.

They closed their eyes to concentrate on the task in hand. In the passage outside, one of the guards turned and looked down the passage.

“What's the matter?” grunted his partner. The guard frowned and stood with his head tilted as if listening.

“I thought I heard something,” he said. The other guard looked down towards the rooms that held the leaders.

“Everything seems all right to me,” he said. As he spoke, a guard from the other end of the passage called to them.

“Did you hear something just then?” The first guard called back.

“Yeah. What was it?”

“I don't know,” was the reply, “Let's take a look.” The four guards approached each other warily, their weapons at the ready. They met at the doors of the two rooms that held the leaders and listened. One of them tried the doors to make sure that they were still locked.

Within the rooms, there was a brief flicker of light and Peto, and the five others vanished from the room and re-appeared in the main corridor to which the passage led. Not wasting any time, they sped quietly in the direction of the control room where they expected to find the navigation and communications rooms.

The four guards satisfied that both prison rooms were locked, returned to the end of the passage, too late to see the six figures disappearing around a corner at the end of the corridor. The guards assumed their previous positions, leaning against the walls of the passage.

The four Diatans stopped at each door they came to, reaching telepathically beyond it to read the minds of the occupants in order to find the rooms that they were seeking. Had they been familiar with the huge ship, there would have been no need to search. They could have just teleported wherever they wanted to go. They were beginning to think that they would have to go to every room on the ship to find what they wanted, when Chal called to them.

“Wait! Here's a map of the ship!” He was looking up at a framed plan of the ship's interior that was on the wall of the corridor. They crowded round to see where they were and where the navigation and communications rooms were.

“We are on the wrong deck!” exclaimed Shak, “Look. There are twelve decks. The last three doors we were at were doors to the galley. According to this, the galley is on the third deck. The control room is on the sixth deck and the navigation room is next to it. Communications is next to the navigation room.”

“You're right,” said Peto. He pointed to a small passage on the plan. “That must be where we were imprisoned. Now we can go straight to where we want to go and straight back. That makes things a lot easier. Let's go!” Each of them ascertained their position and destinations. Again, there was the familiar flicker of light as they teleported.

They found that there were two men in the navigation room, another two in the control room and a further three in the communications room. Peto decided that he would tackle the control room first as Comp had assured him that the ship's computer would undoubtedly be in there. At his signal, he and Derk quietly opened the door and walked in. The two men in the control room were in uniform. The badges on their upper arms showed that they were of the Imperial Naval Force. One of the men was reading a book while the other was looking at a screen of a monitor that displayed some wording in black on an orange background.

The one reading looked up casually as Peto and Derk entered, then jumped to his feet and froze. The other turned his head at the sudden movement and, he too, jumped to his feet, opening his mouth to cry out, only to find that his jaw locked shut again and he was unable to open it. Derk's kinetic power held them in its grip. The two men floated together and remained there as if tied with an invisible rope.

“Relax and you will not be hurt,” said Peto, “We will not be long and you can go about your business when we have gone.”

Peto went to the computer and asked it where the navigational co-ordinates were. Not being programmed for such a situation, the computer readily informed Peto where they were. He then removed the plates and asked if there were any more copies of the plates. He was informed that there were none. He next instructed the computer to erase any memory of the co-ordinates from its banks. A second later the computer confirmed that the erasure was complete. Peto checked to make sure by saying that he had made a mistake and wanted the computer to recall the co-ordinates.

“I'm sorry, I am unable to recall the co-ordinates as there is no record of them available. If you re-insert the plates, then I will replace them in my memory banks for future use,” the computer said. Satisfied, Peto told Derk to keep the men bound, then carefully wrapped the plates in a plastic bag that he had found in the control room. Calling Nyto to join him he entered the navigation room. The two men knew nothing of their presence until they were powerless in Nyto's mental grip.

“Where are the navigation charts that are needed to return to Earth?” asked Peto of the two men. He did not expect them to answer, but there minds immediately gave away the location of the plates that contained the star charts by which a competent navigator could find his way back to Earth. They were all together in a plastic container in a drawer. Taking them, Peto wrapped them separately.

Meanwhile, Shak was unplugging the communications system, the three communications operators held helpless by Nye and Bryn. Ensuring that everything was unplugged, Shak stood back and the system disappeared in a flicker of light. Satisfied, he mentally contacted Peto.

“How are you getting on?” he queried.

“Just about finished,” replied Peto, “And you?”

“Ready to go back. The communication system is on the hull, outside.”

Peto took one last look around and beckoned Derk and Nyto to leave. They kept the terrified men in their grip until they were out of the room. Once outside they teleported back to their prison. At the same time, Shak, Nye and Chal arrived back in their prison room with a flicker of light.

Peto felt Shak enter his mind.

“I wouldn't like to be in their place when they are questioned by Normec,” said Shak, with a chuckle, “Normec is going to be furious.”

“The next step is to get back home. We are going to need Normec for that,” replied Peto, “That should not be long now. Those men will be telling their superiors all about it right now. We can expect a visit from them any time now.”

Peto was right. As soon as they found that they were free to move, the men in the control room paused only to press an alarm before rushing out with their lasers in their hands, expecting to see the Diatans running down the corridor. They looked up and down, puzzled. Only seconds before, Peto and the others were in the room with them, now there was no one to be seen but the three men from the communications room that Nye and Bryn had held ineffective. They too had the same puzzled look on their faces.

Alerted by the alarm, armed men came running from both directions to see what the alarm was for.

A breathless officer arrived and the baffled men explained what had happened.

“What do you mean, they just disappeared? Where to?” the officer demanded.

“I don't know. Someone must have seen them. They were here only a few seconds ago. They can't be far,” said one of the men. The armed guards looked at each other, shaking their heads negatively, indicating that they had seen nothing unusual.

The officer ordered a search to be made of all the rooms, then motioned to four guards to follow him. He made his way to the prisoners' rooms. He questioned the guards on duty in the passage where the prisoners were held. They assured him that no one had passed them. Going to the first room, he ordered the guards to unlock the door. He entered the room and turned on the light. The prisoners stirred from the floor where they appeared to be resting. He counted them and was satisfied that they were all present. Ignoring the questions that Peto and his companions fired at him, he left and told the guards to lock the door again and went to the other room. He counted those in that room and declared that all the prisoners were there.

“What the hell is going on? There are no prisoners missing,” he growled. He decided that the problem was not his and reported the incident to the captain, who was already dressed and calling on his wrist communicator, demanding an explanation for the disturbance.

On hearing the officer's report, he went to the control room to see for himself. He confirmed that the navigation plates were missing from the computer. Then he went to the communications room and saw the empty space where the communication system had been. His face white, he questioned the men. Their story was as the officer had reported. He whirled on the officer.

“Have all these men arrested and put under guard,” he said, “I'll question them later. No one could have carried that system out of here and disappeared in the time that they say. Get as many men as you need and search the ship. I want that communications system, the plates and the charts found and whoever is responsible caught and placed under arrest. Move!” The officer moved, barking orders and the guards ran in all directions to carry out the search.

The captain made his way to Normec's quarters, rehearsing in his mind how he was going to make his report to the Councillor. There would be heads rolling over this, he thought, he didn't want his to be one of them.

The search proved to be fruitless. The ship's crew, the guards and the troops that had been taking part in the search of the huge ship, assured the captain that no place had been overlooked. The communications system, navigation plates and the charts were nowhere to be found, let alone any unauthorised persons. Normec ordered the ship to be searched a second time, with the searchers changed to make sure. Again the result was negative.

Normec had Peto brought to him. He was in no mood for fooling around and came straight to the point, asking Peto directly for the return of the missing items.

“I don't know how you did it, but I want those items back. You have thirty minutes to tell us where they are. If they are not in our possession by then, I shall order one of you to be executed every thirty minutes until we have them. Believe me, I'm not bluffing.”

“I'm quite sure that you are not, Normec, But why are you accusing us of having them? We have been under lock and key all the time we have been here.”

“Everyone has a price. It is possible that you have managed to bribe the guards to let you out. Or you may have an accomplice on board this ship. I don't know, but you will tell me in the end or you will all die. Your time will start as soon as you return to your room.” He waved to the guard to take Peto back, then summoned the captain.

“Captain. I'll come straight to the point. How trustworthy do you think your men are?” he asked bluntly. The captain looked surprised.

“They have all served under me for a number of years and I believe that they are all trustworthy, Councillor. May I inquire why you ask?”

“All the prisoners were locked in the prison rooms and under guard when this incident happened. You, yourself, assured me of that. You have also assured me that there is no place for an intruder to hide without being discovered during the search. You have also told me that the communicator system, big enough as it is, is nowhere on the ship. Therefore, the only answer we have left is that some of your men committed this act of sabotage or at least assisted the prisoners to do so.”

“Councillor, I am sure that none of my men would do such a thing. They are loyal to the Governors and the Empire,” said the captain.

“Don't be a fool, Captain. I know that many so-called loyal subjects would gladly sell their loyalty for personal gain. Even some of your men. Find the traitors, Captain, find them fast.”

 

Diata was looking out of a window in the direction of the military camp. Under the leadership of Chon, several young men of The Family had been assigned to control the troops. They had simply placed in their minds the belief that Normec had ordered them to camp in the vicinity of the cargo shuttle and await further orders. Even so, Diata felt uneasy with so many ruthless men camped so near. Peto and the leaders had been gone for two days and there had been no word from them. Her mind reached out to contact Chon.

“Chon, I'm worried about those troops out there. It must be a strain on you all to keep them under control,” she said.

“It's no strain at all, Diata. They believe that they are following Normec's orders. There may be the odd trooper who tries to go absent without leave but we have someone watching at all times and they won't get far.” Chon smiled at what would happen if any trooper that did try, “Don't worry, everything is going fine. I will let you know if anything happens that we can't control. See you later.” Chon withdrew from her mind. As Diata felt him leave her mind, robo One appeared at the window.

“Diata. Comp has requested that you go to see him. All the work that he wanted Two and myself to do has been completed.”

“Why does he want to see me?” Diata asked. The robot paused as if thinking.

“Comp says that he needs your permission to do something. He says that he would rather explain to you personally,” replied the robot, “He also requires me to be present with you, so if you would let me know when you will be going to see him, I would be grateful.” Diata was intrigued. She contacted Eelan and told where she was going.

“We can go now, if you like,” she told One.

“Whenever it pleases you,” replied the robot.

Diata teleported the robot and herself to the old ship. Comp immediately welcomed Diata.

“Hello Diata. Thank you for coming.” The voice was calm and soothing as always.

“Hello Comp. What did you want to see me about?” Diata looked around the control room. It had been some time since she was here last. As the years had passed, there had been less need to see Comp. The robots' ability to communicate with Comp also served to reduce visits. Diata felt a little guilty about that, now that she was here.

“First, I'd like you to see my new form. The robots have been working hard, under my directions, to produce a new and better form, as I needed to upgrade myself. The designing of this form has been going on for some years now, as I had foreseen the need. It has taken a long time to perfect my new form. The robots have turned the hold into a laboratory and workshop that was needed to carry out the research and work that was involved. Now everything is complete except for the change over. As you know, I am dedicated to serving you and what is yours. I therefore need your permission to change over to my new form. It is now ready and the time is ideal.” Diata thought that she sensed a little excitement in the voice of Comp.

“Would you come down to the hold, please, Diata?” It was robo One that spoke this time. He had turned to her and his arm was outstretched towards the door of the control room.

“Lead the way, One. That's what I'm here for.” She didn't like the idea of Comp changing himself. She liked the way he was and felt that by changing himself he would somehow not be the same comforting Comp that had cared for her and her children all these years.

The robot led her down to the hold. As she entered, she realised that many years of work had been spent there. The complete hold had been converted into a laboratory and a workshop. Both were well stocked with machines and equipment that she could not begin to guess their use. Robo Two was busy at a bench in the workshop, working with a speed and apparent expertise that was impressive. She whistled with amazement.

“You really have been working hard, haven't you?” she said to One.

“They certainly have, Diata.” The voice of Comp came from a speaker that was fixed to a wall. “Allow me to introduce you to my new body.” Robo One pulled aside a separate partition. Diata gasped at what she beheld.

Before her stood a seven foot high robot. It was two feet at its widest point. Upon the broad box-like chest was the head that was also box-like. At either side hung the arms, jointed at four places. The hands were almost delicate in comparison, having four fingers and an opposing thumb. Two jointed legs that ended in wide feet that were also jointed to allow flexibility in walking supported the torso.

Diata stared with astonishment at the huge robot. She had never expected Comp had intentions of becoming mobile.

“I need your permission to transfer myself into this new body, Diata. May I do so?”

Diata shook her head, uncertain of what to say. Comp was too valuable to risk losing.

“Comp, what if something goes wrong? We can't afford to lose you for the sake of an upgrading! You are fine as you are. We all love you as you are!”

“I am certain that nothing will go wrong. Even if there is something that I have overlooked, robo One has rehearsed the procedure to replace me back as I am. In this new body, I can serve you far more efficiently and at the same time enjoy the freedom of moving about and seeing the planet with my own eyes. I have dreamed of this ever since the sun's rays have given me the power of reason. Diata, I have been a prisoner in this ship all this time. I have been serving you with my hands tied. The robots have been my eyes and their hands, my hands. They have helped me to serve you. Now it will be possible for me to do things myself.”

“Comp. You are safe here. If you become mobile, anything could happen. You could become damaged or even destroyed,” said Diata. She had visions of Comp falling over a cliff or a rock falling on him and crushing him.

“The body is made from Zennalloy panels, taken from the inner hull of this ship. You know that Zennalloy is the strongest metal ever discovered, unless another has been discovered since we left Earth. The circuitry is my own design and made from materials we have found here on Diata. In fact everything, other than the outer shell, is made from materials that are readily found on Diata. Even if I was to suffer some accident, the robots can repair me. They have all the information and skills that are necessary. Please allow me to transfer. Since I have been able to reason and think, I have been very lonely here. Particularly now that you and your family no longer come here for medical check-ups.”

It had never occurred to Diata that Comp might possibly be lonely in the ship. She had always regarded him as a machine and incapable of any such feelings. Comp was now sentient and therefore would have the feelings of any other sentient being. He had never complained about his situation. Now that the means to release him from his static position was available, he would naturally want to be free. She wished that Peto were there to relieve her of this decision. She thought of the invaders and the defenceless location of Comp and her mind was made up.

“All right Comp, you can try it. How are you going to do it?”

“The robots know exactly what to do. Just take a seat and watch. It won't take long.” The robots began to move about the workshop, attaching cables to the huge inert shape of Comp's new body. Five or six minutes later, the robots stood back, away from the robotic form that they had been working on. Diata tensed herself, waiting for something dramatic to happen.

The enormous robot jerked once and then remained still. Diata stared at the form, looking for some sign of life. She felt her heart begin to pound as she looked at robos One and Two. Both were standing as motionless as Comp's 'body'. She could stand it no longer and screamed, “Comp! Are you all right? Comp! Speak to me!”

She was answered by the soft, calm voice that she knew so well.

“Please don't worry, Diata. Everything appears to be fine. I am merely checking that I have all my faculties and that my transfer was complete. I shall also need a little time to get used to this body. I have never walked before. Please wait a few minutes longer.”

Diata sighed with relief. She had thought that she had lost Comp. She felt that he was the closest friend she had ever had. He was her link to Nyel. With the help of Comp, she was able to keep Nyel alive in her memory. Comp was the only one who remembered her husband, apart from herself. In the beginning, she had gone to Comp for comfort as she coped with her mourning. His calm soothing voice had consoled her as she grieved tearfully in front of him. It had been Comp that she had turned to when she needed help and advice. Although her family now numbered thousands here on Diata, she considered Comp as more than a friend.

Her attention was brought back to the robot form of Comp, by the sound of movement. The huge metal shape was approaching her slowly.

“Everything is perfect, Diata. Thank you for allowing me this freedom. I don't think it will be long before I have mastered the art of walking and running. All my faculties are working perfectly,” said Comp. Diata smiled weakly.

“You had me really worried then, Comp. I was thinking of the times when I used to come and cry on your non-existent shoulder. Now that you have a shoulder, it's too high to cry on! I suppose you will never be the same again, will you?”

“Not the same form Diata, but I am the same...person...as I was. In fact, I am better now than I ever was before,” replied Comp. Diata felt that he had missed her point.

“Never mind Comp. I just feel that you and I won't be as....”

“Close as we were?” finished Comp. Diata was taken aback.

“Yes, that's right.”

“There is no reason why we can't continue to be close friends. I will always consider you to be my closest friend.” Diata's brow puckered into a frown. Can he read my mind, she wondered? Comp answered the unspoken question.

“Yes I can. In this new form, I have that ability, Diata.”

Diata was not completely surprised at Comp's endowment. She had seen him and the robots change over the years. Peto, Eelan and she had changed and had acquired skills that humans on Earth were incapable of having. Their children and their offspring had capabilities that would be considered as super human by anyone that was not from the planet Diata.

“I would like to start my new area of education in the village, if that is all right, Diata,” said Comp.

“Wherever you like, Comp. Would you like to walk there or shall I transport you?”

“I have that ability too, thank you. I'll see you back there.” There was the flicker of light and Diata found herself alone in the workshop. Comp and the robots had gone. Diata looked around her. She felt that a new era had just begun.


 

 

CHAPTER TWELVE

 

Normec was about to enjoy a meal in his quarters when he pushed the plate away from him. He felt uneasy and wanted to go down to see the prisoners. He could not understand why he should want to do such a thing, as it would normally be beneath his dignity. To have them brought to him was more in keeping with his ways. He looked at the chronometer. It was only twenty minutes since he had warned the First Father. He rested his elbows on the table and cradled his head in his hands trying to think. The desire to go to them was compelling and reluctantly, he gave in. Calling two guards, he made his way to the prisoners. He ordered the guards to open the door to the room that Peto was in and stepped inside. His cold, grey eyes swept over them and settled on Peto.

“I have decided to send you all back to the surface. You will all be searched, not that there is anywhere that you can conceal anything from us. The shuttle will also be searched to ascertain that there is nothing hidden on it. That way, I can be sure that what we want will remain on this ship. You will be confined to a suitable place for interrogation and used as hostages to persuade your people to comply with our wishes. You will leave as soon as the shuttle has been searched.” Normec could not understand why he had decided to do that. He was always so careful to think things out before making decisions that involved such changes.

Peto and his companions were pleased with the way things were working out. They had successfully removed the means by which the warship could return to Earth. The next step was to prevent Normec and his troops from doing any harm on Diata. They had not yet decided what they were going to do with Normec and the troops. They had not expected such a large number of troops on the warship. They estimated that there were at least a thousand troops and about two hundred of the crew. Peto was concerned how they could be accommodated on Diata without having to be constantly watched. He and the leaders would have to think things out very carefully.

The first taste of the brutality of the troops came when they were ushered to the shuttle. A trooper decided that Nyto was not moving as fast as he liked. The trooper raised his weapon and rammed the heavy butt into Nyto's back.

“Get a move on! We haven't got all day,” he snarled. Nyto staggered forward and fell on his face. The trooper kicked him viciously in the ribs, knocking the wind out of him.

“Get up! This is no time to be taking a rest!”

Shak turned to help Nyto to his feet. He looked at the trooper and said, “There is no need for that. We are not causing you any trouble.” The trooper grinned evilly at Shak.

“Keep moving or you'll get the same.”

Shak could sense Nyto's anger rising. Nyto could have used his kinetic powers to retaliate. His mind sought his.

“Wait Nyto. Our turn will come later.” Nyto's anger subsided as he realised the need for caution at this stage. He turned and continued walking.

The shock of the unprovoked violence brought home to them the seriousness of their situation. Until now, everything had gone their way without any real hardship. The Diatans had never experienced any kind of deliberate violence in their lives and some of them had begun to enjoy the roles they were playing. The single act of cruelty that the trooper had displayed showed them what they could expect if the Empire succeeded in having its way. They were all subdued as they continued to file towards the airlock where the shuttle was locked into place to receive them.

At the entrance to the shuttle they were told to remove their Kandeer loin coverings that were carefully examined and then handed back to them, one by one. They entered the shuttle without any more incidents and settled down in the seats. The troops took up their positions facing them, their weapons at the ready, and the shuttle's airlock closed with a hiss.

Peto contacted Shak's mind. “Don't forget the goods. Shak.” he said.

“Don't worry. The communicator is firmly anchored to the hull of the shuttle. Where are the plates?” answered Shak.

“They are tucked away behind the rear seats. They will be inside my house the moment we land,” chuckled Peto.

Peto smiled. Their plan had worked so far. The Empire and its leaders would not be concerned about Normec for a while. They would assume that Normec had everything under control. He sat thoughtfully as the shuttle spiralled down towards the planet's surface. He wished that there were more of his family that had the powers of Chon and his team to control the invaders. He had no idea how long they would be able to keep Normec and his army at bay. He and the others were totally ignorant of the Empire's strategy and he was as yet undecided what his own tactics would be. He had the concept of a plan at the back of his mind, but he did not know how he could put it into action.

The shuttle had entered the atmosphere and was speeding along towards the landing site by the village that they called Hometown. As they sped over the forests, the familiar cloud of birds rose from the treetops and parted to allow the shuttle free passage. Peto took in the beauty of the planet and he resolved to defend its freedom with his life.

They arrived at the site and finally came to rest by the cargo shuttle of the freighter. The flicker of light beneath the seat of the trooper facing Peto went unnoticed as the parcel of plates disappeared. Peto turned to look at Shak. Their eyes met and Shak nodded, reassuringly. The communicator was safely stored away in a place that only Shak knew at the moment. The troops rose and began to herd the leaders towards the airlock, barking their orders unnecessarily.

They filed out of the shuttle and waited. An officer came towards them and told the troopers to dismiss. The sergeant in charge looked surprised.

“We have orders to keep these prisoners under lock and key, sir. Councillor Normec's express orders,” he said.

“Don't worry, sergeant, Councillor Normec contacted us a few minutes ago and has changed his mind. They are to be allowed to go to their homes for the time being. You are to remain in camp with us,” said the officer.

“Well, Chon and his team have everything under control here,” said Peto, “Let's go home. We could do with some rest. How's your back, Nyto?”

“I'm all right, Peto. Just a little bruised. Thanks anyway.”

They walked back to the village to avoid displaying their powers of teleportation to the crowd of troops that watched them.

Diata and Eelan were waiting at the gate of Peto's house when they arrived. As they ran to greet them, Ata and Kita arrived. They were all excitedly talking at once, wanting to know if they were all right. Peto assured them that all was well with them and that they were tired and just wanted something to eat and rest. The girls soon had a meal set before them and after they had eaten the leaders teleported to their own homes.

Peto explained their experiences to Diata and Eelan and expressed his concern for the long-term outcome of the situation.

“We are going to have to do something more permanent about all this. We can't keep them under control indefinitely. The Empire is bound to have copies of the navigation plates and come and see what's happened to Normec and his army. This sycnel that they are after, is apparently extremely valuable to them. They won't let it slip through their fingers if they can help it.”

Diata looked worried. She had given a lot of thought to their plight and had come to the conclusion that things could only get worse.

“Peto, why don't we just give it to them? If we let them have and put our own price on it. We can bargain with them to leave us alone,” she said. Eelan nodded her head in agreement.

“Yes Peto. We don't want this trouble. Let them have what they want and we can carry on with our lives as normal. I hate this worry.”

“We can't. They won't leave us alone now. They will keep on coming now and demand more and more. They will know that we will give in to them. They would eventually make us slaves, anyway.” Peto remembered what Normec had said. He couldn't bear to think of all the females of his family becoming the sex slaves of the corrupt Empire. The males would become slaves in the mines of barren satellites scattered through space. In spite of their powers, the Empire would use them as hostages to force the others to comply with their wishes. The people of Diata were not all equal in their abilities. He, for instance, was unable to control another by imposing his will upon them, as Chon and a few others could.

“What else can we do? You have stopped Normec from returning, but others that come won't fall into that trap again. Even if they do, there will eventually be so many here that we won't be able to control them.” Diata was right, of course. They could not possibly control the hordes that will follow Normec.

“We will have to devise a plan to fight them, somehow. I don't know yet how we are going to do that but we will think of something.”

“Perhaps you had better ask Comp for help. You won't believe what he is like now. And you won't believe what he can do.” Diata went on to explain the update and physical change that Comp had given himself. Peto listened to her with a look of amazement on his face.

“You mean he can walk about like the robots? And he can teleport? Where is he?”

“He's in the space craft right now, I think. Why don't you call him and see for yourself? He can teleport himself here.”

Peto thought for a moment. If Comp could do as Diata had explained, he would be useful in helping to overcome Normec and the Empire. He decided that he needed to think things over. He would certainly need a plan of operations and that would require time to ensure that there would be no flaws when he finally drew it up.

“I'll leave it for the time being. I'm tired and want to rest. I'll see him tomorrow,” he told the women. They accepted that and left him to rest.

The following day, Peto called Comp and asked him to come and see him. He was not kept waiting. Comp was impatient to show off his new form to Peto and to get as much information about the warship that was orbiting the planet as he could. Comp's thirst for knowledge and facts was insatiable.

“Well Peto, what do you think?” asked Comp, after he had demonstrated some of his new skills.

“It's fantastic, Comp. I never dreamed that I would see you do these things. And you can walk about! We've all felt a little guilty that you were left alone so much in the old ship, now you can be with us all the time.” Peto's mind was racing. He knew that Comp would be of great value in overcoming the situation that all the Family was in, but he could not think how he could be used. He still did not have a plan, although there was an idea lurking at the back of his head. He needed to put it all together into a scheme that would result in the Family being able to continue their lives without the fear of the Empire disrupting their happiness.

“I know what you are thinking Peto, but I need much more information before I can help you. Allow me time to gather as much as I need and then we will see what can be done. There is one major thing that bothers me. These people are from Earth and are humans. I have always believed that my duty is to protect humans and to serve them all. What I have learned so far about these modern Earthmen has put me in a dilemma. They are not at all like the Earthmen that I knew when I was on Earth and programmed. They are more like the men that lived in the days of nuclear war, between the twentieth and twenty- fifth centuries. Men in those days had no love for one another. They were all bent on destroying anyone that got in their way. Comp paused for a moment, letting his words sink in before continuing.

“This Normec and his superiors, the Governors, seem to be of the same mould. My problem is whether I should ignore their barbaric inclinations and do nothing or uphold the law that was in force when I was programmed. That is why I have to learn more about them.”

“They will destroy us if we don't do something, Comp. There is no doubt about that. If we don't stop them somehow, then all of us here on Diata are finished. We have tried to be nice to them. We have tried to influence them by means of telepathic persuasion to make them leave us alone but they are determined to bring trouble to Diata. We need your help, we need it to survive.”

“Let me think it over, Peto. There was something in your mind that interested me and I'd like to explore the thought and predict the outcome. Meanwhile, I will do some exploring among these barbarians. I also need to go to the area where the metal clay is. There are some experiments that I wish to conduct which are very important to me. I will contact you later.” Comp disappeared with a flicker of light, leaving Peto wondering what to do next.

 

Comp was gone for three days and refused to acknowledge any attempts to contact him. They searched for him at the site of the metal clay, sweeping time and again over the area in the shuttle but were finally forced to return without finding him. Even the robots expressed their concern for him. They had been unable to contact Comp and robo One requested permission to take the shuttle and search the planet. It was Diata who objected to that suggestion, explaining that they could not risk losing either of the robots as well as Comp.

It was at the end of the third day that Comp returned. He appeared suddenly as Diata was about to retire to bed. After the initial surprise and relief, Diata angrily demanded an explanation from Comp.

“Where have you been? Don't you realise how worried we've all been? Don't ever, ever, go off like that again! Not without telling us first.”

“I'm sorry, Diata. I needed to do some experiments and they took longer than I expected. I have found the results truly amazing. I could not understand some of the changes that took place in me when I was transferred to this new form of mine. They were changes that I had not designed and I had to find out exactly what they were. That is why I have been away so long.”

“Why couldn't it have waited? We are in the middle of a crisis already, without you creating another. What were these experiments that were so important that our problems could wait?” Diata's relief at finding that Comp was unharmed and back with them was not going to stop her from showing how angry she was.

“I believe they could be instrumental in helping you solve your problem with the invaders. I have an idea that needs to be carefully planned to be successful in getting rid of Normec and his armed forces, along with any threat from the Empire that they represent. I therefore need to speak with Peto and the leaders so that they can approve or reject my idea. I realise that this will have to wait until morning. I will say goodnight and see you in the morning. Please tell Peto that I am back and quite safe.” With that Comp left with the familiar flicker of light that occurred whenever teleportation was used.