Sunday, 17 February 2013

Peace Child Out of Bounds Chapter Ten

Kaleem was getting the hang of the controls on the transporter. Going up and down was reasonably easy. He was steering it well enough that it only threatened to hit the walls now and then. Thinking what to do next was the hardest. He had only the vaguest idea of where he was going. But he wasn’t getting away from Ninety. And even if he did manage to find his way home, what would he do about him?
Best not to think. Best just to keep going.
A sharp bend appeared in front of him. He turned the transporter into it just that second too late. Its anti-crash sensors picked up the solid rock and the transporter swerved so violently that Kaleem was flung over the side.
He managed to hold on.
The vehicle carried on, though nothing held it in a straight line. The sensors just bounced it off each side of the passageway, sending the pod whirling round in every direction.
Kaleem gritted his teeth. His voice commands were having no effect and the steering sensors did not respond to his hand signals. The pod crashed into the wall almost making him lose his grip. He’d got to get back in, he’d just got to. He pulled himself up, but he could just not get enough strength to pull himself back into the transporter.
Suddenly though he found himself wedged between the machine and the rock wall. The pod stopped moving. The rock was taking his weight. He made a desperate effort to pull himself into the vessel. Then he was back in the seat.
He tried to get the thing back under control. It was still using its sensors to stop it crashing into the walls. He could not seem to get it to go in a particular direction any more.
‘Come on, come on,’ he muttered. ‘Go straight.’
The machine continued to twirl around. Ninety’s pod was coming up behind him in a straight line.
‘Override sensors,’ he whispered half hoping the machine would disobey him.
The pod shot forward.
‘Reactivate sensors,’ shouted Kaleem.
The machine slowed a little but not enough. It crashed into the wall and started to head to the wall opposite. The sensor then kicked in and picked up the hard rock of the wall, and the pod began to drift away from it. It tilted upwards.
No, thought Kaleem. It’ll tip me up. ‘Forward,’ he shouted.
Too late again. The transporter flipped right over and he found himself hanging on to the sides, his feet dangling towards the ground. It was only a few seconds, but he almost lost his grip again.
The transporter righted itself. Ninety was right behind him now. Kaleem’s legs were still outside the pod.  He kicked Ninety’s transporter away and got himself back properly into his own. As he fell into the seating area, the transporter smashed again into the rock wall, but this time at full speed. It bounced off and then jerked along.
‘Power reduced,’ said the machine. ‘Sensors deactivated.’
Now he was going to have to be careful. He would have to steer it properly.
‘Come on, come on,’ Kaleem urged. ‘Forward.’
The transporter pod seemed to have no energy left. It jerked and stuttered, limping along almost lifelessly. Ninety was gaining on him again. His transporter was gliding effortlessly towards Kaleem’s. As Kaleem tried to speed up, Ninety slowed down until his pod gently tapped Kaleem’s.
‘Come on, Five-Six,’ said Ninety. ‘Give me the book. There’s no way you can get away now. Give me the book and you can just get on your way. No one will hurt you.’
Kaleem held his breath. No way was the Hidden Information crowd going to get their hands on the Babel book. He could still feel the shape of it pressing into his chest. He resisted the urge to touch it for fear that he would give away its presence to the peddler.
He didn’t know how or why, but suddenly something happened inside him. He found some strength from somewhere and leant over towards Ninety’s transporter and pushed it as hard as he could.
‘Speed forward,’ he shouted towards the other transporter’s audio command centre. Ninety’s pod set off at full sped away from Kaleem, back in the direction they had just come.
Kaleem’s own pod seemed to get some momentum from the reaction against the other pod and started at least going in a straight line. It started to pick up speed.
‘Come on, you can do it,’ muttered Kaleem.
The pod began to act a bit more normally. Kaleem was now able to control it better again and successfully swung it round a sudden curve in the passage.
He noticed a rock slightly out of place. Surely an exit? If he was quick, he could get through it before Ninety found it. Of course Ninety would know exactly what had happened and would soon follow him, but at least he would stand a more equal chance with them both on foot. Perhaps he could get over to Pierre’s. Anyway, once above ground they were both criminals, but Ninety was the bigger one with all that Kaleem could tell about him.
He parked the transporter and made his way through the open rock door as quickly as he could. There was a stairway behind it, so, thankfully, it did go up to the surface. His heart thumped as he made his way to the top. It seemed to take an age and he became breathless. The suddenly he was there. He was facing another rock door. This one was firmly closed though. He felt for the catch which would release the lock. It was not immediately obvious, but then that was part of the point of the rock doors. This would be stupid - to get this far and then be re-caught by Ninety.
Keep clam, he thought. Focus. He carefully ran his hands over every part of the surface and the surround of the door. At last something gave way in his hand. The rock door sprang open. Just in time. He heard the engine of the other transporter approaching.
He made his way through the door and closed it behind him. He’d have to hurry. Ninety would be bound to know how to undo the lock. Kaleem looked around, trying to work out where he was. Cool air, so he was probably outside. Odd shapes waving in a breeze. Trees. Then he realised where he was. He was at the corner of the park. Not too far from home. A little further to Pierre’s, but it would be safer there than home at the moment, though goodness knows how he’d explain why he was out.
He started to jog. If only he could make it before Ninety caught up. He was in with a chance. Thank goodness he’d kept up the fitness regime.
Half a kilometre, three hundred metres one hundred. He was getting there, though he could hear running behind him. Best not look round, he might trip and fall.
The running sound behind him turned to a drone.
It wasn’t Ninety. It was a droid guard.
Kaleem felt the hard steel hand on his arm. No! After he’d been so careful. Now he wished he hadn’t bothered going out. Boring, stuck in the apartment was not that bad after all. How was he going to get out of this one?
‘Explain why you are out of your living quarters,’ said the droid, pulling Kaleem round so that they had eye contact.
Kaleem saw Ninety just coming through the rock door. The Information peddler froze.
‘I was kidnapped by a Hidden Information peddler,’ said Kaleem. ‘I’ve just got away. Look there he is.’
The droid swung round, releasing its grip on Kaleem’s arm. It started relaying some sort of electronic message, and Kaleem smiled to himself as he watched this droid and three others glide rapidly over to Ninety. Ninety went to run, but the droids had him in seconds.
Kaleem walked the few metres to the entrance to the cave apartment. He let himself in and then carefully hid the book under some clothes in a drawer in his room.
‘Urgent message,’ said the dataserve.
‘Relay, then,’ said Kaleem. He could do without this. He’d had enough adventures for one day.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Peace Child Out of Bounds Chapter Nine

‘No, undo,’ said Razjosh. He shouldn’t make this decision on his own. He really must get some advice on exactly what to say to Kaleem. That young man was going to have a lot on his plate. He must make sure he did this right. ‘The Citadel of Elders, please.’
Razjosh held his breath as he waited for the communication to open up. A young man’s face appeared on the screen. Razjosh’s heart sank. Had he got to persuade this young upstart that he really needed to see the Chief? Would this young pup even recognise who he was?
Razjosh sighed at his own lack of generosity. Some attitude for a Peace Child. He waited for the young man to speak first.
‘Good day, Razjosh Elder, sir,’ said the youth. ‘How may I help you?’
Of course he would be polite. Of course he would recognise every Elder. That was what he had been trained to do. Why shouldn’t he do his job well? They only had the best working at the Citadel.
Now, though, all of this seemed a little unreal. There they were going through some absolute crisis. A Supercraft Excelsior of all things, was rushing though space even faster than his own Supercraft towards Terrestra and goodness knows what the Terrestrans would make of that or how they would react, and here was this naïve but highly trained young man speaking quietly and calmly and adhering to the very strict protocol used at the Citadel.
‘I would like to speak to the Chief,’ said Razjosh.
‘Security code?’ asked the young man.
‘Red,’ replied Razjosh, feeling his own heartbeat quicken.
The clerk did not blink. He disappeared from the screen and Razjosh found himself looking straight at Chief Makisson, who seemed totally unperturbed by the red security code.
It really is high time someone else took over, thought Razjosh. And Kaleem is the best there could be. But it was all so serious right now. Not the best time at all to introduce new blood.
‘But it does sound as if the two of you have got somewhere,’ said Makisson after had listened to Razjosh’s report. ‘There does seem to be some hope.’
How can he take it all so calmly? Thought Razjosh. What is going to happen when that Supercraft Excelsior gets to Terrestra? ‘But don’t you think he’s in danger now?’ he asked. ‘That we’re all in danger now?’
The Chief looked thoughtful for a few seconds.
‘Time to let him in, I think,’ said Chief Makisson.
‘Do you think he’s ready?’ asked Razjosh.
‘You tell me,’ replied Makisson.
Razjosh sensed the Chief Elder’s impatience. He sighed inwardly. Kaleem was as ready as he was ever going to be – almost. There was just a little more to do. But what were they exposing him to?
‘We’ll deal with the Zandrian Supercraft when we have to,’ said Makisson. ‘Do not concern yourself with that. Just worry about the boy.’
The screen went blank.
Worry about the boy! As if he wasn’t already. That young man was doing well, but it was a lot to ask. Especially with his mother being so ill. He had better get in touch with him, though, he supposed, and set everything in motion. How was he going to tell him that he had got to work even harder and that he was going to be moved away from what chance of friendship he had?
It was a lonely job, being a Peace Child. That was one thing that was certain. He now had to start dragging Kaleem further down into that loneliness. Wearily, Razjosh pressed his communicator.
‘Kaleem Malkendy,’ he whispered. He waited for the screen to open and show Kaleem’s normal cheerful if somewhat serious face. Nothing happened. There were just a few hisses and crackles. The screen remained blank. Odd, very odd, but perhaps just because of the distances involved.  He left a message anyway in holoview, briefly outlining as clearly as he could what had happened on Zandra. Once communications opened again Kaleem could at least find out the real news. He did feel uneasy, though.
He didn’t have time to worry about it for long. The Supercraft’s speakers cut in.
‘Prepare for emergency take off,’ said the thin electronic voice. ‘All passengers to safety take-off deck.’
Danielle bit her lip and went a shade greener.
Razjosh looked again at the blank screen. Then he cut the communication and made his way to the take-off deck. He settled himself into his seat and fastened the clips on the harness. Danielle sat down next to him. He noticed how pale she was and that she was trembling. But he had nothing more to offer her.
He closed his eyes. He felt the vibrations of the engines. Any second now the blackout would come. The oblivion would be welcome. It would be a temporary relief from all this. For it was all very bad and it was going to get worse.
Zandra slipped away from them. It became a blur of brown and green and soon they were looking down at a sphere of green light. There was a jerk and a change in the engine note. Then came the blackness.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

The Prophecy Out of Bounds Chapter Eight

He was going to have to get out of this, no question. He pushed the book hastily into the inside of his tunic.
‘Come on Kaleem,’ said Zema. ‘Don’t be difficult.’ She held out her hand towards him. ‘Come on, then, the book.’
Kaleem fumbled inside his tunic. He pulled his arm out and grabbed Zema’s arm and twisted it. He clenched his teeth. This was really the last thing he wanted to do, but there was no choice. He wasn’t sure, whether he’d got the strength to hurt her, or the energy to run away from her.
Zema screeched in pain and tried to pull her arm away from him. He gave it one more twist and then let it go. She fell to the floor clutching her arm and shouting ‘Get him. Don’t let him get away.’
Kaleem darted forward. At least he could run. He had managed to keep himself quite fit despite being cooped up with a dataserve a lot of the time. By the time he’d got to the other side of the cave, to the side which lead into the cave with the glass roof, the other people in the room had only just reacted. They didn’t look too fit. He stood a chance.
The droids in the records room didn’t seem to be disturbed by the noise. Kaleem spotted an empty console. He darted underneath it and pulled a box that was at the side of it over in front of him.
‘Seal the entrances. Scan the caves,’ he heard Zema shouting as she came into this cave.
If they were going to scan, he didn’t have much of a chance. They’d find him by his body heat alone. He wouldn’t be able to hide from them.
The droids didn’t seem to be reacting much to Zema, but all at once all the fans on the dataserves started making a lot of noise. The droids must be activating the security programmes. Seconds later, there was a loud clunking. Kaleem guessed that some sort of gate must be coming down to the entrance of this cave system. He really didn’t have much of a chance. Could he hide the book somewhere? At least that would stop them doing anything with it for a while.
A droid stopped suddenly in front of the console.
This is it, though Kaleem. They’ll get me any minute now.
Then it occurred to them, that although all the operatives in this section of the cave network were droids, they were dressed like normal humans. Could he do it? Could he pretend to be a droid? Would the other droids notice? Would Zema? Well, she would if he couldn’t do anything to disguise himself. Then he noticed something shiny and metallic  sticking out of the cardboard box. Could he use that to make it look like one of the masks that some of the humans and some of the droids used? He daren’t move for the moment, though. Not with the droid there. And who knows how long it was going to stand there? This may all be over before it had really begun. The scanner would be sure to pick him up any second now.
A wave of warmth air drifted towards Kaleem. It was coming from the droid. They’re overheating, thought Kaleem. That’s why they’re not picking me up. It must be all the extra security measures. Or some other fault. He did wonder how they kept all their systems going here without the authorities finding out. They probably did get lots of breakdowns. It looked as if  luckily for him one was happening right now.
‘Search. Search between inner and outer gates,’ commanded Zema. She sounded hysterical now.
The droid hurried off in the direction of the door. Kaleem pulled at the piece of metal he had seen sticking out of the box. It not only looked like a mask. It was a mask. He slipped it on. It immediately it moulded itself to his face.  Now what? He thought. That had been a stupid thing to do. Goodness knows what this mask was supposed to do. Still, at least Zema wore one too.
Could he get away with this?
His heart thudded as he crawled out from under the console. This cave was deserted. The exit was now being guarded. The droids and the human operators were searching in the passages between the main entrance to the complex and the door to this cave system.
As Kaleem walked forward, he became aware of what the mask did. He started hearing instructions being whispered into his ear and a transparent holomovie appeared in front of him. The mask was telling him and showing exactly where he was. Was this some form of portable dataserve?
‘Alternative route to main exit?’ he whispered.
Immediately a three dimensional map holoed in front of him. He walked out of the exit, remembering to imitate the slightly stiffer movements of a droid and hold his head steady, suddenly jerking it to the side when need be. If he could call up information like this, so could the other droids and humans who were wearing similar masks. He wasn’t safe yet.
He carried on following the mask’s instructions. It was definitely taking him away from the other activity.
‘Can we really get out this way?’ asked Kaleem.
‘We are approaching an emergency exit,’ said the mask. ‘The escapee may have taken this route.’
Kaleem smiled to himself. The mask had not realised he was the escapee. The technology here was clever, just not all that clever. He just hoped it would stay that way.
‘How far to entrance?’ he asked the mask.         
‘One point five kilometres,’ reported the mask. ‘Is there an emergency?’ asked the mask. ‘Should emergency lock be activated?’
‘Yes, there is an emergency,’ said Kaleem. ‘There is a fire in central control.’  He hoped that the central control really was where he’d guessed it was. That would mean that the others would not try to cross back to this exit. They might try and go round or over the top, though.
‘The emergency lock is opened,’ said the mask ‘and a fire-proof transporter will be waiting. How many personnel will board?’
‘Just me,’ said Kaleem. I hope, he thought.
‘Proceed,’ said the mask.
Kaleem ran forward, following the arrows which the mask flashed up in front of him. He was soon out of breath. Eventually, though, he came to a blank wall. As soon as he stopped running, a stone door slid open.
And now? he thought.
‘Transporter approaching,’ said the mask.
He seemed to wait an age but at least there didn’t seem to be anybody following him.  Then there was a faint rumbling. It gradually grew louder and then suddenly in front of him was a standard, if a little old, two-person transporter.
Kaleem climbed into it.  ‘How do I get this thing to work?’ he muttered. He’d never before had a transporter all to himself.
‘Set coordinates for Excluded Zone Edge?’ asked the mask.
What on Terrestra was the Excluded Zone? Was that where the Hidden Information Centre was based?
‘I guess,’ mumbled Kaleem. Anything which would get him away from here would be good. And now would be better that later.
The transporter lurched forward and was soon hurtling along through the dark, just casting enough light in front of it from its two headlights for Kaleem to see that they were still in the underground system.
‘This face unit will stop working when we reach the Edge,’ reported the mask. ‘Shall we load manual control ready?’
‘Yes, ‘said Kaleem. ‘I hope’s there’s an instruction programme.’
‘Loaded, ready,’ reported the mask. ‘Sixty seconds to face unit shut down.’ The mask started counting. It reached zero and switched itself off. Kaleem ripped it off. The transporter stopped moving. A row of lights appeared in front of Kaleem. A movie clip started playing, and pointed out how he could set coordinates for anywhere on Terrestra. He gave the transporter his cave home address. It started to move again as the movie clip showed him how he could make the transporter go faster, or turn if he wanted to take a different direction.  There was even a control which made it go up or down. He couldn’t see that he’d need any of these. It looked as if the transporter was going to take him right home, and through the long forgotten underground cave system at that. But just for fun, he sent the transporter zooming forward faster, and then made it go up as near to the roof as he dare. This was actually quite something.
He became aware of sound coming from behind him. He looked. There was another transporter catching up with him fast. He could just make out the person driving it. Ninety!
Kaleem used the control which made it go even faster and dived back down towards the ground.