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
“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
“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
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?”
“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,”
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
“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
“Where is the First Father's house?” he demanded. The young man looked
“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
“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
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
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
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
“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
“Hello Diata. Thank you for coming.” The voice was calm and soothing
“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
“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
“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.