When Howard had slept a full twelve hours, he was awoken by one
of the women that had volunteered to come with come along to man the galleys and cook for the men. He had not seen a woman
since he was taken to Tregon. He could not take his eyes off her as she laid out a meal for him on the table and left.
He was given sufficient time to consume the meal and then Derk
came to take him control room. He was startled to see Comp appear and vanish then appear somewhere else in the control room.
It was explained to him that Comp could teleport and that it enabled him to operate the various controls without assistance.
He was impressed by the efficiency the Diatans were running the great ship with a skeleton crew.
When he had seen enough Peto and Shak explained what they required
of him. They told him that they hoped to over-throw the Governors with the help of those that had been imprisoned for objecting
to the inhumane way in which the Governors were treating their subjects. He could help by telling them the best way of getting
the prisoners free without too much bloodshed. If they were successful in doing that, then he could possibly be useful when
they tackled the Governors on Earth.
“We understand that you worked for the Empire,” said
Peto. Howard smiled grimly.
“Yes. I worked for them all right. I used to program their
computers. That's how I found out what the Governors were doing to innocent people. We used to think that the people who were
exploited and murdered were the victims of anarchists that wanted to destroy all that was good. That was what we were led
to believe. You see, employees of the empire were kept away from the rest of the world. We enjoyed a good life as long as
we were kept in ignorance of what was really going on. I found out that it was the Governors that were behind the misery.
I began a campaign to expose them. It lasted as long as a whole week before I was sent here.”
Howard told them that there was no way that they could attempt
to free those that were in the cells. He said that they would be too exhausted after a shift in the mines.
“All we want to do is sleep and try to recover. Mortality
rate is high. Suicides are common. They just let themselves fall against the lasers that keep them in their cells.”
Howard pondered for a while, and then a thought came to him.
“The canteen buildings! Just after the first meal. Not
before. They get little enough and will need food inside them if they are to fight.”
Howard told them that the guards were most lax at meal times,
as the prisoners would be too busy eating their meagre rations to give them some strength to finish their shift. The prisoners
would be strongest after the first meal and before the shift started.
The only problem, if they over-came the guards, would be getting
out of the building. There were only ten hovertrucks in use that were used to haul trains of airtight hover-trailers to transport
the prisoners to the mines. Each train carried five hundred men. Two trustees who were rewarded with lighter duties and extra
rations manned each hovertruck. One of the trustees was armed with a laser; a necessity as the other secured the doors of
the trailers. It was a coveted duty but brought hatred for the ones that accepted the work.
Howard explained that there weren't any space suits for them
to survive outside the buildings or trains.
“They will be stuck there and the other guards will just
go in and recapture them.”
Peto looked at Comp, who had been listening to Howard.
“What do you think, Comp?”
“It will certainly need some careful planning, Peto. I
think your special powers will be extremely useful when you go down there. I suggest you take time to make a plan.”
“That's what we are trying to do,” retorted Peto.
Eventually a rudimentary plan was agreed upon. It necessitated
sending Howard back to the prison. He was to do his best to inform those whom he could trust, that there was to be an attempt
to free them. They were to be ready to act as soon as the attempt was made. It was decided to allow Howard time to spread
the word and arrangements were made to make the attempt two days hence.
Understandably, Howard was extremely reluctant to return. He
feared for his own safety after enjoying a brief spell of freedom. He said that the guards would certainly make him pay for
it. It was only after his mind was conditioned to accept that it was a necessity that he willingly returned.
When Howard was handed over, Kayser was told that there would
be a need to question him again. It was a precaution, in case anything should 'accidentally' happen to Howard. Under Shim's
control, Normec made it clear to Kayser that he would be held responsible should anything untoward happen to Howard in the
In spite of the warning, Howard was taken by the guards and questioned.
When Howard told them that Councillor Normec had expressly told him to say nothing of the interview, he was threatened with
a session in the disciplinary room.
The disciplinary room was nothing less than a torture chamber
used for particularly unruly prisoners. It was standard practice for the guards to give every prisoner a session of disciplinary
treatment so that they knew what to expect.
The threat was an empty one, the guard’s fear of Normec
and Kayser being greater than their desire to know what the interview was about.
Howard was beaten and returned to his cell, bruised but otherwise
The following morning, he joined the work force as usual and
was taken to the canteen building in the train. Meals would only be served when the full work force arrived. He sat down at
the table assigned to his cellblock to await the arrival of the other trainloads of prisoners. This and the next mealtime
would be the only opportunity to talk to the other prisoners. The only ones that he could trust to any extent, were the ones
in his own cell block, the ones at his table.
He looked at the man seated next to him. He was in his late fifties.
Howard had learned that the man had been on Tregon for nine years. That was a long time to survive. Many of the prisoners
had learned to sleep on their feet, and the man beside him was asleep. As he slept, his body shook a sure sign that he was
beginning to break down. Howard thought that the man would probably be dead in two weeks, a month at the most.
He looked up and down the table, trying to decide whom to tell
about the escape plan. He knew that he was wasting time. Glancing around, he made sure that the guards were in their usual
places. Two in each corner of the huge room. He could speak quite loudly and not be heard by them. He moved slowly to the
head of the table, keeping an eye on the guards.
all of you,” he said. The men nearest to him opened their eyes; startled at being disturbed before it was time to eat.
Howard rapped the table.
“All of you, listen to me!” Several others opened
their eyes and looked at him.
'We are getting out of here tomorrow! I've been arranging an
escape plan with some friends. Be ready to take the guards tomorrow morning. Do you understand? Tomorrow morning, be ready.
We must take the guards' weapons tomorrow morning! We are going to escape from this hell!”
One of the prisoners, a man that Howard knew as Ted, looked at
him with a sneer.
“You're dreaming Mart. No-one can get out of here. Shut
up and save your energy.” He closed his eyes again. Howard thumped the table again.
“We can! Where do you think I've been for the last twenty-four
hours? There are friends waiting to free us. Friends who have a Councillor on their side. They are going to help us break
out of here tomorrow morning, here in this building. Be ready when it starts. All of you!” Howard tried to keep their
attention. He knew that if he were in their position, he would find it hard to believe that it was possible to break out.
“You will know when it has started. Just be ready tomorrow.
Anything is better than being worked to death!” He pointed to the shaking man beside him. The man still had his eyes
closed, trying to get sufficient rest to survive another day.
“Look at Albert! How long will he live? How long before
you get the shakes and die? That's all you've got to look forward to! Isn't better to die trying to get out of here?”
Howard's mention of Albert made them think. They all knew that
they too, would end up with the shakes. It was something that they put out of their minds. No one mentioned it, even when
it was obvious that the shakes had started to take over one of them. It was like a death sentence and one knew that once the
shakes had started, the victim's days were numbered.
Several one the men looked at their hands. That was where the
shakes began. The hands would begin to tremble slightly. Once it began, the victim would clasp his hands together or sit on
them, hopelessly trying to still the trembling. Then the feet would be affected. It would rapidly spread up the arms and legs,
an uncontrollable tremble, until the whole body was continuously shaking, becoming more violent as the days passed. It would
eventually become so bad that the victim would be unable to put food into his mouth to eat.
There was no hospital or sick bay on the satellite. The prisoners
were expected to work until they died of exhaustion, regardless of age or health.
Howard, seeing that he had made them think, renewed his appeal.
“Don't forget, tomorrow, first meal is when it starts.
Be ready to disarm the guards. Keep thinking about it. My friends are coming.”
Peto and Shim, wearing space suits, took the smaller shuttle
and left the warship. Shak and three other Diatans prepared the cargo shuttle in readiness to pick up as many of the prisoners
that they could, once the break out had been accomplished.
Comp had insisted on remaining on board the warship, explaining
that he would be of greater use there should anything go wrong. Peto objected but Comp said he had his own plan of action
to help if the need arose.
Comp's value was brought home to them when he advised that they
change the frequency of the communicators of the shuttles. They had not thought of the possibility of their conversations
being picked up by the guards. Whilst on the satellite they would communicate with each other telepathically, so there would
be no need to alter the wrist communicators.
Peto approached the mines from the farthest side, away from the
prison 'town', and landed the shuttle just out of sight of the huge building that they planned to attack.
He and Shim left the shuttle and made their way over the jagged
rocks towards the building. The sun was just beginning to rise behind them and they picked their way through contrasts of
dense darkness and brilliant light. It was necessary for them to keep their headlamps on as the jagged rocks could rip their
suits as they stumbled about in the patches of darkness.
They knew that there would not be any prisoners there until the
first train arrived. They wanted to be early in order to get a good look at the site of the mine before making any move to
“It's not going to be easy, Peto,” thought Shim,
“There's only one airlock in the building.” Peto had already noticed. Howard had said that there was little chance
of many getting out. He had emphasised that he would be on the third train and begged them not to start before he had arrived.
Peto and Shim edged cautiously closer. They were well aware that
there would not be any guards there that early but there may be some of the robots active that may raise the alarm.
They settled down to await the arrival of the first train which
was due within thirty minutes. While they waited they conversed telepathically.
“I'm worried, Peto. Comp said there would be casualties
among us. They could be us,” said Shim. Peto had not given any thought to the possibility that he might be the first
“Comp didn't say who the casualties would be. Neither did
he say when. If he knows, then he prefers to keep it to himself,” answered Peto.
“That is probably to protect us. If we knew that we were
going to die at a certain time, we wouldn't be much use, I suppose,” said Shim. He was not afraid of dying. They all
would readily give their lives to ensure the freedom of The Family.
“He probably doesn't know. He didn't seem to learn much
when he was in the future.” Peto felt sure that Comp would have given him a warning or a hint.
Their conversation ended as a train emerged through a gap between
two huge rocks that arched high over the train and almost met at the top.
The train approached rapidly along a narrow road towards the
building that was the canteen. They watched as it pulled up by the airlock. The driver skilfully lined up the airlock of the
train to the one in the building and the connection was made automatically.
It took eight minutes for the prisoners to disembark. Another
two minutes to disconnect the airlocks and the train to move off. The train swept around in a wide 'U' turn and went back
the way it had come.
Howard had said that each train made two journeys. That meant
it would take two hours at least for all the prisoners to disembark. They waited for the second train to arrive. It came through
the gap in the rocks five minutes later. Three more minutes and it was connected to the airlock. Satisfied that there was
approximately sixteen minutes between each trainload, they waited for the train that would be carrying Howard.
The third train came through the gap slightly earlier than expected.
Peto took a deep breath.
““Let's go,” he said. In a flicker of light,
The two trustees were suddenly startled to find two space-suited
men with them in the driver's cabin. The trustee with the laser did not know what to do. He couldn't recognise the men in
the space suits and thought that they were guards. Shim had control of his mind before he could speak and relieved him of
Peto had the driver under control. Both trustees were now firmly
convinced that Peto and Shim were guards and had been with them since they left the cellblocks. None of the passengers had
seen anything. They were all travelling with their eyes shut. Shim walked down through the train of trailers looking for Howard.
He found him in the fourth trailer. He was the only one with his eyes open. He was looking anxiously out of the window, his
eyes wide searching the bleak terrain outside.
Shim touched him on the shoulder.
“Martin! It's me, Shim. Hurry, we'll be at the mines in
a minute.” Howard, seeing the laser, cowered in his seat. He thought that Shim was a guard trying to trick him. Shim
brought his face closer so that Howard could see him through the visor. When Howard recognised him, he let out a shout.
“See! My friends! My friends are here!” His shout
awoke the other prisoners in the trailer. They saw Shim standing beside Howard.
“Show them! Show them that you are my friend. Break my
chains, please,” he begged. Shim quickly removed his helmet and showed his face. The shackles holding Howard were broken
and he stood up. Shim handed the laser to him.
“Don't use this unless you really have to, understand?”
Shim warned. Howard took the laser and brandished it in front of the other prisoners.
“There, you see? I told you my friends were coming. We
are getting out of here at last! Will you join us?” cried Howard excitedly. The prisoners were now wide-awake and staring
unbelievingly at Howard and Shim. Ted was the first to recover from his surprise.
'Free me! I'm with you!” he said. This started a chorus
of assents from the remaining prisoners. Shim held his hands up to quieten them.
“We have room to take two thousand with us. That is all
we can take at this time. I'm afraid that they must all be able-bodied men as they must be able to fight if necessary. The
others will be freed to take over this satellite until we return for them.” There were cries from them all claiming
to be fit to fight. Shim shook his head. He could see that most of the passengers on the train were too sick or weak to be
any use for fighting. He raised his hands again and addressed them.
“You must all leave the train in the usual way and the
guards in the canteen must be disarmed. We can't allow the guards to become suspicious. Relax and just follow our instructions.
There's not much time.”
The train arrived at the building and the driver drew alongside
the airlock. Once the connection was made, the trustee that had been armed pulled a switch that automatically released the
locks on the prisoner’s shackles. He then opened the airlock and the prisoners filed out. There was only room for fifty
prisoners in the airlock at one time, before the inner lock was opened for them to file out into the building.
Inside, the two guards at the airlock were surprised to see an
unusually lively bunch of prisoners enter. This aroused their suspicions and they entered the airlock to await the next fifty.
When the airlock opened again, the guards immediately saw Howard with a laser. They raised their own weapons but before they
could fire, Shim had them under control. The two guards lowered their lasers and stood by placidly. Shim relieved them of
their weapons and they returned inside with the next fifty prisoners, taking up their usual position.
The disembarking of the remainder of the prisoners was completed
without further incident. Howard remained on the train with Peto and Shim. The two trustees, now completely under the impression
that all was normal, disconnected the airlocks and the train moved on.
The following train was already close to the mines when they
had made the 'U' turn. It was decided to continue the collection of prisoners as usual to avoid arousing the suspicions of
the other guards. Peto knew that they would only get one chance to free the prisoners without bloodshed.
The trustee driver took the train to the town and drove to one
of the cellblocks and picked up his last batch of passengers. On Peto's instructions Howard handed his laser back to the trustee
and was told not to mention the plan to the second batch of prisoners.
“We will tell them all when they have eaten back at the
canteen,” he explained.
way back to the mine they passed the other trains returning for their second loads. Peto and Shim searched the minds of the
drivers to see if the escape plan had been discovered. All appeared to be well.
Returning to the canteen, the prisoners joined the others. Peto,
Shim and Howard went in with them. Shim quickly held the guards immobile while Howard took their weapons and wrist communicators.
Four prisoners were assigned to guard them. Word had already been passed around of the breakout and many of the prisoners
were waiting in anticipation.
One huge giant of a man, seeing that the guards were helpless
without their weapons, was staring intently at one of them. No one took any notice as the man edged towards the guard. When
he was standing next to him, he suddenly grabbed the guard by the throat with one massive hand and pounded his fist into his
ribs and face time and again. Blood spurted from the guards pulped mouth and cut face before Shim could render the giant helpless
by controlling his mind.
“Why did he do that? We don't want any trouble. No complications!”
Howard was staring wide-eyed at the huge man.
“It's Carlos,” he said, “that guard has been
picking on Carlos for months. He has been taking him in to the disciplinary room just for the fun of seeing the big man sweat
with pain. Ted told me that he heard the guard tell another that he would make the big man scream one day.”
Peto felt sick. The guard was dead and would never hear anyone
The great hall was in an uproar. The prisoners were all shouting
at once. Several men rushed at the remaining guards and Peto knew that they would be dead in seconds. Small fights were breaking
out among the crowd of prisoners. Peto and Shim looked helplessly at each other. Peto tried to speak to Shim but couldn't
hear himself speak. He reached for Shim's mind.
“We'll have to get out of here, Shim. We could never control
“We did it all wrong, didn't we?” answered Shim,
“We are going have to leave these poor devils here, at the mercy of the guards.”
Behind them, the airlock opened. Another load of prisoners had
arrived. Peto and Shim watched as the new arrivals merged with the rioting prisoners and got caught up in the fighting that
was getting too close to them for their liking.
It was then that Peto noticed that Ted had grabbed two powerful
looking men and was shouting at them and pointing towards the airlock. The two men looked over and the three fought their
way through the crowd towards Peto.
When they got to where Peto and Shim were standing, they swung
around and stood in front of them and faced the crowd. A second later a man saw Howard carrying a laser. He yelled something
to another man and they both grinned and came towards them.
Shim, not liking their expressions looked into their minds, then
spoke to Peto's.
“They want Howard's laser. If they get the weapons there
will be many dead before long.” As he spoke the two men reached as far as Ted and the two men he had with him. Ted swung
his fist and caught one of them square on the jaw, knocking him out cold. The other soon rendered the other unconscious in
a similar way two. Peto realised that Ted and the two big men had taken it upon themselves to protect Shim and himself. Little
did they know that he and Shim could have swept the whole crowd into a corner of the room by using their telekinetic powers.
“Get on the train and get out of here!” shouted Ted,
“you tried your best. Maybe another time! Take Mart. He believes in you!” Peto was moved by Ted's willingness
to sacrifice himself for them and Howard. Ted and the two men with him owed them nothing. Shim broke in on his thoughts.
“They are breaking the place up. If they go too far they
will rupture the walls and they will all die.” Peto looked around. The fighting was spreading closer to them. Ted and
the two men could not possibly hold them off for long. There were too many for Shim and he to control. Peto had an idea.
“Shim. The tables! Get the tables and build a barricade
around us.” Shim responded instantly. The tables rose one by one and sailed through the air to pile up around the airlock.
The few that saw them do so would be too busy to wonder how the tables flew. With the exception of Ted, Howard and the two
men. They were astounded by what had happened.
“The four of you, come with us,” shouted Peto. He
turned and led the way into the airlock. When they were all in, they closed the inner door. The last train was still outside.
Howard explained that they always left the last train connected to the airlock in readiness for the end of the shift.
Getting into the driver's seat Peto said that they would have
to try to free the second shift prisoners. They still needed the help of the prisoners to defeat the Empire. The second shifters
would be asleep and not so ready to riot.
“That's impossible! We'll never get them out of the cells!”
said Howard, “the cells are protected by lasers.”
“They won't be for long,” replied Peto, Shim will
get them turned off.”
He drove the train to the town, hoping that he was driving inconspicuously.
The guards would not be aware of the commotion at the canteen yet.
He began to pull up at one of the cellblocks. Ted grabbed his
“Not that one! We don't want them! You don't want to free
them!” he exclaimed.
“Why not? We want to free all of you here,” said
Peto. Ted shook his head.
“They are the real criminals.” He pointed at the
wall of the cellblock.
“See the number is in red. They are the murderers and psychopaths.
They are kept separate from the rest of us. They work a different mine. It's the yellow numbers you want. The objectors to
the Empire and the Governors.” Howard confirmed that it would not be wise to free those in the red numbered cells.
“The blues are the drug traffickers. I don't think you
want them, either,” he said.
Peto swung the train away from the cellblock.
“Where are the yellow cells, then,” he asked, praying
that the guards had not noticed the change of direction. He looked up at the towers. The guards did seem to have noticed.
Ted guided him to the next row. “Any of these are OK,”
They stopped at the first block and the airlock was connected.
Shim, unseen by the prisoners, teleported to the control room that Kayser had taken them on their first visit.
He took control of the two guards there and they threw the switch
to cut the lasers. He next relieved them of the special key to unlock the airlocks and teleported back to the train. The two
guards continued as though nothing had happened.
Entering through the airlocks, Peto and Shim passed down the
passage, taking note of the prisoners that were asleep. Ted and Howard followed them.
“We want to be selective in our choice of help,”
Peto told them. “We want able-bodied men. Half of these are too sick or weak to be of any use to us.”
“You pick who you want,” said Howard, “we'll
wake them up. The others won't even know we've been here.”
They chose three hundred of the prisoners. Ted and Howard waking
them up and explaining to them what was happening. Fifteen of them declined to go with them. Most of the fifteen were young
and comparatively newcomers to the prison. They were afraid of the consequences should the escape fail. The remainder hardened
by years of suffering and knowing that there was nothing but death to look forward to, readily agreed to join them.
They moved on to the next block and achieved a similar result.
They had a total of seven hundred prisoners crammed into the train. Peto knew that he could not take any more. He swung the
train around and headed back towards the mines.
There were no walls or fences around the town of cellblocks.
The total lack of atmosphere made such security measures unnecessary. Peto drove straight towards the edge of the town where
the boundary towers encircled it.
They had almost reached the boundary when one of the guards must
have realised that there should not be any trains moving as late as it was. The searchlights came on. Peto saw one of the
guards on the tower bringing the mounted lasers to bear on the train. Another guard was facing the screen of a communicator,
obviously raising the alarm.
Peto rammed the control lever of the train forward as far as
it would go, trying to coax more speed out of it. It was already moving at its maximum speed.
“Shim! Call the shuttle! We'll never get out of range of
those lasers in time!”
Shim called Shak on his wrist communicator.
“We are in trouble, Shak! We have been spotted! We need
Shak did not waste time asking questions. He summoned several
of the Diatans to assess the firepower of this warship and to understand how to operate the weapons. As I am the only one
who controls the ship, I felt it necessary to know everything about it. It is just as well that I did, isn't it? The weapons
are extremely accurate, as you may have noticed.” Peto had no time to ask any more questions. The train needed all his
concentration as it limped on to the shuttle and implied urgency. Every one of them teleported instantly to the shuttle. He
then projected his thoughts to Comp to inform him of the trouble that Peto and Shim were in. Comp had already heard the message
from Shim and replied that he would be ready to help if the need arose.
Shak took the cargo shuttle down to the satellite, not bothering
to hide his approach. He already had the position of the mines fed into the computer, so the huge ship proceeded directly
Peto was forced to keep to the road that led out of the town.
The surrounding rocks preventing him from doing otherwise. The road ran close to the tower that held the alerted guards.
The guard with the laser opened fire. He was too hasty, not taking
time to aim. The beam of the laser hit a rock fifty feet or so away and the rock exploded silently. There was no sound, but
the blast was felt by those in the train.
Peto began evasive action, driving from side to side in an effort
to spoil the guards aim. Jagged rocks disintegrated on either side of the train, showering it with splintered fragments. The
passengers were being thrown from side to side as Peto continued to swerve.
The train passed beneath the tower and for a moment they were
shielded from the laser. Peto thought that it would take a minute or two for the guards to get the laser turned around to
continue firing. He took a chance and stopped swerving and tried to put as much distance between them as he could before the
guards could re-site the laser and get their bearings.
Peto managed to travel several hundred feet before a beam hit
one side of the hovertruck. The truck shuddered and one side dipped scraping the rock surface of the road. It did not stop
the train, but their speed dropped considerably and Peto was unable to continue his evasive action.
“Put your helmet on, Shim. We are bound to be hit now.”
He did not say it aloud as he did not want the prisoners to realise that he and Shim had the protection of the space suits.
It was possible that there would be a fight to get possession of them.
At that moment there was a shout from the rear of the train followed
by a cheer that could be heard throughout its length.
Howard came forcing his way to Peto and Shim.
“The tower has just been destroyed! Someone destroyed it!”
he yelled, excitedly.
Peto turned to look back through the transparent roof of the
hovertruck. Sure enough the top of the tower was a tangle of twisted metal. Even as he watched, another tower that had begun
to fire at them, exploded and pieces of the metal tower flew in all directions. Immediately after, a third suffered the same
Bewildered, Shim and Peto looked at one another, wondering who
had come to their aid so quickly.
“The cargo shuttle is on its way, Peto. It will be there
soon. In the meantime, I think it would be a good idea if you continued to make good your escape.”
Comp's calm, soothing voice was unmistakable as it issued from
Peto's wrist communicator. “I will keep you covered as you do so,” he concluded.
“Comp! Did you do that?” It was not exactly a question
that Peto asked. He knew that it must have been Comp, although he had never expected it.
“Yes Peto. I took the liberty towards the mine.
Shim was still looking back at the towers, when he saw beams
of light moving from the building around the prison.
“The guards are chasing us in vehicles, Peto. There's at
least six of them!” he said.
“I'm going as fast as I can,” replied Peto. The train
seemed to be moving with agonising slowness although it was travelling about fifty miles an hour. The hovertruck was difficult
to steer and kept wandering and striking the rocks that lined the side of the road. Suddenly, Ted gave a shout.
“Look!” He pointed ahead. Over the horizon came a
blaze of light heading straight towards them. It was the huge cargo shuttle with its entire brilliant landing lights blazing.
Shak's mind came flooding into Peto's.
“Dad! The surface is too rough to land here! Further on,
about half a mile, there's a spot that will do. Can you make it?”
“We'll have to, Shak,” replied Peto. Shim joined
“We are being chased, Shak. The guards are following us
in hovercars. Get the shuttle out of range of their lasers,” he warned.
He looked back at the pursuing vehicles. Every few seconds the
guards were firing a test shot to see if they were in range. He noted that they were getting very close and was concerned
that the shuttle would be hit. He remembered Comp's words, “You will suffer casualties.” Shim judged that the
guards would be within range in another twenty seconds.
Ten seconds later, without warning, the leading hovercar disintegrated
in a brief ball of flame. Another two seconds and the next one exploded. The remainder slowed and stopped.
“What happened?” asked Shak. He had seen the two
“That must have been Comp again. He destroyed one of the
towers, too,” Shim replied. “He must be keeping an eye on us.”
“He what?” said Shak with surprise.
“That's right. We must have a word with him later.”
The shuttle turned and went ahead to the spot that Shak had mentioned
where he could land the shuttle. Peto followed as fast as the damaged hovertrain would go. The guards had turned their vehicles
around and were heading back to the prison. They would be reporting and getting their instructions from Kayser.
By the time the train had got to the rendezvous point, Shak had
landed the shuttle and was waiting anxiously for them. He had allowed room for the train to pull alongside the shuttle's airlock.
The lights of the shuttle illuminating the area so that Peto had no trouble lining up the airlocks. The escapees transferred
into the shuttle quickly, most of them still bewildered by what was happening to them.
Once they were all inside the cargo shuttle lifted and Shak switched
off the lights. Peto and Shim joined Shak and Derk in the control room.
“We must go back to the mines,” said Peto, “There
are prisoners there that were rioting and we had to leave them. We may be able to save some of them.” Shak shook his
“We passed over the site of the mines as we came for you.
There were many mutilated bodies lying around. We will pass over there again so that you can see for yourself. It's not a
Even as he spoke, the huge building that was the canteen came
into view. Shak switched on the landing lights of the shuttle and the area was bathed in light. Peto and Shim looked out on
the scene with horror.
Scattered over several hundred feet were hundreds of bodies mutilated
beyond description. Many had the appearance of having been blown inside out. Peto's gaze moved to the building.
At one point on the side of the building there was a splash of
red. He realised that it was blood. There was a fracture in the wall that seemed to have been filled with something.
The shuttle moved closer and at first the hole looked as if it
had been plugged with blood-soaked prison uniforms, then they saw that there were bodies in the uniforms.
The prisoners had holed the wall of the building and they had
been sucked out with the escaping air. As the first few hundred bodies entered the airless vacuum, pockets of air and gasses
in them expanded and had burst out of their bodies, turning them inside out. Other bodies had been sucked up and had packed
around the hole, sealing it.
“The fools! They could have been freed and now they are
dead! Why?” Peto shook his head at the horror of it, “If we hadn't have come here they would still be alive.”
“A living death, is more like it!” Howard had come
into the room. “Don't feel any regrets. They are better off dead than working in the mines. Believe me!”
Shak reminded them that they were still not out of danger and
that they were wasting time. They had to get back to the warship before Kayser could organise his men. Peto saw the wisdom
in this and told him to return to the ship.
Shak fed the course into the computer and the shuttle sped on
its way back towards the warship.
Aboard the warship, Comp scanned the large screens that displayed
views of the satellite's surface. Ignoring the speck that was the returning cargo shuttle, he kept his attention on the satellite.
A tiny pinpoint of light appeared on the dark surface and immediately there was a warning bleep from the console in front
of him. Comp reacted before the bleep had ceased to sound, his metal fingers stabbed at several buttons. Like lightning, a
beam shot from one of the warship's laser cannons and a split second later there was a brief flare of light where the speck
of light had appeared. Almost immediately, another speck of light from a different location appeared. Again the beep sounded
and again Comp’s fingers flew over the array of buttons on the console. There was another brief flare of light on the
satellite's surface. Comp continued to survey the screens but there was no repetition of the specks of light.
As soon as the shuttle had locked on to the warship and everyone
was on board, Peto sent a mental order to Comp.
“Get us out of here, Comp. Quick!” Comp did not need
to be told twice. The warship went into timewarp. Ninety-six seconds later the warship came out of timewarp leaving Tregon
light-years behind them. Comp informed Peto that it would take some time for them to be traced if the Empire had been told
of their exploits.
“Can they trace us?” Peto had not thought of that
“Oh yes. This warship has the means to trace other ships
in space. It is a complicated procedure so I won't try to explain how it is done. I am aware that you dislike my explanations.”
Peto flushed with guilt. Comp could now read his mind and he had probably hurt Comp's feelings.
“No, you haven't hurt my feelings. I understand that I
must have bored you many times during your schooling days. I was at a disadvantage then.”
The conversation ended as Comp turned his attention to the controls
of the ship. Peto watched him for a while. Comp disappeared and reappeared at the various banks of controls, sometimes only
remaining in one place for a second or two. He seemed to be playing with the buttons and switches but Peto knew that everything
Comp did was for a purpose. Peto left the control room confused.
The escaped prisoners were fed and allowed to rest for a day
before Peto called them to a meeting in the assembly room of the warship. They would have to be informed of what they were
expected to do.
“We had hoped to rescue at least two thousand of you but
unfortunately many of your prisoner friends lost control of themselves and died as a result. If they had only followed instructions
and not allowed their personal hate get the better of them; they would be here with you.
“You have been chosen because you are objectors to the
way the Empire is exploiting the people that it rules over. Because you despise the cruelty of the Governors and their officials.
“All of you have been screened and we know that you had
been sent to the penal satellite because of your objections. The hard line criminals have been left on Tregon. We had no wish
to release them, as their punishment was most likely a just one.
will explain our mission to you and anyone that does not wish to join us in accomplishing that mission will be allowed to
leave us and will be taken wherever they want to go. There will be no opportunity to change your mind once you have decided.”
Peto explained to them their plans to overthrow the Governors
and take control of the Empire. He told them of his plans to recruit other prisoners from other penal colonies as the needs
arose. All those that would be recruited would be objectors like themselves.
He explained that there were bound to be casualties and many
would probably die in the effort to defeat the Empire. He concluded by asking them to think carefully before making any decision
and that there would be another meeting the next day.
There were two hundred Diatans on board the warship and Peto
had them mix with the prisoners to see how they responded to his speech. They were to look into the minds of the prisoners
to ensure that there were none that would be a risk to them.
The meeting on the following day proved to be a lively one. The
escapees had unanimously voted to join the Diatans in the mission to defeat the Governors. Howard had spoken at length to
them, reminding them that they had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
“We were already dead on Tregon! If we lose, they can only
kill us or send us back! On the other hand, if we win, then we are free to live again!” he told them, “and if
we don't join these people who rescued us, where can we go and be safe? We have no means to get food or papers to get work.
We will have to turn to crime in order to survive. We are bound to be found sooner or later!”
Every one of them saw the logic in what he said. They had all
experienced the living hell of the penal colony, waiting for the shakes to come so that they would know that their days were
numbered and they could die.
Ted jumped to his feet and added his voice in support.
“We have something to fight for! Before, we were just individuals
voicing our complaints about the Governors! Now for the first time, we can organise! We can hit back with enough punch to
hurt! Maybe we can stir some of those billions of others who think like us, to act and join us. We can be the first anti-bodies
that multiply and gain strength to finally wipe out the disease that has sickened and is destroying all decent people everywhere
on all the planets!”
Peto looked at Ted with interest. He now saw him in a new light.
On Tregon, he had seen Ted as a big muscular man with a matted beard and long matted hair. He did not strike him as particularly
inspiring. Now, hearing Ted's fervent little speech, his opinion of him changed. Peto had the feeling that Ted would prove
to be invaluable in the near future. He remembered that it was Ted who had organised a group of the prisoners to protect Shim
and himself from the rioters.
The sound of seven hundred men voicing their agreement filled
the assembly hall. There were still one or two that were uncertain. Peto could understand that they wanted to know how they
were going to begin their assault on such a powerful organisation as the Empire. He felt the need to put their minds at rest.
He addressed the men.
“Some of you may be wondering how we are going to achieve
our aims. Let me assure you that we will not go into this without careful planning. Every one of you will be playing an important
part. Co-operation is essential and instructions have to be followed to the letter. The Governors will send forces against
us who are trained to obey orders regardless of their own opinions. We must be the same. Any break down in a plan will result
in its failure. We cannot afford that.
“There is one other thing that I would like to tell you.
We will succeed! I can't tell you how I know but believe me, we will succeed. I promise you that.”
His words encouraged the men who responded with cheers of approval.
The next two days were spent fitting the prisoners with uniforms
taken from the warship's stores and what they had taken from the troops that were still on Diata. The clean clothes and the
opportunity to wash and shave boosted the morale of the freed prisoners. Their expressions of hopelessness were replaced with
those of purposefulness and there was a spring of confidence in their stride as they walked.
The first indication that the Governors were looking for them
came when Comp reported that two space vessels had emerged out of timewarp in the sector of space that Comp had chosen to
hide in. They turned out to be navy vessels and were considerably armed.
“They have not yet found where we are precisely, although
they obviously know we are in this sector of space. The vessels are of the Empire's destroyer class and are much smaller than
this warship,” explained Comp to Peto.
“Are we in any danger?” asked Peto.
“There is no immediate danger. They will have to pinpoint
our position before they can attack us. Would you like me to take evasive action or would you prefer me to destroy them? I
would like to point out that evasive action would not lose them completely. They will be able to follow us now that they know
we are in the vicinity.”
Peto considered the information that Comp had given him. He had
never been in the kind of situations that he now had to face. He hated the thought
of destroying the people on board the Empire's ships. At the same time he had a responsibility towards the men on the warship.
“Comp. Do whatever you think is best. This is your ship.
You decide what action to take.” Peto realised that he was just passing the responsibility on to Comp but he knew that
Comp was better suited to making such decisions.
In the control room, Comp watched the instruments and screens
that would inform him of any action taken by the two space vessels. He already knew that their scanners were searching for
the warship and that it would only be a matter of time before they found it. He was pleased that Peto had given him authority
to act on his own initiative. It would save time that and probably avert disaster.
Comp's instruments showed that the ships had moved closer and
were now only one eighth of a parsec or just under half a light-year away. They were still too far away for any weapons to
be of any danger. Comp had the advantage of knowing where the ships were. He only needed to go into timewarp and arrive at
their position and destroy them with the weapons at his disposal.
The two ships disappeared suddenly as they went into timewarp
and Comp waited for them to reappear. His instruments told him that they had not got a fix on his position although they were
They appeared again ninety-six seconds later. One of them was
only seven thousand miles away while the other appeared two hundred thousand miles behind the warship. Comp's fingers were
a blur as he acted. He fired two laser cannons at each of the ships and immediately went into timewarp to reappear in time
to see ship furthest away erupt in a ball of flame. The closest ship had already been destroyed and the brief ball of flame
extinguished by the airless vacuum. Comp observed the resultant debris hurtling through space in an ever-widening circle.
Satisfied, Comp entered timewarp again to hide in endless space.