Index > Observer
David E. Rutan
Copyright © 1999 David E. Rutan
A novel of approximately 72,500 words
Spaselopedus sat in the small cell. The walls were blank except for a long narrow ventilation grille near the ceiling, a bunk, sink and a toilet. The floor was bare and the transparent door was locked. The guards had led him here some time ago. He wasn't sure how long.
How did this happen? he thought, sitting on the hard bunk. He had given his statement on the Cognizance; he wasn't at fault. Someone else put him on Karpla. He merely managed to get away from it.
He was concerned about Linda. What were they going to do with her? Presumably she was taken to the Institute of Immigration to be deported, but he didn't see them deporting anyone to a protected planet. That's what protected status meant. If only he knew what was going on.
There was a noise at the door. It was opened suddenly, and a black-tuniced guard and a man stood waiting to enter. The man was old. His face was wrinkled and covered with a long white beard. His clothes were those of a legal Advocate.
"I am Advocate Flandor Gorg," he announced touching a long-fingered hand to his chest. "I've been assigned your case Observer Barinium. If you refuse me, another will be assigned. May I enter?"
Spaselopedus glanced at the guard and slowly stood. "Yes,
Advocate you may enter and counsel me."
Gorg entered alone. "I am honored to serve an Observer such as yourself," he said sitting on the bunk.
"Thank you Advocate. Can you tell me exactly what this is all about?" Spaselopedus asked.
Advocate Gorg folded his hands in his lap. "The Koplushian government is charging you with violating the protected planet status of Karpla, removing an aboriginal from said planet, and evading security personnel."
"That's utter nonsense!" shouted Spaselopedus. He stabbed a finger into the palm of his left hand. "I gave my statement to Captain Nomair of the Cognizance. Those charges are farcical."
Advocate Gorg looked at him over his dispex. Spaselopedus was reminded by the pose of Barbara when she had regarded him over her reading glasses one evening.
"Apparently," said Gorg, "they feel they have a case despite what you've said."
"I suppose my only evidence is my own statement?" asked Spaselopedus.
"Yes," Gorg said.
"Can't my companion testify in my behalf?" said Spaselopedus. "She's the only other person who knows what went on."
"Aboriginals of protected planets cannot testify even when they're available," Gorg said.
Spaselopedus couldn't believe this situation. He was innocent. "Is anyone going to investigate my abduction?"
Gorg's eyes unfocused momentarily, a telltale sign he was consulting his dispex. "The Council's Investigative Ministry has opened an investigation."
"And if they find nothing?"
"It might do you well to plead guilty," said Gorg adjusting his dispex, "and perhaps be put back through the program."
"If I'm found guilty of this fallacy I will be declassified," he said. "I'll no longer be an Observer." Observers are ultimately accountable and cannot have a soiled reputation. Then he thought of Linda. "What is to become of my companion?"
"I don't know," said Gorg. "I wasn't told."
"What about the Observer on the Cognizance? Loshuin was his name," said Spaselopedus. "He observed at my deposition. Couldn't he give testimony?"
Gorg's eyes darted back and forth behind his dispex. Then they glazed over momentarily. "No, the Observation of an Observer's deposition is not permissible."
Spaselopedus threw up his hands. "Seg, this is ridiculous!"
"It would give me a good start if you told me your story," Gorg said. Spaselopedus sat down with a sigh.
He told Gorg his adventure from beginning to end. The old man listened intently then rose to leave.
"Well," he said, "it's certainly an interesting tale."
Spaselopedus shot to his feet, "It's the truth."
"I've got a bit of research to do on this. I'll come back tomorrow."
"Wait," said Spaselopedus, "I demand to see my Observer's Guild Representative."
Gorg nodded at the request. "I'll notify the Institute of Planets of your request. Good Day Observer."
The guard opened the door for Advocate Gorg and the old man stepped out. The door slid shut and Spaselopedus was alone. When the Guild Representative gets here things will be settled, he thought. Lawyers never know what they're doing anyway.
He was getting hungry and started wondering when they would give him some food. His mind was also occupied with thoughts of Linda. It was his doing that brought her here to Koplushia, his world. What would they do with her? Send her back? Make her a ward of the state or maybe even worse? He couldn't bear the thought of any harm coming to her.
Some time later the door opened again and in stepped a middle-aged man dressed in a gray overcoat with tails, knee-length white pants, and black boots. He had dark hair which was shoulder length and curly. He smiled pleasantly and said, "Greetings Observer Barinium, I am Wilm Kiprim, your Guild Representative."
"Thank Seg you're here," said Spaselopedus. "Finally we can get to the bottom of this mess."
"I don't see there's much to get to the bottom of," he said. "You've committed a very serious offense."
"But I didn't," he said. "I found myself on a strange world and managed to get back to the Alliance. I'm the one who was wronged! I was beaten and kidnapped!"
Kiprim calmly said, "Can you give me a description of the perpetrators?"
"No," said Spaselopedus, "they attacked me from behind and knocked me out."
"That doesn't sound good coming from an Observer," Kiprim's voice had a mocking tone to it.
"Hey, you're supposed to be on my side!"
Kiprim smiled, "It all depends upon which side you're on."
A bad feeling came over Spaselopedus. "What does that mean?"
"You have many talents Barinium--talents that could possibly be used in many areas for many reasons."
Spaselopedus was becoming confused, "What's your point?"
"If events go as normal," explained Kiprim, "you will be tried and convicted of purposely violating the protected status of Planet Karpla."
This is ridiculous, thought Spaselopedus. "But I didn't do those things," he said.
"If on the other hand, if you would be willing to join my group, then perhaps we could get you off with a reprimand."
"I've got no idea what you're talking about," said Spaselopedus, seating himself on the bunk.
Kiprim came over and sat next to him. "We are an elite group of Observers and other specialists who work together to protect the Alliance."
"You mean spies?"
"Well, you could call us that, but we're more into intervention than intelligence."
"You're saying I'll be forgiven if I join your group?" said Spaselopedus.
"Yes, simple as that," said Kiprim. "If you say' yes', I'll have you back in your comfortable residence tonight."
The thought of going home warmed him inside, but then he remembered Linda. "What of my companion?"
Kiprim studied Spaselopedus for a moment. "She'll probably be mindwiped and deported to Karpla. That's the Immigration Ministry's standard procedure for illegals from protected worlds."
I can't allow that, he thought. "I'd like some time to think over your offer," he said.
Kiprim stood up and sighed. "Very well Observer," his title pronounced sarcastically, "I'll leave it till tomorrow. If you need me, I can be reached through the Institute." With that Kiprim summoned the guard and left.
Spaselopedus pondered his fate. If he protested his innocence, most likely he would be convicted and severely punished. If he took Kiprim's offer what hope did he have of maintaining his comfortable existence as an Observer. The last thing he desired was to get involved in any cloak and dagger organization.
At some point, he must have drifted off to sleep. Suddenly he was being tapped awake on the shoulder. He opened his eyes to the black tunic of a large, muscular guard.
Immediately sitting bolt upright, he heard the guard whisper, "Observer, don't be afraid. I'm a friend."
Spaselopedus looked at him for a moment, "What do you mean? I don't know you. What do you want?"
"My name is Kelgin Bosuma," he said. "I'm here to get you out. Your life is in peril."
"How do you mean?"
"Please," whispered the guard, "there isn't much time. They are going to kill you."
Spaselopedus looked at the guard. He was a young man, probably not yet twenty five. These things just don't happen on Koplushia, he thought. "Why should they kill me? How have I shaken the mountain?"
"Don't you remember Observer? You saw the memo--about the Ozmodin colony."
Spaselopedus froze for a moment, the memory of the event returning to him, "That was real?"
It was weeks before. Spaselopedus had just returned from an assignment on planet Sachink where he observed a minor corporate merger. After being debriefed at the Institute of Planets and giving his Observer's Affidavit, he returned to the Observer's dormitory in the city of Neewas and was relaxing in his apartment.
Spaselopedus had invited a fellow Observer friend over for a game of the Koplushian strategy game, gyvyk. He was watching the vid as he finished setting up the board when the door chimed.
"Who is it?" he said.
Immediately the house computer replied. "Bonin Oznest is at the door to this apartment."
Spaselopedus stepped to the door and opened it. "Hello Bonin, come in, the board's all set up." Bonin had light, shoulder length hair, and was of medium height and build.
"Ready to lose again S.B.?" Bonin asked rubbing his hands together.
"Enjoy yourself now, because someday you're going to screw up real bad and I'll just waltz away with your Queen-piece."
"In your dreams, in your dreams. Bonin seated himself at the gyvyk pedestal Spaselopedus had placed in the center of his parlor. "I'll even let you have first move--like always."
Sometimes Spaselopedus wondered if having first move wasn't part of his problem. He had learned the rules of the game in his youth. As a child he even played it often with his grandfather, Domitormin Barinium, but he never once won a game.
He brought the usual two goblets of sickle-snake milk over to the pedestal on a tray. "Alright, here we go," he said taking his seat.
Bonin took a sip of the milk. "Mmm, this is good maich." He raised his goblet to Spaselopedus and smiled. "To the privileged few!"
"To the privileged!" he answered picking up a Pawn and moving it.
"Where do you think they'll assign you next?" said Bonin moving one of his pawns.
"Not sure," said Spaselopedus placing his chin on his closed fist. "I'm kind of hoping for spaceship duty. This planetary stuff is getting boring." He moved another pawn.
"I know what I'm aiming for," said Bonin. "I'd like to Observe one of those backwater colonies around Norm. They sound interesting." He brought out his Avian.
"Saskuit! You always do that early." Spaselopedus moved out his Fish.
Bonin was watching the vid by the time Spaselopedus had made his move, "Hey, look!" he said, "there's something you don't see everyday."
"What is it?" he asked turning to see the display on the wall. There was a man being interviewed by Mocta Kert, a much revered newsman.
"Turn it up S.B., this might be interesting."
"Who is it?" he asked donning his dispex and flicking up the volume of the vid.
"It's Stenin Amone, the Director of the Koplushian Investigation Bureau. Don't you know anything?"
Spaselopedus shrugged, "So I don't follow politics."
"Shh," said Bonin, "I missed that last bit."
Spaselopedus Barinium quietly sat and watched as his friend became more absorbed in the news-vid. He glanced over at their abandoned game-in-progress and wished Bonin would come back to it.
The interviewee was wearing dispex. At one point he turned his head just so. Spaselopedus could swear he saw something. As he watched, Amone did it again and Spaselopedus had an idea to get Bonin back.
"Did you see that?"
"What?" asked Bonin.
"I'll show you." Spaselopedus activated his dispex and linked it to the vid display. He backed up the image to the turn of Amone's head and snapped a still of it. "Watch this," he said.
Spaselopedus zoomed the image into the man's eyes. His head was turned so his bare cornea was visible.
"What are you doing now?" asked Bonin. He sounded annoyed.
"I want to see what he's got on his dispex," said Spaselopedus.
"I didn't know you could do that."
"To tell you the truth," he said, "I don't know that I can do it either, but I've been thinking about it for a while."
Spaselopedus zoomed in closer till the display on the wall was filled by the man's pupil. There was something resembling words reflected on it. He oriented the image so it was as if he were facing the camera head on. The reflection was almost legible.
"Are you sure this is legal?" said Bonin.
"I've never seen a law against it. I'm only playing with a vid image. I'm not selling it."
Spaselopedus focused the image. The words became clear. "What do you suppose that means?" he asked.
The words projected onto Amone's cornea from his dispex read:
'Remove all level two operatives from Ozmodin
colony research facility. Termination imminent.
"If that last bit is the date," said Bonin, "then whatever it is will happen in three days. It's too weird. Are you sure you did all that right?"
Spaselopedus sat back in his chair. "I've been doing it a long time with bracelet inscriptions, vid displays, or anything else I see on the vid. This is just the first time I tried getting something off of someone's eye."
Bonin silently stared at the vid display on the wall. Finally, he turned back to the gyvyk pedestal and exhaled audibly. "This is too weird. I'll never concentrate on the game now."
"Good," said Spaselopedus, "maybe I've got a chance then."
"No--I mean I'm going back to my place." He stood up and stretched his arms. "I'll see you later. Right?"
"Sure, maybe we can finish this tomorrow?" Spaselopedus gestured to the game.
Bonin stepped to the door and let himself out. Spaselopedus looked back at the frozen vid image and turned it off. He put it out of his mind and went to bed.
The next day he took a trip to the city of Lod Plat on the other side of Koplushia. Observers were required to keep their skills sharp and there had been a workshop on memory there.
It was a dark starry night as he emerged from the underground transport entrance. He clacked his short staff on the pavement and started back to his apartment when he became aware of someone behind him. A quick look revealed two men.
There was nothing menacing about them. They were so nondescript that even an Observer could forget their descriptions. He was walking along when he heard them begin running. Then they caught him and grabbed his arms.
"Hey!" he yelled. His staff clattered to the pavement. "What're you doing?" Spaselopedus felt something hit his head. He blacked out and woke up on what he now knew was Karpla/Earth.
So that's what happened, thought Spaselopedus. I didn't connect the two events.
Kelgin whispered to him, "Hurry Observer, we must go now!"
"Why? I have no idea what you want."
"I'm with the Underground; I'm trying to save you."
"What underground?" he said.
The guard looked over his shoulder at the open door. Spaselopedus followed his gaze but saw nothing. Suddenly he was aware of something cold on his neck. The cell began to spin and everything went black.
Linda Prescott was confused and very unhappy. She had woken up a few hours ago in this room with a splitting headache. There was no window, and no furniture save for a bunk, a sink and a toilet.
When a woman in a black uniform brought in a pack of those disgusting food cubes, she tried to feign sickness, but no one came to check on her since. She managed to eat a few of the cubes to stave off starvation.
Linda hated idle times like this. It gave her mind time to wander and remember. She had always kept as busy as possible just to avoid thinking about... Damn!
Linda reached into the pocket of her blazer and pulled out her Lunacorp bookreader. At least they didn't confiscate my stuff when they put me in here, she thought. She paused over the reader, as if in ceremony and pressed the buttons to bring up the Bible. The passage she sought came immediately on the small screen. She whispered it to herself.
"Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody."
Suddenly the door opened. Linda looked up and saw a man step in. He dismissed the female guard and the door closed. His costume resembled the one Spencer had been wearing on the spaceship.
The man was wearing a gray overcoat with tails, knee-length white pants, and black boots. His dark hair was shoulder length and curly, and he looked to be about fifty. He smiled and stepped toward her slowly.
"Hello Ms. Prescott," he said. "I am Wilm Kiprim."
It took her a moment to realize she understood him perfectly, "You...you're speaking English?"
"Yes," he said. "Is it good?"
"I thought no one here spoke English," she said.
Kiprim smiled slightly, "That is generally true, but for those who need it--"
"Wait," she said. This was coming at her too fast. "I was told nobody is allowed to go to Earth, so how..."
"My good woman," he said raising his index finger, "we do not have to be on your world to learn your languages. You keep sending them out by radio and video transmissions all the time."
Linda did some quick calculations. "That means Koplushia is within about a one hundred light-year radius from Earth?"
Kiprim's expression changed to annoyance. "In fact it is within that sphere, but there is a much simpler way to get information. We simply have the Eruithairkans relay your transmissions to us via hyper-wave."
She shook her head, trying to make sense of what he was saying, "What's hyper-wave?"
Kiprim frowned and folded his arms. "It's a method of communication which travels faster than light."
"Oh," she said wondering what other advances these Koplushians had made which no Earther knew about.
"Ms. Prescott, I wonder if you wouldn't favor me with an account of your first-encounter impressions of immigrants to Koplushia."
"I'm not an immigrant," she said, though thrilled to be getting some attention. Her stomach began to growl. "Do you think I could get a hold of some real food?" she asked. "Those cubes taste terrible."
Kiprim stood in thought for a moment, "What do you mean by real food?"
Linda was surprised by the question, "You know--meat or vegetables?" she said.
Kiprim's face went blank for a moment, "Oh, of course," he said thrusting a finger into the air. He stepped to the door and rapped it with his knuckle. The door opened and he spoke briefly with the guard. The door closed and he continued, "I've made arrangements for some fruits and meat. We don't usually bother with such luxuries, except during special times. Now, shall we get to work?"
This man's demeanor was very calm yet in some way it gave Linda the creeps. He seemed only too happy to bend to her will.
"Could you tell me why I'm here? What happened to Spencer?"
"Spencer?," he said. "Oh yes, Observer Spaselopedus Barinium has been arrested for violation of our laws. You are being detained here awaiting processing as a noncitizen."
Linda felt concerned for... Spasel--Spencer, but then maybe he had gotten what he deserved. He had certainly been nothing but trouble to her. She asked Kiprim, "Will I be returned to Earth?"
"I cannot say," he said. "That is the domain of the immigration authorities. I was allowed to come here to advance our knowledge of your world. I would like to begin that now."
Linda decided to try and take control of her situation. "If I tell you what you want to know, can you help me get out of here?"
"I may be able to," he said.
Linda thought she detected less than pure honesty in his voice but perhaps she was pushing matters a bit. She began to recount her recent travels to him. Often he stopped her to clarify a point or make a comparison. He was fascinated by her mention of the Lunacorp facility.
When her meal arrived, he excused himself. The meat was bland and the fruits spicy, but they were a huge improvement over those damn cubes. Wilm Kiprim returned several times that day, asking questions each time.
Before he left for the last time, she asked him again, "What is going to happen to me? How long am I going to be here?"
Kiprim put a hand to his chin and tapped his cheek with a finger. "If the authorities wished, they could hold you in detention indefinitely."
"Indefinitely?" she said, raising her voice. "What about my rights? I thought you could help me."
"Ms. Prescott," Kiprim said in an arrogant voice, "as a noncitizen of the Alliance, you haven't any rights. Now I've gotten all the information I need. Good day." With that statement Kiprim turned and took the few steps to the door. A guard opened it and he left. She was alone again.
Linda's spirits fell as she watched the door close after Kiprim. What kind of world is this anyway? And what was to become of her?
She looked down at her left hand. The only vestige of her previous life was the wedding band her husband had given her. The memory of the worst day in her life came flooding back. "Andrew," she whispered, "why did it have to happen?"
It was six years before. She and her husband, Andrew were on their second honeymoon. They traveled from their home in California to Northern New Jersey where Andrew had grown up. They were lodging in a little town called Branchwood.
"So," said Linda lying on the bed, looking into the blue eyes of her husband. "Where are we going today?"
The morning sun was peeking through a gap in the drapes of their room. It shone on the wall she was facing like a long glowing spike. She heard a steam whistle break the silence as the clock in the hall of the bed and breakfast began counting the hour.
Andrew's eyes lit up and he smiled at her. "I'd like to check out that steam train they have here if it's okay. We got in too late last night to see it."
Linda's eyes shot skyward. "You men and your trains, and big ones at that," she said, pulling her long black hair over her shoulder.
"Oh, I don't know, you like history, and I guarantee that steam train is historic. From what I've read it sounds as though two old guys that run the museum brought the train service back into this area single-handedly."
She jumped out of the bed, a mischievous smile on her face and pulled the covers off of him. "Go get showered so we can get this over with."
Andrew sat up and looked into her eyes. She looked into his. He made her feel so safe, so complete.
"Come here you Angel." He kissed her gently and slowly pulled her back down to him on the bed. "The train can wait." Their breakfast that morning was later than usual.
After breakfast they walked down to the museum. To Linda it looked like any train yard that had sprung up all over the country in the last ten years. Since the Oil War and the advent of efficient fusion power, trains had made a comeback for long distance travel. The Fusion-electric locomotives required neither overhead wires nor petroleum based fuels and they were virtually non polluting.
"Did I ever tell you," said Andrew, "that years ago they built a fire house here and moved the original station off its site?"
"No, you hadn't," she said.
"It's ironic, the fire house burned down so they were able to put the reproduction of the station right where it belongs."
He stopped her as they came to the tracks crossing the road. He looked down them in both directions and led her across.
"Where's this steam engine?" said Linda.
Andrew shrugged, "I don't know. It's supposed to be here." They climbed the steps to the station's freight-loading platform. The station was a long dark green two story building with maroon trim. From the look and locations of the doors, Linda guessed it had been used as a passenger and freight depot.
"You say someone built this recently?" she said. "It looks old."
"It's not. The original fell victim to a heavy snowstorm back in the nineties. This is a full size reproduction. The Branchwood historical society erected it in 2010." As he said this, Linda heard a steam whistle in the distance. Andrew cocked his head immediately.
"Your train is coming," Linda smiled.
The door to the station opened and a short stocky man dressed in an oldtime suit stepped onto the platform. "Morning," he said.
"Good morning," said Linda.
"I heard you had a steam engine here," Andrew asked.
"We do," said the man adjusting his gold granny glasses and rubbing the side of his nose. "It's out meeting with the local at the junction."
Linda glanced down the length of the track, "Will it be back soon? We really wanted to see it."
"Oh yea," the man nodded and pulled out a gold watch on a chain and examined it. "Joe should be back with her in about ten-fifteen minutes. Why don't you folks come in and take a look at our museum while you wait?"
They went in and looked at the displays. By the sheer volume of the stuff, it looked like they had been saving odds and ends from railroads for decades.
"We have a scale layout in the upstairs of how the Sussex Branch operated in the nineteen fifties," said the oldtimer. "It's an hour show. Maybe you'd want to watch it after you see our engine."
Andrew turned to her, that boyish anticipation on his face, "Can we?"
"Of course silly, I wouldn't want to deprive you."
Linda heard a steam whistle, and then another one, closer this time.
"Oop," said the man, "that'll be Joe coming back. You'd better get out there if you want to see him come in."
They returned to the platform and looked expectantly down the tracks.
"Look Linda, you can see the smoke above the trees." Andrew pointed to help her see it.
"Here she comes," said the station guide.
When the train appeared from around a small bend, it wasn't what she had expected. She didn't see an engine, but a dark green train coach heading towards them.
"We can't turn her around," explained the man. "We just back her into town like they used to do with the milk trains in the fifties."
"They didn't even have a turn table for the engine? " said Andrew.
"They did, but after the thirties, the larger engines wouldn't fit, so the railroad just layed a wye-track outside of town. They'd run the engine around the train and back her in."
The train consisted of one coach, the coal tender and the engine. It slowed to a stop at the raised platform and a rush of steam issued from between the drive wheels. A man dressed in a conductor's uniform got off and assisted the handful of passengers.
"The model layout show starts in a few minutes folks," said the guide.
The barrel-chested engineer climbed down from the cab. His face smudged with black. He wore a pinstriped hat and a gray coverall dirtied with coal dust and oil stains. He stepped over to the other man and said, "She's running good today, Dave."
"No problem keeping the steam up then?"
Joe, the barrel-chested engineer had a boyish face disguised by a thick mustache. He shook his head. "No problems."
Andrew was watching the two men, "I can't believe all the history I didn't know about this little town."
"You folks from around here?" asked Joe.
"I grew up in the county," said Andrew, "but I've been gone for the last eleven years. I'm an engineer at Lunacorp in Sacramento."
"Lunacorp?" said Dave, "Cool! How's the moonbase coming?"
"It's doing alright. They've just started the observatory this year."
Linda burst out in her squeaky laughter. Hearing the older man using such dated vernacular, and dressed in that costume was too much for her.
After the model show at the train museum they began walking back towards the center of the town. The streets that had once been used by automobiles were now reserved exclusively for foot traffic. Anyone who owned a car was required to park and walk in from lots on the edge of Branchwood or ride in on the horse and buggy run by the town.
"I like it here," said Andrew looking at the varied shops along the street. "It reminds me of your mother's place, it's like frozen in time."
Linda took her husband's hand as they walked down the sidewalk. "That's one way to describe it." She remarked how the four main streets of Branchwood intersected at unequal angles in the center of the town. The man at the museum had mentioned that a bypass was built around the town years ago to ease the traffic.
"It's a wonder she let me install those solar panels," he said. "It'll mean a lot less work for her in a few years."
"Mom wasn't balking that much. She wants to do it herself, but she doesn't really mind the little conveniences."
"Like indoor plumbing and electricity?" he said with a chuckle. "I swear, her computer is older than me."
"She got that one new when I was five. I had to learn programming on something. You should have seen the one Mark learned on."
"I think I tripped over it in her basement last year."
"Really? I thought she junked it."
They walked to the nearby public park and bought lunch from a vendor. Later, they toured the rest of the shops in the town.
That evening they were going to eat in the fanciest restaurant in town. Linda had just finished putting on her gown and make-up and was checking her long hair in the bathroom mirror when Andrew returned.
"I'm back Linda," he said. She heard some rustling of paper in the other room.
"Good," she said, "now get changed so we can go eat. I want to see if everything I've heard about the Branchwood Inn is true." She emerged from the bathroom in time to see him pulling on his trousers.
"I want to make a quick stop at the cemetery on the way," he said.
"Dressed like this?" she said looking down at her gown and spreading her arms. "Can't we go tomorrow?"
His voice was soft. "I wanted to put those flowers on Dad's grave," he said pointing to the wrapped bouquet on the dresser. "Don't forget we're getting an early start in the morning. Besides," Andrew gave her that special smile. "The sunset ought to be fabulous up there."
"Alright," she said walking over to him and putting her arms over his shoulders, "just bear in mind our reservations are for eight o'clock." She kissed him and withdrew her arms. She never could refuse a request made with that smile.
"Oh, what's this?" she picked up a small box that was behind the bouquet.
"Well it was a surprise for later," he said. "Here, I'll put it on you."
She handed the box to him and he picked out a silver necklace with an angel shaped ornament on it. "Oh, it's beautiful," she said holding it between her fingers. "You're spoiling me."
"I'll take my chances," he said putting it around her neck. He gazed into her eyes. "You are the most beautiful woman in the world, and I am truly privileged to call you my wife."
She felt herself blushing. She always blushed when he told her things like that. "I love you more than anything," she said and reached up and kissed him.
"Here, I got something for you at the museum." Linda opened the closet and pulled out a small package in a brown bag. "I saw this and couldn't help myself," she said handing it to him.
He pulled a book-sized plaque from the bag and smiled as he read the title, "Remember the Sussex Branch." Scanning the body of the poem he said, "This is wonderful Linda, thank you."
He embraced her and smiled. "Are you sure you want to go to dinner?"
"C'mon you," she handed him his jacket. "We've got places to go. I'm not putting off this meal."
They arrived at the gate of Branchwood Cemetery a few minutes before sunset. The wrought iron surrounding the property was newly painted and the stones looked well cared for.
The dew hadn't yet fallen as they located the plot of Andrew's father. He placed the flowers near the tombstone and they stood in silence for a moment.
Finally Andrew walked away from the plot and over towards the crest of the hill. Linda followed him and rested her hand on his shoulder. "Look at that sunset," she whispered.
"Yes, it's gorgeous, isn't it? I never tire of watching them."
A gruff voice behind them said, "Me neither."
Linda turned around to see an unshaven, shabbily dressed man staring at them.
"You two look well off," he said. "How's 'bout givin' me a few bucks? I ain't eaten in days."
"Sorry pal," said Andrew raising his hand, "not today." He began to guide Linda towards the gate, but the man blocked their way.
"I think we have a live one here," he called turning his head towards a clump of bushes. Two shabby men stood up and began approaching.
"Go and get the police," whispered Andrew. "I can hold them off. Trust me," he smiled.
"I'm not leaving you," she whispered back, "and you're not staying. C'mon."
They started towards the man blocking their way. Andrew put his arm out to push him to the side but the man grabbed it and spun him around putting him in a classic joint lock. Andrew broke free and threw the man to the ground.
"I told you it was a good idea to take the Kung Fu course at work," he began dusting himself off.
"Andrew, look out!" Linda yelled pointing to the pair in the bushes. They were running towards them.
"Let's go," he said taking her hand. They began to run but her fancy shoes slowed her down. The next thing she felt was a strong hand on her legs as she fell forward to the ground.
"Stick around girlie, you're next," one of them said. They passed over her and got Andrew in a flying tackle. She got to her feet but Andrew was hurt. He was still fighting, but they were beating on him.
Linda knew nothing of fighting. In a panic she ran out of the cemetery screaming for help. Her gown was torn and soiled from her fall, and her shoes were gone. She ran down the road yelling and looking for a light in a window. Either no one lived up here or they just weren't home.
She saw two small lights coming towards her. It was the men from the museum. Linda ran up to them breathless and sounding hysterical.
"You've got... to help me! Andrew... in the graveyard... he's being mugged..!"
The two men began running up the hill, "Don't worry, we'll get them!"
Linda began to run after them as best she could. She reentered the gate and tried to find them. The barrel-chested Engineer was placing his windbreaker on Andrew. He was lying on his side facing her as she ran to him. Blood stained his face and abdomen.
She knelt down and wondered what to do. The attackers were gone, and her rescuers were walking slowly over to her. They kept glancing back and forth to each other. Finally the barrel-chested one said, "They were gone when we got here."
"I'll go for an ambulance," said the shorter man and ran off for the road.
Linda stared at the prone form on the ground, "Andrew? Andrew, can you hear me?" she said, tears filling her eyes. Linda knew from her mother's teaching not to move him. She simply stroked his hair. He was breathing shallowly and didn't respond at all.
Suddenly his entire body heaved, his breathing stopped and then his eyes just stared into space. "No... no," she cried, "you can't die, you can't!" Linda put his head in her lap and pressed her cheek to his forehead. Her tears dripped onto his face; she wiped them off. "You can't leave me alone," she whispered. "I love you too much."
Linda stared at her husband's lifeless face. She felt terribly alone. Andrew had been everything to her, friend, partner and protector. Her life would have no meaning without him.
She felt responsible for his death. If she could have helped in the fight, he would be here now, smiling at her. She had depended on him for everything and she vowed to herself never to feel for or depend on anyone ever again.
Spaselopedus slowly opened his eyes. The light in the room was dim, but he could make out power conduits along the walls. He smelled musty air and heard voices muttering just out of range. Holding his throbbing head, Spaselopedus eased himself off the cot he was on and stood up.
His stomach felt empty and he wondered where he was. Carefully he searched out the voices. Someone was going to be held responsible for abducting him--again. This recurring motif in my life must stop, he thought.
The voices led him down the corridor. There were more conduits on the walls and litter on the floor. He stepped carefully to avoid making noise. The throbbing in his head turned to pounding.
Light splashed into the dark corridor from the room with the voices.
"So what now?" It was a female. "What if he won't help us? You've put our group under great risk, Kelgin."
"Don't worry," said a man, presumably Kelgin. "Once we explain things to him, he'll join for sure."
"And if he refuses?" asked the female voice.
"We'll have to convince him. If they get their hands on him, he's dead. He must realize that after the trip he's had."
"I still think you took too much into your hands."
Spaselopedus peeked around the corner to see the speakers. The female was tall, blonde, young and dressed in technician's coveralls. The man was Kelgin, the guard at the prison who had abducted him to this place.
"It's alright Observer," said Kelgin spotting him. "We won't hurt you."
"...Any more than you already have," said Spaselopedus holding his head.
Kelgin bowed slightly. "I am very sorry I had to do that--it was necessary to expedite your escape."
Spaselopedus walked slowly into the room and sat down on a box by the makeshift table. He held his pounding head. "Would someone mind calmly telling me why my life can't return to the simplicity I loved?"
"Observer--," began Kelgin.
"I'll tell him," broke in the female. "You are the first of your kind to have seen the proof."
"My kind?" said Spaselopedus. "Proof of what?"
"Proof that our government, the Koplushian Council, has been ruthlessly protecting its monopoly on faster-than-light space travel."
"Everybody knows that," Spaselopedus answered, crossing his arms. "Only Koplushia manufactures the warp generators that make it possible."
"But they've been killing people to keep the nature of the technology a secret!" said the female.
Spaselopedus looked at her for a moment. Her fine facial features told him she was of Pabenite stock. "Please tell me your name," he said. "I so hate arguing with nameless people."
"She is Technician Shirma Dorem," said Kelgin. "I am Med-tech Kelgin Bosuma. We are telling you the truth.
Spaselopedus sighed. Why would the Council have to go around killing people? he thought. "I refuse to believe it," he said.
"Why do you think you were put on Karpla?" said Shirma.
"I don't know," said Spaselopedus annoyed, "but I intend to find out."
"The night you saw the memo about the Ozmodin colony, your friend, Bonin turned you in to the authorities. That's why they tried to eliminate you."
Disbelief caused Spaselopedus to say, "Wait. Eliminate me? Why? Who am I?"
"You are an Observer," said Shirma, "the first one the Underground has been able to save."
"But how am I a threat to the Council?"
"How can you not see it?" said Shirma. "All you have to do is tell the public what you saw. A few days after you saw the memo the research facility on Ozmodin was destroyed by an explosion."
"And how does that involve me?" asked Spaselopedus.
"The researchers on Ozmodin were very close to discovering how hyperspace generators function," said Kelgin.
"Again, so? Such research is inherently hazardous." He recalled the explosion of the Pod's hyperspace engine.
Shirma took a step forward. "This isn't the first time it's happened. Five times in the last twenty years research facilities on colonial worlds have been destroyed, key scientists have disappeared, or unexplained accidents have occurred."
"Isn't that why they call them accidents?" he said, "because they can't be explained?"
"In each case," said Shirma, "the research was related to hyperspace technology."
"So why am I here?" asked Spaselopedus. "I don't understand why you feel I'm important to you."
"Because you are the first Observer to see such a document as you did."
"At least you're the first to live long enough for us to get to," added Kelgin. "These sorts of 'accidents' have been happening for centuries."
Spaselopedus thought for a moment. He didn't see any point to this. He had been offered a job by that Kiprim character. His life hadn't been threatened. The Koplushian Council simply didn't go around killing its citizens. A hunger pang brought his attention to his stomach. "Is there anything to eat? I didn't get a thing in detention."
Kelgin and Shirma deflated a little. Kelgin went over to a carton along the wall and came back with a pack of food cubes. "Observer, you must help us; terrible things are happening."
"Why me?" asked Spaselopedus, opening the pack. Having no fork, he picked out a cube with his fingers and took a bite.
"You are an Observer, everyone will believe what an Observer says," said Kelgin.
"Yes, they would," he said chewing, "but what good would it do? My saying such and such happened isn't going to make the responsible parties walk single file into detention now--is it?"
Shirma asked, "Will you at least give us a hearing? Let us tell you all we know before refusing us?"
Glancing at both of them Spaselopedus said, "Being that I appear to be your guest, I suppose that would be acceptable."
"Good," said Kelgin to Shirma, "we'll bring him to Prysin."
As they traveled down the dimly lit corridors, he realized they were in the vast network of tunnels making up the sub-surface transportation system of Koplushia. Apparently these people had located sections which were forgotten or seldom used.
Eventually Shirma, who was operating the small vehicle, stopped and they got out. Kelgin and Shirma then led him down the smaller passageways and finally to the room containing Prysin.
Spaselopedus followed them in and was introduced by Shirma. "This is the Observer Spaselopedus Barinium."
Prysin was a tall gaunt man, well bearded and a bit past middle age. The room was filled with electronic equipment of diverse functions. Spaselopedus recognized an archaic control console in one corner. Most of the rest of the gadgets were in pieces.
"Hello, Observer Barinium," said Prysin. "It's good to see you safe and sound."
"In some ways I feel that statement to be in contention," said Spaselopedus. "Lately I've felt a bit disoriented."
Prysin put on a wry smile. "Yes, well, you've been pawned about recently. Would you like some food?" he offered, gesturing to an open pack of food cubes.
"Thank you no. Your colleagues here," Spaselopedus indicated Kelgin and Shirma, "felt you could convince me to help your cause. May I first ask what your cause is?"
"Quite simply, my good Observer," said Prysin, "we want to overthrow the Koplushia Council."
Spaselopedus' head swam. Overthrow the Council? The Koplushian government? He felt himself being picked up off the floor. Weak from his faint, Kelgin and Shirma helped him to the chair near Prysin.
"You've got to be kidding," said Spaselopedus still holding his head. Kelgin came up next to him with a glass of water and a pill.
"What's this? You want me out again?" said Spaselopedus.
"I'm a Med-tech, Observer," said Kelgin looking offended. "This should help your head."
Spaselopedus decided young Kelgin was being truthful. He swallowed the pill, hoping it would take effect quickly.
"No, we're not," said Prysin. " You see, most of us in the Underground are from more recently settled colonies. We've realized in retrospect that this Koplushian way of life is detrimental."
"Detrimental? How so? Most every human in the Alliance enjoys a secure life--"
"The Council provides all needs to its citizens, but they have no real freedom. We're controlled from birth to death. The Council decides what we need and how to provide it."
"It's worked this way for thousands of years," said Spaselopedus. "I don't see a problem."
"You haven't experienced true freedom, doing for yourself. Anything you accomplish is yours and no one can take it away."
Prysin's statements made him remember Barbara's homestead on Earth. What was it she had said to him? 'I don't need the world or his wife giving me the yea or nay.' "What you say may be true," he said, " but I haven't heard anyone but you complaining about the current system."
"Observer, excuse me," said Kelgin, "How did you become an Observer?"
Spaselopedus thought for a moment, "I believe Teacher Nisiv recommended me for the program when I was in Basics school."
"Did you want to be an Observer?"
Spaselopedus thought again. No one had ever asked what he wanted to be. It was understood that your aptitude indicated your occupation. "Well no, they didn't ask but--"
Shirma took a step forward and placed a hand to her chest, "I'm a Security Systems Technician because my scores showed I had an aptitude for it. Kelgin is a Med-tech because that's what his scores showed. I happen to enjoy cooking in my spare time and I'm good at it. If I'd had the opportunity I would have been a Nutri-tech."
"You mean you enjoy touching raw meat and cutting up vegetables by hand?" Spaselopedus remembered seeing Barbara do such things on her homestead. "What's your point?"
"My point," said Shirma, "is that we want a free society that doesn't dictate who we are or will be."
Kelgin broke in, "We want to choose the direction of our lives and live them for our own reasons, not because it's what some Council Ministry decides is best for all."
Spaselopedus folded his arms and thought. It was taken for granted that the Council decided who did what. How else would needed jobs be filled?
"If you weren't an Observer, what would you like to be?" asked Prysin. He was seated at the console, obviously a lashed together makeshift. Spaselopedus' answer came without hesitation,
"If I couldn't be an Observer I don't know what I'd be. My family has a long history of service to the Council. What better way than by Observership?"
"I know of the Barinium family history," said Prysin. "A Barinium was a founder of Koplushia I believe. Your name evokes respect anywhere on our globe."
"Thank you," he said. "Then perhaps you will understand why I want nothing to do with your cause. I don't believe your accusations of the Council."
Prysin quickly rose from his seat and stepped towards Spaselopedus. "The Council is killing people to hold on to their power over the Alliance!" Prysin's finger stabbed the wall, then at Spaselopedus' chest. "They tried to have you killed!"
Spaselopedus bolted up. The throbbing in his skull returned, so he grabbed his head again. "I'm tired of everyone saying that. Can you prove it?"
Prysin waited for a moment, "Yes I can. I've been intercepting messages here and there. It isn't easy, but nothing easy is worth-while He turned to his console, then he turned back to Spaselopedus. "Then again, you have no reason to believe I haven't fabricated anything I would claim to find on the system."
"That is why we have Observers," said Spaselopedus.
"Let me ask you then," said Prysin, "why do you think you were you beaten up and dumped on that protected world?"
Spaselopedus thought for a moment and said, "I don't know." Everything I've been told is adding up, he thought. It would all explain his experiences, but how could he be sure?
Thinking of Karpla reminded him of Linda. Now that he was free, the thought of her in detention was unbearable. "I had a companion, a woman I brought from Karpla. Could anything be done to retrieve her?"
"You mean the Karplan woman?" Shirma piped up.
Spaselopedus felt a ping of anger. "Her name is Linda, not 'the Karplan woman'."
"I think we could locate and liberate her," said Prysin, "but your assured cooperation would be helpful."
Spaselopedus wanted to help Linda. In her current circumstances she was helpless, unable to speak Kopanset. No doubt she was being held in an immigration detention cell somewhere.
How will my telling them what they want topple the Council anyway?, he thought. "Alright, If you rescue Linda, I'll help you," he said.
This was not what Spaselopedus had imagined at all. He had hoped he would be able to catch his breath while the Underground freed Linda and brought her in, but it made sense that they would want him along. He was the only person on the planet capable of communicating with her. Spaselopedus didn't want a knock on her head to be the method of persuasion.
They were all dressed in detention center uniforms. The three of them, Shirma, Kelgin and himself had traveled via normal transportation to the Ministry of Immigration detention center.
Prysin had given them the location of 'noncitizen #752'. Making their way through the air ducts they found the wing containing her cell. Shirma unlocked the door with one of Prysin's gadgets. The door slid open and Spaselopedus stepped inside.
Linda was asleep on the bunk snoring. Spaselopedus was relieved to see her safe. He went over to the bunk and gently placed his hand on her shoulder. "Linda, wake up Linda," he said in a low voice.
Linda turned over in a snap knocking Spaselopedus' hand away. Then he saw her face. "You're not Linda!"
The woman sprang up and struck Spaselopedus. He fell backwards against the wall.
"Observer!" cried Kelgin, "It's a trap!"
"No kidding," he answered righting himself. The woman stood up and brandished a stunner. There was a flash and she fell to the floor.
Spaselopedus looked to the door. Shirma had her stunner out. "Hurry," she said, "we must leave!"
As Spaselopedus took a step towards the door an alarm sounded.
"They're onto us!" said Kelgin. The three of them ran down the corridor towards the airvent they had used. As they passed an intersection, Spaselopedus noticed someone running their way. It was Linda!
"Linda," he called, "this way!"
She ran to him, "It's you. I'm so glad!"
"Why weren't you in the cell?"
Linda quickly caught her breath, "A guard tried to drag me out so I slugged him and ran. I've been looking for a way out of here."
"You're safe," he said to her, "but we have to keep going."
"Observer," said Kelgin removing the grille, "Hurry!"
"We're coming," he said, grabbing Linda's hand and taking off.
They climbed through the ducts of the building and came out into the foyer. They barely got out and into the hall when six guards barred their way.
"Halt!" commanded one of the guards.
Shirma fired her stunner at one of them. It hit true and he fell to the floor. Kelgin followed Shirma's lead and began firing too. Everyone began backing off for cover.
Linda, seeking cover behind the receptionist's desk with Spaselopedus was struggling with a device. "Spencer, is this a weapon? I can't get it to work." She handed it to him.
Spaselopedus was astonished that she had such a thing. Weapons were highly illegal on Koplushia. "Where did you get a stunner?"
"From the guard that tried to take me away," she sounded very matter of fact.
The sound of Kelgin's shouts brought him back to the present situation. "We have to block the guards so we can get away."
Spaselopedus had never used a weapon in his life, but he had seen plenty of VR and vid. "I think you have to take the safety off. Hmm, let's see... there, I got it. Here!" He handed back to Linda.
Linda fired the stunner several times missing with each try.
"It won't be long before there's more of them," yelled Kelgin.
Both sides continued exchanging shots to no effect. The four conscious guards had regrouped in a section of the foyer that could be closed off. Spaselopedus had an idea.
"Cover me," he yelled in Kopanset and English. Then he ran up and dove into the receptionist's alcove. He landed face to face with a young man cowering under the desk.
"Don't hurt me," he said.
"Don't worry," said Spaselopedus, "I won't."
Spaselopedus carefully removed the dispex from the man's face and put them on. He flicked the activation icon and studied the display. It was a limited collection, but Spaselopedus had what he needed.
Stunner exchanges continued. Spaselopedus began deftly flicking icons in the dispex. He gained control of the elevators, sent for a taxi, and damn, the partition doors were already controlled from elsewhere. He'd have to try harder.
"Get ready," he called to his companions. Spaselopedus re-thought his programming and tried again. The attempt succeeded. The partition closed in front of the guards, blocking them in.
"Let's go," yelled Kelgin as Spaselopedus climbed over the receptionist's desk. Linda ran to him and they hurried out the doors to the waiting taxi.
It was dark outside but the walking pavement was well lit. The taxi door opened at their approach and the four of them piled in. Kelgin gave the destination then sat back, but the vehicle stayed put.
"Saskuit!" he wailed. "It's been controlled! Follow me!" He pushed the others out the door. "We'll have to run for the nearest tube."
Spaselopedus and Linda trailed behind as they ran down the illuminated path surrounded by darkness. Shirma was ahead of them and Kelgin, seemingly inexhaustible, led on.
Tubes, or the entrances to the underground transport system were usually located at centers of population. This location hardly qualified as such, as detention centers tended to be inaccessible as possible to help prevent escapes.
Several times they were forced to rest, as neither Linda or Spaselopedus were accustomed to extreme activity. Spaselopedus' heart would about stop its frantic beating when Kelgin would force them to run on along the path.
Spaselopedus knew that these paths existed for those who chose to walk from place to place, but he wondered who would want to walk all the distance from the detention center? The distant scream of a Peacekeeper aircar siren interrupted his thought. Then he saw Kelgin and Shirma stop ahead in front of an entrance.
Kelgin spoke between short breaths as they descended the stairs, "I knew... this had... to be... around somewhere."
"Never mind... talking," said Shirma. "Let's just get the... Observer safe... again. That was good work... back there by the way. I didn't know... it was a requirement... of Observers... to know flicking."
"It's not," answered Spaselopedus. "It's just a hobby." He didn't hear her reply.
Linda tugged his sleeve. "Who are these people, Spencer?"
"They're with... We're among friends," he said trying to look confident. She was safe, that's what counted.
* * *
Linda was astounded by the scale of the subway station. Though it was underground and night had fallen, it gave the impression of a glass-covered dome on the surface. Apparent sunlight streamed in, and she saw a beautiful rural meadow through the panels on the walls.
"This is wonderful," she said looking about. Spencer said nothing. He was occupied with following the pair that was with them. Occasionally he looked back at her, checking if she was still there.
"Where are we going?"
He turned to her, an annoyed expression on his face. "Somewhere safe. That's the best answer I can give."
They were led through a portal and into a long cabin with seats--obviously a train car. Spencer and Linda sat several seats behind his friends. Linda watched as others filed in and sat down.
On the seat-back before her was a flat screen-display. She touched it with a finger and the display lit up. It was filled with unfamiliar letters. They looked vaguely like typewritten runes.
Linda pointed. "What's this say?"
Spencer glanced over at the display and whispered, "It's just the standard title-screen and disclaimer. Here, let me show you the tunnels." He touched the screen before her and the image changed to a schematic map.
"Wow, your people have been busy. There's tunnels everywhere."
"We've had help. The Onifians are expert burrowers."
Linda smiled in anticipation. "More aliens?"
Spencer shook his head. "No, Onifians are human, but they destroyed their planet's ecosystem during it's late industrial period and had to move underground. They survived for centuries developing hydroponics and closed recycling systems."
"And then Koplushia came along and saved them, right?"
"No," said Spencer in a monotone. "Actually when we discovered the Onifians they were doing quite well. They had begun exploring their star-system and had made contact with Paben."
She looked over at him. "Aliens?"
"No. Humans. Paben and Onif occupy the same star-system."
Linda sighed and sat back in the seat. For an advanced outerspace society, she felt there were very few non-humans around.
Acceleration pushed her back as the trip started. Linda touched various icons on the screen, at least she thought they were icons, and different displays came up on. A few of them were pictures of people, places and things, but most were more of the undecipherable text.
Spencer would translate it for her when she asked, but always after he got an annoyed look on his face. "I'm sorry if I bother you Spaceman, but I can't read it can I?"
He frowned momentarily. "I wanted to have you learn Kopanset, but now things are mixed up. If the opportunity arises I'll see to it."
Linda dreaded the thought of language learning. It couldn't be as simple as he made it out to be. A few minutes later Spencer's friends came over to them and mumbled some gibberish. As the train slowed, Spencer stood up. "This is where we get off, Linda."
She followed him off the train. Spencer's two friends led them through a series of doors. Each area they passed through was sparser and sparser of people. Finally they paused and entered a large foreboding portal.
There were no lights on the other side, and Linda reached instinctively for a hand. She found Spencer's, but he started to pull away. Then he stiffly reciprocated the clasp.
* * *
They made their way back to Prysin's chamber. Kelgin and Shirma retired to another room while Linda and Spaselopedus stayed with Prysin.
"Hello Good Observer Barinium," he said, "and this must be your companion..."
"Linda Prescott" finished Spaselopedus.
"Lin-da Pres-cott," Prysin let the syllables roll off his tongue, "An odd sounding name but I suppose, being from Karpla..."
"Spencer, who are these people?" said Linda.
"They are the Underground. I agreed to help them if they got you out of detention."
"What is it they want you to do?"
"I have to record an affidavit that I saw a memo concerning the destruction of a research center on Ozmodin."
"Sorry I asked," she said.
Spaselopedus remembered his promise to Linda on the Cognizance. "Prysin, is there any chance you have a hypno-learning kit here? I'd like her to learn Kopanset."
Prysin looked surprised by the request. "Yes, I do but..."
"But nothing," Spaselopedus interrupted. "I feel bad enough that I brought her into this against her will, but I think she deserves to be aware of what's going on first hand. I'll tell her about it and you get the kit powered up."
"Very good, Observer," said Prysin. "I'll have to find it but I'll be ready for her in just a few minutes."
Spaselopedus turned to Linda. "How would you like to learn my language?" he said.
She shrugged. "It'll beat hearing gibberish all the time. When do I start?"
When Prysin returned, he placed a strange pair of dispex on her head and led her to the next room.
She sat in a reclining chair with the headgear on. Electrodes ran from the earpieces to several points on Linda's head. She swore she could see swirling shapes before her eyes. There was a muffled voice mumbling in her ears and her nose tingled.
It felt like a dream had taken hold and wouldn't let her go. Moments later she woke up and became aware of being in a dark room. Linda heard a loud beep and a man came in and removed the headgear.
"Can you understand me?" he said.
"Ca' you unders'and me?" she repeated.
"Very good, I think it took."
"Vewy goo, I 'hink i' 'ook." she repeated. Linda couldn't help herself; whatever she heard, she automatically tried to mimic. The man was smiling. He left the room and returned with Spencer.
"How do you feel?" Spencer asker her.
"'Ow do you feel?" she repeated.
"Linda, you're in what they call parrot mode. Your facial muscles are acclimating themselves to the new language. It should be gone by tomorrow." Spencer nodded to Prysin and they left her alone. The room went dark and she found herself getting sleepy.
"Excellent, Prysin," said Spaselopedus, "I agree it was a success."
"Just remember, even after she sleeps, she'll be in parrot mode until her motor memory is developed for the language."
Prysin pressed a contact on his control panel. They could hear Linda muttering away. "I'll show you to a place you can sleep tonight," he said. "Tomorrow I'll record your Observer's affidavit."
"That's fine. I hope it'll do some good." Spaselopedus was happy to have Linda safe again. Hopefully she'd be fluent enough in his language so he wouldn't have to explain everything. Maybe then her demeanor would improve.
After a few hours of sleep, Spaselopedus felt revived. The room Prysin had shown him to was full of miscellaneous electronic equipment, (evidently Prysin collected such junk.) He used the makeshift water closet, changed back into his Observer uniform and went in search of Linda.
He found her in the room from the night before. She was still asleep in the reclined chair. Spaselopedus woke her with a gentle touch on the shoulder. She opened her eyes and smiled. Her position in the chair reminded him of their ordeal in the Pod.
"Good morning," he said.
"Good morning, " she repeated slowly. "This art so queer. I understandeth thee but I hath a compulsion to repeat what thee sayeth."
"Seg!" said Spaselopedus, "Stay there. I'll be right back." Spaselopedus ran out of the room to find Prysin. He ran into Prysin's chamber and saw him hunched over the makeshift console.
"Prysin, what did you do? She's speaking in archaisms..." Spaselopedus realized the pallor of Prysin's skin was unnatural. The body's skin was cool to the touch. Prysin was dead. "Saskuit!" he muttered. "Can nothing ever be easy?"
It was not the first time Spaselopedus Barinium encountered a corpse. He remembered how his grandfather had looked resting on the pyre before the blue flames obscured and consumed him. Spaselopedus held his panic at bay and returned to Linda.
He found her still sitting in the chair with her eyes closed. Her thin lips were still mouthing lessons from the procedure.
"Linda, can you hear me?" he said tapping her shoulder.
Her eyes opened and she slowly sat up. "Yes, Spencer. I art awake." Hearing her use the archaic verb tenses disturbed him, but at least she was comprehensible.
"We have a problem, I just found Prysin dead."
Linda gave him a blank stare, "Who art Prysin?"
"Seg! I didn't introduce you to anyone did I? Prysin is the one who was in here putting the hypno-set on you last night. You're speaking my language now."
"Observer Barinium," said Shirma standing in the doorway, "Something is wrong."
Spaselopedus turned to the tall, lithe woman. She was wearing common civilian clothes. "Yes I know," he said. "Prysin's dead. I found him just now."
"Kelgin is examining the body."
"Shouldn't we notify the authorities?" he said.
Shirma frowned and cocked her head. "Have you forgotten that the authorities are after us?"
Spaselopedus felt embarrassment at his comment. "What do we do then?"
"We should get everything together that we need. We have to move."
Kelgin's broad frame filled the doorway then, pushing Shirma over a bit, "Well, I'd say it was the KIT."
Spaselopedus looked at him for a moment, "What do you mean? What's a KIT?"
"I mean he's been dispatched. We knew Prysin was a disaffected agent of the Koplushian Intervention Task-force. They've dispatched him because he was helping us."
"Dispatched? You mean killed?" Things like this just don't happen to me, he thought. "I still don't understand," said Spaselopedus folding his arms. "What is this Koplushian Intervention Task-force?"
Shirma sighed as if about to explain clouds to a five year old, "The KIT is the secret branch of the Council that acts against worlds who discover the secret of the hyperspace generator."
"They neutralize any threat to the Koplushian monopoly on superluminal travel," added Kelgin.
"Neutralize?" said Linda, "Thou meaneth destroy."
"That's another way of saying it, " said Shirma, then turning back to Kelgin, "So what now?"
"The Council is aware of us now here in the tubes. We need to relocate."
"To where?" asked Spaselopedus.
"You're so sure that none of this is real," said Shirma. "Why don't we go to the safe house on Ozmodin?"
"That's not a bad idea," said Kelgin. "What do you think Observer?"
Spaselopedus was unsure what to say. Being with the Underground was certainly better than being in a cell. At least this would give him an opportunity to see what all the fuss was about.
"Alright," he said glancing at Linda, "Ozmodin it is."
"Ouch!" said Spaselopedus, his head having struck the inside of the shipping crate he was sealed in. "Saskuit," he whispered, rubbing his smarting scalp in the darkness. Linda was likewise encased nearby, and, Spaselopedus was sure, as equally cramped. The Underground had safely gotten them aboard a ship headed for Ozmodin in crates marked as 'Exotic Nuts'. Spaselopedus was beginning to ponder if the description didn't fit. Kelgin and Shirma were going by a different route and expected to meet them upon landing.
According to the chronometer in his dispex they should have been about ready to begin landing. Suddenly he was literally shaken from his train of thought. A chill went up his spine as an explosion rocked the ship. Spaselopedus heard the ship's alarm sound. It was followed by the sound of a crate breaking.
Before he could react, his crate lurched and landed on the deck. "Ouch!" he cried, having landed on his side. The ship lurched again more severely. Something was going on and Spaselopedus didn't like the feel of it.
"Linda," he yelled, "let's get out of these crates! I think the ship's being attacked." He pushed with all his might against the lid. It hardly gave. "Saskuit!" he cursed and tried again. This time the lid came away--along with the sides. Spaselopedus found himself on his back looking up at Linda holding a prybar.
"C'mon!" she urged with an outstretched hand.
Taking her hand and standing, a feeling of dread overcame him. "We need to get off this ship," he said. "This is bad." He walked quickly to the large bay door.
"What about the rest of the crew?" asked Linda.
"What can we do for them? They don't even know about us, but they certainly know what's going on. Let's go!" he said heading into the passage.
Linda remained quiet but followed him. He led her down the corridor to a round bright green hatch. His touch on the access panel caused it to dilate open. The ship shook violently again.
"Quick get in!" he said. She obeyed. Spaselopedus followed her in and closed the hatch.
Crash webbing lined the cramped lifepod. Spaselopedus helped Linda into it and then strapped himself in. He pulled the green launch lever and they were on their way.
After examining the controls for a minute, Spaselopedus was able to activate the small vidplate. "There," he said, satisfied.
"Do you recognize the attacker?" asked Linda, craning her neck to see.
The vid showed the freighter spiraling away. The visual motion began nauseating him so he began searching the controls for the stabilizers. Never having studied piloting, he met with no success.
"I can't control this thing," he grumbled.
"Those look like a stabilizer control configuration," said Linda pointing to a section of the console. "Here, try this," she suggested, reaching her hand across and touching a control.
"The display slowed and stilled. "That's done it!" Spaselopedus announced. Pressing one of the controls, he watched the picture on the vid list by until the freighter passed into and then out of view. When he tried to move it back, another ship sped by in a blur. There was a flash and debris began drifting by.
"Omniscient Seg!" Spaselopedus whispered.
"What?" asked Linda.
"I think the freighter's been destroyed."
"Oh no! Can you see who did it?"
"Yes," said Spaselopedus calmly. "They're coming over to us now."
"Who is it?" she asked.
"I don't recognize them, not that I should really. It looks to be a mid-range cruiser I guess. I don't make out any ID though."
"What do you think they'll do?" she asked.
As if in answer to her question, the incoming message indicator came to life. "Ahoy lifepod," called a female voice, "This is Captain Astra Ande of the Koplushian Ship Sentinel. Prepare to be taken aboard."
Linda touched his arm. "What do we do now?" she said. "What'll they do to us?"
Spaselopedus' patience with this situation was wearing thin. All he really wanted was to be a simple Observer again, but ever since he returned from Karpla, he felt like nothing but a target.
He turned to her, incredulous. "How in Hell should I know that? I'm nothing but an Observer! I'm not supposed to be adventuring."
Frustrated, he pressed the transmit button. "Attention ship, What are your intentions?" he turned to Linda defiantly and shrugged.
"That'll show them Spence." She smiled back.
A message came from the speaker again. "Stay calm Observer Barinium. Your safety is assured."
"Hmm, they know who I am," he said relaxing into the safety web.
"Question is, who are They?" said Linda.
* * *
Kiprim smiled as he watched the freighter explode on the vidplate. And so ends the career of Observer Spaselopedus Barinium, he thought. He felt the effect of a hyperspace jump in his stomach . The image on the display was replaced by that of the Captain of the ship.
"We barely got away with that one, Kiprim. Another damn ship emerged from hyperspace just as we finished. They almost saw us."
"Good work Captain. I'll be sure I mention your excellence to the Supervisor."
"I'd be grateful for that, sir. Have you any other tasks for us?"
"I'll let you know," said Kiprim. He activated the secure channel in his implant. Soon the Supervisor appeared on the display in silhouette.
"You have a report, Kiprim?"
"Yes Sir, Observer Barinium is forever silenced." He allowed himself a small smile.
"I'm surprised it took you this long," said the Super. "I understood you were going to trap the Observer when he attempted to retrieve his Karplan companion."
"That was my intention sir but they evaded the guards. I was unable to be there personally."
"Then you claimed you would capture the entire Underground cell in the tubes."
"Yes Sir, but Prysin had become unreliable. It was necessary to dispatch him."
"Very well, I have yet another segment for you on this assignment. Since we now know the Karplans have developed hyperspace technology we must destroy it. Their spirit must be broken so they never desire to leave their world."
"I understand Sir. Will I be joining a strike team then?"
"Karpla is too restricted to allow a team in. You will go alone and complete the mission. I have already arranged for the Eruithairkans to allow you passage through their territory."
"Yes Sir," he said. The image of the Supervisor vanished from his eye. I know this is part punishment and partly a test of my abilities, thought Kiprim. If I can pull this off I'm sure I'll have regained his trust.
* * *
The lifepod was ferried into the landing bay of the Sentinel. Spaselopedus waited until the proper welcome had been gathered before opening and exiting the pod. He then gestured for Linda to emerge. They walked toward the small group near the door of the bay. Spaselopedus noticed an Observer, and by the uniforms, the Captain, and the First Officer.
"What if they just put us in the brig?" asked Linda in whispered English.
"It's not as likely as you think," he answered. "I am an Observer don't forget."
"That didn't help us before."
Spaselopedus frowned. "Be still and let me do the talking, Linda," he whispered as they approached the group.
The Captain was a middle-aged Koplushian woman, her graying brown hair was drawn back in a working braid. The ship's Observer was of Onifian stock, being of short stature. A ring of white hair surrounded his bald pate. The first Officer was a tall, thin Vritian, his olive skin standing out against the light gray tunic.
The silver-tuniced Captain stepped forward, "Greetings Observer Barinium and guest."
"Greetings Captain, Allow me to introduce Linda Prescott of Karpla."
The Captain nodded as she said, "Welcome Observer, I am Captain Ande of the Koplushian ship, Sentinel." Then, indicating the others, "This is my first officer, Commander Roines and Observer Gudin."
Spaselopedus was unsure as to what was supposed to happen next. Spaceship protocol was not his forte and he had no idea how much they knew. He bumbled out, "Very good... uh, Captain Ande... Thank you for your timely rescue."
Observer Gudin cleared his throat and said, "Captain Ande, I expect Observer Barinium and his guest would like to freshen up before giving um, deposition."
"Yes," agreed Ande. "That would do. Let us reconvene in the conference chamber in say two hours?"
Spaselopedus, quickly putting on an air of importance, said, "That would suffice Captain."
Then Commander Roines gestured and a red-tuniced steward appeared. "Show the Observer and his guest to quarters and see to their needs," he said.
* * *
As they were led out of earshot, Roines asked, "Do you think he bought it?"
Ande's delicate hand went to her chin, "If not, we can always move to your back-up plan."
Gudin joined the group. "Or tell him the straight truth." He finished stroking his pate, "He'll have to know eventually."
"Yes," said Ande, "but in it's proper time. He'll need--preparing."
"Nothing's ever simple with you Observers," grumbled Roines.
"At least not with our type." She said loosening her tunic strap a bit. "Well, let's get back underway before the Space Guard spots us."
"Yea," agreed Roines, "we're usually in enough trouble without them on our backs too."
They left the hangar bay and headed for the bridge.
[Chapters 11-15][Index][Chapters 21-25]
I hope you have enjoyed reading this section of my novel, The Observer. I would enjoy hearing any comments on this sample of my work.