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here was only one thing I could do. I had no choice. I kicked his face once and his grip loosened. Twice and he let go, snagging the hatch edge with his fingertips. On the third blow he dropped into the tiny details of the land far below. Maybe he landed safely, maybe on the stone stairs. I don’t know. I hope so.

'You idiot,' I said, as the line of light narrowed and disappeared with a pneumatic thump. I clambered up and brushed myself off. I heard, as I said, the rumbling mutter of far away engines. Condensation or lubricant dripped somewhere. The light fixtures popped and buzzed. The Doctor and the princess were discussing something in urgent whispers. But there was a missing sound, something I couldn’t quite identify.

In the dim light ahead I saw two figured kneeling by a third. 'Don’t move him, not an inch!' warned the Doctor. I was sickened by the realisation of what sound I’d been missing.

'It won’t stop singing until it makes a kill,' I thought.

The song was over and the spear was silent.

'Mr. Garron was dead,' stated Bob Sunny Day.

'Dead as a door knocker, Bob. Yes, he was dead.'

I found it interesting that the security robot did not refer to Garron as the Graff Vynda-K and chanced a glance at my fellow prisoners to see if they’d noticed. The princess raised a perfect eyebrow. The Doctor was deep in thought, eyes closed and fingers moving like he was operating an invisible calculator. Then his eyes popped open and he grinned. Yes, they’d noticed.

Bob Name Your Poison broke the intermission. 'Announcement. Announcement. Correlation of multiple verifier data and witness testimony confirms the individual known as Buckminster Garronis not the Graff Vynda-K. All charges of the detainees being associates of this individual are hereby dropped.'

'Also,' said Bob Sunny Day, 'We’re very sorry for the loss of your heterosexual life partner. Please accept our sincerest condolences.'

'The stated expression of regret is a courtesy expression only and in no way an admission of legal culpability on the part of the Parallax corporation or its partners and subsidiaries,' added Bob What A Deal.

I blinked, scratched an ear. The Doctor cleared his throat.

'That’s it, then? We aren’t under arrest?' he asked.

'Regretfully, Doctor, we must insist on your continued detention. We have yet to find the register, though we have ascertained an 87% probability that it is inside this tesseract device you spoke of, and therefore is with the body of the regrettably deceased Mr. Garron.'

The Doctor snapped his fingers. 'Of course! That explains why you’re so intent on tracing our path! It doesn’t explain why you don’t just dial up a map, though.'

'Regrettably, that function is inaccessible.'

Whose interrogation was it anyway? I broke in.'All right, all right. We’ll try to help you find the way back to Garron’s... body!'

'That is to be desired.'

'Agreed, Bobs. And after that, we fix everything, crisis averted, we all go home. Right?'

Bob Name Your Poison shook his head. 'There are additional charges of unauthorized entry into staff-only zones, multiple counts of willful destruction of corporation property, unauthorized operation of corporation systems, conspiring to create civil unrest, inciting civil unrest, theft and unauthorized operation of a company vehicle for nefarious purposes, resisting arrest and failing to use proper body disposal protocols.'

Bob Sunny Day asked, 'Do you understand the new charges?'

'Yes, I understand the new charges. And no, we aren’t guilty. I mean, we are, I suppose, but it wasn’t our intent to cause trouble. I can’t recall resisting arrest but I suppose we must have. We just wanted to find the Doctor’s ship and get out of here.'

'We shall consider all extenuating circumstances as we determine your degree of guilt. Now, please continue your story.'

'So, you really want to hear it all, huh? Well, all right.

There was an artifact from old Earth in the community centre at the Darwin colony. It was an old style game, just loose pieces, cards and a faded board in a plain box, but I spent hours with it. Wish I knew what it was called.

Anyway, if you hooked it up to a power slot it was endless fun. The board was a funny picture of an unhappy man on an operating table. Parts of the surface were cut out, with a sensitive metal rim. Under the cut-outs were holes in which you placed plastic joke organs, like a funny bone or a bucket signifying water on the knee. The goal was to earn money by pulling the plastic pieces out without touching the sides. You got a little pair of tweezers to do that. You had to be extremely careful not to touch the sides. If you did, a buzzer would sound and you didn’t earn your fee.

Sometimes we’d play for real money like the grown-ups. I did very well after I discovered that a sonic pulse temporarily disabled the conductivity of the rim. Here, Doctor, why don’t you play that pulse for our robotic friends here?'

'What is that device?' squawked Bob Name Your Poison.

'Don’t be alarmed, fellows, it’s only a screwdriver.'

'This sound has invasive sonic properties! We demand it be stopped now or we will call the guards!'

'Relax, Bobs. It’s not going to hurt you. Doctor, that should be enough. See? All done!'

'I must protest! Again your diversions seem irrelevant!'

'All right, all right. Don’t pop a breaker. No harm done.'

I looked at my communicator, yawned and stretched.

'Say, Bobs, I’m getting tired. Why don’t we take a break? If I don’t sleep I’m liable to forget the story, maybe miss an important clue you need.'

'Very well. We will recommence the interrogation in twenty-four cycles.'

On the way back to the interrogation room the next day I heard something. 'Was that a shot?' I asked the guard.

He did not respond.

'I’m sure I heard a shot. Is there something happening?'

'It is none of your concern. There has been an incursion from below. It has happened before and will be dealt with. Here is the interrogation room. Have a fun day!'

The Doctor and princess were in their seats. I smiled at them and took mine.

'Good morning, Bobs. Shall we begin? We’re about to discover your certain doom.'

'We left Garron in Intercell Maintenance Corridor 12,675H. It was stencilled on the wall.

The Doctor said that it looked deserted for hundreds of years. He really seemed fascinated, like he was in his element. He tapped gauges and fiddled with control panels, scanned conduit junctions and yodelled down air shafts.

At one point, not far along, we skirted a small hole in the deck. The Doctor peered down, whistled softly, then pointed up. There was a corresponding hole in the ceiling. It wasn’t natural; something had smashed through.

'A meteorite?' suggested the princess. The Doctor shook his head.

'No, see the edges? This was something very heavy, not something moving fast.' He looked worried.

I peered down the hole. Far below I saw a tiny pinprick of light, and another far above.

'Let’s keep moving. Andele, andele!'

Then the corridor split. Up a ramp, down a ramp, straight ahead.

'Which way?' asked the princess.

'Feel that?' asked the Doctor, 'there’s a breeze. Ariba, ariba.'

‘Up’. An hour ago we’d climbed through the sky. 'Doctor,' I said as we trudged upwards, 'where are we, really? Rallax is supposed to be a planet, but this is a spaceship, isn’t it?'

'It’s a planet-sized spaceship.'


artwork by ANDY LAMBERT
used with permission
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