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THE OBSERVER

By

David E. Rutan

Copyright © 1999 David E. Rutan

Chapter: [21][22][23][24][25]

 

 

A novel of approximately 72,500 words

 

 

 

Uncloaked

 

 

The quarters were small, dim, and double occupancy. Spaselopedus glanced at Linda. She didn't appear to care, or didn't foresee the circumstances. He turned to the Steward. "Where will Ms. Prescott's quarters be, Steward?"

The Steward looked bewildered for a moment and then said, "These are the only quarters available on the ship, Observer."

This is totally improper, thought Spaselopedus, Unless...

"I suppose your--companion could be put in Ande's compartment..."

"Don't you mean Captain Ande?" he asked testily.

"Uh, yes, in Captain Ande's compartment." the steward hurried to the door and exited.

"Well," said Linda, seated on a bunk, "that seemed strange even to me."

Spaselopedus stood looking at the door, thinking. "Yes, very strange indeed."

"He didn't act very much like the steward on the Cognizance," she added.

"Yes, true," Spaselopedus agreed. "He left off titles--"

"And wasn't very subservient," she finished.

"Maybe I can find out something from the ship's computer," he said activating his dispex and taking the few steps to the small desk. He sat down and activated his dispex. The direct route would no doubt be closed to him, so he began exercising his repertoire of computer skills.

Several levels deep into the system, he still had made no progress. The protections in place were rather good, but Spaselopedus was still confident. It was like a game exploring all the areas on the ship's net.

He was now several dozen levels into the system, still no progress. For every blockage he passed, two more waited. Suddenly his dispex went blank and a simple message appeared 'Do not attempt to flick your way out' was all it said.

A pause, then his dispex went blank and refused to respond.

"Saskuit and Askar!" he oathed, removing the 'spex. "Linda?" he looked over to see her asleep on her bunk. The door chimed and Spaselopedus checked the cabin's chrono. It was time for their meeting with Captain Ande.

"Wake up ,Linda, Linda!" he raised his voice. The door chimed again. "Just a moment!" he answered. Linda let out with a snort then stirred. Spaselopedus gingerly touched her arm. "Linda, wake up. It's time for our meeting with the Captain."

She opened her eyes and smacked her lips. "Oh, I feel like crap. Why'd you let me go to sleep?"

"No time, we have to go," he said attempting to straighten his jacket as he stepped to the door. It chimed again as he opened it to reveal the steward again.

"Observer Barinium, Captain Ande is waiting to receive you," he said.

"Very good," Spaselopedus said, regaining his air of superiority. "Lead the way," he stated as Linda preceded him out the door.

"Uh, Observer," began the steward looking uncomfortable, "the invitation is for you only."

"Ms. Prescott will come with me," he stated. He really didn't like the idea of being separated in an unknown situation.

The steward started, and repeated, "Captain Ande was very specific that I bring only you, Observer."

Linda touched his hand and whispered, "Let's do as they say until we find out what they want."

Spaselopedus looked at Linda a moment. Her face showed confidence. He noted her short hair was mussed from impromptu sleep. "I'll return soon," he said.

The Steward began to lead him down the short corridor. After noticing Linda's unkempt appearance, he became painfully aware of his own. His close-cropped hair was no problem, but his mouth felt pasty, and his suit was horribly wrinkled. His time would have been better spent freshening up than the fruitless exercises he'd had in the ship's computer system.

Spaselopedus didn't know much about spacecraft, but he estimated perhaps a dozen souls could inhabit this shell in anything resembling comfort, yet the corridor remained clear of everyone but the steward and themselves. When they entered the chamber, three people awaited them. Captain Ande was seated at the far end, on her right sat Observer Gudin. On her left was Commander Roines.

The Steward announced him. "Observer Barinium, Captain Ande and crew. Please take the empty seat at the table."

"Thank you, I can see where to sit!" Spaselopedus snapped.

The Steward didn't seem to notice and left the chamber.

"Greetings Observer Barinium," said Ande placing her hands upon the desk, "you've met our Observer and Commander Roines."

"Greetings," Spaselopedus said taking his seat.

 

* * *

 

Linda opened the door to the cabin. No one was in the straight corridor of the ship, so she left her cabin and began to look around. With her new-found language ability she was able to read the labels on the doors of the ship. The one she was interested in was labeled 'HEAD'. She listened at the door, heard nothing, and went in.

She came back into the corridor a few minutes later, cleaned and refreshed. If nothing else was sure, the Koplushians knew how to make efficient rest rooms. In the corridor there was a hole in the deck to her left with a cylindrical ladder going down.

Linda remembered climbing up it to get to this deck from the pod bay. To her right the corridor extended about twenty meters. There were about a dozen doors. Linda decided to try them and see what lay behind.

The first one she tried opened onto a large room. It was apparent to Linda that a woman lived in it. The walls were decorated with paintings of colorful flowers and a bank of shelves contained dainty knickknacks. There was an easel set up with a half-finished oil painting on it. Well, at least art isn't lost in this Alliance of his, she thought. Linda left to continue her exploration.

Of the next set of doors, the one on the right was where the steward had put Spencer and herself. On the left, the label read 'Gudin'. Linda listened at the door, heard nothing and cautiously went in.

This room must have a male occupant, she thought. The deck was covered with discarded clothes and papers. She picked up a printout. It was filled with some technical jargon she couldn't make out. Linda dropped it and left.

The next two doors led to unoccupied rooms which were being used for storage. She noted piles of little gizmos piled along the walls in various states of assembly. Linda decided to try the next two doors.

The room on the right was also used for storage. Cartons of food lined the walls from deck to overhead. The sight of them reminded her of her empty stomach.

The room on the other side of the corridor was also obviously occupied by a male. Swords were hung on every flat part of the walls and leaned against anything that would take the weight. Linda wondered at the display of blades and decided to try the last two doors.

The last room on her right was set up with a table and chairs. It had boardgames set up and a food dispenser. Linda pressed a button on it and a red cube emerged from a chute and landed on a tray. Swell, she thought, all I need is more soap to eat.

She noticed that the doors across from this room were labeled 'BRIDGE' and 'CONFERENCE' and so decided to leave them be. She picked up the food cube, examined it, and took a bite. As she expected, it tasted terrible. One thing's for sure, If I don't get home soon I'm going to lose a lot of weight, she thought.

 

* * *

 

"Observer Barinium," began Captain Ande, "I understand you are here under strange circumstances. Please enlighten me as to your activities after leaving planet Karpla."

Again Spaselopedus found himself recounting his ordeals. He told them everything: how he was taken prisoner and accused of the crime of violating the protected status of Karpla. He told them how he was kidnapped from his cell by an Underground agent, and how he ended up on the freighter. When he had finished Ande sat back in her seat.

Roines moved forward and placed his hands on the table.

"Can you tell us the names of the people who helped you? I noticed you conveniently left them out."

Spaselopedus looked down at the table for a moment, then up at Roines. He had omitted the names of the Underground because they had helped him. He was unsure how he would have fared with a trial jury, but the fact was that Kelgin and Shirma had tried to help him.

"Observer Barinium," said Ande, "I remind you of your Observer's Bond--no changes, additions, or omissions to the facts."

Spaselopedus glanced at the ship's Observer, he was not looking at anyone. He was staring at the chronometer over the door.

"I must admit," he said turning to Ande, "I neglected to include the names of those who freed me in deference to their assistance."

"Really," said Roines, "you've stated they kidnapped you and later placed you and Ms. Prescott on a ship which nearly led to your death. I hardly call that resounding support for your position."

"True," said Spaselopedus, " but they also retrieved Ms. Prescott from Detention."

"No doubt an act they committed in order to curry your favor," said Roines.

"Observer Barinium, do you believe the Underground cause is just?" asked Ande.

Spaselopedus was now confused. Why were they so interested in something which didn't have any chance of affecting anything? The Underground was a joke. The Council couldn't be as ruthless as they said. Yet how had he ended up on Karpla? A planet in Eruithairkan space, a planet where people just didn't go. And what about that Kiprim?

He found himself looking down at the table in thought when he was suddenly roused.

"Observer! Answer me!" yelled Ande.

His head popped up to meet her gaze.

"Do you or do you not support the Colonial Underground's cause?" she said.

His mouth dropped open in surprise, "I... I... feel something is wrong. I don't understand it, but my recent experiences on Karpla have let me see things in a different light. If what I saw on the vid that night was true, and the Council was involved in me being kidnapped to Karpla, then 'yes' I agree with the Underground. The Council is wrong in what it is doing for our people." He was breathing shallowly when he finished and feeling none too good.

Captain Ande said, "Steward, take the Observer back to his cabin please and bring us the Karplan woman."

Spaselopedus stood up and turned to leave. Something in the back of his mind was bothering him, something that just wouldn't fall into place. Suddenly it came to him.

He swung around and pointed to Ande, "I don't know what you think you're doing Captain, but I know you're not who you claim to be." Ande simply smiled and stood up to equal his gaze. "Well done, Observer Barinium."


 

 

 

 

Quandary

 

 

Spaselopedus was seated again when the steward brought Linda into the conference room to join them. It made sense now: the steward, the Captain and the ship's Observer, none of them had seemed to be in the right place.

"Greetings Ms. Prescott," said Captain Ande. "Please be seated."

Linda did as she was asked and responded, "Greetings Captain, I thanketh thee for thy time."

"Observer Barinium has done a good job of finding us out," she said, "Would you tell us what tipped our hand Observer?"

"For starters," said Spaselopedus, "your steward was disrespectful and incompetent and I doubt if your Observer could notice a star right in front of him. Since you're obviously not in the Koplushian military, would you mind telling me who you really are?"

Captain Ande's face took on a look of slight embarrassment. She looked at her crew members and then at Spaselopedus.

"You are correct," she said. "Our steward is actually the ship's Warp-tech, Modor, and Gudin there is our Computer-tech.

Spaselopedus looked at them and nodded. "Are you the ship's Captain then or is Roines?" he said.

"Though I am actually an Observer, " said Ande, "I act as the Captain of this ship. Roines is my second-in-command."

Linda leaned into Spaselopedus and whispered in English, "I feel like I came in during the middle of a show. What's going on?"

"I'm trying to find that out," said Spaselopedus. "All I know is that they're not really in the Spaceguard."

"We call ourselves the Sentinels," said Ande. "We are an independent cell of the Underground."

"It wasn't you who destroyed the freighter then?" said Spaselopedus.

"No," said Roines, "we intercepted information that the freighter was going to be destroyed and only arrived in time to find you."

"So who did it?" said Spaselopedus crossing his arms.

"I'm sure it was the KIT," said Gudin pulling at the cloth of his uniform.

"Again with the KIT," said Spaselopedus slapping a hand on the table.

"You've heard of it then?" said Roines.

"Yes. The Underground told me they killed Prysin."

"It's very likely they did. We know he was a disaffected KIT operative," said Ande. "He was helping us greatly."

Spaselopedus rubbed his forehead then his chin. "Ever since I escaped Karpla I've been bombarded by secret organizations that I never even thought existed. It all sounds like the plot in a Captain Hero vid. I just want to know what's going on and how I can get back to my normal life."

Ande pursed her lips and frowned. "Barinium, your normal life is over," she said, her voice was soft now. "You must face that fact. I guarantee if you try to go back home they'll find you."

"This is ridiculous!" yelled Spaselopedus standing up. "The Council does not go around doing the things you say."

"Believe me they have," she said. "Did you contact your Guild Representative when you were in detention?"

Spaselopedus got a bad feeling about her question. "Yes I did."

"Did he offer you some kind of choice between a trial and helping him?" Ande's voice became very measured.

"Yes, he did."

"What was your answer?"

"I told him I'd think about it."

Ande sighed. "If you hadn't been freed by the Underground what would you have done?"

Spaselopedus hated hypothetical questions. Observers were trained to remember facts not philosophies. "I honestly don't know what I would have said."

"It's a good chance that guild Representative was a member of the KIT trying to recruit you," said Ande.

"I've heard enough," he said as he turned towards the door. "You're all just a bunch of malcontents trying to undermine our great society."

He pushed Modor, still in the garb of ship's steward aside and strode through the door, down the corridor and into the cabin they assigned him. A bunch of farcical nonsense, he thought as he removed his light overcoat and hung it by the door. The Koplushian Council cares for its citizens. It doesn't harm them. Spaselopedus kicked off his boots and laid down on the bunk. He felt very tired after all he'd been through. Let them wonder, he thought pulling the sheet over his shoulder. I'm going to sleep. Then I'll see if I can't get off this ship.

 

 

Spaselopedus found himself digging a ditch in a field. His fine knee-high boots were caked with mud from the activity and some of it had gotten on the knees of his white trousers. He pressed the shovel into the ground so he could free his hands. As he attempted to brush the dirt from his knees they simply got dirtier.

He heard a voice in the distance. It was Barbara and Linda calling him in to supper from the house. He smiled and took a step. He didn't move. His feet had sunk ankle deep into the mud.

Lifting his feet out of the mucky soil, he began walking to them. His feet felt heavy with a thick layer of mud on them. Out of a clear sky it began to rain.

Another step and he slipped and fell flat on his face in a puddle. His clothes were now soaked with mud. Each time he tried to stand, he slipped and fell back down. He resigned to crawl to Linda and Barbara.

Spaselopedus heard a loud roar overhead, like thunder. He looked up and saw a huge silver spacecraft slowly coming down. He recognized it as a Koplushian battlecrusier, the type that had been used centuries before when his people had first discovered Karpla.

In horror he realized his arms and legs had sunk into deep mud. He tried to get free but merely sank deeper.

"Help!" he cried. " Linda, Barbara, Help me!"

He continued sinking, paralyzed by the mud until only his chin was above the surface. "Why doesn't some one help me?" he panicked.

The battlecrusier began firing missiles. They struck Barbara's house and it exploded into flaming bits. As his head sank beneath the mud and his lung capacity to hold breath expired, he fell onto the deck and woke up.

 

 

"Saskuit!" he whispered, gasping for air. Spaselopedus checked the time. He had only slept about three hours.

He got up and put his boots back on. He had just gotten them buckled when someone knocked on the door. "Who is it?" he asked.

"It's me, Linda," her voice was muffled by the door. "Can I come in?"

Spaselopedus was glad to hear her voice after his bad dream. He walked to the door and opened it. "Of course you can come in, unless you're working for them."

She walked in and took a seat at the small table. "Did you have a nice nap?"

"How did you know I was sleeping?" he said.

Linda smiled. "I peeked in on you about an hour ago."

"Oh. I hope they haven't hired you to convince me of their story."

"No," she said, "but I have been studying your history. It's quite fascinating really."

"I'm glad you think so. Your Kopanset is much improved."

"Leedam said my original transfer was meant for writing poetry. He gave me a quick session with that strange headgear to straighten it out."

"Who's Leedam?" said Spaselopedus.

"Leedam Gudin, the Computer-tech. He's the short one."

"Oh, him."

"Why didn't you tell me your real name is Spaselopedus Barinium?" she said. "I feel stupid now having called you Spencer all this time."

He smiled at what he was about to say. "I had enough trouble with you without trying to correct my name. Besides, I like being called 'Spencer' by you."

Linda's face showed no change as she said, "I don't suppose you'd like to tell me what this is all about? I know their side. What's yours?"

Spaselopedus took the other seat at the table. "A few months ago I was living a happy life being an Observer. Apparently I made the mistake of showing off my computer skills to a friend of mine. Next thing I know I find myself beaten up on your world.

"When I finally get back home, the Council has me arrested, and an underground group kidnaps me because they think I can help them change the galaxy."

"What is it that got you in trouble?"

"Just a little memo I caught in a politico's dispex."

"Did you investigate to see if it was real?"

He looked at her for a moment. "Linda," he sighed, "I dismissed it that night and went to bed," he slapped his hand on the table, "Everyone else is making a big deal out of it."

"So you don't think it was real?"

Spaselopedus shrugged. "I don't know. I guess it was since I'm in this mess."

Linda leaned back slightly in her chair, "They're taking us to Ozmodin to meet with the Underground."

"Are they?" he leaned back and crossed his arms.

"Astra believes if they investigate, they'll find some hard evidence to prove it was done by the Koplushian Council."

Spaselopedus was tired of the whole situation. "I really don't know what to believe anymore," he said shaking his head. "Either my life is truly over, or I've been thrown in among radicals."

"Maybe what you need is to find out the truth," Linda said.

"That sounds fine, but the reasons Observers exist is because people make the truth whatever pleases them."

"Then why don't you help the Sentinels investigate on Ozmodin and try to find the truth for yourself?"

What could it hurt, he thought. If the Sentinels were right they were right. If they were wrong, he could always turn them in to the authorities later. Maybe he could use that to get back the life he had.

"Maybe I should help them investigate," he said. "It certainly couldn't do any harm."


 

 

 

 

Hero

 

 

Spaselopedus awoke suddenly from another bad dream. He looked down from the top bunk and saw his new roommate, Rurn Roines. Linda had been given the quarters they had shared for a few hours. It was more proper this way, but Spaselopedus admitted that he felt her absence.

The chrono above the door read 05:08. He desperately wanted to go back to sleep. Sleep was one of the few things that blocked out thought and memory in an Observer. Right now he didn't care to remember or think about his circumstances.

It was painful to remember the life he would never have again: the cushy, easy life full of esteem and respect. He might still be an Observer by fact, but as far as the Alliance cared he was a criminal--a breaker of the protected planet status of planet Karpla. It was a prevaricated charge that he would be unable to disprove.

The thought that the Council might be capable of doing this to him, a Barinium, sent chills through his mind. What else has the Council been doing, he thought, and for how long?

Spaselopedus sat up carefully and slid down to the deck. On his way to the door he tripped and knocked over one of the swords that Roines kept by his bed. Roines snapped to wakefulness immediately.

"Who is it?" he snarled grasping for the fallen blade.

"It's me, the Observer," Spaselopedus whispered.

"What're you doing up?"

"I'm going to the head. Go back to sleep."

Roines, who was propped up on one arm, replaced the sword against his bed and laid back down without another word. Spaselopedus quietly dressed and left the room.

 

 

He emerged from the ship's head, clean and pressed. Another of the ship's chronos showed the time a 05:28. Spaselopedus sighed. Time surely slowed when there was nothing to do. Roines had shown him the common room the night before so he decided to go there.

The lights were off and he had to fumble for the switch. After a few tries he found success, and light flooded the empty common room. He went over to the gaming computer and donned a pair of gaming gloves and dispex.

There was a Captain hero VR adventure installed in the 'spex. With eagerness he flicked the appropriate icons and lost himself in the story.

 

 

Spaselopedus Barinium was Captain Hero. In his gleaming, armored environment suit he protected the newly formed Alliance of Sentient Beings from wrongdoers. He stood at the edge of a cliff overlooking the band of sand between it and Koplushia's largest sea, Jileen.

His visor display showed a land vehicle moving along the beach. It stopped and a figure emerged. Spaselopedus zoomed in the display with his helmet's magnification ability. The figure was a Normian contraband smuggler.

As he watched, a skimmer-yacht approached from across the water. Spaselopedus knew that as Captain Hero he must stop this activity immediately. He leaped off the cliff and activated his line thrower. It caught on a rock outcropping and allowed him to expertly swing down to the beach.

The man with the groundcar was Dr. Destroyer, the contraband Kingpin of the district. Destroyer spotted him as he landed on the beach.

"So, Hero," his scarred face forming into a scowl, "you think you can stop me eh?"

"My presence here confirms it," said Spaselopedus as Captain hero through his helmet's loudspeaker. Spaselopedus raised his right arm in preparation to swing over to Dr. Destroyer when something unexpected happened.

"Let's see you take me now," said Destroyer reaching into his vehicle and pulling out a young bound and gagged female. She must have been drugged for her limbs hung limp. Dr. Destroyer pointed a menacing energy pistol at her neck.

Everything changed at that point. I must save her! Spaselopedus thought. Nothing else matters. He glanced at the approaching skimmer. It was still a few minutes away.

"Give up the girl and I'll let you go free," he said.

Destroyer arched his back in laughter, "I don't believe that for a moment, Hero."

"You have my word," said Spaselopedus. "Her life is more important than any of your foul misdeeds, Destroyer."

Destroyer looked at the approaching skimmer, then back at Spaselopedus. "Alright here!" he yelled throwing the girl on the sand and jumping into his groundcar.

Spaselopedus activated his line thrower and swung to the girl. Dr. Destroyer's vehicle was speeding away. A quick examination revealed the girl to be a mere mannequin. Seg and Saskuit! he thought.

Spaselopedus swung along the cliff again to try and catch Dr. Destroyer, but the vehicle was too fast and too far away. He drew his power sword and threw it at the escaping groundcar.

Guiding the flying sword with his helmet display, it quickly overtook the vehicle and struck home in the power supply. The car exploded in a shower of sparks.

 

"Who's winning?" came a voice from outside the game. Spaselopedus looked over the top of the dispex and saw Linda coming in with Observer Ande. He deactivated the VR and removed the gloves. Linda had been given different clothes.

Ande was dressed as an Observer. A white, long-tailed coat covered her collarless blouse. Knee-high boots and baggy pants completed the picture, (the feminine cognate of his own standard attire.)

The sight of Linda comforted him. He still felt responsible for bringing her out into danger.

If only he wasn't in this situation he could show her around his world. But neither Koplushia nor the Alliance was his world anymore. His had been a world of safety and peace, not of running from imprisonment.

"Good morning," Linda greeted.

"Good morning Linda," he answered standing, "Observer Ande."

Ande nodded and slipped over to the dispenser for something to drink. "Do either of you two want anything?"

"Do you have any maich?" asked Spaselopedus.

Ande laughed. "In your dreams. Does this ship look like the Luxury Deluxe? I haven't had sickle-snake milk in ages!"

"Sorry," he said meekly, "water is fine."

"Here," she said, "have this juice; it's very good." Ande placed a glass in front of Linda as well.

He sipped some red liquid from the glass. "Mmm, it tastes like the red foodcubes."

Linda, about to sip from her own glass suddenly froze and put it down.

"What's wrong Linda?" asked Ande. She glanced between Spaselopedus and Linda.

"Well," began Linda, "to me your foodcubes taste like... like soap." She shrugged and looked down at the table for a moment.

"Soap? What have you been giving her Barinium?"

Spaselopedus knew she was merely mocking him using his surname, but it still stung nonetheless.

"Like I've had a choice lately of what to eat. I've been captured, kidnapped, chased, and nearly blown up," he said defensively. "Believe it or not, this is not my idea of a good time."

Linda squeaked a tiny laugh as Ande sat down with them.

"I'm sorry Spence, but you make it sound so inconsequential."

"Observer," said Ande gently, "Spence if I may..."

"I'd really prefer Spaselopedus if you must." he interrupted with testiness in his voice.

"Very well, Spaselopedus, I really didn't mean to offend. You're among friends here, really. Tell me something about yourself."

"You mean with all your underground contacts you don't have my complete record yet?"

She sighed. "Yes, actually we do but I was hoping to relax you a bit." Ande stood up slowly and strode to the food dispenser. "Want anything?"

"Yes, bring me something and hold the soap," said Linda squeaking again. She sipped experimentally at her drink. "This isn't half bad."

Spaselopedus looked at her. She seemed to be taking the situation well. How else could she take it?, he thought. Everything was new to her... A few days previous Linda Prescott believed Earth was the only world in space. He wasn't sure if the new truth pleased her or not.

"You should lighten up, Spence," Linda said quietly in English.

"Sounded to me last night we're being sent back into trouble," he glummed.

"Listen to me Spaceman." Linda raised her voice though still in English. "This ship is the best I've had it since you stole the Pod from Lunacorp. You'd do better to try and make the best of our current situation."

"Calm down," he whispered as if to keep the matter secret. "I'm sorry Linda. I'm not used to this. I'm supposed to be an Observer, not a participant."

Ande slowly approached and placed a bowl of foodcubes on the table. She took a seat and skewered one of the cubes with a two-pronged fork. "That language sounds so... pardon the expression--alien."

"It is alien," said Spaselopedus.

"It doesn't seem so to me," said Linda.

Ande took a bite from the cube. "We'll be arriving at Ozmodin in two days," she said. "I've asked Roines to give you two some self-defense lessons later."

"Are you expecting trouble?"

"No," she said, "but you've got to be able to take care of yourself. You've left the safety of a Council-protected existence behind you."

"I could probably show you a few tricks, Spence," said Linda. "Lunacorp had a great program."

Great! thought Spaselopedus. The men are supposed to protect the women, not the other way 'round.

 

 

"Oof!" exclaimed Spaselopedus landing on his back. Roines had dropped him to the deck like a rag doll--again. He had hoped to show he could hold his own against a foe, but evidently, not knowing how to fight, this was a mistaken expectation.

"Are you alright S.B.?" Roines had taken to calling him by his initials, much to his chagrin.

"Yea, I'm still alive," he groaned, rubbing his shoulder, then his right knee.

"You need to dodge more," said Linda. "Like this." She demonstrated a move.

The three of them were in the cargo hold. Containers of supplies were moved aside to improvise a gym. To Spaselopedus it was a torture chamber. He was downed more times than he cared to remember. Despite his recent activities on Barbara's homestead, his muscles ached, reminding him of his mistakes.

"Hey, where did you learn that?" asked Roines.

"Lunacorp on Karpla," she said.

"Maybe you could teach me something." Then to Spaselopedus, "Here S.B., try it with a staff."

Roines handed the Observer a length of solid plastic, the length of the staff that gentlemen carried while planetside. He took it in his hand and brandished it at Roines.

"Here, let me help," said Linda moving behind Spaselopedus. "Now when he comes at you, duck like this and sweep the staff like this."

"Alright, got it," he snapped.

"Here I come," announced Roines. He gave a wail as he approached Spaselopedus, but the Observer kept his nerve. He ducked low and swept Roines' leg with the staff. Roines fell and cheered as he hit the deck and rolled back into stance. "Very good!" he said.

Spaselopedus was breathing heavy but felt good and less helpless. The rest of the session he and Roines practiced the takedown maneuver from different angles and using different situations. Linda, looking on, offered needed support.

"Let's go up to the common room for a drink," said Roines finally. "We'll try some more tomorrow. Later I'll give you two some tips on keeping out of trouble without fighting."

Wiping the sweat from his brow, Spaselopedus walked over to Linda. "I hope I don't ever have to use this stuff. I wouldn't know what to do once I knocked them down."

"Simple--if they're trying to kill you,--run! Otherwise, just keep them down!"

Spaselopedus wasn't sure if she was serious or not. "Somehow I don't picture it ever being simple," he said limping to the ladder to go up.

 

 

In the common room, Roines brought a bowl of foodcubes to the table and sat down with Linda and Spaselopedus.

"There," he said. "We deserve a snack."

Spaselopedus speared a cube and took a bite. "Roines, how did you all get into this situation?"

"I was wondering that myself," said Linda. She took a sip from her glass.

Roines leaned back in his chair and glanced at the ceiling. "Well, let's see," he said, "I was serving in the Spaceguard, a Lieutenant, when we received a distress call from a Normian Merchant Marine. As we pulled alongside, I noticed there was another ship docked to it."

"We tried hailing the Normian vessel but they didn't reply. Finally, my Captain ordered up a boarding party and we linked up with an airlock. We got aboard no trouble, but everyone was dead--killed."

Spaselopedus looked incredulous. "Any sign of who did it? Was it the other ship?"

"Well, we figured for some reason, they were attacked by the other vessel but killed each other off in the fight--hand to hand--stunners and blades."

Spaselopedus glanced at Linda; her lips were pursed. "Don't you guys have phasers or something?" she said.

Roines looked at her and then at Spaselopedus. He had a questioning look on his face. Spaselopedus shrugged and said, "What is a phaser?"

Linda frowned. "You know..." she made a mock gun with her fingers, "a death ray."

"I think you mean a beamer," said Spaselopedus.

"Beamers are highly illegal Linda," said Roines leaning over the table, "even to the military. We're trained with stunners and swords for hand to hand combat."

"But why?" she said. "If a weapon exists, surely the outlaws will use them."

"But on a spacecraft energy weapons are extremely hazardous," said Roines. "A beamer set on maximum can punch a hole right through the hull and kill everyone."

"Oh," she said.

Roines smiled at her. "Now where was I? Oh yes, we checked out both ships; they were still spaceworthy. The other ship had a Vritian registry, but the logs of both ships were missing."

"Missing?" said Spaselopedus. "Did you try lost-data retrieval on them?"

Roines slowly shook his head. "You misunderstand, S.B., I don't mean erased or destroyed, I mean the log recorders were missing--physically gone from the ships."

"Hmm," began Spaselopedus, "who would have taken them? They would need a third ship to get away."

"That's what I thought too, but my Captain would hear none of it. He wanted to put in a report of our findings and get back to our patrol. 'Let's give it over to the Peacekeepers he kept saying."

"But how did you become one of these... Sentinels?" Spaselopedus asked.

"As I said, I didn't want to drop it, so I started quietly investigating the matter of those two ships. Every time we stopped at a port I looked up anyone who might be able to help me." Roines shook his head and smiled. "I met a lot of shady characters

"Did you find anything out?" said Linda.

"No, everyone I asked just clammed up, but months later, I happened upon one of those missing logs. It was in the one place I never should have expected--my cabin."

Spaselopedus straightened in his chair. "In your cabin?"

"Yes," said Roines holding up his hand, "we were in port on Shakirao, one of the corporate worlds. I came back to the ship to sleep and there it was, the log from the Normian ship right on my bunk. My cabinmate was out so I went to the captain. He told me to bring the log to him. When I went back to my bunk, there were these Peacekeepers there to arrest me. 'Obstruction of justice' they called it. 'Theft of state evidence.'"

"Hmm. What did you do?" asked Spaselopedus.

"I went with them of course. They took me to the local constabulary and questioned me for hours. I kept pleading my innocence, but they just kept at me. Finally they decided to move me to a cell."

"Sounds familiar," said Linda.

"I was able to make a break for it. I escaped and disappeared into the shadows of Shakirao City. It was later I found a contact with the Underground. They hooked me up with the captain of a ship who sympathized with them and I joined his crew."

"And they were the Sentinels?" asked Spaselopedus.

"Oh no. We didn't become the Sentinels till a few years later. See, well, the captain answered a distress call and took on Observer Ande from the Underground." Roines frowned and bowed his head. "We got boarded on that trip and had to fight them off. Well, we got them all and their ship, but the captain got seriously wounded and died."

By now Spaselopedus' head was beginning to spin. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. How could the Koplushian Council be doing such things? He tried to remain calm and asked, "You killed the authorities?"

"Yes," said Roines, "they were trying to kill us. Anyway, we split up and took over the other ship--this ship. Observer Ande and Gudin came with me. The Underground found us Warp-tech Modor later."

"And that's when you became the Sentinels?" said Linda.

"Yes," Roines nodded, "we decided to go on the offensive and try to check some of the misdeeds of the Council. Unfortunately we can only get to the ones in this quadrant of the Alliance before they happen."

"How do you find out what they're planning?" said Linda.

"The Underground mainly. They keep a close watch on communications and contact us via coded hyper-wave."

Spaselopedus reached up and smoothed his hair. "And the Underground has been waiting for me to see a memo and fall into their hands to prove to everyone else these sort of things actually happen?"

"Not you in particular S.B., but it needed to be an Observer. The few times similar circumstances have occurred the KIT got to them first."

Spaselopedus gave a hard look at Roines "If Ande is an Observer and she has witnessed KIT activities, then why can't she give an affidavit?"

Roines looked toward the door and back at Spaselopedus. His voice was low, "While Ande is an Observer," he said, "her credentials were nullified. She has no real standing as an Observer. You on the other hand are everything we need."

Spaselopedus looked at Linda and sighed, "I just can't believe it's happening to me."


 

 

 

 

Ozmodin

 

 

"It's wonderful!" Linda whispered to Spaselopedus as they saw Ozmodin on the vidscreen. Observer Ande sat near the center of a semicircle of controls posted by Rurn Roines and Gudin.

"I suppose it is wondrous to you," Spaselopedus said. "Of all the traveling we've been through, this is the first time you've gotten to really experience it."

"I never thought I'd like to really travel to the stars. Dr. Michaels would kill to be here now."

"Your Doctor Michaels would have been mindwiped and returned to Karpla had he ventured out," Observer Ande said. "You two were very fortunate."

Fortunate to have my entire life ripped from me, thought Spaselopedus. "That's one way to consider it," he said.

Ande gave an understanding nod. "We'll be checking in with the entry station momentarily, then we'll land."

"Are you expecting any trouble getting in?" asked Spaselopedus. "We're not exactly in the regulations."

"We'll have no problem. We're known on Ozmodin--in the circles that count."

"And the circles that don't count?" said Spaselopedus. "If they knew who we were couldn't they report us?"

"Everything is taken care of." She smiled. "Don't worry about it."

He regarded the vidscreen. Ozmodin had grown larger during the conversation. Though it was only half lit by the system's star, he could make out coastlines of continents through the clouds. On the night side, he saw one or two points of illumination.

"As I recall, it's still rather sparse in population--only about nine hundred million," he said.

"Earth has over eight billion," Linda said. "What must it be like to have all that room?"

"You're mother wasn't too crowded."

"The western part of North America is an exception. You should see the East, or Europe, especially. They really pack them in."

"I guess Koplushia's twenty billion would be pretty crowded if we didn't have all that land area," Spaselopedus said.

Linda was quiet for a moment, then shook her head. "Twenty billion!" she whispered.

 

 

The check in with the entry station and the landing was routine. They set down in the space port of Widatin, the city where the incident had happened. The ship's systems were secured and the crew gathered in the conference room.

"I don't have to tell you people how important this job may be," said Ande. "We need to find substantiating evidence of the Council's involvement in Ozmodin's affairs."

Roines stood and leaned on the table with both arms. "If we could get the records of everyone in or out of the research facility before the explosion--"

"What we need is someone who can get into the system through the air vents," said Gudin. "Someone who can't be traced or found out."

Linda gently elbowed Spaselopedus. "Go on Spence," she whispered.

"I can't. It's not like I'm a professional or anything."

"They're waiting for you." She nudged him again.

Spaselopedus sighed. "I know something about computers, but it's just a hobby," he said softly.

Gudin smiled at him. "Was that your hobby you were using when you tried to get into every system on the ship?"

"Yes, but I didn't succeed did I?"

"Well, our computer system was designed with that in mind. It was impressive nonetheless. I have a few pieces of hardware that may help you out."

"Very good," said Ande. "Gudin and Barinium, you work on that. Roines and myself will try to make our contacts with the Underground."

 

* * *

 

Ande had invited Linda to join the expedition into Widatin. As she walked down the open ramp from the Sentinel, a cool breeze blew through her short hair. The air here smelled fresh, like her mother's homestead. When she stepped out of the ship's shadow, Ozmodin's morning sun warmed her back.

Linda looked about the spaceport with awe. There were perhaps a half a dozen ships here and they varied in design considerably. Each one, however, had one common element.

"Astra, what are those pyramids attached to the ships?"

She turned to her in disbelief. "Those are the warp generators."

"They don't look integral to the design."

Roines, who had been leading them by a few meters stopped and said, "That's because they aren't designed into the ships. They're added later by the Ministry of Warp Technology."

"No one manufactures warp technology but Koplushia," said Ande. "That's how the Council keeps its power over the other worlds of the Alliance."

"It reminds me of a time in Earth history when America was the first to create the atomic bomb."

Observer Ande stopped again. "Why would they want to do that? All that radiation is dangerous."

"It was at the end of a great war. Millions of soldiers would have been killed if we hadn't used it."

"What about the poor ones it got used on?" said Roines.

"It's not exactly a high point in our history," Linda said.

Ande placed her hands on each person's shoulders. "There are things in Koplushian history that aren't exactly pleasant. Remember the bree'hah

Roines nodded. "Yes, although that was a long time ago."

They came to a stairway leading down from the landing field. At the bottom they entered a small enclosed tram and began moving.

Linda whispered to Ande, keeping half an eye on Roines a few seats forward, "What about the bree'hah? Is it something I shouldn't know?"

"No, it's just something we Koplushians would like to forget. The bree'hah were only the second non-humans we ever encountered after leaving Norm, and we almost wiped them out."

"But why?" said Linda.

"Fear, I guess. It's been batted back and forth for thousands of years. We regret it but..."

"History is what already happened."

"Yes," said Ande.

"I don't want to appear naive," said Linda, "but why haven't I seen many aliens aside from the Eruithairkans?"

"Well, they tend to stay together, on their own worlds. There have been attempts to co-mingle on colonies but even then they stay each to their own."

"Birds of a feather flock together," said Linda.

"That sounds apt," said Ande.

The tram came to a halt and they got out onto the platform. A corridor led past a desk marked 'Customs'. Roines walked up to the desk and said a few words to the dark-haired woman at the desk. She nodded and pointed down the corridor.

"Our credit here is still good with the portmaster," said Roines returning to them. "Let's go into town."

Linda and Ande followed Roines to a garage where a few taxis waited for fares. Linda noticed they had no wheels but instead hovered a few centimeters off the pavement.

The trio piled in and a voice said, "Destination please."

Roines announced, "Center of Widatin," into the microphone. The taxi started on its way. As it cleared the garage overhang it rose into the air and accelerated.

"Do you have these on Karpla?" asked Ande.

"Not as taxis," said Linda, "but we do have them. We call them aeros."

"Aero," Ande savored the word, "I like it."

"My company actually made them available."

"You mean they haven't been around for very long?"

"No," said Linda, "maybe about five years."

"Hmm," Ande looked thoughtful.

 

 

When the taxi landed and they got out, Linda was astonished to see something so Earthly. The town looked like any open-air walking mall. They were at the intersection of two wide, tree-lined walking pavements with various shops on either side. There was a slightly raised platform on each corner labeled with a sign 'TAXI'.

As their taxi lifted up and flew away, Linda asked, "Don't we have to pay for that ride?"

Ande spoke up, "No. We don't get paid for anything and we don't pay for anything. It's all transacted from credit automatically."

"Can't people just use um, cash?" Linda's last word was English knowing no Kopanset equivalent.

"Cash?" said Astra.

"You know, legal tender, money."

"Oh," said Ande, "On non Alliance worlds ready money is still accepted but here everything is handled by computer."

"How does it know who to charge?" asked Linda.

Ande smiled. "The computer identified me by my voiceprint."

"Can't the authorities find you from your account usage?"

"They could," said Roines, "except that our friends in the Underground gave us fake accounts a while back. No one knows who we really are."

Ande raised a finger smiling. "In a world of transient reality, who knows the truth but an Observer?"

Roines shook his head. "I don't think a week goes by that you don't say that, Ande. Let's get to the pub."

Roines led them down a street lined with shops. He hesitated before one of them called 'THE R&D PUB' and went in. Ande and Linda followed.

It looked like a normal bar inside: There were tables, chairs, mirrors, and, of course, the barkeep. Roines went over to him and ordered something Linda didn't hear.

"Kind of early for that eh?" said the barkeep, a young thin man with a red apron.

"Perhaps," said Roines, "I'm actually looking for some friends I haven't seen for a long time."

"How would I know them?"

"Well, there's three of them--two women and a man."

The barkeep asked slowly, "Is the man your brother?"

"Yes," said Roines.

"I believe I can help you sir. I saw him at the bookstore across the way just yesterday."

"Yesterday?"

"That's right."

"Thank you sir," said Roines as he walked past Ande to the door. Linda followed them into the street.

Next they crossed the way and entered the bookstore. It was very small and looked nothing like she had expected. There was a display of book units in the front and racks upon racks of small thumbnail-sized chips with titles on cards. Linda, fascinated by books since she was a child ignored what Roines was doing and scanned the titles.

One's such as It Takes an Urban Planet, and My Council, My Parent passed her eye but then she came upon a title she couldn't read. It was Eky Kraidtin.

Linda looked over to Ande and Roines. They were still talking with the proprietor. There was a trial bookreader next to the rack. She took it and fumbled the Eky Kraidtin chip into the recess on the reader.

The first page read: 'My Belief, by Engreth Pretm.' It was divided into three sections: a history of the universe, a collection of wisdom, and a section on prophesy. She turned to the Prophecy section and began reading. There were one hundred prophesies written as small paragraphs. Number seven caught her eye. It read:

 

'A man will come among his brothers.

An unwanted visitor, they will fail to do away with him.

A secret revealed, he will help them little.'

 

Linda read it over several times so as to memorize the passage. She nearly jumped when a voice behind her said, "Miss, do you plan on taking that? This isn't a library, I'll have you know."

The voice belonged to the proprietor, a middle-aged woman wearing the ubiquitous dispex. Linda also noticed with horror that Roines and Ande had left.

"Where are my friends?" she asked.

"If you mean the man and the woman who were just here, they left. Are you taking that book?"

"No, I'm not, thank you." Linda replaced the unit. "I've got to find them. Do you know where they went?"

"I can't say I do. They left a few minutes ago."

"Oh my God!" she said in English and ran out onto the street.

 

 

Spaselopedus Barinium was not having much luck. For two hours he had been attempting to find any records of who went in or out of the Widatin Spatial Research Institute before the explosion which about two months before destroyed it and killed everyone inside.

Gudin's cabin, where they set up shop, looked like a junk pile of electronics. Prysin's lair had been this full of disassembled devices but had still been somewhat organized. Spaselopedus had despaired when he first entered the room, but Gudin managed to get a direct link from here with the Ozmodin computer net.

"We've tried everywhere we can think of," said Gudin, his thin frame hunched over the table, his head in his hands. "Seems like all the records from the Research Institute are gone."

"Let's try non-institute records."

"Which records would those be?" said Gudin wearily.

"I'm not really sure..." said Spaselopedus. "I was just thinking out loud."

"The work's just getting to us, that's all," said Gudin. "Nothing but dead ends."

"Apparently," said Spaselopedus, "all the records from the Institute are missing or destroyed.

Modor, the Warp-tech came through the door, "Wouldn't plain visuals help?"

Spaselopedus frowned in thought. "Perhaps. What did you have in mind?"

"Quite often there are secur-cams aimed in the darnedest places. If you could access one near the Institute... Who knows?"

"That's an idea," said Gudin rubbing his eyes. "We'll try it out."


 

 

 

 

Lost

 

 

Linda stood alone on the street in front of the bookshop. She was fretting about what to do. Only a few people were walking about. None of them resembled Roines or Astra.

Linda hated when things were out of her control. I need to relax, she thought. Then seeing the pub across from her, decided to go in.

"Hello," said Linda walking up to the long bar.

"What're you looking to have?" said the barkeep, wiping his hands on his long red apron.

Oh no, I hope he doesn't think I'm talking in code too, she thought. "Something strong please."

He poured a small glassful of clear liquid and shoved it towards her. She drank it down quickly. The liquid hit her stomach and felt like a fire that burned it's way up her esophagus.

She bent over slightly until the spell passed. "Wow!"

"You said you wanted it strong, Miss. That'll be one credit."

Linda froze for an instant realizing her dilemma. Quietly, she said, "Uh, I don't have an account."

"That's impossible," he said donning his dispex. "Here, give me your name and I'll look you up."

"It's... uh, Linda Prescott--but..."

"Barkeep, never mind all that. I'll pay for her drink," said a man sitting at the corner table. He was about her age and tall with long black hair.

"Is that alright with you, Miss?" asked the barkeep.

Linda wasn't sure what to do, but at least the situation was solved. "Yes, I suppose it'll have to be."

"Very well," he said and went back to polishing glasses.

The man in the corner rose and walked over to her. "Hello, my name is Croloon Zamonus."

"Uh, Hi, I'm Linda. I really can't stay here. I'm trying to find my friends. They forgot me in the bookshop over there."

"If we sit here for a while we can watch to see if they come back to the shop for you. I'd really enjoy your company."

His voice was very soothing and he had paid for her drink. She was sure that if Roines or Ande returned to find her she would spot them.

"Alright, sure, I can sit for a while."

 

 

* * *

 

"I got something!" said Spaselopedus.

"Excellent!" said Gudin. "What?"

"A security camera down the street from the Institute. Now if I can just find it's archive file--There! Look at this!"

Gudin donned his dispex quickly and linked into Spaselopedus'. "Yes there's the explosion. Now back it up an hour or two."

"You don't have to coach me. I can do it."

"Hey guys, what's up?" It was Modor again.

"I'm capturing the faces of everyone going into or leaving the Institute as per the security camera archives," said Spaselopedus. "Gudin, start running them through for ID as soon as I get them to you."

Gudin sighed. "I don't need coaching either, Barinium."

"Well," said Modor," you boys are getting along so well I'll leave you to it."

"Good," said Gudin, "so far everyone checks out--wait! Look at number seventeen."

Spaselopedus put the face up in his dispex. He had long black hair and looked to be about thirty five years old.

"Yea, So?"

"Look at his datafile. He's still alive. We should check him out."

"Just because he's not dead is no reason--"

"No, don't you get it? I think he's the only survivor."

"Let me try image enhancement on him... hmm... There's an odd bulge in his jacket, but that could be anything."

 

* * *

 

"Hey!" yelled Linda pulling Croloon's hand off her knee and standing up.

He smiled and spoke softly. "What's the fuss? I was only being friendly."

"Friendly my foot! I know what you're thinking fella!" She pointed her finger at him.

"I paid for your drink," said Croloon. "I deserve something."

"You deserve nothing," she said heading for the door, but a hard kick, she thought.

The street had a little more activity than it did before. Linda looked up both directions, but still saw no one familiar. It was late afternoon and young adults were beginning to appear.

She walked down the street to the corner taxi stand. Before a minute passed an empty vehicle descended from nowhere and its door opened. She got in.

"Take me to the spaceport," she said.

A voice said, "Voiceprint does not match known account."

Damn! She thought and got out. Linda knew that she couldn't get back to the ship. The spaceport was too far away and she hadn't a clue of the direction. Without an identity in the Alliance, she was on foot. Could she convince Croloon to take her--No! That was out of the question.

She watched the empty taxi rise from the stand, her stomach turning into a knot.

"Excuse me, Miss," said a voice from behind.

Linda spun around in surprise to see a woman in a black coverall with a blue stripe on each arm, evidently a uniform of sorts. Her partner stood beside her.

"Yes, uh Ma'am?"

"I'm Peacekeeper Pamador. Is everything alright? You look lost."

Pamador was a tall woman, fortyish. Her salt and pepper hair braided back. Her partner was shorter and brunette.

"I am lost," she said, relief flowing through her. "I got separated from my friends and I need to get back to the spaceport."

The Peacekeepers exchanged glances. "Could we see your ID miss?" said Pamador.

Linda thought quickly. "Uh,... I lost that, too!"

"Then could we have your name please, and we'll check it out." Pamador produced a pair of dispex and put them on.

"Uh, my name is Linda Prescott--but..." she felt something bad was about to happen.

"Hmm," said Pamador, "not on file. What's your planet of origin?"

Linda felt flushed. Could she get out of this? Finally she muttered, "Karpla... I'm from... Karpla."

For a moment there was silence, then Pamador and her partner chuckled. "Alright missy, I don't know what contraband you're on, but you're coming to headquarters with us."

As if on cue, a black and light blue vehicle descended and the Peacekeepers took Linda by the arms.

"It's true, it's true," Linda said as they pushed her into the rear of the aircar, "I am from Karpla."

"I'm sure you are," said Pamador getting into the front and sitting next to her partner.

Linda looked desperately out the window as the car rose. A taxi descended at the stop she had just been at and four people got out. One looked distinctly like Observer Astra Ande.


[Chapters 16-20][Index][Chapters 26-30]


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.

Dave Rutan