6. DANGERS AMONG THE DANCERS*

Why did a boy stagger out of the transporter and fall unconscious?
The trainee agents are sent to investigate.

As the final exercise in their training, the trainee agents are dropped in pairs, thirty-six kilometres from the Federation base on a wild planet called Dancer 88.  They’re given three days to trek to the base, but Tony and Falcon do it in two.  When they arrive at the base, they find it trashed.  A boy staggers out of the Dancer 61 transporter, and collapses at their feet.

Length : 59 400 words.

1

“LOOK OUT, TONY SIR!”

“Look out, Tony sir!” Carrington called the warning.

Falcon whipped out his stun-gun and fired over my shoulder. An apeman, bursting from the bushes, dropped his club, and fell at my feet. With grunts of rage, four more charged, but my gun was out now, and they didn’t reach us.

Falcon and I were trainee agents of the Galactic Federation. For the last part of our training, we’d been dropped thirty-six kilometres from the Federation base on a planet called Dancer 88. Our job was to find our way to it.

It was a weird planet. No trees, but big clumps of bushes – with black leaves. In the gaps between them, pale grey rocks stuck out from pale yellow grass. Even on a sunny day, the place looked like a black and white picture.

We were wearing expedition suits, like plastic tracksuits, that kept us from getting too hot or too cold. We carried backpacks containing everything we might need, from a First Aid kit to an inflatable tent. We had stun-guns and big knives on clips at our waists.

And we had Carrington, our flying robot – like a flying saucer about a metre across. He could see and hear and speak. He could also go for help if we got in too much trouble.

The base was on top of a hill. We hurried up the slope, hoping to reach it before dark.

That was Falcon’s idea. Dancer 88 had a short day – less than six Earth hours. We could’ve done the trek easily in three days, but Falcon suggested we were fit enough to do it in two. It was interesting for one night, sitting outside our tent, watching silver planets soaring across the sky in all directions, but the base was more comfortable.

Another apeman, a small one, leapt at Falcon. I zapped it. The unconscious body bumped Falcon, then rolled to a stop with arms and legs flopping.

“Done, Tony.” He poked it with the toe of his boot. “It’s just a kid. Carrington, how far to the base?”

“About half a kilometre, Falcon sir.”

Falcon glanced at his wrist unit. “We can do it. Come on, Tony.” He jogged off, up the hill.

“Coming,” I said, hurrying after him, and trying to be patient.

Falcon was a big fifteen-year-old and I was an average-sized nearly-thirteen-year-old. So he took charge. I could’ve argued. As a trainee agent, his Federation rank was 1. I’d done two missions before the training, so my rank was 378. Federation rules say that the agent with the highest rank is in command of the mission, but that didn’t bother Falcon.

He did listen to me once. I suggested sending Carrington to find a way round the patches of bushes. That helped us to make good time.

He should’ve listened to me once more. The darkness came quickly – before we reached the base, although we could see it over the tops of the bushes. As usual, Falcon was about ten metres ahead of me.

“Hang on, Falcon,” I called. “It’s so dark I can’t see my feet. Let’s use our torches.”

“It’s not worth it,” he called over his shoulder. “We’ll be there in a couple of minutes.”

I took another ten steps before I got sensible. I was kneeling beside my pack, fishing out my torch, when his voice came from the darkness ahead. “What’s…? Hey! Tony, come and give a hand. Carrington! Tony! Help! Help!”