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It took him several hours of forcing his way through the underbrush before he found a trail; even then, it was not a man's trail, but more an animal track. He followed this, more because it was easier than because he thought it would lead somewhere. As it began to get dark, he rigged a bit of shelter in a tree for himself. He wouldn't sleep this night--having been in NagaWorld for several months, he had adapted to the forty hour day/night cycle, and could easily stay up until tomorrow night if these were close to standard earth days. Anyway, in his first night in a new world, he wanted to see what happened in the darkness. Settling into his cradle in the branches, he spent the time considering his options.
The next day, his options narrowed significantly. A few hours after he st road is one of the most valuable things you can find. George picked a direction, and followed the road. But within a few hours, civilization found him.
He had taken a break for a bit to eat from his supplies. Just as he was ready to move again, a voice--a man's voice--said, "Don't move. I know what you are, and would not hesitate to send you on to another world." Carefully raising his hands, he spotted the man in camouflage fatigues a few feet away in the brush. The man spoke again, but was now addressing a communications headset he wore. "This is Chameleon. We've got him--tell Sea Turtle." Then several other similarly-clad men came out of the trees. "You should come with us."
Of course, George had nowhere else to go; and these people obviously represented civilization, so he would have asked to go with them under different circumstances. Besides, he recognized the one called Chameleon. He was known to George as Phil White; he is known to you by his middle name, Michael. George didn't know very much about alternate selves--what the earliest versers called "frags" and I refer to as "divergents", the person who is you or someone you know, but from another universe--but he felt that George was probably one of the good guys. Then when they reached the transport and he recognized Sea Turtle as me, he felt even more comfortable.
But he wasn't getting any explanations, at least not yet. Sea Turtle told him that he had been picked up by a secret American CIA strike team on loan to MI-5, the British intelligence group. He would be taken to London to be briefed on the situation.
He guessed that he was in a power generating station; or perhaps it was some kind of automated factory. What caught his attention more directly was that there were people in a room nearby. They were having some kind of meeting; he listened for a few minutes. Although they appeared an ordinary group of respectable and sane individuals, they spoke in terms of revolution and subversion. The "Federation" was their enemy, an oppressive regime. They spoke of actions to undermine the authority and control of this power; they spoke of encouraging planets to break free from its control. But they were talking subversion, not armed revolt--interfering with food production, undermining supplies. When they noticed him, they welcomed him warmly, and asked who he was and what had brought him to the meeting. He asked a few questions, saying he had arrived from "another world", and then excused himself to go get his things.
While he was out of the room, he suddenly heard a commotion. Rushing back, he saw men in black uniforms with protective headgear firing weapons into the unarmed crowd. So this was the Federation. Bill secured a hiding place, then fell back to collect his equipment; but before he could escape, the troops cornered him and took him into custody.
The events of the next couple of days were quite stressful for Bill; he was tried and convicted of crimes against the state, and sentenced to be deported to a penal colony on another planet. Locked in a group holding cell for a day, he met a few of his fellow prisoners. Then they were boarded onto a transport ship, and sent into space. But he began to examine the situation, and formulate a plan.
A very dignified well-dressed man opened the door, momentarily not seeing the child in front of him, then realizing his mistake. He invited Trevor inside.
I can only guess what this man was thinking. From Trevor's description of the world, it must have been like earth in the mid to late eighteen hundreds. Here was this boy, not ten years old, traveling alone with a lot of equipment, obvious among which was a bicycle more advanced than any known to this butler in a well to do household. (Bicycles, of course, were the middle-class version of the automobile at that time. Middle class families used them as transportation for commuting to work. For a child to have one of his own--and from the size of this one, it was clearly custom made to be used by a child--the family must be wealthy indeed.) Therefore, he believed he was looking at a lost child from a wealthy family. He could not think not to bring the child inside, clean him up and feed him, and try to find out where he belonged. Whether or not my guess is correct, Trevor was brought inside, fed, given a bath, and offered a bed for the night, which he accepted.
Dinner was in the kitchen. The butler, as I have taken him to be, was the last of the household staff in this house recently brought to tight financial straits. His employer, a man named Montressa, had a guest for dinner that evening; Trevor saw the man, but did not catch his name. When the guest arrived, Montressa greeted him warmly, and spoke about some desert, an almond t'laddo according to Trevor, which they would be enjoying after dinner. The butler scurried between the kitchen and the dining room, and had his supper with the boy. Then Trevor, bathed and fed, went off to bed.
In the morning, police were at the house. They were inquiring about a man named Fortunato who, according to his own household, had left the night before to have dinner with Montressa, but never returned. Montressa said that he had expected Fortunato the night before, but the man had never arrived; he had thought his guest had been otherwise detained, and so not worried about it. By the way, the butler added, there was this lost boy who came by last night, apparently of a wealthy family. Would the police be willing to take him and make some inquiries as to where he belonged? Of course they would do so. Trevor gathered his things once more, and left in the carriage with the investigator.
The police were full of questions. What was his name? Where did he live? What school did he attend? Who was his teacher? From his answers, they began a search for a school and a teacher (the name Stevens is not uncommon enough to have been useful, but the idea of a school at which a woman taught apparently struck them as odd--and they concluded that his family had moved to America, leaving him either at boarding school or with relatives). In the mean time, they decided to put him in a local orphanage, until there was a lead.
He wouldn't stay at the orphanage. Before the day was over, he had gotten on his bicycle and ridden away with his things. Still in a small town in the country, it wasn't long before he was alone out in the open. Suddenly a horse cart drove up, and Montressa leapt out, running toward the boy. Trevor wondered what he wanted--until he saw the pistol in the man's hand. When Montressa was close, he fired the gun; but Trevor had been trained in several evasive tactics by George before he left NagaWorld, and tumbled out of the way. Montressa drew a sword (a saber, and a fine one at that), and lunged toward the lad. Trevor parried with his plastic steel bo stick, then swept his attacker's legs, then cracked the man's skull with it. Already upset and now very angry, he hit Montressa four or five more times, although the man never moved again.
Trevor had had enough. Picking up the gun, he aimed it at his head and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. Looking at the gun, he decided to draw back the hammer and try again; this time it went "click". So he rifled the man's pockets, taking the sword, a few heavy paper packets, and a handful of what appeared to be caps. Examining the gun again, he saw a place under the hammer which would support a cap, and placed one there. This time the gun made a reasonably loud bang; but it was nowhere near the volume of the bang it had made when it was fired at him, and no bullet came out of it. When I saw the fine cap-and-ball pistol, I laughed aloud--Trevor had no idea how to load such a weapon. But enough was enough. He dropped himself on the sword, and knew no more.
Exploring his options, Bill found a hatch into the maintenance walkways in the hull; he explored this for some distance, and found that it had doors opening into a number of other rooms, one of which was the central computer system. Getting the others to cover for him, he took Avon through the tunnel. They were surprised by a technician who had been behind one of the access panels when they entered; but once they had dealt with him, it didn't take long for Avon to shut down all control of the ship.
Unfortunately, he did not have control of the security systems in the prisoner's area, and couldn't release the prisoners. The first officer got permission from the captain to solve the problem, and began executing random prisoners in front of the security cameras. Bill and Avon held their ground until all of the prisoners had been killed; but then they were besieged, with no support beyond the computer room. They bargained for their own safety, agreeing to return control of the ship to the captain in exchange for their own lives.
It was a few hours later that they were brought to the captain. The captain was willing to make a new bargain. There was a ship adrift alongside their own, and the captain had hoped to bring it in for salvage. But he had sent a couple of crew men across to the other side, and they had not returned or made contact. The captain's offer was that the matters related to the on-ship revolt would be left out of the reports if Bill and Avon crossed over to the ship and secured it. They were reluctant to go across without weapons, and of course the captain was reluctant to give them weapons; but it was agreed that once they were in the connecting tube which had been attached to the other ship, a couple guns would be tossed in behind them. The deal was struck.
Kitted up in emergency suits, they entered the airlock, and began to cross. The guns were thrown in after them, and Bill took a quick look at how his worked. Then they made the trip to the other side, entering through the already open airlock there. The proceeded into the first room, moving with caution.
Here Bill was surprised: his father was here, waiting for him, asking him to come closer. But he kept his head. His father was long gone, and even if in this world he had not lost his father as a child, even if the earth of this world had him in its history, that was clearly so long ago that his father, even his children, would all be dead and forgotten. This could not be his father. He lowered the gun at the image, and fired.
The gun was a kinetic blaster; it fired a wave of force without any kick. But when it impacted on Bill's apparent father, there was a psychic shock which stunned Bill for a moment. Whatever he had shot, it had been reading his mind, and projecting an image back into it. The image was now gone. All that remained was a dead splotch of something on the wall--and his companion Avon, also slightly stunned. It was obvious even before he said anything that Avon had also seen someone he knew, loved, and trusted--and Avon had been on his way toward them when Bill fired. On the floor between them and the dead creature were the lifeless bodies of several of the crew of the prison ship.
But they didn't have much time to think about this. Bill announced his plan: he and Avon were going to steal the ship. Avon was good--could he get control of this ship? The computer wizard wasn't certain. After all, it wasn't his area. He was a computer expert, not a spaceship pilot. But it was possible, and worth trying. Bill took on the task of closing the airlock, and left Avon at the controls.
Closing the airlock proved more challenging than he expected. There seemed not to be any controls for it that he could understand; at the same time, the first officer and a couple of other members of the crew had entered the flexible connecting tunnel. Bill had called them, and told them that they would need a few minutes to secure the bridge; but apparently the captain smelled trouble, and didn't want to lose his prize. A fire fight developed in the tunnel, Bill firing down into the tube, and the others firing back. But soon it became apparent to them that he was trying to cut them off, and they turned back, trying to reach their ship before he dumped them in deep space.
Suddenly, the airlock began to close itself. Bill had to make a dive back into the ship, so he wouldn't end up outside when the bridge broke. The larger ship--for the ship Bill and Avon had just taken was so much larger that the prisoner transport ship could have been one of its lifeboats--began to pull away, and as the airlock closed, the flexible bridge pulled loose, and the first officer of the other ship was dumped into space. They had secured both their escape and their revenge.
All of this was because he had come to recognize the value of the versers. When he had first arrived, he had joined MI-5 as an agent, and done well. Then he had explained to a few key people just who and what he was, and moved quickly into this position--which he had held for over thirty years. Versers made fabulous agents. They had no history, no past, no connections which could be uncovered or exploited--they were truly men with no identity, and they could become anyone. They had little fear of death, for to them it was only the pain they feared; death was not the end of life, only a break with the present world. They often had uncommon and unexpected abilities--equipment, skills, knowledge completely outside the experience of the indigs. If they survived, they never aged and weakened, and they had plenty of time to learn new skills. They didn't have families, they didn't have children, they didn't have conflicts to take them away from the job. If they were killed, his global tracking system would register their position at that moment, and they left no remains or gear which could be exploited by the enemy. And occasionally a verser agent who had been killed came back again--nothing gives more of an advantage than the surprise of facing an adversary who was known to be dead already. Given all this, it was worth it to capture versers and offer them employment with Her Majesty's Secret Service before they became involved in anything else--and also important that the existence of versers not become known to those outside the upper echelons of British intelligence and its allied agencies abroad.
In other words, George was invited to choose between becoming a top spy and being killed before he left the building. He chose to be a spy. He could have any name he wanted, and they would create an identity around it. So George Ignatius Andrews became Ignatius Anderson, agent double-oh-fourteen, and was put on a flight to Paris for briefing on his first assignment.
There were a couple of other things which happened while they were en route. First, Bill touched a panel not previously contacted, and felt a surge of energy pass harmlessly through his body and his mind. Immediately the ship's computer became fully active with English voice interface, and identified the ship as "Liberator"--a name apparently taken from Bill's thoughts. They now had a simple and direct way to control the ship, by talking to the computer.
Second, Avon had discovered a room which contained a control panel, a recessed chamber with an unusual design, and a box of bracelets with an unusual mineral in them. His theory was that somehow this was a matter teleporter. He had been involved in the computer end of a research project in teleporter design a decade earlier; the project had been abandoned because it had come to a dead end, but that mineral had been found to be promising at one point along the way. Avon would have to do some work on the matter, but he believed they would have another advantage, another trick unavailable to their enemies, once he worked out the controls.
Third, they found a panel in the bridge area behind which were a collection of peculiar-looking hand-held devices which they suspected were guns. The storage compartment had a peculiar safety feature: no one who was holding a gun could remove another one without injuring himself.
Teleporting down to the surface was a risk. After all, Avon was guessing as to how everything worked. He could not be sure that Bill would survive the trip, or that Avon would be able to bring him back. Also, Bill was quite aware that Avon would love to have the ship himself, and would prefer to find a quiet corner of the universe in which to live out his life. The possibility existed that once Bill was out of the ship, the ship was gone.
But it didn't happen that way. Bill came down safely, not far from a building which seemed to be a focal point of the community. Cygnus Alpha seems to have been much like Australia had been a century or so before I was born: the Federation deported prisoners to it, and left them to fend for themselves. Those who had survived had created a society and a culture. There was a generous enough mix of genders that children were born, innocents condemned to live here because it was the home of their parents. Those "innocents" assumed a certain level of seniority in the society; newcomers were expected, indeed coerced, to take the servile positions and pay homage to their predecessors, working their way up the ladder as more prisoners came to fill the bottom wrungs. They were told that they contracted a disease upon arrival, and required an antidote which was only available through the planetary leadership--this lie was demonstrated by poisoning the food of newcomers, and then giving them worthless pills and changing their diets once they agreed to the conditions of their positions in society. It took Bill some effort to work this out, and he went through a lot to get that information; but he managed to convince several of the prisoners to take the chance of coming with him. He was joined by a smuggler pilot named Jay, a thief named Flit, and a couple of other people, including a communications officer with a built-in head jack (I've forgotten his name at the moment).
The head of the government--I use the words loosely--did not wish to allow anyone to leave. In fact, he had developed such an overblown sense of his own importance, he imagined that if he were to take the ship and leave the planet, he could convince people on other planets to obey him absolutely, as it was on Cygnus Alpha. I've got to give Avon credit for this one. Once the guy had gotten onto Liberator, Avon teleported him off beyond the maximum range of the system, dispersing his atoms as random energy in the cosmos. Liberator took off, and Bill had a solid crew to run her.
His assignment concerned the director of finance for the European Economic Community. It appeared that the man, named Steranko, might be in danger. Finance ministers of several members of the common market had been mysteriously murdered in recent months, and the intelligence community thought he was top candidate for next victim. The top British agent, code named Blade, had been close to discovering who was behind it when we was killed. Ignatius Anderson was to get close enough to watch Steranko, and try to keep him alive while uncovering the assassin.
Already the world had thrown him an unexpected curve. Three people had recognized him as George Andrews. They were friends of his from New Jersey. He apparently did have an identity in this world, and could be found where he grew up. John Davis he recognized immediately as the young assistant manager of the only movie theater in the county; Bob Rogers had been for many years a clerk in a local drug store in the same shopping center. He had played games with both of these guys, and hung out at the donut shop. They were friends of his in another world, and apparently also in this one. As to the third guy, George didn't recognize him or know his name--but apparently in this world in which Phil White and I had never settled into Salem County, this other fellow had taken our place at the donut shop and in the lives of our friends. The threesome was on a European tour of sorts--they had each saved enough money to take this trip, and were on his flight from England to France. They teased him about not having told them he was going to be there, too, and asked if he wanted to hang with them; he said that he was actually there about a job, and wasn't sure what time he would have, but would look for them if he had the chance.
Pulling out of the "secret" lab was not the chance he wanted. He was immediately picked up by not one but two vehicles. The gorgeous girl driving one seemed to be trying to get his attention--unfortunately, he couldn't find the switch to lower the windows, and so was activating and deactivating the various security and weapons systems on the car. This turned out not to be a bad thing, as the driver of the other car seemed intent on killing him. This resulted in a game of three-car cat-and-mouse which carried them out into the countryside; but each succeeded in escaping unscathed (although George brags about destroying the other guy's car, the driver managed to bail out). It had been quite a chase; but true to form, George was less interested in the man who tried to kill him than he was in the girl who got away.
M. J. Young Net