Planet of Tranquility

 

 

 

Chapter Nine

Backed Into a Corner

 

 

Murreena didn’t argue.  Silverado had shown them vague images of the interior of the installation and she knew that her effectiveness would be limited.  She was simply not used to the kind of open-air activity that would be required to rescue the scientific party.  Not that she didn’t wish she could.  Her life-mate was in there and she longed to be able to go to him; help John rescue him.  Klik approached them.  John, if you hang on to my dorsal fin, I can pull you right up to the airlock.’

Silverado squeezed out of the little habitat and swam beside him.  Grabbing onto the Shamiril’s fin, John allowed himself to be pulled toward the dome-like installation.  The complacency of the aliens in guarding their installation only bolstered his conviction that another blast was imminent.  The tendrils of thought all seemed to be focused on individual jobs and evacuation.  Letting go of Klik, John swam the last few feet and examined the airlock.  Silverado, Klik!  Do you detect anyone near the airlock?’ he asked.    

No, John, we don’t.  But there are sentients preparing to leave.  You must go in quickly,’ Klik told him.   

Finding a mechanism, John activated the airlock and soon found himself inside, watching the water quickly flow out of the tiny room.  Pulling his mask down, he blinked at the bright light pulsing on the far wall.  Bending down, he removed the fins and then approached the inner door.  As the water finished its disappearing act, John pushed a button and stood to one side as the door whooshed open.  At the far side of the room, he saw several downy skinned aliens gathering items in their arms and then exiting.

John felt fear as well.  Fear for his loved ones.  For nowhere in the cacophony of thoughts did he feel anything specifying the release of the expedition.  With Silverado’s help, the professor was able to locate in the thoughts of one of the aliens, the location of the computer room.    

Padding silently in the insulated wet suit, John first approached a large room containing the ‘prison’ tank, staying behind crates and equipment to avoid being spotted.   However, Silverado’s communications confirmed that almost all of the aliens had left the compound.   Maureen, can you hear me?’ he called. 

‘Dad?’  That was Will.  His call seemed a bit lethargic.  

‘Yes, Will.  You need to awaken the others.  I know that they’ve put a drug in the water, but it’s imperative that you get everyone awake.  Can you do that, son?’

‘I’ll try, Dad.  Thank goodness, I talked one of the aliens into lowering the dosage of the drug,’ he said.

Where are the lizards?’ John asked.

They’re in a box or crate nearby.  They have been drugged, too.’

‘I think I see what you’re talking about, Will.  Just get everyone awake and I will get Nova and Maggie,’ John instructed.  ‘Then I’ll take care of the cover on the tank.’

‘Okay, Dad.’ 

He unlatched the box that held the zanlings prisoner and pulled off the cover, letting the fresh air revive them.  Then he rushed toward the tank.  Just as he reached it, John heard a door open on the far end of the room.  One of the humanoids furtively padded over to the tank and climbed the ladder to the top, looking around as though fearful of detection himself.  John flattened himself against the side of the reservoir and waited.  Looking in, the pink-downed alien said quietly, “I have to leave soon.  I am releasing you.  I only hope you have enough time to get away.” 

Enough time to get away? John thought to himself.  Looking at his friend for help, he quested and was appalled.  There was only a short time before the detonation.  The alien was deluding himself, hoping, apparently, to assuage his guilt in his role in this operation by releasing his captives and hoping that they could get away in time.   John sent a thought to Will. 

Dad, I can’t get everyone awake. Mom and Don are coming out of it okay, but Murwon and the others aren’t. What do I do?’ Will asked plaintively. 

Keep at it, Will.  I’ll see what I can do about the tranquilizer from this end.’   John looked up, gauging distance.  The pinkish skinned humanoid was watching the activity in the tank.  When his hand reached toward a small control panel at the top of the ladder, the professor realized that the time for action was now.   

Sending quick instructions to Silverado, he silently scaled the steps.  The zanling fluttered franticly in front of the lanky alien’s face, squeaking furiously.  John threw his right arm around the humanoid’s neck and drew him to his chest.  Seeing a translator at his waist, the professor didn’t waste time attempting telepathic communication.  “How do you get rid of the drug in the tank?” he hissed in the quivering ear. 

“I just did.  Who are you?” queried the alien.   John quested and found that the first statement was true.    

“I am the husband of one of those expedition members in the tank and the father of another,” he answered.  “Is there something that will speed up their recovery?”

“Yes,” came the response and a long, thin finger pointed to another button.  John pushed it, feeling the veracity of the alien’s answer at the same time.  “And that button releases the cover so they can get out.”  John pushed that one, too.  Looking down, he saw increased activity. 

“Why are you setting off another explosion?” the professor asked tersely.   

“We need the breshel compound.  This is the only place we can get it and the Zrilon demolition expert said this was the only way to get it.” 

“Your Zrilon expert is wrong.  This explosion may enable you to get to the breshel, but it will also cause havoc on the seabed, including the ssHreana homeplaces.  And the damage it causes will destabilize this part of the sea floor to the extent that it will be a long time before it’s safe for you to mine the breshel,” John replied.  “I believe your partners have something else on their agenda besides helping you.”

“Dad!” Will said, a broad smile across his freckled face that had just popped above the surface.  The other members of the expedition joined him.  “I don’t know what you put into the tank, but I sure feel a lot better.”  He climbed out and stood on the catwalk that perimetered the tank.  The others soon joined him.   

“Thank you for your help,” John said tersely to the alien.  He turned to Maureen and a still slightly groggy Murwon.  “Right now, you need to get out of the installation.  They have a charge set to blow in a very short time.  Most of this base has been evacuated already so you should have little problem if you go out of the auxiliary airlock that I came in.  I’m going to the communications terminus and try to block the program that sends the demolition signal.” 

“John, will you have time?” Maureen asked, her face wan with the effects of the drug and with fear.   

“I’ll have to, dear.  You and the others get out of here,” he said.  He sent a telepathic message to Don.  Get Maureen and Will out of here, now!’   

Shall do, John.  Good luck.’  Don immediately began ushering the others down the ladder.  Maureen turned to John, a plaintive look on her face.  Will had found the zanlings where they lay in the open box. 

“Grilar, do you have deep sea equipment?” John asked the alien, who had been standing quietly at his side throughout the entire exchange. 

“Yes, I do.”

“Then you will accompany the expedition and pray that I succeed, because if I don’t, we’ll all be just so many scattered molecules on the ocean currents,” John told the alien.

“If the countdown has begun, then there will be nothing you can do to stop the detonation.  The computer program is impossible to bypass,” Grilar informed him.   John stared at him.  “There is no failsafe built in.  And it was constructed so there would be no possibility of tampering.” 

“Well, Grilar, you’d better pray that I can figure out something, because you don’t have time to get away before the granddaddy of all earthquakes hits this place,” John replied, sprinting down the stairs. 

 

                                        =======================

 

John sat at the computer terminal looking at the symbology dancing across the screen in frustration.  Grilar was right.  There was no fail-safe; there were no commands that would terminate the program beginning the detonation sequence.  The computer had been set to ignore any and all counteractive commands.  He stared at the screen for a moment and then tried another sequence of instructions.  ACCESS DENIED.  Slapping his fist on the table in frustration, John looked up at Silverado sitting on the top of the computer monitor, squeaking his support.  “Give me the solution, not just encouragement,” he said irritably.

Sitting back in the seat, John pondered his dilemma, considering everything he had learned from his and Silverado’s probing of Grilar’s mind.  Suddenly, John smiled as sudden revelation hit him.  He bent back over the keyboard, typing furiously.  With Silverado’s help, he had been able to figure out the different symbols, and the rest he recognized from his dealing with alien races over the years.   As he continued to type and send, he glanced up at the monitor.  “Yes!” he hissed as he read the characters, which indicated access into the computer of the mother ship orbiting overhead.  Carefully, the professor thought and typed, meticulously considering each equation and command.   

The shutdown sequence ran frantically across the screen and then asked for an acknowledgment.  John happily gave it.  Next he worked on creating a block that would prevent anyone on the ship from initiating the detonation command again.  After fifteen minutes, the professor realized he had met his match.  He could get into some of programs and make changes, but he couldn’t break into the mother ship’s main hard drive. It was then that John knew he had only one option.  And that was to destroy the installation’s computer before the deadly signal was initiated again.  After trying unsuccessfully to put a self-destruct program into the machine in front of him, John looked up at Silverado, who had been watching pensively.  “My friend, do you know where they store the weapons and armaments?” he asked. 

Yes, John, but most are gone,’ Silverado answered him, concern evident in his thoughts.

“It won’t take much.  But we have to stop the main detonation.”  The little lizard flew over, landed on his shoulder and passed along messages received earlier from workers in the installation.  “Let’s go, before someone on the mother ship gets wise to my tampering,” John told him.  Stealthily, the pair made their way along dim corridors.  They met no one on the way.  Smiling grimly, the professor realized that as soon as the detonation didn’t take place, the scientists on board the ship would quickly figure out what he had done.  Speed was of the essence.  

The cargo room had indeed been stripped of almost all its contents, and John suspected that the only reason there was anything at all left was because time had run out to salvage what remained.  Quickly gathering what he felt was useful, the professor paused at the doorway to catch his breath.  He breathed deeply, but the feeling of not getting enough air persisted. 

Need to get back to the water, John,’ Silverado reminded him. 

“Need to get the job done and then I can go back into the water,” John commented tersely.  He had temporarily forgotten the bio-adaptive device.  Let’s get back, before my programming is discovered.”  Silverado chirped in agreement.

As soon as they returned to the computer room, John sorted the materials he had gathered, quickly putting together the components for a small device capable of destroying the communications center.   Typing a command into the computer, he then connected his makeshift bomb to the machine.   

A slight noise to his rear caused him to pivot in alarm.  A crab-like creature, about the size of a St. Bernard was in the doorway, a weapon in one of its tiny claw-like hands, its eyestalks waving in anger. 

 

                            ==========================

 

Maureen swam reluctantly behind the others, presumably to watch Grilar, but mainly because she felt a strong urge to go back.  Go back to John.  Help him if he needed her help, be with him if he didn’t.  It was like a line being tugged.  It was a tangible urge, greater than any she had felt before.  A life line,’ she thought in bemusement.   

Maggie squeaked from the small bubble habitat floating by her waist.  Go to John,’ her companion urged.   

Will,’ Maureen called, careful not to let anyone else ‘hear’ this exchange.  She knew that Don would pitch seven kinds of fits if he knew what she had on her mind.

Yes, Mom?’

‘I’m going back to help your dad.  We’ll catch up.’

‘Let me go with you,’ Will pleaded 

No, Will.  You stay with Don,’ she said and then paused, looking carefully at her youngest son.  Even through the mask, there was no mistaking her stern look.  This time, son, follow my instructions.’

There was no communication for several seconds.  Finally, ‘All right, Mom.  But be careful, please.’  

Yes, dear.  Will, I love you.  Your dad and I will join up with you soon.’  Maureen told him as she swam back toward the installation.   While still a little tired from the narcotic laced water in the holding tank, she felt her strength returning with every stroke she took back to the installation.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Ten
Chapter One
Lost in Space Fiction
Main Page