Just discovered that, due to an error, this story by Richard Logan never went online. We herewith correct that error.
"We've got you now, Gallagher Jones!" the sergeant in charge of the Dominium soldiers snarled.
They were on a small, rocky planet that served as a way station. Jones stood in a clear space surrounded by scattered boulders and twenty or thirty soldiers. A small red sun illuminated the scene.
The surrounding soldiers are all about twenty feet away. The sergeant and his troops stood in front of Jones, between him and his spaceship. In the sky about a thousand feet beyond his ship was a large Dominium battleship.
"My," Jones grinned broadly, then said, "I'm flattered, Sergeant. You all came down to meet me in person. So nice of you." His bravado air was hard to maintain. Inside, he was frantic. Where is that darned thing? he thought, searching anxiously.
"Forget it, Jones! Quit wasting time. Nobody's going to fly in and save you. You know full well we couldn't just blast your ship!"
"Oh, you caught me in a misapprehension, Sarge," Jones said, forcing his grin to stay in place. "Sure, I know you had to come down. If you used energy cannon on my ship, the blast would have set off the atmosphere, killing everyone on the planet." His grin changed to a broad smile. "So thoughtful of you, sparing us."
"Drat it, Jones, you're wasting time! You know dang well we have our own stations on this planet, and we couldn't kill them just to get you." The sergeant frowned. "What's in your backpack? Why are you keeping your hand in your pocket? What's that glow around the pocket's edge? Why're you wasting our time?"
Jones knew any casual observer would think that his hand was in his pocket. What that observer would think was both right and wrong. His hand was in a pocket, a dimensional pocket that stayed only a couple of centimeters above his waist near his actual pocket. While he had been stalling, his hand was fumbling around somewhere else, searching in frenzied haste. His face revealed none of this.
"Why, Sarge, I'm ashamed of you! Time is a valuable thing, and I have no intention of wasting it."
"That does it!" the sergeant said. "I'm going to come down there and beat you to a pulp!" That was a serious threat. The sergeant was at least six feet, four inches tall with broad shoulders. Jones' scrawny frame did not reach six feet.
In a split second, Jones' attitude changed to a menacing one. He had found what he was looking for. "I wouldn't advise that, Sarge!" His hand came out of his pocket and it held a curved tube. Pocket Jones pressed a button on the tube and a slender rod shot out, pointing at the sky above.
"An umbrella gun!" the sergeant exclaimed. "Men, shoot that - "
Before he could complete the order, spines shot out of the top of the rod, spines that began to spin at the top of the weapon's barrel and shot out paralyzing rays that raked across all the soldiers as it spun.
The sergeant froze just as he started to lift a foot. Jones pushed another control and the barrage ceased. Putting the gun back in his pocket, he strolled casually up to the sergeant and patted the man's cheek.
"Better luck next time," he said cheerily and went to his spaceship.
Inside a semicircular captain's room, Jones activated the controls, set his destination and then went to a large glass cylinder with a dome-shaped top. A control panel was on the round platform that held the cylinder. Jones touched a few buttons opened the dome top and emptied the contents of his backpack into the receptacle. Closing the lid, he stepped back and watched it fill with liquid. "Sharee's scientists said that should do the trick, fella. We'll see. Right now, something else to do." He wore thin Duraplex gloves for protection as he probed. Putting his hand into his pocket, he reached out for the Dominium ship and fumbled through its walls until he found a complex of wires and tubes. He grabbed a cluster of them and twisted.
That'll mess up their controls for several minutes, if I figured things right.
"Clever, for a human," a voice said in his mind.
Jones whipped around and then realized it was from the alien in the cylinder. "Awake already, I see."
What he had put in the container was an Iryllun, according to Sharee, and it was floating near the dome. It looked like a brain, with tentacles dangling from it. "It was nothing," the brain responded. "I designed my hibernation for a quick response."
"Hey, you said 'clever'. How did you know what I was doing?"
"I was surfing your mind. It is easy to do."
"'Surfing'?" Jones asked. "That sounds like a human term."
"I picked up the term by having studied humans for one hundred and eighty two years. Considering my obligation to you, it is proper that I am so familiar with your kind."
"Obligation?" Jones asked, puzzled.
"You saved my life, thus I must serve you for one hundred and forty years. That will be one tenth of my life."
"It will be beyond my life," Jones said. "But look, I was doing my job. You don't have to do that."
"It is an obligation," the being said. "If you die before the time is up, I will be released of that commitment."
"Hey, I don't like that," Jones objected. "It gives you good reason to get rid of me."
"Such an action is beyond my kind," the Iryllun said. "My duty is to serve."
"Yeah, well," Jones began, but then heard an alarm. He looked at the view screen in front of the captain's chair. It revealed a white dot moving in their direction. "Uh-oh! Looks like the Dominium ship recovered already. They're after us. Bet they're already priming their cannon."
"Quickly. Think of your propulsion system."
"Just do it. There may be a method I can proscribe to help."
"Okay, okay; I'm thinking," Jones said, concentrating.
"Make these three connections," the alien said, sending the diagram to Jones' brain.
"Done," Jones said, after manipulating the controls. "Now what?"
"Apply fifty percent power."
Jones reached for a knob. "If fifty percent is good, I'll give it full power."
"No!" the Iryllun snapped. "That procedure would disintegrate us!"
Jones gulped and said, "Fifty percent is good." He watched the dials as their speed increased. "That's twice as fast as we have ever gone," he added, awestruck. But then . . . .
"It died. Propulsion died!"
"It does not matter. Our momentum will carry us at the same speed, a speed more than sufficient to outpace the Dominium vessel."
"But what if we run into something?"
"This area of space has no meteors, planets or stars within sufficient distance. There is no obstruction in our path for twenty minutes."
"Your propulsion system will recharge in three minutes. The changes you made will disconnect, and there will be normal speed thereafter."
Pocket Jones sank into his chair to enjoy a moment's relaxation. Looking at the cylinder, he said, "Sharee will be excited when I return with you."
"Sharee," the alien repeated. "Surfing reveals you find her sexually desirable, and that she rules the resistance."
Blushing, Jones said, "Hey, cut that out! New rule: Don't surf my mind!"
"But it simplifies communication," the alien objected. "One surf and I attain complete details. Furthermore, it enables rapid results, as demonstrated by my maneuvering which enabled us to outdistance the Dominium vessel."
Jones frowned, and then nodded his concession. "Okay, okay. But only in emergencies." He paused and then added, "Also, any time you need what might be complicated for me to explain, but only," he went on, "if you ask first. How about that?"
"Incidentally, what's your name?"
Jones' mind was inundated with a flood of information. "Whoa! Wait a minute. To another of your race, I'm sure that would mean something, but it's too much for me to handle. Suppose I call you William? Sounds kinda like 'Iryllun'."
"If that is your decision," replied the newly christened William.
Jones thought there was a sullen tone to the response, but he shrugged it off. "Don't you want to know how I found you?" he asked.
"Someone received my message, of course. I say, 'my message'; actually, I broadcast the message to my people. In turn, they forwarded the information to you."
"I thought the Iryllun were hundreds of light-years away. How could you get a message there and back to us so rapidly?"
"Thought is instantaneous. Before I disintegrated my crippled ship, I used the directional guide on my vessel to aim a focused message. Then I proceeded to a protective hiding among the rocks, and hibernated."
They were interrupted of another alarm. Jones looked at the viewscreen and cursed when he saw a cluster of small dots that were moving too fast.
"Uh-oh. At the speed they're approaching, that has to be a faster than light flitter fleet! I didn't think they had finished their development."
"I detected their attempts before hibernation," William said. "It is truly amazing that they are in use."
As they spoke, the dots enlarged into two dozen small ships, ships that came parallel to their ship, and slowed to match their speed. "Gallagher Jones," a voice said. "We are commandeering your ship. Turn around and follow us back to the station."
Jones' fingers drifted over his control panel, then he said, "Well, gee, I appreciate the invitation, but I had another destination in mind."
"You have no choice, Jones, because we have you surrounded."
Gallagher Jones looked at William. "Any ideas?"
"Logic tells me that your dimensional pocket arranges it so that your hand, when on another ship, moves with that vessel. Correct?"
"Well, yeah, but what good does that do us?"
"Flip my dome open. I will extend a tentacle into your glove. With that done, I can provide your hand with eyes."
Jones smiled and said, "Yeah that would work." Then he added, "But what good will that do?"
"We can ascertain details about the flitter ships that might be advantageous."
"Won't hurt to try," Jones said, opening the dome. One of the alien's tentacles stretched out and slid under his glove. That done, Jones put his hand in his pocket and zeroed it into one of the flitters.
"Only one man aboard," William reported. "Move your hand to the left... More. Here is their power unit, but sight alone will tell me little. To the right. ...More. Move down. Ahhh! They have no weapons. Withdraw, and contact them."
Jones renewed communications and smiled, then said, "Well, you know, I find that interesting. According to my scan, your fleet has no weapons."
After a pause, the speaker said, "That doesn't matter, Jones. We have you surrounded and even if you break free, you can't outrun us."
Disconnecting communications, Jones asked William, "Any ideas? He's got a point there. Even if I get away from this cluster, I can't go to Sharee's headquarters, because they would follow and then know her location."
"Obviously the fleet is still not completed," the alien replied. "As I remember, fuel was the key to success. There is a likelihood that their fuel would not be sufficient for the trip. Unfortunately, I could not ascertain that weakness."
"Okay, okay," the man said. In two heartbeats, his eyes lit up. "Wait a minute," he said. "You mentioned sending mental messages. What are the chances you could broadcast a message to all of them, making them think that we had disappeared?"
"That is beyond Iryllun ethics," he said, smugly.
"Is survival allowed by those so-called ethics?" Jones asked.
There was a pause, and then William said, "Point taken. To answer your question, I do possess the ability to blanket the enemy with such a message. However, their minds need to be considering the subject. I do not operate below conscious level."
"Good," Jones responded, grinning. "But there's one more question: Is there a time limit? That is, how long will that message last?
"Eleven minutes, fifty two seconds."
"We'll work with that," Jones said. "Exclude me from the message, of course." He reopened communications.
"Forgive my delay," he told the fleet man who had contacted him. "I had to check to be sure my equipment was ready. It is, so I'll bid you a fond farewell."
"What are you talking about? You're surrounded!"
"No problem," Jones said. "We will leave by activating out dimension drive. When I activate it, we'll move to another dimension, and you won't see us anymore."
"Don't give me that guff, Jones. Our spy would have told us if you were developing something like that."
Spy, Jones thought. That's interesting. Aloud he said, "We know all about your spy, so we kept it secret from him. Better tell everyone what we're about to do."
The flitter man laughed. "Sure, it'll give everyone a good laugh." He then added, obviously speaking to others, "Guys, keep an eye on Jones' ship. He tells me he's about to disappear."
Echoes of laughter rang out in the captain's cabin as others reacted to the notion.
Switching communication off, he turned to William. "Send your message when I point at you, okay?"
"As you say."
Reactivating communications, he said, "Let me demonstrate. You must have heard the old saying, 'Now you see it, now you don't'." He pointed at William.
"Jones, there's no way you could," the flitter man began, and then Jones heard him gasp.
"Fleet members," the man said, "tell me that didn't happen."
In response, there was a flood of answers, all affirmative. The flitter fleet seemed stunned with what they thought they saw. Or, that is, what they didn't see.
Except for one.
"What're you talking about, Cap? I see him plain as day."
Jones looked at William. "His attention must have been distracted. I'll focus on him, now that he's thinking about it."
"What do you mean, Rank?" the captain asked. "He's gone!"
"Well, his ship is," the other voice started, and then there was a grunt. "Damn! He did disappear. How'd he do that?"
Slumping in his chair, Jones wiped his brow. "That was close."
"The effort reduced our safety time," William said. "Due to that, we only have seven minutes and eighteen seconds remaining."
"We'll just hope it's enough," Jones said. "It's our only hope." He grinned and added, "This will give me a chance to try something I've recently developed."
"Yes?" the alien said questioningly.
Jones nodded at the control panel. "If it works, we'll be able to tap their comm. system. It's supposed to lock in on his broadcasting level. Let's listen."
"That's damn strange," the captain said. "If they detected our spy, why is he still there? I'd have killed him."
Another voice said, "Maybe they're not as vicious as you are, Cap. Anyway, what are we going to do? Our fuel won't last much longer, not if we want to get back."
"Oh, hell. Let's go home."
The flitter fleet flickered, turned and rapidly decreased in size on the screen.
"Okay, now we can get going," Jones said, reaching for the controls.
"That's a negatory, good buddy," William said.
"What? Hey, you reached way back for that phrase."
"As I previously informed you, I have done an in-depth study of you humans. My point, however, remains the same. We should not activate propulsion until they demarcate."
Jones leaned back. "You think they could detect our departure?"
"There is no point in testing it. We should maintain our position."
"Okay, it makes sense. So tell me how you picked up info about the flitter fleet if you can only tap what's on the mental surface?"
"Utmost simplicity. They were very excited about the fleet, so it was often on their minds."
"What do you know about them?"
"They are small crafts, with only one man in each. They travel in alternating bursts of speed, thus the name 'flitter'. Unfortunately, I never obtained detailed information about their travel fuel. It was obvious what they wished to develop, and some of their failures were obtained. Overall, that sums up what I collected about them."
Jones nodded. "Then your limitations would keep you from picking out the spy they have in our camp."
In the background, they could hear talk from the flitters. Someone said, "There's our base. We can land now."
Shaking his head, Jones said, "Not going to fall for that, guys. Our instruments detect one flitter that paused about halfway home."
"Obviously, they suspected trickery and one remained, to see what happened," William commented.
"The others will land and refuel," Jones agreed. "Any suggestions?"
"We have two minutes, ten seconds remaining," William announced. "Your people have a saying, 'Cross your fingers.' That is the best advice I can offer."
The next second they received a broadcast obviously from the man on the flitter. "I fixed it, Cap," he said, excited pleasure in his voice. "I told you that I could. I'll be landing beside you in a minute." The single small dot on the viewscreen began to move.
Jones breathed a sigh of relief. "It was a malfunction, not a trap. I'm getting us out of here now." He engaged power, and they were on their way. "Let's hope there are no ground units focused on us!"
They moved away.
"Why is it," Jones asked, "that there are so few Irlyuns? Seems to me that the population of a race which lives so long would be enormous."
"We are more concerned with the mental than the physical. We have no sexual drive."
Assimilating that, Jones nodded and asked, "Why are you the only Iryllun around here?"
"Millennia ago, we anticipated the development of humans. It was ascertained that your race would be heavily emotional, which was a repulsive notion. We left. Two hundred and three years ago, I volunteered to return and study your society."
The man smiled and then said, "So you're an explorer?"
"Correct. Now, as to my earlier question: Who received the message I sent through my people?"
"Sharee. She had what she thought was a dream, and then found out that others had the same dream. Frankly, the fact that you were on the Dominium way station entered into her decision to rescue you."
"I assumed as much. Nonetheless, my obligation remains. Irregardless of your motivation, despite the danger, you came and rescued me."
"With you providing eyes for my dimensional hand, we can make a pretty good team." Resuming course, he added, "How are we going to catch that spy?"
"We must devise a method whereby spying is on his mind." Considering your having demonstrating the ability of a devious mind, I feel we must depend on your services."
Jones' smile turned to a frown. "I'm not sure if that's a complement or an insult."
"Take it as a statement of fact, and work with it."
"Okay, okay. Let's see...maybe Sharee can broadcast that a spy has been revealed. ...No, that would only make the spy more cautious. Let me think." He stopped, and rubbed his jaw, a thoughtful look on his face. "I'll come up with something. Right now, we've got to return before they send those flitters out again."
Always alert for warnings, they continued.
Jones called Sharee. "Successful mission, commander."
"As I expected," she replied, to Jones' pleasure.
Then he had an idea. "When we land, can you come aboard, just you alone? I have a surprise I wanted to share with you first."
After a split second pause, Sharee answered, "Of course. I like surprises."
They landed, and Sharee entered the ship. "What's the surprise?"
"You have a spy. I didn't want to mention it where others could hear. The Iryllun can detect the spy. I think the spy would have worked himself into your inner circle. If you call a meeting of that circle and tell them to be cautious, that there is a spy and that you feel assured all of them are trustworthy, that would cause the spy to congratulate himself on his success." He turned to William. "You could pick that up, couldn't you?"
Looking back at Sharee, he said, "So we catch our spy. Does that make sense to you?" Jones was tense, more because he was near Sharee than anxiety of her acceptance of his idea.
Sharee nodded. "Makes sense to me. The thought of a spy is not a new idea, but now we have a way to detect him. That's good."
Sharee called a meeting in a conference room. There was a platform at one end of the room, a platform for three: Sharee, William and Jones. The alien was in his cylinder, and everyone's attention was on him.
Standing behind a small podium, Sharee called for order. "I called this meeting for two reasons," she said. "First is the success of 'Pocket' Jones in his rescue of our new alien friend, an Iryllun dubbed 'William'." She pointed at the cylinder, and there was applause. "He has information on a new development of the Dominium and will share that information with us." More applause. "But," Sharee added, "Jones has also brought us some bad news. It seems we have a spy among us." She held up a restraining hand as her audience glanced at each other. "Don't be concerned; I feel certain the spy is not one of you. We have been quite careful in forming this committee."
Quietly, William said, "The redhead with a brown shirt. His name is Carter. He even revealed a small communication device in his room."
Jones opened the lid of the cylinder. Into my glove he thought. He put his hand into his pocket and, with the alien's help, reached into Carter's room and retrieved the comm unit.
When Sharee turned to him, Gallagher Jones nodded. She correctly interpreted it. Looking at her audience, she said, "This will be a very brief meeting." After making a few comments about the flitter fleet, she ended up saying, "So that sums it up." She smiled at Jones, who hoped he didn't blush, and finished with, "Mr. Jones tells me he wants the personal advice from one of you. Who would that be, Mr. Jones?"
Gallagher looked at the redheaded man. "I need to consult with Carter, and in your office, Sharee, if that will be allowed?" He knew it would be acceptable; they had already arranged for two guards to be there.
Carter started to rise as Gallagher approached. Good; he doesn't suspect anything. But even as the thought formed, Carter straightened and whipped one arm around Gallagher's throat. "I have a gun," he hissed. "You'll get me out of here!"
William! The intense thought was a plea for understanding, for compliance. Before he could explain, Carter tightened his grip on Gallagher's throat and said, "Let's get out of here!"
With effort, he managed to say, "I don't think that guard at the door will let us out." The audience was frozen by the sudden drama, but surely the alien would understand and respond with one of his mental illusions.
Carter snorted. "That old 'look-behind-you' trick won't work. Move!"
Even though he was expecting it, Jones was surprised by what happened next. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the door, and the figure of the guard that suddenly appeared there. He was further surprised when the guard seemed to say, "Hold it right there, Carter!"
"What --?" came from the spy's mouth. Shocked at the unexpected, he loosens his grip on Gallagher's throat. Lifting one foot, Gallagher slams his heel down on Carter's instep, turns and pulls the gun from the spy's hand.
"That's it, Carter!" he snaps.
At Sharee's order, the guards from her office appear and take the spy away.
As they left, Sharee threw her arms around Gallagher and kissed him.
To Gallagher Jones' embarrassment, his glibness failed him.