The Chpuchkian monarch stopped pacing and turned to his adjutant. "L'zaart, I want you to have all external communications checked. I seem to have lost contact with The Drock.
"But, Your Greatness, you know The Drock is out of range."
D'bactu glared at the stupid man. "Do you think I don't know we have a new advanced computer equipment giving us long range ability to contact with the ship? Get on to Sir Rayle Close. Have him call me as soon as possible."
"Yes, Your Greatness; at once."
"Damn the red tape and bureaucracy of this present government," D'bactu thought as he began pacing again. "No wonder I can't get anything done these days." Ten minutes later, the secure line on the console on his desk bleeped rapidly. He flicked it onto to scramble-speak mode. "Yes?"
"Your Greatness, this is Rayle. Your chamberlain has just been told you were not informed about The Drock. My apologies, Sir; I cannot understand why this has happened."
"Well? What can you tell me?"
"Sir, we have lost contact with The Drock as well. Our systems are intact; meaning the malfunction is on board the ship."
"So, the ancient writings are correct!" D'bactu thought as he began to pace again. "Thank you, Rayle, Let us hope it is only a temporary situation. I'll have my engineers look at the problem and get back to you. Meanwhile, Rayle, we have another mystery to solve. You remember our Holy Books written by the ancients?
"Well, many people think they are just a load of legends but I think we are about to see some of those writings proved to be right."
"How so, Sir?"
"I am about to interview a visitor. According to the soldiers who brought him to the palace, he says he is an alien and his name is Kidat. The name should be familiar to you."
"Kidat? I don't recall the name."
D'bactu smiled to himself. "Come on Rayle; as you humans like to say, put your thinking cap on. Try reversing the spelling."
Rayle was silent as he pondered D'bactu's strange request; then he spoke almost in a whisper. "Oh My Heavenly Lord! Tadik's brother; he's there on Gpuchk? How did that happen?"
"I have no idea yet, but I am about to find out. I'll call you back." D'bactu switched off the console and turned to watch the doors of his office swing open. The small alien walked in, still in ragged furs, and accompanied by L'zaart and two palace guards. D'bactu waved the guards away and as they walked off, shutting the doors behind them, D'bactu watched as his visitor raised himself to his full but diminutive height and bowed his head in respect to D'bactu. Once he raised his head again he locked eyes with D'bactu, showing no fear in the presence of Gpuchk's great ruler towering over him. D'bactu liked the way the young man waited for him to speak first. He indicated the great fire burning in the stone hearth. "You must be cold even with those furs you wear; come and sit down by the fire and warm yourself."
"Thank you Sir but I'm used to the cold."
"Well as a favour to me then, come and sit down with me." D'bactu turned to his adjutant. "L'zaart, this young man cannot trot about the palace in those furs; they are practically falling to bits, no doubt at the hands of our over-conscientious Gate Guards. I am sure you can find suitable court clothes for him to wear, at least while he is our guest." L'zaart's face showed his personal distaste at being asked to do such a lowly task, but when D'bactu glared at him he remembered who he was dealing with and backed out of the room, thoroughly cowed. D'bactu pressed the comm on his left wrist. Once his dear wife answered he said, "My dear, our guest has arrived. Perhaps you could arrange for food to be brought to my office; perhaps some food of the Terran kind?" His wife didn't need to ask why he had asked this of her; rather than go through the protocols of staff snobbishness. Any objections from the catering staff and she would set to and produce the food herself and leave D'bactu to deal with obstreperous kitchen staff.
Sitting down on a couch beside Kidat in front of the fire, D'bactu said, "Now, young man, I believe you have had unfortunate dealings with my city guards in your attempt to have an audience with me. Would you care to tell me what this is all about?" D'bactu listened with growing horror as the young man told his story. "So, the Drock is heading towards Gpuchk with no means of reducing her speed. We have lost all contact with her, and if she continues on her course the first place she will smash into will be the Gpuchkian space port; which means that we not only lose the Drock but the port as well."
"Can't she be steered away from it?" the young visitor asked.
D'bactu shook his head. "If they have lost all power then they will have lost any means of steering the ship on a safer course. It is like the pioneer spacecraft we sent out when we first attempted space travel. They were unmanned and guided by ground personnel on Gpuchk, and their courses preprogramed into the controls. Once the ground crews lost contact with them and the power ran out, those spacecraft became just another piece of space rubbish flying on for some hundreds of earth years until they hit something or fell fowl of the gravity of a nearby planet."
"Then I need to get up there as soon as possible."
"It will take many weeks to reach the Drock."
"There is another way."
D'bactu stared at the young alien. "With your mind, you mean? What can you hope to achieve by that?"
"I think my brother and I can create enough power to run the basics including steerage and minor repairs, but not enough to halt its journey. We may be able to slow it down until you can reach her with your biggest ships carrying debris slings, one on either side with a sling between them across her bows and use their forward thrusters to act like a break."
D'bactu stared at him again, in surprise. "You certainly do know a thing or two. This ability of yours and your brother's intrigues me. Do you know how you came to be so gifted?"
Kidat shrugged his shoulders. "I have no idea. I can't even explain what powers I have, or where they come from; for a long time I thought everyone else had the same abilities. I don't even know what species we are. I know who our mother was but I have no knowledge of our father."
"So how does this gift work?"
Kidat shrugged his shoulders. "I think it has to do with thought processes; if the situation is serious enough I can change the situation just by thought processes."
"Well I can tell you who your father is. His name is Tadikon Versont, a well-known Captain and space explorer employed by the Terran Space Exploration Service. That means you are half human at least."
Kidat stared at D'bactu with wide eyed surprise. "Do you know him? Personally I mean."
"Unfortunately no; when I was young my parents attended an interspace conference on Quastor. He and his parents also attended. We were introduced and he seemed so knowledgeable about space travel I had a feeling he would one day be a big name in space travel, so I followed his career in the hope of meeting him some day. I might have had that pleasure had he not been captured by pirates some earth years ago. The search for his whereabouts is a never ending quest led by the Quastorian ambassador to Earth, Plumser Otrall. Unfortunately my rise to the position as monarch of Gpuchk prevents me from meeting him unless he visits Gpuchk and that pleasure is now in the hands of my son, Captain D'vork. Now to get back to the problem of stopping the Drock from wrecking our main space port; your idea is a good one but the Drock is a very heavy ship, and I doubt we have debris catchers big enough to match her weight, even if we have strong enough slings to catch and hold the Drock. But you have given me an idea. Wait here for my wife while I have a word with my engineering team." D'bactu stood up and went into the outer office where he called for the great men, who built the spaceships that guarded Gpuchk, to meet him in conference with the fleet marshals. Once he had them sitting round his conference table, he explained the situation and broached Kidat's rescue idea. They agreed with him that the debris catchers would be too small for the task, being one tenth the size of the Drock; but when he broached his idea of using the two largest fleet spacecraft alongside two of the heaviest engineering space barges could use their magnetic grapples to lock onto the Drock and use their combined forward thrusters to slow the Drock down and steer her safely to the space port where the port's magnetic grabs would haul her into her own dry dock.
"I am pleased you find my guest's idea of joining his brother in spirit to be a workable one, gentlemen, even if unbelievable," D'bactu said as he looked round at the gathered scientists and engineers, "but we still have the problem of reaching the Drock, ourselves, in time and also hunting for the entity still somewhere on board with the intent to kill my son's companion. All of you meet back here in two pincycles. (hours) to report on the project. Now I must attend to my guest."
He returned to his inner office to find his wife sitting on a stool beside the couch with a plate of half eaten food on her lap. Kidat lay collapsed on the couch wearing a silk shirt and pants, D'bactu recognising them as one of D'vork's favourite outfits when he was young. She rose to her feet and drew him away from the coach, saying softly, "He told me about his brother on board the Drock, and said he wished to try and contact him again to give us an update on the situation. Then he just closed his eyes and keeled over."
D'vork nodded as he embraced his wife. "If it means saving our son's life, and all those aboard the Drock, then we will do all we can here on Gpuchk to help the young man. Just make sure no-one barges in to disturb him. Meanwhile I must get in touch with Rayle again to update him about our plans to save the Drock. Come and sit down by the fire and I'll tell you what is going to happen."
Boushank looked forward to an evening of relaxation after a day filled with security problems, both at the palace and at Lord Jeffus' country home; the latter still being examined for any further evidence there may be of the alien scourge, while Jeffus and his new husband were away on other business for his cousin the King. Boushank and ten carefully invited friends sat at the table in his study, a comfortable place far removed from the formal thirty-seat dining room and a host of nosy staff trying to listen in on conversation from which they might pick up tasty snippets of information. Here in his study, with its security sensors, with his dear friend Archie, who was more than just a faithful young butler, to serve them, they tucked into the first course while discussing the latest happenings at Anglesey House. "The main problem is," Colonel Tork replied to a comment from Lady Boulter, Boushank's secretary on the lack of leads, "that we have no means of detecting these reptilian aliens until they choose to show themselves. If it hadn't been for young Ajek Torm stumbling on them and attempting to get rid of them by blowing up his own home, we would never have known about them. It is a pity no one believed his story when he first warned us about his mother's black heart." His eyes scanned all the diners, silently accusing them all of their guilt.
There was an uncomfortable silence as Archie cleared the first course dishes away. He served the fish course and just as Boushank picked up his knife and fork, a courier wearing the livery of the Royal House hurried in and strode directly up to Boushank who glowered at for disturbing a private gathering. Instead, the courier raised a hand to stop him. "Sir, I am sorry to interrupt your meal but His Majesty wished me to speak to you and your guests personally on a matter of great importance." He glanced round at Archie, the only servant in the room. Boushank signalled to Archie and once he had left the room, Boushank addressed the courier. "You may speak, sir,"
The courier nodded and surveyed those sitting at the table. "His Majesty sends his regards and wished you all to know that his brother, Lord John, died today." As gasps of shock rippled round the table, he turned to Boushank and said, "He took his own life, sir, a poison we believe. He left a letter addressed to His Majesty, who read it and asked me to convey it to you, Sir." He held out an envelope with the seal of the Royal Marshall embossed on the front. On the back was evidence that the small security seal had been broken and the envelope resealed with that of His Majesty. As Boushank took the letter, the sound of the glass breaking made his glance towards Tork's eighteen year old nephew and ward, Juke who had recently won his warrant as second lieutenant. With his face, as white as the tablecloth, the boy hastily jumped to his feet, his chair falling backwards. Shaking water from his hands and muttering an apology, he hurried from the room.
Boushank frowned after him; according to Tork, the boy had been quite agitated of late, and nervous if anyone approached him unannounced. Boushank thought he knew what was wrong and had meant to speak to Tork about his suspicions. With a sigh Boushank excused himself, left the table, and went to open the door. Archie stood just outside the room, waiting to continue his duties, and Boushank whispered to him, "Go and look after Juke; I think what we spoke about yesterday is beginning to happen. Be gentle with him. We do not want to scare him or incur Tork's wrath, do we?" Confused, Archie frowned at Boushank, but when Boushank stroked the back of his left hand with his right, Archie's frown disappeared. With a quick nod of understanding, he hurried away.
Archie found Juke in the downstairs cloakroom with his dress tunic on the floor, soaking his hands in a wash basin full of water. Startled at Archie's appearance, Juke backed away from the basin, hiding his hands behind his back. He looked as scared as a criminal awaiting execution, white-faced and his cheeks with tears. Archie walked slowly towards him. "It's alright, Juke, you're not in any trouble. I'm here to help your. Let me see your hands."
Juke shook his head and shrank away from him, but Archie grabbed hold of him and yanked the boy's shirt collar open. On the smooth skin of Juke's neck were the tell-tale signs of reptilian scales.
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