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 PHOENIX OF MEGARON

Writer- John Rankine
Screenplay- Kevin McCorry

"Moonbase Alpha status report. 2020 days after leaving Earth orbit. Dr.
Helena Russell recording. Our course is taking us tantalizingly close to a
lush, green planet. All our sensor and scanner readings indicate a suitable
environment, although at our current distance, it is not possible to make
any definite readings on sapient life and surface conditions. And if there
is a culturally advanced civilization, it is not replying to our signals.
The Moon is expected to take a tangential course at the extreme limit of the
planet's gravisphere, which gives us ten hours overall, and it would take about that long for the preliminary survey team to make a determination and to contact the inhabitants and seek permission for settlement. Commander Koenig has therefore decided on an expedited evacuation, with our fleet of
Eagles already filled and in space ready for transfer once the go-ahead signal is sent from the survey team still on the planet. So, as the
population of Alpha readies immediately for the go-ahead to colonize, Reconnaissance Eagle One is taking off for a landing and surface
reconnaissance of the planet..."

Watchers in Command Centre saw Reconnaissance Eagle One hover half a
kilometre above Moonbase, rotate to establish a course, and arrow away.
Sandra Benes had the Eagle on the Big Screen with the blue, green, and white
planet as a backdrop. At a neighboring console was Alibe Kurand, who
continued her transmissions to whatever civilization might be listening on
the planet.
"This is Moonbase Alpha. We come in peace. The ship approaching your
planet contains our leader, Commander John Koenig. There is no danger to
you. We ask that you meet him and hear what he has to say."
The corridors of Alpha were thronged with orderly lines of Alphans as
the Eagles in the launching bays were already being loaded with equipment
and belongings. The question was lodged in the heads of everyone. Was this
the one? Had they finally reached the end of the line?
Aboard Eagle One, the hours peeled away. Koenig, dressed in his dark
blue sport jacket, switched the pilot controls over to automatic, trusting
the Eagle flight computer to give them a smooth ride to the planet. It was
time to relax, to go into the passenger section and see what Helena Russell
had cooked up in the miniature galley. He looked over to Alan Carter, who
was dressed in his usual grey-green jacket and smiling broadly in relaxed
contemplation in the co-pilot seat.
"Want to join us for a coffee, Alan?"
Alan was upbeat and optimistic. Breaking off his jubilant, whistling
rendition of "Gee ma, I wanna go home," he said, "Nah. Someone's gotta mind
the store. You go ahead."
John returned the smile. "Well, give us a yell if anything comes up."
Alan winked. "We'll do."
And with that, the Commander hit the button to release his harness,
rose, and walked into the Eagle One passenger section to join Helena, Maya,
and Tony Verdeschi, who were snacking, drinking coffee, and chatting about
the new prospect increasing in size on the wall monitor. It was possible to
see something of a land-mass distribution. Each pole had a dark, irregular
cap. There was a broad belt of ocean. The equator had an archipelago of
great continents, strung like beads on a chain. It would make for broadly
similar conditions. Except for the polar regions, there would be no extremes
of climate.
Maya, wearing her green anorak with red stripes, gave her report. "All
the equatorial land is close enough for interchange of populations. Wherever
populations started, they'd quickly be in contact. After a few centuries,
there should be a mostly homogeneous race of people."
Helena, dressed in her aqua-blue sport jacket, added, "But it would
depend on how far development went, before they began to spread around.
There could be as many ethnic types as we had on Earth."
"Still no readings on people, Maya?" Koenig asked.
"None. Sensors indicate traces of sulfurous gases in the atmosphere that
would suggest a civilization, past or present. But the only thing I know of
that might affect our instruments in this way would be ground-level
radiation."
"Great," Tony sighed. He was dressed in his usual navy blue sport
jacket.
"But not to an exceptionally high or dangerous extent, Tony," Maya
replied. "Otherwise, I would get a definite radiation reading at this
distance."
They heard Alpha contacting Alan in the pilot section. Sandra Benes'
familiar voice was coming through the cockpit console. "Alpha to Eagle One.
Moonbase Alpha to Eagle One."
Alan responded. "Eagle One. What is it, Sahn?"
"This will be the last transmission from Alpha, Alan. All sections
closing down. Eagle fleet assembled and ready to go."
Alan called through, "Did you get that, John? Any word for Alpha?"
The operation was running like a machine, but it was still on a track
with no visible end. John said shortly, "No comment. We have no further
information. Only conjecture at this stage."
Alan softened it. "I read you, Sahn. Say good-bye to Alpha for me. The
planet still looks promising. Keep in touch."
Helena could imagine the scene in Command Centre. Lights dimmed,
consoles silent, the hatch closing behind Bill Fraser, Alibe, and Sandra
as they went to join the last Eagle. It had been home for a long, long time,
and, in spite of the hazards, it had treated them well. They had grown in
stature and understanding. Few communities, anywhere, could have learned to
live together so well. It would stand them in good stead when they come to
establish their colony. On the other hand, once the pressures were off and
life could go on, even with mutual support and cooperation, there could
be a change. There was something to be said for an immediate struggle for
survival, especially against a common enemy. It kept small differences in
perspective. Politicians through the ages had known about that one. But
John had always channeled the collective spirit of the Alphans in a positive
way, and there was every reason to believe that so long as he continued to
do so and the others went along, the Alphan community would fare well in a
new habitat.
Maya broke into her reverie. "Helena, what do you make of this?"
The Psychon had finally received a radiation reading in a localized
area. The printout which she handed to Helena was an analysis of radiation
levels on the central land mass of the continental chain. It was the first
setback, and the implications were clear.
Helena recalled the S.S. Daria, the most salient comparison to
conditions on this planet. "A familiar picture. There was an atomic
accident. Epicentre, fallout. All a long time ago. Except for a small area,
these levels are acceptable."
John cued her. "Long term?"
"There has always been radiation, from the Earth itself and from the
Sun. The human race tolerates it, up to a point."
Maya interjected, "This looks like a local source."
Tony followed, "And we have to ask if it was natural or man-made."
Partly in disappointment, partly in relief, John heaved and sighed. He
looked at Maya. "Check all the land you can reach. What about life signs?"
The Psychon's alien eyebrows raised. "As we move away from the radiation
source, our sensors seem able to make readings." She paused. "Yes, I'm
starting to detect strong life signs in the seaboard areas."
The Alphans exchanged glances. This was the best indication they would
have prior to descent that there might be some intelligent inhabitants,
which meant that they would have to be ready for all manner of reception,
from welcomes to warnings to outright aggression. John went back to join
Alan in the pilot section. He slowly and pensively lowered into his seat. In
his mind's eye, he could see the Eagle armada strung out over the star map.
Already, some of the gloss was off the enterprise. Nothing ever remained
straightforward for long. With even low-level radiation, there was the long-
term genetic danger. The race, still battling on the surface, could well be
mutated out of their five wits. If so, then there would be no reason to
expect that this planet could be suitable for Alphan colonization. John
activated his console.
"Eagle One to Eagle Fleet Command."
Bill Fraser's always enthusiastic face appeared on the screen. "Eagle Fleet to Eagle One. I read you, Commander."
"Any problems at your end?"
"None. All personnel in good shape. Right on schedule."
"Keep a low profile on this one, Bill. Nothing definite, but Maya has data on radiation. Still viable, but it makes for reservations. This is a one-off exercise, and it has to be right."
Bill's eyes turned momentarily downward in disappointment, but he was as easy-going and resilient as ever. Looking John back in the eyes and smiling encouragingly, he replied. "I read you. We'll stay in position and await your land survey report. Good luck, sir."
John then turned his attention to the spaceship's course. He and Alan
piloted Eagle One in a descending spiral, smoothing out to the north of the
zero latitude line. It would cross sea and land and take in many maritime
zones, where sensors recorded life signs. The Eagle's heat shields were
beginning to show signs of thermal agitation. They were moving into the
extreme, etiolated layers of the planet's atmosphere.
Maya took a reading of outside temperature; fifteen hundred Celsius,
through a golden glow of charged solar particles; a gradual drop to one
thousand and the spectacle of a multihued aurora; five hundred, and Maya was
clocking a band of almost pure oxygen. There was a rapid shift to minus
sixty, through a freak layer of heavy particles, and Eagle One was falling
through the ionosphere.
Now there was more to see. Main geographical pictures could be picked
out. Mountain ranges, plains, the run of major rivers and a hint of color.
Temperature dropped again through a cold layer of ozone; dropped again to
clock minus sixty, and then pulled back to an even zero as Alan leveled out
a kilometre over the highest peaks.
John called the expert. "Any comment so far, Maya?"
The Psychon was doing her best to keep a her voice level and judicial,
but there was no mistaking the satisfaction in it. "Sea-level temperatures
are close to 22 Celsius."
Helena joined in. "A Mediterranean climate, John. An orangery in every
backyard."
Tony, always the wry one, commented. "And every orange radioactive."
Helena replied. "Not so, Tony. The radiation levels are tolerable.
There's heavier screening from solar radiation and less natural build-up.
There were obviously local atomic events, but way back."
John heard her analysis and made his tentative summation. "You're saying
conditions will get better, and in fact, they're reasonable as of now?"
"Right."
Alan sheered off from the mountain range and dropped lower, over a
coastal strip edged with white lace, where the wine-dark sea pounded into
shingle and sand beaches. He said, "Where have all the people gone?"
Answer came as he went lower again and the landscape was peeling away
below the hurrying Eagle. Helena's awed voice breathed over the intercom:
"Only look at that, John!"
Jacking itself up over the horizon was a pentagon of immense towers.
When it was all plain to see, the scale was enormous. Five tower blocks,
each verging on two kilometres high, were set around a circle to mark the
limits of a five-pointed star. At ground level, the design was carried out
in pale-green translucent walls. The beaches were empty because the people
had gathered themselves together in one place. It spoke of strong government
and positive planning. It also denoted a level of culture where
communication with a wandering moon would be no sweat.
Alarms sounded in John's head. He was expecting interceptor craft to
streak out and cut them down. Then he was staring at the nearer tower and
the answer was plain. A jagged fissure ran two-thirds of its height. There
would be no attack. They were in tumbleweed country and passing a ghost
town.
Alan asked, "Do we land, John?"
John had the answer ready. "No, we go on. There's no time. We land if
and when we can talk to people. We need to know what the story is here."
Eagle One's angular shadow fled on. There was no challenge. Spaced out
along the seaboard, the silent, empty cities of the planet were dumb shells.
Whoever had built them had long gone.
The Eagle crossed a wide strip of brilliant blue sea and began again
over another continent. This time, the pattern of building changed. It was
still on a mind-bending scale, but the ground plan was less regular. There
was evidence of harbor works and in one, a massive freighter was lifted out
of the sea and chocked at a crazy angle against the foot of a tower block.
Maya said, "Commander, radiation levels are right down. This looks a
good prospect."
Before John could answer, Alan had something else on the forward probes.
"John!"
John checked it out. The scanner had it plain. By comparison with what
they had seen, it was a very small city, set on a peninsula between two
river estuaries. But there was movement. Gnat-like air cars were rising from
every quarter. Someone at last had grasped the notion that there was an
intruder approaching the hive.

Eagle One was diving out of the sun like a stooping falcon. It could cut
a swathe through the rising air cars before their pilots knew what was
happening. Tony locked the main lasers on, and Alan was waiting for the
order with fingers on the buttons.
It would be no way to start a peace mission. John said, "Steady as we
go, Alan. Once across. Turn. Come in slowly, and hover over the control
square."
Meanwhile, John used all the power he had on the communications net to
send out a signal on fourteen-twenty, coupled with a simultaneous audio
repeat from the outside P.A. system. His voice reverberated around the city.
"This is Commander John Koenig. We come from the moon which appeared in
your sky. We ask for permission to land in your city and talk with you. We
come in peace."
Eagle One turned, still falling. Some of the leading air cars had the
height of it, and Alan looked dubious as he began the return leg. There was
no answer from the ground. Seen closer, the cars had a black and silver
finish which gave them the look of police tenders. They had formed into
three squadrons. One was wheeling to keep station above the Eagle; one was
deploying to box it in, port and starboard; the third was holding off, ready
to support. There was no doubt- they were working a classic maneuver to
force Eagle One down.
A single car peeled off the higher flight and bore in. Even before a
succession of hammer blows thumped along the superstructure, John had read
the message. He tried once more. "If you attack, we are forced to defend. Do
not attack. We have no wish to use our power."
The message was either not received, or it was ignored. The sound of the
blows increased, and the Eagle began to rock. John turned to Alan, "Fire as
you bear."
Tony was manning the laser gun directional controls in the passenger
section and worked fast. "On target, Alan!" he shouted.
An eye-aching thread seared out of Eagle One's stern laser turret, and
the air car was instant scrap, falling in a plume of black smoke.
"I say again," John hailed the other cars, "if you attack, we are forced
to defend. Do not attack."
It was all strictly for the birds. Either the pilots were suicide bent
to a man, or they had been brainwashed into a death-or-glory stance. They
came in from every quarter. Eagle One was shuddering along its length, and
although its destructive power was away and beyond anything the cars could
put out, it was only a matter of time before the sheer volume of small fire
carried away some key structures.
John said, "Out. As fast as you like."
Alan threw every gram of urge into a crash lift, and the Eagle clawed
itself up in a spectacular thrust. There was a grinding jar that sent a
ripple through the fabric. The damage-report panel threw up a rash of red
hatchlings. An air car had finally penetrated Tony and Alan's destructive
guard. Flaming like a torch, it was jammed definitively between the upper
rocket tubes. Tony's station was a shattered wreck, and the Security Chief
had been thrown backwards. He was uninjured, albeit dazed. Helena and Maya
witnessed the event and were promptly thrown back into their emergency seats
as the spaceship arrowed downward. Tony staggered into his. Alan fought the
falling gear every metre of the way, brought it down at a crazy angle on the
slope of a sand dune, beside a wide estuary. Hover cars dropped around them
in a circle.
John considered the communications console. Acrid smoke wreathed the
panel. Commlocks did not have the range to transmit a message to where the
evacuation Eagles were. John knew that in the absence of the awaited signal
at the appointed time, the Eagle armada would assume that the reconnaissance
party had been killed or captured and that the planet would be unsuitable
for colonization. The Eagles would go back to base, since they would not be
able to return if they went forward and attempted a search of the planet for
the missing party. And so, there it was. John knew that his party's only
hope of going home was now charred wreckage. Diplomacy was all that they had
left.
The hatch to the passenger section was jammed by the buckling of the
frame. He left Eagle One by the pilot section emergency chute and came down
ankle deep in warm sand. Carter followed him by the same route. Maya, in the
form of a gorilla, had pried open the Eagle's main passenger section hatch
and, in her original form again, came rushing out to join her Commander.
Helena followed her, carring a medical bag. Tony was next.
From every angle, there was a black, uniformed figure walking forward
closing the circle. Tony reacted with the usual efficiency, and in a second,
there was a stun/laser gun in his hand.
John said sharply, "Put it away, Tony. I'll try one more time. We're
here for a long stay. It's either communicate or die."
John walked away from the Eagle, straight-backed and head tall, looking
neither right nor left and aiming for a burly character, with a green sash
from shoulder to hip, who seemed to be the top hand in the enterprise.
From ten metres off, he could read a single word in the local variant of
Times Bold, on the leader's sash of office. It meant nothing, unless it was
his name. "Spadec." There was a brief count when John assumed that he would
never find the answer. Half a dozen handguns came into aim on the centre of
his chest. Nerves crawling in expectation of the blast that would leave an
open hatch on his Ka, the Alphan said, "Spadec, my name is John Koenig. We
come in peace, but we were forced to defend ourselves."
The leader halted and raised his right hand. The handguns stayed at the
aim, but some of the tension drained away. They had been told to wait.
John's surprise at finding himself still drawing breath into an airtight
frame was compounded as the man spoke. He used a combination of speech tones
which were the ultimate refinement of speech concepts, so that although the
elements were strange, the meaning was clear. It was a skeleton key to
unlock communication's door.
"I am not Spadec. Spadec is the controlling council of our city. I am
Mestor, Senior Counselor for Security. Who are you?"
The information had been vibrating about the planet for some time, and
John had to clamp down on mounting frustration to keep his voice steady and
factual. "We are from Moonbase Alpha. Our Moon was blasted from orbit around
its parent planet of Earth. We are seeking a place to live."
Turning his eyes over John's shoulder to regard Maya and quickly
refocusing them back on John, Mestor replied tersely, "That one looks
different."
Maya was about to speak, but John articulated first. "That is Maya, from
planet Psychon. She joined us some years into our odyssey after her planet
exploded. We share the wish to colonize a planet. Again, that is our reason
for coming here."
Mestor had a high color, and the stand-up neck of his black tunic was a
tight fit on his thick neck. His eyes had a blank, fanatical look, as though
he only listened closely to himself. He said, "You have killed many of my
people. You will stand trial. Spadec will decide what is to be done with
you."
The four Alphans had moved slightly and were five paces behind John.
Tony's laser was ready for a snap shot at Mestor. There was no doubt, he was
likely to be the first to fall in any shoot out. But all around the circle,
there were handguns lined up on the Alphans. They would all die in the first
exchange.
John stalled. "Why did you attack us?"
"Only a fool would wait until an adversary had the advantage over him."
Mestor raised his voice and went on. "I will clap my hands five times. At
the fifth, my men will fire."
There was no way around it. Mestor could be bluffing, but the smoking
car, embedded in Eagle One's tail, was proof that these people held their
own life cheap. John called out, "Stalemate, Tony. We have nothing to lose
by showing a friendly spirit. Neutralize the charges and drop your laser."
Dejected and showing clear frustration, Tony did as instructed. Alan
also threw down his weapon. Helena and Maya were unarmed. John gave Maya a
clear, non-verbal signal that as they were seriously outnumbered, nothing
would be gained at this juncture by a display of her powers. The silent
conference was lost on Mestor, who was clearly fixated on the other manner
of apparatus the Alphans had clamped onto their belts. "Drop those other
objects too."
"They're our communicators. They have no offensive purpose," Alan said,
knowing that it was probably a pointless protest.
John knew so also and did not wait for Mestor's rebuke. "It doesn't
matter, Alan. Let's do as he says."
To Mestor, he said, "Perhaps your Council will understand us better.
What is the name of this planet?"
"It is Megaron."
"And the city?"
"Caster."
"Are there many such cities? We have seen huge cities, but deserted.
Caster is the first to show any sign of life."
Mestor heaved in an obvious display of impatience. "You ask too many
questions. We will ask questions. You are lucky I do not order summary
execution."
Tony was breathing heavily. His own patience was wearing thin.
"Execution?! Look, we only used our weapons in defense, and we warned you
beforehand! If anyone is the aggressor, it's you."
John said firmly but gently, "Tony." He looked back at Mestor. "We
appeal to your sense of justice. My Security Chief here is right. We only
fired in defense, and our warning communication will confirm that."
Mestor was impassive. "Enough. You will now be taken to my headquarters
and interrogated, so that Spadec will have all the facts."
John raised his voice. "We've already given you all the facts."
Mestor's minimal features turned to a stern grin. "We shall see." He
directed the members of his own party to guide the Alphan prisoners to the
security complex. Ten men in total came forward and fell in, two on each
Alphan. None seemed to have the slightest curiosity in Eagle One. Mestor
swung on his heel and strode away.
John looked at his watch. There was less than an hour to go before
Moonbase evacuation ran into the sand. He spoke to the Spadec soldier at
his left. "Do you have a communication system that I could use to speak to
my people?"
There was no answer. The man had understood, but the eyes that were
turned to look at him had a blank, empty look. The Megaronian was not
interested. He had heard Mestor close the link, and it would stay closed. He
shrugged and looked away. They reached the hatch of a hover car, and John
waited, thinking that all of the Alphans would stay together. However, with
their two Megaronian escorts, each of the Alphans was led to a different
car. There was a little more non-verbal communication. The right-hand marker
prodded John with a stiff finger and nodded for him to climb aboard.
There was a pilot, seated impassively at his post, and a gunner,
standing with his head in a transparent dome that swivelled in concert with
the revolving platform he was on. Elbows on a twist-grip firing bar, he
watched John come aboard.
Within thirty seconds, the air cars rose like disturbed flies from the
sand dunes and streamed in line astern for Caster. Unlike the empty cities
that the Alphans had seen, this one was horizontally planned in its main
features. It lay like a cartwheel on a neck of land, that was bounded by
open sea to the north and by wide, sandy estuaries to the east and west.
There was a broad, surface road around the perimeter and four evenly spaced
diameters ran like spokes, dividing the area into eight sectors and one
large, circular, central zone, which seemed to be laid out like a public
park. There were no tall buildings. Mostly, two storeys had been reckoned as
enough. But in the centre, one or two long blocks ran to four floors. It was
to the rear of one of these that the long line of air cars directed itself,
and they peeled off the stick in threes, to drop onto numbered spaces in the
parking lot.
Five circled the building, asking for permission to land. Then, they
dropped to a close on the flat roof.
The pilot said, "These people are to be taken to the pound to await
interrogation. Spadec Instruction-- Fifty-stroke-two-one-four." The gunner
rose from his seat, grabbed his side pistol and motioned for John to precede
him out of the air car. John did as he was bid.
The city pound was a dilapidated, pit-like place, sunken beneath ground
level and full of cells and adjoining corridors in various states of
disrepair. The walls were mostly composed of stone, with the doors and their
surrounding walls forged from cheap metal. The five Alphans were reassembled
and taken inside to the ground level entry area, which was filled with
guards. They were then guided by five of the guards by elevator to the deep
beneath-ground cell area, where they entered an office, which was linked by
corridor to the cell which they were to occupy.
Two of the guards prodded the five Alphan prisoners into a short
corridor that led to their assigned cell. John turned to one of his jailors
and said, "Just how long are we expected to wait here?"
There was no response. Again, the man's face was blank, almost as if he
were sleepwalking or entranced. Tony, clearly at a loss for patience,
uttered heatedly, "You heard what our Commander asked. How long are you
locking us up for?"
The response was curt. "Consider yourselves fortunate that you weren't
executed on the spot." He pointed his finger inside the cell once the door
was opened. "Now, get inside."
The other guard waved his pistol threateningly at the Alphan fivesome in
a mute but effective demonstration of the consequences of defiance.
Resigning themselves, the Alphans piled into the Megaronian pit, and the
door was locked behind them.
John peered around the perimeter of their cell. He saw a door at the
back of the right side wall. Assuming it was just another locked portal, he,
for the time being, paid it no mind. In any case, Maya's conversation on the
Megaronians took his attention at the moment.
"They listen, but they don't hear. And with my sensitivity to their
molecular structure, I get the impression that their reactions are
suppressed."
John eyed Helena. "Sedation?"
"That could be part of it. But sedation by itself tends to induce
drowsiness and lethargy. They show no such symptoms. They're alert and
active, but it's like their thought patterns are on a different
wavelength..."
Maya interjected. "Certainly, they don't understand about the Moon.
There's no curiosity about space at all. There was one in the car who went on about Hyria. Anything bad was likely to come from Hyria."
Tony said, "It's as though they've been brainwashed."
Helena completed her diagnosis. "I'd say they have been, quite
literally. Low-level hallucinogens. Used in some ESP research. Makes the subjects more sensitive to the power of mind acting at a distance."
"Yeah, that's just what I was thinking. Exactly the same wording," Tony
replied.
"Me, too," said Alan and Maya, almost in unison.
John, a verbalizer, who tended to see the words he spoke as a running
script in his mind's eye, had seen the sentence in full before Helena had
said it, just as he seemed to anticipate that Tony, Alan, and Maya were
going to respond in the way that they did. To his amazement, he found that
he was receiving the same vibes that the others were having, that somehow,
their thoughts were being read by each other. It was uncanny. Maya said
slowly, "Conditions must be specially suited to ESP. Or they make them so.
It would explain how they act together so well."
John said, "If that's true, and there's no reason that it shouldn't be,
you'd think they'd know the truth without all this aggro. They should know
we meant no harm."
Maya responded almost even before John had finished. "They're on the
defensive against people from Hyria. They believe we could be from there."
Helena said, "They seem to think on the same wavelength as each other,
and as our thoughts aren't similarly conditioned, they don't read our
thoughts as easily, at least not those that are unfamiliar to them. So, they
assimilate us in their minds according to the social or political structure
of their planet."
The others nodded. It made sense, and, again, everyone had sensed
Helena's conclusion before she said it. Alan strode off to examine the other
door in the cell and found it to be slightly ajar. Peering inside, he saw...
a woman. Reclined on a stone couch, dressed in tattered rags, with grimy,
white sneakers and an electrum bracelet. Dark hair brushed silkily on her
shoulders. As her eyes raised to behold her Alphan visitor, they flashed a
radiant golden brown hue. Her skin was uniformly tanned a pale brown, except
for a criss-cross of livid streaks denoting the physical trauma of torture
from left hip to right shoulder.
She struggled to her feet and fell back, as though a wave of vertigo had
put a surge on her clock. "Hey, over here!" Alan shouted to his comrades.
They hustled over as Alan reacted to her fall in the usual fashion. He
caught her and held her across his arms.
Some powerful instinct of caution cleared her head. Arm hooked around
her neck, she hauled herself up to take a good look at the Alphan. Brown
eyes stared into blue ones. Alan could see that he had been wrong in
supposing that her eyes were one color overall. There were small chips of
paler gold in the mix. They were as remarkable as anything that he had seen
to date. Like the Egyptian symbol for a million, he was an astonished man.
For her part, the girl sighed deeply and relaxed. It was a vote of
confidence that touched his heart. He carried and brought her into the
larger, outer jail cell, followed by the others.
Helena said, "You can't stand there holding her forever, Alan. Put her
down, and I'll have a look."
Alan lowered her gently to the stone floor. He removed his jacket and
put it underneath and around her. He was still in a state of visual shock,
and Helena had to move him aside. "It's a girl. Anybody would think you've
never seen one."
An honest man, he said, "I've not seen one with eyes like this one. She
must be one of their own people. What's she doing down here?"
"Quiet down and give me a chance to find out."
In her own Medical Centre, Helena would have had it sorted out in the
minutes it would take to fix a couple of sensors. Working from first
principles, with no medical gear, it took longer and was not easy to be
definite. When she joined the others, she said, "As far as I can tell,
there's nothing much organically wrong. She's suffered a lot of pain. But
the cause seems more to do with food. I'd say she's not been eating or
drinking for a few days. She needs water at least, or she'll be getting
dehydrated."
Alan decided to effect a second go at communication. The eyes opened
slowly, focused on his chest, and then looked at the stand-up collar of his
tunic, which was nearer home. Putting two and two together with quick data
analysis, the girl said, "You are being kind to me. Who are you?"
"Carter. Alan Carter. It's a long story. We came from space, trying to
make contact with your people. They wouldn't listen."
"I am Rhoda. They are not my people... At least, they are... and they
are not."
Helena asked, "Why are they starving you?"
"They are not. It is I who will not eat their food. We know there is a
drug added to the food or the water. So, I will take neither."
"Why is that?"
"Why?..." Rhoda was having to make an effort to concentrate. "Why?... It
would make me like them. I would not be able to resist the orders from
Spadec. They beat me, but I would not eat. They can kill me, but I will not
eat."
John said, "We have seen the word Spadec on the cars and on the guards'
armbands. Now you are using it. What does it mean?"
"It is... a long story, as Alan says, but it stands for Social,
Political, and Defense Executive Committee. That is the body which governs
the city; but we believe it should now signify something different..."
Eyes closed again. Long, black lashes lay in even arcs on smooth skin.
Helena said, "We shouldn't push her. She's had a bad time."
Rhoda was in a highly sensitive state, having been needled by pain and
hunger and apprehension about whether she had actually reached the end of
her personal saga. Added to the forces swilling about, which were conducive
to ESP, it made her aware of what was going on in Alan's head. Noblesse
oblige. Such stunned approval deserved encouragement. She opened her eyes
again, looked directly at him, and managed a luminous smile which Alan read
in the intended way. Then, Rhoda was out again, and he was left to debate
whether or not he had invented it all for himself or whether indeed there
had been any participation by Rhoda.
They had been so involved by this first rational contact with a
Megaronian that the cell door had opened before anyone had noticed that it
had been unlocked and used for entry. A harsh, familiar voice said, "Here is
food. Tomorrow, you will be interrogated by the Council."
It was Mestor in person, sharing entry with three guards and a food
trolley stacked with platters and covered dishes. John's quick assessment of
the odds was noticed. "Relax, Commander. You are not going anywhere or doing
anything that does not have our approval. You might as well cooperate so
that I can have the truth."
Koenig said curtly. "We have told you the truth."
Mestor scoffed. "That story of a wandering moon will not do. I'm sure
you're from Hyria, and that one," he pointed at Maya, "is a Hyrian mutant."
John sighed. There was no point trying to reason with this fanatic.
Mestor nodded at Rhoda. "That is an example of what will happen to you if
you continue to be so obstinate."
One of the guards, Nergal, stepped forward. Alan was watching the slow
rise and fall of his jacket as Rhoda breathed in and out, and Nergal brushed
past him and started descending upon Rhoda to administer further physical
persuasion to dine. Rhoda saw Nergal's determined expression before it was
plucked away. Alan had him by the collar of his tunic and his crotch and
swung him in an arc that thumped his head into one of the jail cell's stone
walls. Nergal's fellow guard, Myndon, loosed off a shot, and a glowing
energy ball cracked into the stone lintel, five centimetres from Alan's
head. John and Tony, poised for action, froze as the weapon was momentarily
trained on them.
Thoroughly roused, Rhoda was sitting up. To Alan she said, "You
shouldn't have done that. They can't do much more to me, but now they'll
start on you."