31. TROUBLE ON SOL 3-1*

Who’s planning to destroy Earth’s International Space Station?
Can Tony stop them?

The Bulbuls, the nearest civilisation to Earth, don’t want Earth to conquer space.  Tony gets a tip that they’re planning to shoot down Earth’s International Space Station, from their secret base on the Moon.

Length : 4 800 words.

1

“COLUMBUS!”

 

“ Bean! Do you see who I see?”

“Columbus!”

“I wonder where he’s going with that kit trolley. I bet he’s up to something shady. I’m going to follow him.”

“No, Tony. Even if he’s innocent, he won’t like it. He’ll try to stop you.”

“He might not see me. It’s worth the risk. He can’t do much anyway, in Federation headquarters.”

Without giving her a chance to argue, I headed after Columbus.

Even in the crowded waiting room of the Galactic Federation headquarters on Yband 4, it was hard to miss Columbus. As usual, his clothes were bright. Today’s were a dark green suit, with silver waistcoat, and a cloak that had zigzag patterns of dark green and silver. One shoe was dark green and the other was silver.

As Troubleshooters for the Federation, we’d met Columbus more than once. He’s a brilliant scientist, but reckons he can make more money by working for crooks. Although we’ve been on opposite sides, I like Columbus. In a way. He’s always cheerful.

A kit trolley is a big metal box on wheels, usually used for carrying equipment for expeditions. That one might contain more of his flashy outfits – or it might contain something shadier.

Luckily, I wasn’t wearing my Troubleshooters uniform. The Bean and I were on our way home to our cabins on Yband 4 from a trip to friends on Dancer 61, so I was wearing the usual Federation casual gear, like a tracksuit. It was dark blue, so Columbus wouldn’t notice me – I hoped.

I was about ten steps behind him as he pushed the trolley onto the moving walkway that runs up the middle of the building. Not far before the junction with the walkway that crosses the building, he went right, into a residential block. I followed, more cautiously: Columbus hadn’t seen me on the busy walkway, but the residential block was quieter.

There were only one or two other people around as he went through the wide passage to the central square of the block. From the end of the passage, I watched him cross to the open doorway of a building at the left. As soon as he went inside, I ran to the entrance. Peeping in, I saw his back as he walked along the main corridor

I followed, more warily. It was easy to say to the Bean that Columbus wouldn’t bother me in the headquarters, but this was a quiet part: we’d passed nobody since we came into this building. I’d never seen him turn round, but he was sly enough to glance back as he turned a corner, but go on, pretending he hadn’t seen me. And lots of corridors branched off this one – perfect places for him to lie in wait for me. Although I liked him, I didn’t kid myself: he wouldn’t mind roughing me up if he caught me following him.

He went into a corridor on the right. I ran to the junction, my trainers silent on the soft floor. I peeped round the corner, and saw his back, farther along the next corridor. I wasn’t happy, but I didn’t want to give up; I couldn’t believe that Columbus had an honest reason for bringing a kit trolley to this place. I wished I had a stun-gun, but we hadn’t needed weapons on Dancer 61.

I couldn’t follow him much farther. Now, the branch corridors had cabin doors only. If I was lucky, I might see which one he went to, but it meant taking chances.

A figure jumped from one of the side corridors between us. I had a glimpse of a broad back – and of something shining, like a gun barrel in his hand, pointing at Columbus’s unsuspecting back.