11. TROUBLE ON AGLA 5*

Why did crooks kidnap Bea?
Can Tony find her on Agla 5?

Pirates snatch Bea.  To find her, Tony goes with a squad of commandos to raid the pirate base.  They don’t find Bea, but Tony gets a clue that she’s been taken to Agla 5.  The commando leader agrees to drop Tony secretly on Agla 5.
During the raid, the commando leader believes that his young son is a coward.  That’s the ultimate disgrace for the warlike commandos, so the leader refuses to take his son back.  The boy begs to go with Tony to Agla 5.  Can Tony risk taking a coward on a dangerous secret mission?

Length : 35 000 words.

00

IT’S A SKY-HIGH JOB.

I’m Tony. A few months ago, while my cousin and I were playing in the lift in our granny’s house in Edinburgh, we accidentally found the Earth base of the Galactic Federation.

My cousin’s name is Beatrice. Her official Federation name is Bea, but I’ve always called her the Bean. She’s 11½, skinny but brainy.

The Federation asked us to be agents, because, like all young people from Earth, we can sense the feelings of people of other planets.

We’ve just finished training to be agents. It’s a sky-high job – visiting planets all over this part of the Galaxy. I like it so much that I don’t usually want to go home, but my parents wanted me home for my thirteenth birthday, and I can’t deny I was looking forward to that. But….

0

“IS THAT THE GIRL?”

The Bean and I put on breathing masks, and faced the spaceship’s door. “Open.” It slid aside, and we went out, to the spaceport of the planet Yband 4. The sun never shines there, but the planet Yband 5 hung high in the sky like a huge moon, flooding everything with pale light. A few ships – black boxes – threw sharp shadows. Not far away, Federation headquarters was a flat-topped, one-storey grey building.

A scream rang out – loud, although it was muffled by a breathing mask. A man in a green uniform was dragging a struggling little girl into a ship, while another man backed towards them, covering the airlock door of the building with a nerve-gun.

Spaceships travel through the fourth dimension. They ‘take off’ by disappearing, and ‘land’ by appearing – silently, so the men didn’t know we’d arrived. I sprinted towards them, pulling my stun-gun from its clip at my waist.

The backing one was nearer. Maybe he heard my feet on the gravel, because he started to turn, but, by that time, I was in stun-gun range. He fell.

I ran for his ship, as the door slid shut with the man and the girl inside. About five steps from the door, I called, “Open.” It didn’t. He’d had time to lock it.

“Tony!” called the Bean. “Wait there.” She ran to the airlock doors while I watched the ship. If it was going to take off, we couldn’t stop it.

After a few seconds, it shimmered and disappeared. I walked slowly to the unconscious body, and picked up his nerve-gun.

The airlock door hummed open, bringing the Bean and two Federation agents. Their grey uniforms had the pale green bands of Investigators round the chest and cuffs. Their names were on the chest bands. Fordyce and Jason.

Fordyce asked, “Is this an emergency?”

“Not now,” I answered. “The ship’s gone.”

“Then let’s go inside, where we can talk properly, without these masks.”

He and Jason carried the body through an airlock to the waiting room, where they dumped it on the nearest seat. The guy must be important: his green uniform had three yellow bands round the cuffs, and his face had a sneer, even with his eyes shut.

Fordyce asked, “Tony, what’s your job? I’ve never seen uniforms with dark green bands.”

“We’re Troubleshooters,” I said. “We’re the first members of a new team.”

He waved at the body. “Is this part of a job?”

“No. We just happened to be there. We’re on our way to report to our boss before we go home on holiday. Fordyce, would you report this? Then we can go.”

He shook his head. “You can’t do that. Wellington will want to question you about it.”

“That’s why I want to get away. Wellington will ask us endless questions.”

“He’s the Investigators’ commander. It’s his job to ask endless questions.”

“He doesn’t like me – and I don’t like him. He’ll blame me for not stopping them snatching the girl.”

Fordyce frowned, and the Bean began, “Tony, we can’t sneak away. We…. Oh, oh.” Wellington’s tall figure appeared in the entrance of the waiting room. As he pushed through the crowds towards us, she muttered in my ear, “Tony, please keep calm.”

Wellington glared down at me. “You!” That wasn’t a friendly greeting. “Were you involved in this incident?”

“Yes.”

“I understand that a girl was taken away in a ship. What was the number of the ship?”

“411777.”

“I suspected it might be.” He sighed, and seemed to shrink, as if the sigh had let a lot of air out of him. He turned to Fordyce and Jason. “Fix the prisoner in a chair, revive him, and bring him to my office immediately.” He turned to us. “You two, come to my office.”

I opened my mouth to tell him we were due to go on holiday. Looking at his face, I decided that wasn’t a good idea. I followed him.

Like all Federation offices, Wellington’s has a U of seats facing the big screen of Victor, the Federation computer. Wellington sat in his command chair, at the bottom of the U. “Sit.” The Bean and I sat on the edge of the settee that made the arm of the U to his left.

Wellington’s voice was quieter than usual as he said, “Tell me what happened.”

When I finished, he asked, “Are you certain of the number of the ship?”

“Yes. It was 411777.”

“Do you know who owns that ship?”

“No. Won’t Victor tell you?”

“I don’t need Victor to tell me. I know whose ship it is. It is mine. Victor, wake. Display the picture of Elizabeth.”

On Victor’s screen appeared a picture of a little girl of about 10. She had a friendly smile, and bright eyes. Wellington asked, “Is that the girl?”

“It could be,” I said. “The mask hid most of her face, but she has the same dark hair.”

He turned to the Bean. “Did you see her?”

“Not any better than Tony. He was nearer.”

Wellington asked in a dull voice, “Do you know who that is?”

“No.” But I could guess.

“She is my daughter, my only child. We named her, ‘Elizabeth’, but she is determined to become an agent, and she has already chosen her name – Dandelion.” His voice broke.

I forgot my holiday. I forgot I didn’t like Wellington. I only saw a man who was desperately worried about his daughter. I asked, “Can we help to find her?”

“That is why I ordered you here. You will help me to question the prisoner you captured.”

Fordyce and Jason brought the prisoner in, with his ankles and right wrist clamped to a wheelchair. His left arm was free so that he could use a wrist unit – a gadget like a watch with a screen, used for translation.

Wellington ordered, “Set him to face this agent.” He waved a hand towards me.

Wellington and I began to speak, but the prisoner was louder, lifting the wrist unit to shout, “I demand that you release me immediately. You cannot detain me because my home planet is Agla 5 which is not a member of your Federation.”

Wellington said, “If your planet is not a member of the Federation, you should not visit Federation planets. You will answer my questions.” But the prisoner wasn’t listening: the wrist unit was down.

Wellington said, “He intends to defy us. We’ll soon teach him.”

“I’m trying to tell you,” I said. “It’s not ‘him’. It’s ‘her’.”

“A woman? Are you sure?” asked Wellington. The prisoner looked like a man, in the green uniform and a short haircut.

“I think so,” I said. Women’s feelings are softer than men’s. It’s hard to explain, and it was hard to tell about this prisoner, because her mind was tough, like a man’s.

Wellington growled at the Bean, “What is your opinion?”

“I’m not as good as Tony at sensing minds, but I think he’s right.”

“Humph! Well, he or she is going to answer my questions.”

After a struggle, Fordyce and Jason clamped the woman’s left wrist to the chair, and strapped the wrist unit to her head, beside her right ear. Wellington asked, “Do you come from Agla 5?”

No answer.

I said, “Yes.”

“Were you a member of the group who kidnapped a girl at the spaceport here?”

No answer.

I said, “Yes.” I didn’t add that she was pleased she’d done it.

“Do you know who I am?”

No answer.

I said, “Yes.”

Wellington stared in silence at the prisoner, who stared back at him with a smug smile on her lips, and a smug feeling in her mind.

I asked, “Did you know that the girl you kidnapped was Wellington’s daughter?”

No answer, but the smug feeling grew. I told Wellington, “Yes”, then asked the woman, “Did you kidnap her because she’s Wellington’s daughter?”

No answer, but I told Wellington, “Yes.”

“Were you planning to hold her for ransom?”

She thought that was funny. I was puzzled, until the reason hit me. I realised why Wellington hadn’t asked these questions. But we had to find out. I glanced at Wellington’s glowering face, then asked the woman, “Did you kidnap Wellington’s daughter to… to try to force him to do something?”

No answer, but that removed the amusement.

“Yes,” I told Wellington.

He snapped, “Thank you”, at me, then went on with the questioning. “Where has the girl been taken? Agla 5?”

No answer.

I said, “Yes.”

“Ah!” Wellington gave a grim smile.

We asked lots more questions, but we didn’t learn much more. The woman’s name was Bo-Gwarric. She was second-in-command of the police (or army: it was hard to tell) on Agla 5. She thought Dandelion would be taken to their headquarters, which included a prison.

After more than two hours, I leaned back, wiping my forehead. “I’m sorry. I can’t take any more.”

Wellington said fiercely, “We shall continue the questioning.”

“It won’t do any good,” I said. “I’m knackered. Mind-sensing needs a lot of concentration.”

“We shall continue. We must learn everything she can tell us.”

“We have learned everything she can tell us.”

“Humph!” He’d been pacing back and forth as he asked the questions, but he sank onto the command chair. “We shall resume tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?” I said. “We’re supposed to be on holiday.”

“We shall continue tomorrow.”

“I wouldn’t mind giving up my holiday to continue tomorrow, if I thought it would do any good. But it won’t. We’ve learned all she can tell us.”

The glare he gave me was almost like the usual Wellington, but it quickly faded as he leaned back. He waved towards the door. “Go.”

The Bean and I went. At the door, she turned to say, “Wellington, I do hope you find your daughter safe.”

The only answer was a dismal, “Humph.”

1

“HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU.”

I ran up the drive, and opened the front door of Granny Harrison’s house. It moved a little, and bumped against something soft. I put my shoulder to it, and it moved a bit more. I stuck my head through the gap to find out what was jamming it – and saw the body of my nine-year-old cousin, Sara.

I dropped the box of ice cream, and squeezed through. She was breathing, and her pulse was strong, but I couldn’t waken her.

Our family had gathered at Granny Harrison’s. My birthday was in five days, but nobody mentioned that. Granny sent me out for ice cream. That was an excuse. When I came back, I’d find them all in the lounge, laughing and singing, “Happy Birthday to You.”

Instead of that, I found Sara, unconscious, behind the front door, and the house silent.

I ran across to the lounge door, dreading what I’d find.

On the coffee table stood my cake, decorated in red on white, “Tony 13”. The whole family were sprawled unconscious round it, some on chairs, some on the floor. Granny Harrison, my uncle Simon, Dad, Mum, my little sister Susan, the Bean’s mum and dad, and her three-year-old brother Roy.

No. They weren’t all there. The Bean was gone.