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DIATA
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DIATA

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

 

   Peto and the leaders were gathered at Peto's home to hear what Comp had to say. There was much speculation as to the action that Comp would suggest to solve the problem that was weighing heavily on their minds. Some thought that Comp might advocate the use of violence. This brought a wave of concern over the group. They were a peaceful Family and had taught their children to abhor the use of any kind of violence against any living thing. The one exception was for food, and then only for their needs.

Others thought that he might suggest keeping the invaders on Diata as prisoners and hope that the Governors of Earth would forget about them. There were many other theories but they would have to await the arrival of Comp before they would know exactly.

Comp arrived precisely on time and after acknowledging the assembly of leaders and apologising for the concern that he had caused them by disappearing for three days, he asked them to sit. They all sat down and looked at him expectantly.

“Some of you may think that I am unconcerned about what is happening to you here. In fact, nothing is further from the truth. I have been concerned about the Family ever since Nyel and Diata arrived here together with Peto and Eelan and finally settled here. In that time, I have done whatever I could to help and advise the Family through various problems and crises and I wish to continue to do so as long as I am able. I consider that to be my duty and my loyalty is to the Family.

“When Peto asked me to help in overcoming the invaders, I had to remind him that they were human and that I could not harm them or plan to harm them. That is why I had to think things out. The laws that were in force at the time of my being constructed forbade me, and computers like me, to cause any harm to mankind or fail to help mankind. At that time, war was a thing of the past as Man had continuously tried to destroy himself and almost succeeded before coming to his senses. Eventually a single government that was made up of representatives from every race and tribe guided the Earth. Peace had reigned for thousands of years and, apart from some isolated cases, crime was unknown.

“The invaders, although human and originating from Earth, were and still are, breaking all the laws that were in force and programmed into me when Nyel and Diata left Earth. That left me in the situation of having to decide whether I should help you alone or help all humans. I had to decide whether I would help you if you were invading another planet and using oppressive measures, as they were doing here. I found that I would not be able to do so. That is because your actions would have been completely opposed to the life that existed when I was constructed. I therefore decided that I could help you to oppose this oppressive Empire, and those that support it, as they were preventing the majority of Mankind from living happily and in harmony with each other.”

Comp paused as the leaders expressed their relief. He continued before they could ask any questions.

“There is something else that I would like to tell you that is very important. It is something that I discovered since I took on my present form. The object of the invaders is to take possession of all the 'sycnel' that is on this planet. This sycnel happens to be the metal clay that is to the south of here. I have discovered that it has very strange properties.

“As you may be aware, apart from this outer shell, which is made of Zennalloy, my complete body is constructed of the metal clay. After my transfer into this body, I was aware of a change in myself that I had not anticipated. It went against all knowledge that I had stored in my memory. At the time that my memory banks were completed, while I was still on Earth, time travel was found to be impossible. I can now say that, in fact, it was believed impossible. I found that unknown properties of the metal clay interacted in some way with my circuits, and due to this interaction, I was able to transport myself from one moment in time to another. That is why I had to go away and experiment. I wanted to find out to what extent I could go into the future and into the past. I also wanted to find out what I could do while I was outside the present time.

“I have discovered that there appears to be no limit to the time that I can go back, but I am only able to go forward for a limited 'distance'. This appears to be only a year or two. I will need more time to work out precisely. An examination of the positions of the stars and constellations and a few calculations should be sufficient to determine this.

“I have also discovered that there is nothing that I can do to alter the past.”

The disappointment of the leaders was evident by the groans that came from them. They had been listening silently and had all been thinking along the same lines. If Comp could travel through time then, they reasoned, he could prevent the Empire from ever finding Diata. That hope was now dashed.

Shak was the first to speak. He stood up and faced Comp.

“There must be something that you can do! What is the point of travelling in time if there is nothing you can do?”

“There is nothing that I can physically do. I am unable to move the smallest pebble or a leaf of a tree. In fact, I found that I couldn’t even stand on the surface of the ground. I also appear to be invisible to anyone outside of the present, although I am not invisible to myself. When you think about it, this is quite logical. The past has happened. How can you alter the course of even one tiny atom? That is why I could not stand on the surface of the ground. My body had no substance. Even the wind passed through me. I am glad that I have the ability to teleport or I would not have been able to move about.

“However, you were concerned whether I could help you with your problem. I think I can. You see, what I can do in the past and the future is observe. By observing what happened in the past and will happen in the future, I think I can be of some assistance to you.” Comp paused again. It was Nye who broke the since that followed.

“If the past can't be altered, how can your observing it be any help to us?” he asked.

“That's right. What has happened has happened. Normec is here and the Empire knows about this sycnel. We can't stop them from knowing about it,” agreed Peto.

“I can tell you from my observations so far in the future, they never got the sycnel. Therefore, something happened to prevent them from getting it. I have not yet seen in detail what it was that prevented them. I was still experimenting. What I can do, is find out what happened and perhaps you can ensure that it takes place. I need to spend more time in the future to discover the cause of their failure to get the sycnel. Then I can let you know and you can take the appropriate course, if it was you that caused them to give up their attempts.”

We don't have a lot of time, Comp. We can't delay them indefinitely,” said Peto.

“I realise that, Peto. You must remember that this is a new experience for me and I must know more about moving in through time. I do not want to do something that may prevent me from returning to the present. It takes ninety-six seconds to transport a space vessel to any distance, using timewarp. That applies to travelling distances. It seems that there are similar delays when moving through time. I do not know yet, if there are any obstacles that need to be overcome whilst I am outside the present. We will have to see. Don't worry. I will see you again in a day or two.”

“If you can move in time, you could be back here in a second. Why wait until a day or two? For that matter, why have you been gone for three days?” This was from Shim.

“I move through time, not in time. But to answer your question, it appears that the passage of time continues, even while I am outside the present and I cannot return to a period of time that has passed while I was outside. Or rather, I can, but it is as if I had moved to the past. You would not be able to see me because time had moved on. I was in the past and future for three days and during that period, time moved on three days. I therefore had to return to what is the present for me and, of course, for you. I know that may sound complicated. It is rather like teleportation. If you teleport to another place and remain there for a length of time, then teleport back to where you were, the passage of time has still continued whilst you were away. Apparently the same applies to moving through time. I have not yet found out why this is so. That is another reason why need to explore this new and exciting phenomenon.”

Peto was finding it all too confusing and looked around at the others. He was pleased to see that they too, were looking just as perplexed. That Comp could travel in or through time was amazing enough, but to try to comprehend that time continues to pass by while you are in the future, which has not yet happened, or in the past, which had been and gone, was a little too much for him at the moment.

“Do what you have to do Comp, and hurry back with the information that is going to help us. Don't delay any longer than you have to. We will try to carry on without you in the meantime.” Peto immediately regretted the sarcasm. Occasionally he felt angry at Comp. He knew it stemmed from the time when he was schooled by Comp. He used to become frustrated at Comp's way of going into such detail that he had often forgotten what Comp was trying to teach him. It wasn't Comp's fault, of course. He had now cut down on his long-winded habit of giving all the facts and details related to anything that he said.

Comp simply said 'Good-bye' and disappeared, leaving them all staring at the spot where he had been. The meeting ended and they all went back to their various homes.

 

Comp was gone for six days. Diata was sick with worry and Peto was regretting his decision to allow Comp to continue his experiments with his new found ability to travel through time. They both knew that Comp was invaluable to them, but more important was that they had grown to love him. To them, he was more than a machine that could advise and direct them. They had relied on him for so much and for so long that he was almost human to them. Without him, their survival on Diata would have been extremely difficult right from the start. With such reliance had grown a fondness that would result in genuine grief if anything should happen to him. All the older ones of the Family shared this attachment to the computer.

When Comp suddenly appeared in the dining room whilst Diata, Eelan and Peto were having their lunch, they were unable to conceal their relief.

“Comp! Where the hell have you been?” exclaimed Diata. Peto joined in.

“Do you realise how worried we have been? You said a day or two! It's been six days!” he shouted. Eelan was calmer. She just looked at him and said, “I'm so glad that you are safe, Comp. Don't ever do that again. We can't take it.”

“I'm so sorry that it has been so long. I needed to find out how I could help you and I have. It is not easy and some of you will get hurt, but not seriously. But please, finish your meal and we will talk later. You will be surprised at what you must do soon. I must go to the ship now. I will see you in about an hour.” Comp refused to say any more right then and promised to return as soon as he had done what he wanted to do. He disappeared again. The flicker of light showed that he had teleported and not moved through time.

When he returned, the leaders had gathered there, having been informed that Comp was back and would tell them his findings. They were all keen to hear what he had to say and when he arrived they looked expectantly at him. Comp looked back at them, pausing as if thinking how he was going to address them, something that had not bothered him before.

“To overcome your problem, you will take possession of Normec's warship. You will then travel to some of the penal satellites and liberate the prisoners on them and use them to overthrow the Governors. The commencement of your action will take place three weeks from now. You will be successful in your venture, although it will not be easy and, regretfully, you will suffer some casualties.”

There was an immediate murmur of concern from the leaders. This was something that they had never even considered. Shak glanced at Peto, a frown creasing his brow. Peto returned the look with equal concern. It was Nye who spoke first.

“Are you saying that we are going to war with the Empire?” he asked.

“That does appear to be the case,” replied Comp.

“We are totally against any kind of war that would involve the taking of lives. That has been our way. You taught us to respect life, yourself. How are we to accomplish this overthrow?” cried Shak. He stood up; his arms outspread as he faced Comp.

“I'm afraid I cannot answer that. I can only move through time within the boundaries of this planet whilst I am on it. I cannot teleport to another world any more than you can. I can say that you will accomplish it, though. Your success will be recorded in the future. That is how I know. I have seen and heard some of the records of your success.”

Peto stared thoughtfully at Comp.

“Then, at least you can tell us what to do as we go along. You can flit along to the future and back and tell us what to do each day or even each hour, for that matter,” he said. He turned to the assembly of leaders, “Don't you see? We can't go wrong. Comp will tell us what course to follow and which course to avoid.”

“I'm afraid that is not possible, Peto. You see, I have found that there are limitations to travelling to the future. The more time that I spend in the future, the less... how shall I put it?... the less 'distance' that I can go into the future. When I first moved to the future, it was about two years. Now I can only move to just over a year into the future. How much more I can stay in the future without finding that I cannot move into it, I don't know. Neither do I know what will happen if I remain in the future too long and the available time runs out. As my body has no physical substance when moving through time, it is possible that I would be lost in time and unable to return to the present. I am tempted to try to find out but that may not be wise if I am to be of assistance to you.”

“So what do we do?” Peto asked.

“You must devise a way to trick Normec down to Diata, together with all the crew and personnel that are still aboard the warship. You must then take control of it and carry out what you are going to do. There is one thing that I do know. You will use the girl Careen Soman to help you in your deception. You will also take me with you when you take the warship.”

Peto was disappointed. He had hoped that all they had to do was follow Comp's instructions and everything would be all right. Now it seemed that they would get little help from Comp's time travel ability. He would still have to plan a way to get control of the warship. He would have to get Normec and his men to land on Diata. He wondered how Careen was going to be of help.

He felt Shak's mind enter his.

“End the meeting, Dad, we need to think this out.”

“Yes I agree, Shak. We will have to think very carefully what we are going to do.” Peto told the leaders that the meeting was over and that he would let them know of any further developments. He knew that they were all appalled at the thought of waging a war with the Empire and all it's military might.

The meeting over, the leaders gathered in groups to discuss the revelation that Comp had given them. Peto and Shak left the room. They were followed by Shim who joined them in the dining room.

“Dad, I don't like it. We know nothing about war and fighting. There's got to be another way to save the Family,” said Shak. Peto understood Shak's concern. He felt the same way himself.

“Shak. You heard Comp. It's the way we will do it. He saw it in the future. I'm as sick about it as you are, but we won't be able to change the future any more than Comp could.”

“He said that we will liberate the prisoners on the penal satellites and enlist their help. Perhaps that's the answer. Maybe they will do the fighting for us,” joined in Shim, “He also said that Careen would play a part. We have to think along those lines to make a plan.”

“Even freeing the prisoners would involve fighting. We can't just go there and unlock the doors. There are bound to be armed guards on the satellites,” said Shak.

“No, Shim's right. We will take things one at a time. We must first plan to get Normec and his men down here. Then we will plan what to do next. According to Comp, we have three weeks to get ready. I suggest that we all put a lot of thought in it to decide what to do,” said Peto.

Shak and Shim nodded in agreement and departed.

The following seven days were spent in comparing ideas with the leaders. Many of the suggestions were discarded as being too dangerous or inappropriate. One or two were shelved for further consideration.

Finally, a suggestion was made that appealed to the leaders. It came from Careen, after Shim had explained to her what they were planning to do and she was eager to help. Peto was dubious at first, then remembering that Comp had said she would play a part, decided to go along with the plan.


 

 

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

 

Crayle had been drinking heavily to relieve the boredom of waiting in the shuttle for instructions from Normec. He was beginning to think that he and the troops had been abandoned and Normec had returned to Earth. He had not been told that Peto and Shak had sabotaged the warship’s communication system.

He was just about to pour himself another drink when Careen entered the shuttle. He was quick to notice that she was wearing her own clothes and not the native leather garments that she had been wearing when he last saw her.

“Well, well. You've got a nerve, coming here,” he said, “You know that Normec is out for your blood, don't you?” He was unshaven and had obviously not washed for some days and had not bothered to put his tunic on. She could smell the stale sweat that glistened on his naked chest.

“You look terrible, Edwan. Don't you have any pride in your appearance any more? The troops out there look better than you do,” said Careen, “And this place stinks. How can you stand this smell? All you have to do is turn on the air purifiers.” She went to a wall and pressed a switch and the purifiers immediately began to hum, filtering the stale, smoke-laden air.

“The troops have to shave. Their superiors make sure of that. At least, I am free to please myself. As for the purifiers, I do turn them on occasionally but the hum gets on my nerves. It's all right when you have someone to talk to. But tell me, why have you risked your life to come here? Are you missing me?”

“Don't flatter yourself, Edwan. I still remember the bruise you gave me. I came here because I think we can still make something out of this mess, after all. I want you to take me to Normec. While I have been staying with Peto and Diata I've learned a lot.”

“What makes you think Normec will listen to you? You are a traitor as far as he is concerned. He'll have you put in chains and taken back to Earth to be executed. That is, after he and his men have finished having their fun with you.” Crayle smiled at the thought, “You would have been better off if you had stayed with me.”

“I'll take my chances with Normec. I'm sure he'll listen. It's to his advantage to listen. Now, take me to the warship or you won't be in his good books either.” Careen knew that she would be risking her life by meeting Normec. It was a gamble that had to pay off if the Family was to be saved from the wrath of the Empire. Crayle was no fool, either. He realised that Careen must have a good solution or she would not be sticking her neck out like this.

“Listen, Careen. It will be safer for you to stay here. Let me know what you want to tell Normec and I'll put it to him. Then if he doesn't like it, you are safe. On the other hand, if he likes it and goes ahead, I'll tell him that it was your idea and you can thank me later.”

Careen was surprised. She expected Crayle to be less transparent. After all, he was the best salesman in the Empire. He had almost advertised that he intended to double-cross her. He wanted the credit if what she had to offer pleased Normec. If it didn't please him, he would pass the discredit on to her. She put the obvious treachery down to his dulled senses that were due to the drink.

“No, I have to see Normec myself. He is bound to ask questions and you won't be able to answer them. I will be able to fill in any details that he may want to know. But thanks for the concern. I appreciate it.” She didn't care if Crayle knew that she had seen through his deception or not. I think we ought to get going as soon as possible. This is urgent. Are you fit to fly this shuttle or do you want me to?” Crayle downed his drink in one gulp.

“Just give me time to shave and clean up and we'll go. Let's hope that Normec doesn't get mad at us for leaving here. His orders were to stay put.”

Crayle was ready in half an hour, during which time Careen went to her own room and changed into fresh clothes and had a drink herself. The alcoholic drinks on Diata were limited and she had missed her favourite. She felt that she needed a good stiff drink to calm her nerves. She was aware that there was no guarantee that Normec would listen to her, Although Peto and Shim had assured her that she would come to no harm. She could not understand their confidence in her and she certainly didn't share it. It was her idea and she was prepared to do anything to save the Family or die trying. In the short time that she had lived with them, she had grown to love them and felt that she was a member of it. At least she felt more loyal to them than to the Empire.

Crayle had tried unsuccessfully to contact the warship to inform Normec of their intentions. He finally gave up and took his seat at the controls of the shuttle. He switched on the computer and set the tracer to find the warship in orbit around the planet. After a few seconds delay, there was a beep and the screen showed the position of the ship. All he had to do was to home the in on the warship. The shuttle rose and sped sky-wards.

When they eventually arrived, the docking was automatic. The computer gently guided the shuttle to the airlock and locked it into place. Crayle and Careen were about to go to the airlock when the doors hissed open and a lieutenant and four guards rushed in.

“Stand where you are and don't move! How many are there aboard this shuttle?” barked the lieutenant.

“Just the two of us. We tried to contact you on the communicator but couldn't get through,” said Crayle. He was startled and not a little fearful.

The two were pushed up against a wall and subjected to a rough search. The soldier that dealt with Careen took his time and made an unnecessary thorough search, much to her disgust.

“You are both under arrest and will be kept under guard until Councillor Normec Questions you at his pleasure.” The lieutenant turned and walked out into the warship. The soldiers followed, using their weapons to push Careen and Crayle ahead of them.

They were taken to a room and guards  were posted outside the door. As soon as they were alone, Crayle turned on Careen.

“Why didn't you stay where you were? Now we're really in it. You've had it for sure and you've dragged me into Normec's disfavour. Hell, why did I listen to you?”

“Stop whining. You listened because you thought that there was something in it for you. And, you were already in Normec's disfavour. Anyway, he'll listen to me. He's bound to want this mess cleared up as soon as possible,” answered Careen, “Especially if it is going to make him look good in the eyes of the Governors. He's deep in it too, you know.” She sat down on one of the two chairs, that apart from a small table, were the only items of furniture in the room. Crayle scowled and paced the room, frowning. Careen guessed that he was desperately thinking of an excuse to explain to Normec why he was here. Since they had arrived on Diata, she had seen a side of him that she had never seen before.

They were not kept waiting for long. The lieutenant arrived with the four guards and ordered them to follow him. They were taken to Normec's room. As they entered, Normec swung around to face them.

“What the hell is happening down there?” he thundered, “Why didn't the shuttle return? What the hell are those troops playing at? Why haven't I had any reports?”

Crayle looked at him and then at Careen and back to Normec, his eyes wide and his mouth opening and closing.

“But... but... your orders. You ordered me to stay on the planet until I heard from you. I just did what you ordered,” stammered Crayle, “And you ordered the shuttle to remain on the planet, so I understand.”

“What do you mean, I ordered the shuttle to remain on the planet? Do you think I would maroon myself on this ship going round and round this damned planet? How the hell can I give instructions to anyone without  any communication system? The shuttle is the only way that I could do that, you fool!”

“But Councillor, I didn't know that there was no communication system. I wasn't told. That must be why I couldn't contact you. I tried but I wasn't getting any reply.” Crayle was almost on his knees before Normec. “I tried to inform you that we were on our way here to see you. Miss Soman insisted that I bring her here.”

Normec's eyes turned to Careen and looked her over coldly.

“Ahh. The traitor. Have they turned you in? Both sides usually hat traitors. Neither side can trust a traitor. You will suffer the penalty of death or at least life as a slave of the Empire, you know that?”

“I came of my own free will. While I was mingling with the...enemy...I was able to discover quite a bit that would interest you. I was able to find out their weaknesses and the things that worry them. I believe that I can offer you a solution to this mess that we are all in. If you are interested, that is.” Careen was trying to appear cool and calm in spite of the fear within her. This little man could order her to be executed where she stood and no one would ask any questions. She would just be another individual that had disappeared from the human race.

Normec eyed her silently for a few moments, waiting for her to continue. When it was clear that she was not going to continue, he sighed impatiently and spread his hands.

“Well. Go on girl. Tell me this interesting solution that you have.”

“Alone. Tell these others to leave and I will tell you. It is for your ears only,” said Careen, calmly. Normec raised his eyebrows and smiled thinly.

“Do you think that I would allow myself to be alone with a traitor? The guards stay, Crayle can wait outside,” he said. Careen shrugged her shoulders. She could see that he was curious.

“In that case, I have nothing to say,” she said, “I thought that you may be interested in saving face with the Governors.” Normec's smile faded from his face. He did not like to be reminded in front of his subordinates that even he was expendable.

“I could have you made to talk, if that is your attitude. However, I am interested in a solution that will save time.” He turned to the lieutenant, “Give me your hand laser and leave us alone. You will have Mister Crayle taken back to his room and you will wait outside.” The lieutenant hesitated and was about to object, then thought better of it and handed his weapon to Normec. Normec placed the laser on his desk and sat down.

Careen waited until they were alone before she faced Normec and spoke.

“My purpose of going to the natives was to find a way to persuade them to let you have the sycnel. I thought that by doing so, I would be able to find favour in your eyes and that you would not be too harsh when you made your report to the Governors. I have no wish to become unemployed and join the ranks of those living on a subsistence benefit.

“While I was with them, I befriended a certain native who told me that they were able to control your troops by using a hypnotic drug that they put in the water supply that the troops drank. When the troops were under the influence of the drug, they were simply given orders they believed came from you. They believe that you have ordered them to remain on the planet and await further instructions and are obeying those orders to the letter.

“This 'friend' also informed me that there were many villages that opposed the decision of The Father and felt that they should co-operate with the Empire. Apparently, the laws of these people are to traditionally accept the decisions of The Father without question out of respect. That seemed to work quite successfully under normal conditions. Our arrival has changed the thinking of many of the people and they feel that they could benefit from being part of the Empire. The problem is, they will not go against the decisions of The Father while he is still their leader, and will follow his orders to the death. They will also not take orders from anyone but their own kind. This means that one of their own kind must take the place of The Father. My 'friend' feels that he should have the position of The Father and has gathered considerable support from neighbouring villages. He feels that with your help he will be able to overthrow The Father and those that support him.” Normec was not impressed and made it clear that he had not heard anything to his advantage.

“How does that help me? I have intentions of overthrowing him, anyway. My troops will execute all the leaders and will take control of the planet. I have no need of your friend. The weapons of this ship are already trained on all the villages ready to wipe them out of existence.” Normec spread his hands as if to say the matter was over.

“But then you will have to bring men here to mine the sycnel, and guards to watch over them. That would be costly when there are men already here who will be willing to do it for you. Any action against them will only serve to unite them. As I said, they will follow The Father's orders to the death. He is like a god to them and they will feel it an honour to die for him. On the other hand, if one of their own kind replaces him, then they will show the same loyalty to the new Father. Their primitive traditions demand it of them. My friend would be most grateful for your help and you can always do what you want with them after you have exploited them to the full. I'm sure the Governors will be very pleased that you managed to  get the sycnel so cheaply.” Careen was watching Normec's face as she spoke, to see how he was reacting. She could see that he was thinking over what she had said. She sensed that he was not entirely convinced. She decided to play her trump card. She smiled at him.

“I was wondering what will happen to the hypnosis inducing drug after you have taken over the planet. If it got into the wrong hands one could rule the universe simply by putting it into the water supply. No-one would be able to stand in their way,” she said.

Normec's eyes narrowed slightly, then began to gleam. He had not taken much notice of the previous mention of the drug, now it had become significantly more interesting. His heavily armed troops on the surface of the planet, were under the complete control of these half naked primitives. Somehow they must have used it to get the communication system and the navigation plates. The girl was right. With sufficient supplies of the drug he could rule the Empire. The five hundred Governors would have to bend to his will, rather than he to theirs. He rather liked the idea of being supreme Emperor of the universe. He was fifty-four years old and he reckoned that he had about twenty-five years of life left to enjoy the ultimate in luxury and power. He had two sons on Earth who would assist him in ruling and who could take over should he become too old or should die. Yes, the idea appealed to him immensely. The drug would be worth more to him than the sycnel.

“If I should agree to assist your friend, what do you expect to get out of it?” he asked Careen. He was not so naive as to think that all she was concerned about was gaining his favour so that she would not have to live on a meagre subsistence benefit.

“That is easy to answer. A pardon for my failure here. Also, I enjoyed my work and the benefits it brought. I would like to have Crayle's position. That is why I didn't want him here while I spoke to you,” she answered readily.

“How are you going to earn that? According to you, my men are still under the control of the natives down there. I have another seven hundred on this ship. How can I be sure that this is not a trick and if they go down to the planet, they won't be drugged?”

“You will have me as hostage. I can lead you to where my friend is and you can talk to him. He has promised to be at a certain place every day at noon so that he can explain how he intends to overthrow The Father. If there are any suspicious circumstances, you can kill me. As for the drug, all you have to do is make sure that your men don't drink any of the water that is on the planet. The drug was introduced into the supplies that your troops have. The villagers have their own wells and reservoirs that are not drugged.”

“Does this friend of yours know where the drug is kept and manufactured?” Normec had already placed the drug as his number one priority.

“Everyone knows where it is made but my friend tells me that only a few know how it is made,” said Careen. She felt that he was nibbling the bait and that he would soon take the hook. Normec sat thoughtfully for a full two minutes before speaking again.

“What does this native want me to do?” he asked.

Careen sighed inwardly with relief. He had swallowed the hook, she was sure of it. The worst and most difficult part was over. Now she had to make sure that Normec would agree to go down to the surface.

“He can explain that better than I can. He told me that he needed as many of your troops as possible to help him to overthrow the leaders of the villagers before they had time to resist. The quicker and smoother this operation took place the better as the people would then accept his becoming The Father. He has a plan that would accomplish the overthrow in less than two hours, providing that you have enough men to help him. His one concern is that your troops will not take orders from him. He said that if you can ensure that they will, then there will not be any need for you to be there.” Careen was hoping that the suggestion that Normec be excluded would have the opposite effect. She was not disappointed. Normec was immediately suspicious.

“If there is to be any alliance between your friend and myself, then I shall be there to make sure that everything is satisfactory,” he said, “That is, if I decide to agree.” He stood up, picking up the hand laser he walked to the door.

“I will give it some thought,” he said. Opening the door he called in the lieutenant and told him to escort Careen back to join Crayle in the sparsely furnished room. The discussion was over. All Careen could do now was to wait and pray that Normec would find that the desire to possess the drug would be too great to resist.

Crayle greeted her return with a sneer, which Careen ignored.

“Well? Did he listen?” he asked. When Careen did not answer he laughed.

“You alone. I want to talk to you alone,” he mimicked, “That was good. I bet it had as much affect on Normec as an ant trying to stop a freight train.” He was trying to get her to enlighten him on the results of her talk with Normec. Careen was too weary to take any notice, which only served to annoy Crayle further.

“You have had it, or you wouldn't be here locked up with me.” Careen looked at him and said, “Crayle. Shut up. You are not at all impressive. You seem determined to make me respect you less and less.” She sat in a corner and shut her eyes, trying to rest.

An hour later the guards came and to get them. They were told that they were to be taken to other rooms where they could sleep. As they followed the guards, they passed military personnel hurrying along the corridors. Troops were carrying equipment and officers were barking orders. Crayle wondered if he had failed to hear an alarm that had caused the commotion that was going on. He stopped one of the soldiers and demanded to know what was happening. The soldier, mountain of a man just shouldered Crayle aside with a snarl and continued on his way. One of the guards that were taking them to their rooms, pushed him with his heavy weapon.

“Get a move on. We've got work to do,” he hissed. Crayle decided that it wasn't the right moment to argue with him.

Careen found herself in a room with a bed and a hand basin that she immediately put to use, splashing her face to freshen herself. She dried herself and sank down on the bed. The noise of the activity continued throughout the night, preventing her from sleeping as soundly as she would have liked. To her, it was a good sign. Normec was obviously preparing to send the troops down to the planet. She had no idea what Shim and Peto were going to do once they had the army on the surface. She was taking Shim's word for it that she would be safe. At the moment she felt far from safe and wouldn't be until she was well away from Normec.

Someone shaking her rudely awaked Careen, after finally falling asleep. It was a young guard. She guessed his age to be around twenty.

“Wake up, miss,” he said, “Councillor Normec wants to see you.” His eyes widened as she threw the sheets from her, revealing that she was dressed only in her under wear. There had been no nightclothes in the room and she would have slept naked, had she have been anywhere but on the warship. She took no notice of his stare as she dressed quickly.

“What time is it?” she asked.

“0705 hours ship's time, Miss,” replied the guard, “please hurry. I have been trying to wake you for five minutes. You wouldn't answer the door. The Councillor wanted to see you at 0700.”

“I'm sorry, I was tired. Blame it on me.” Careen doubted if the young guard would get into any trouble, in spite of his concern. Normec would have too much on his mind right now. She followed the guard to Normec's room. Normec bade them enter when the guard knocked.

“I have decided to help your friend, Miss Soman. That does not mean that I will necessarily go along with his plans. Now that we have the shuttle at our disposal, I felt that we ought to use it to the best advantage. We have been virtually prisoners on this ship since those leaders removed all means of returning to Earth,” said Normec, “I have ordered all the troops to prepare for an attack and they have been instructed to eat and drink only the supplies that we take with us. Now, where do we have to meet this friend of yours?”

“He said that the meeting place should be on the south side of the planet, close to where there is a sea of grey metal. He said you couldn’t fail to see the area as it is quite large and very prominent. It is also uninhabited, which will enable you to land without being seen.” Careen could hardly conceal her relief that her mission appeared to have been successful. Now, she thought, it was up to Shim and Peto.

“You understand that if there is any sort of double-cross, you will die, don't you? If you have just been used by them to trick us, you cannot escape immediate execution.”

Careen nodded and said, “I understand, perfectly.” Normec eyed her, unfeelingly.

“Good. Then I think we are about ready to board the shuttle.” He motioned to the guard with  his hand, “Take her to the shuttle and hand her over to your lieutenant.”

Most of the troops were already aboard the shuttle when Careen arrived and was taken to the lieutenant who then had her escorted to her own room. Crayle was there, holding a pair of her panties in his hand. He had taken the opportunity to go through her personal things while he had been waiting. She gave him a look of contempt and snatched them out of his hand and replaced them in a drawer. He laughed to cover up his obvious embarrassment. Careen ignored him and poured herself a drink without offering him one.

The shuttle was under way within thirty minutes and all they had to do was wait for it to enter the atmosphere of Diata. Careen spent the time gathering some personal keepsakes that she had collected. Crayle watched place them in a holdall, and then she packed a case with some of her clothes. His curiosity got the better of him.

“If you think you are going away, forget it.” he said “Normec won't let you out of his sight now that he has got you. Even if you have managed to make him believe that you can solve his problems, he's not going to let you go back to the village.”

Careen continued with her packing silently, pausing only to take a sip of her drink. Crayle's failure to draw her out annoyed him. He tried another tactic.

“Or are you moving in with him to save your skin?” Careen turned and gave him a withering look, closed the case and sat down, determined not to be forced into making any comment. Crayle saw that he was getting nowhere.

“Look. Those troops are getting ready to blast your friends to hell. It's obvious. You have given Normec the chance that he wanted.” He poured himself a drink and gulped it down. “He was helpless before.”

Careen frowned. That was one thing that she was not sure about. She finished her drink and went to her closet and locked herself in. Sitting down on the toilet seat, she allowed the tears to well up into her eyes. She knew that he could be right but it was too late to turn back now. She remained there for the duration of the journey.

 

The shuttle had entered the atmosphere on the south side of the planet and landed by the sea of grey metal. Normec lost no time in ordering the troops to surround the shuttle to defend it should it be necessary. When that was accomplished, he left the shuttle himself to breathe in the fresh, slightly scented air. His cold grey eyes took in the surroundings. It was a desolate area but it was better than the confines of the warship that he had been forced to endure since Peto had immobilised it.

He looked at the sea of grey. This was the sycnel, he thought. He had never believed that there was so much sycnel in the universe. The grey stretched as far as he could see. Just one shuttle holds full would make him the richest man in the Empire, if the Governors would allow it. There would be no chance of that. They would want it all for themselves. He thought of the hypnosis-inducing drug that the Soman girl had told him about. That could change everything for him. He could come for the sycnel after he had the means to manufacture the drug. That thought made him look around for the man that he was supposed to meet. There was no one in sight, but he realised that they were early. It was not yet noon, the time of the meeting. The commander in charge of the troops approached him.

“Councillor. We have detected a small group of men approaching from the north. They have just emerged from that wooded area.” The commander pointed to a clump of trees on the horizon, about a mile distant. “I have sent a party of twelve men to circle round to get behind them to cut off any retreat should they be hostile.” Normec looked in the direction indicated and nodded.

“Good. I don't expect any trouble, but one can't be too careful.” he said approvingly, “You could also send out a party to meet them. That will distract they attention from the other party.” He felt pleased with his own suggestion. It would show that the commander had not thought of everything.

“Yes Councillor. A good idea. I'll see that it is done at once.” The commander left to attend the matter, leaving Normec watching the approaching group for a while before going inside to have Careen brought out to him.

Careen joined him at the airlock and Normec pointed to the approaching group.

“It looks like your friends are arriving. You will introduce me to the one that wants to be the First Father.” Normec spoke in a matter-of -fact way as if it was a foregone conclusion.

Careen was straining her eyes to see if one of the men in the group was Shim but as yet they were too far away to distinguish individuals. She became aware that her heart was pounding at the thought of him being near. She told herself that she had no right to feel the way she did. Shim had never made any advances towards her and the only indication  that he even liked her, was that he seemed to enjoy her company. Until she met him, she had never been uncertain of a man's feelings towards her, or failed to discern whether it was purely physical, as it usually was. Neither had she had any difficulty in attracting a man's attention for her own purposes. She knew how she felt about him. She had wondered if she should make some move to show him how she felt, but was afraid that somehow, this would cheapen her in his eyes, and so she had refrained from doing so. She fervently wished that he would make some sign that he felt the same towards her as she did towards him

At that moment, one of the men in the approaching group raised his arm and waved. The party of soldiers had met them and had formed a line abreast behind them, as though bringing in captive prisoners. She concentrated on the man that had waved and recognised the fair hair of Shim. Instinctively, she waved back. Again, she had the uncanny feeling that he knew what she had been thinking.

When the group arrived at the shuttle, Shim greeted Careen with a smile.

“I'm so glad that you are back, Careen. I've missed you,” he said.

“I've missed you, too,” replied Careen. Shim turned to Normec and extended his hand towards the shuttle airlock.

“Shall we go inside?” Careen looked at Normec to see his reaction. It was not proper to make such suggestions to a Councillor. Normec merely turned and entered the airlock.  Shim and two of his group followed him. Careen hesitated until Shim invited her to come with them.

Normec led the way to his office and sat down at his desk. Careen thought that he appeared to be quite subdued as he looked at Shim expectantly. Shim stood before Normec and spoke.

“I think it would be a good idea if you told your men to put their weapons down and to make their camp here.” Normec did as Shim suggested, using his wrist communicator to issue the order to the officers waiting outside.

“Thank you,” said Shim with a smile, “we will also need as many uniforms that you can spare that are used by the crew of your warship. If necessary, you can have the use of the smaller shuttle to bring them down.”

“Very well,” said Normec, “When do you want them?”

“The sooner the better, I think. We are will have to get used to wearing them. None of us have ever worn your kind of clothing.”

Careen was astounded that Normec accepted without question Shim's demands. He had never allowed anyone to tell him what to do before. Normec, who had always been an arrogant and ruthless man, was now meek and willing to help. Gone was the holier than thou attitude that was the accepted bearing of a Councillor of the Empire.

Fearing a trick on Normec's part, Careen reached out and touched Shim on the arm.

“Shim, can I talk to you for a moment, outside?” she asked. Shim smiled at her reassuringly.

“Anything that you have to say can be said here, in front of Normec,” he said. Careen looked at Shim and frowned. How can he be so naive, she thought.

“No, it can't. I need to speak to you alone. I think it is important, very important,” she insisted. Shim smiled again and took her hand.

“Careen. You want to warn me about Normec's change of attitude. Believe me, there is nothing to worry about. There is nothing that Normec can do at the moment to harm us.” Careen was completely unprepared for such an answer.

“You can read my mind! You could all the time!” Careen desperately tried to think of everything that had gone on in her mind while she had been with Shim. Her face cheeks flushed with embarrassment as she remembered that she had frequently had thoughts that she would rather Shim did not know about.

“Careen, everything will be explained to you when we go to Hometown. We were unable to explain before as we were not completely sure where your loyalty lay. You have proved beyond any doubt that you have the welfare of the Diatans at heart. You can also be assured that we would not have allowed you to come to any harm at the hands of Normec while you were on the warship.”

Careen was confused and angry. She did not know exactly why she was angry but felt that she had a right to be. She was about to question Shim when he put his arm around her.

“Brace yourself for a shock, Careen. We are returning to Peto's home now,” he said.

For a split second Careen's mind went blank and she found herself in the lounge of Peto's house. Shim was standing beside her and he still had his arm around her. In spite of the warning to brace herself, Careen was more frightened at what had happened to her than shocked. It was some seconds before she could speak and when she did it was to Shim.

“Shim! What happened? How did I get here? Did you drug me? Was that story I gave Normec about a drug true?” The questions came one after another without pausing for answers. She looked around the room. Diata was coming towards her, her arms outstretched and with a smile on her face. Eelan and Peto were also there and smiling at her. Diata reached her and took her hands.

“Come and sit down, Careen,” she said, leading her to one of the seats, “don't worry, you have not been drugged. Peto will explain what has happened to you.” Diata urged Careen to sit down and sat down beside her. She took Careen's hands in hers and looked expectantly at Peto.

“Let's all sit down,” said Peto, indicating to the others to make themselves comfortable, “I expect Careen will have quite a few questions to ask later.” He waited until they were all seated.

“Careen, I'm sure you understand how concerned we have been since the Empire discovered us here on Diata. It is because of our concern that we have not been completely open with you. It has been for our own protection as we are quite vulnerable.

“However, although we are vulnerable, we are not entirely defenceless. We could not be open with you until we were sure that you would not betray us. We now know that you will not and that we can trust you.” Peto went on to explain the effects the radiation from the sun had on them and how they had become capable of using mental powers that were beyond the capabilities of Earthmen. He explained that they had used these powers for the good of The Family and as a result they had been able to progress without the need of help from Earth.

Peto told her how they had used their powers to manipulate the actions of Crayle and Careen as experiments to see if they could use them to defend themselves.

“We would have welcomed the Empire with open arms had we not seen the evil of it in the minds of those that came. We discussed it at great length and decided that we wanted no part of it.” Peto finished speaking and looked apologetically at Careen.

“Do you mean to tell me that I was under your control and I couldn't do anything about it?” Careen asked. Shim answered her.

“Only for a short time, Careen,” he said. Once again, Careen flushed with embarrassment.

“What did you make me do? Act like an idiot while you all laughed your heads off?” She covered her face in her hands. Diata could see that Careen had misunderstood.

“Oh no, Careen. You were not unaware of what you were doing! You did nothing that you don't remember doing. All we did was to persuade you to wear the Kandeer outfit that I made for you that's all.” Careen looked at her unconvinced.

“But I like wearing that. I agreed to wear it. You didn't make me.” Diata squeezed her hand and smiled.

“Your mind was completely opposed to wearing it in the company of the men. You felt that it was too revealing. You would not have worn it without being manipulated. It is our native dress here so it doesn't worry us but we did notice that Crayle appreciated it in his own crude way. Just as he did when he saw us.”

“Did you make me agree to go to Normec?”

“No. That was your idea. We thought about it and we agreed to go along with it,” said Shim, “when you came up with the idea, I told Peto and the leaders. It seemed a good idea to get Normec down here with his troops.”

Careen was relieved. She had thought that she had been used all the time and was unsure of her own feelings.

“The next step is to take control of the warship. We are going to have to go to Earth in it,” said Peto.

“That's why I asked Normec to get the uniforms,” said Shim. Careen shook her head. She didn't believe what she was hearing.

“That's ridiculous! You can't possibly be serious! You don't understand the power of the Empire. You wouldn't last five minutes if you tried to take on the Empire!” She looked at them incredulously.

“We have to, Careen. We know we will be successful,” said Shak. Careen laughed at him.

“How could you know that? You don't know anything about the Empire. It is powerful. It controls all the military might in the known universe.” Peto stood up and faced her.

“We know that too. We also know that between now and two years time we will have met with success. That is a fact.” Careen's eyes flitted from face to face as she tried to read their thoughts. She could see that they were all deadly serious.

“Are you going to tell me that you can also see into the future?”

“We can't, but Comp can. Within limits. He has seen that we will win. He also told us that you would have a part in bringing about our success. He was right, you have,” said Shak, “we did not know what to do until you came up with your suggestion.”

It was Diata who explained what had happened to Comp, how he had found that he was able to move through time. She also explained the limitations that he had as the same thoughts came into Careen's head that had come into theirs.

Careen thought of all that had happened. Shim had demonstrated their telekinetic powers and she had already experienced teleportation. She knew them all well enough to know that they would not lie to her. She finally accepted that they would do whatever they believed they would have to do, and that she, too, would become involved.