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Dark Matter Transit: Book One
An Intelligent Sci-Fi Novel
By Vernon J. Yarker Posted in Fiction 36 min read
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Dark Matter Transit: Book One

by Vernon J. Yarker


Chapter 1

THE ACID OF TIME

The Royal Air Force (RAF) station at Greenbrook had been, singularly, the biggest thing that had ever happened in the history of its two nearby villages and it had a violent history in World War II. In addition to the airfield itself, many of the surrounding farms had been home to anti-aircraft batteries and searchlight clusters. Even a decoy runway light pattern had been laid out across open fields, five kilometres to the east of Greenbrook, where it postured to be RAF Greenbrook; and many a German raider had found this a tempting target.

Just a little over eighty years ago, when World War II was raging, RAF Greenbrook was a fighter base and being close to the English Channel it saw more than its fair share of action. If the perceptive were to pause, even now, at its perimeter, especially in the melancholy of a late summer evening, then the history of the embattled airfield could be seen and heard within the mind’s eye, together with the ghosts of past airmen who once lived and sometimes died on the airfield.

Greenbrook had, indeed, been in the thick of it with the hustle and bustle and all the importance of warriors at war. It was a place where ‘need to know’ secrets were discussed in hushed tones for fear that somehow Germany might have a very secret, but unbeknown, listening device that could pick up their conversations even in Berlin. It was a time, too, of national suspicion.

A flashlight used innocently to aid somebody trying to find a bunch of dropped keys would have its user reported to the police with the allegation that they were seen to be communicating with the German aircraft.

Laughably now, perhaps, but even the sweet old lady who ran the village post office was once deemed an offender and was pulled in by the village policeman who had known her all his life, but now questioned her about her suspicious activities, witnessed by a good and loyal villager. The policeman, on hearing her explanation and aware that she was known to be forgetful and ever losing her keys, accompanied her home and fixed the black-out shutter which had come adrift. He also helped her to look for her keys with his own flashlight. He afterwards accepted the offered cup of tea and walked back to his tiny office and tore up the report.

If, as Geoffrey had done, one had read the diary which was kept by every World War II RAF station and had tapped the knowledge of the local people who have lived through the war, one would know the history of the airfield well. Was it the misty mellowness and stillness of the evening perhaps?

Tonight, Geoffrey could feel history being rewound around him. It was on this very evening all those years ago that two streams of German aircraft were detected approaching the South coast of England and they were presumed to be heading directly towards London; but just as they were about to cross the coast of Southern England they wheeled and went back out to sea. It was not a manoeuvre they had employed before and it was taken to be the sign of a retreat. Nevertheless, it had been a feint and the defending aircraft had already expended most of their dwindling airtime fuel reaching out to chase them.

Once almost to the coast of France, the German aircraft wheeled again over the Channel and formatted together and plotted a steady course towards Greenbrook. In the meantime, Fighter Command hurriedly called in fresh squadrons to replace those already airborne and running out of fuel, but it would be several minutes before they could arrive on station. Greenbrook was not called because its runways were across the predicted pathway of the marauding force and it would have been tactical stupidity to expose the airfield by switching on its runway lights. They would be called up once the formations had passed over them, they were informed.

At Greenbrook, all lights had been doused and the searchlights and anti-aircraft guns remained inactive but the distant dummy runway had been lit invitingly, even its search-lights came on and probed the night sky but it was ignored by the formidable mass of bombers. These Germans were different and the lead aircraft had the crème de la crème of Luftwaffe navigators to guide them to their target and they were even factoring in the fake airfield to check against their target bearings. Their navigation was spot on and confirmed and backed up by the Lorenz-beams which that night, for whatever reason, were not being jammed by the British. The Luftwaffe group were fearless and single minded with a score to settle with Greenbrook which had accounted for far too many of its lost pilots.

The rumble of mighty engines became a roar that filled the heavens as the aircraft swarmed onwards. Two hundred throaty engines combined, as if one, as they came on unwaveringly towards their goal. Greenbrook waited silently, taking refuge in the darkness, until what looked like a tiny spark, dropped from the lead bomber. The spark then explosively propelled itself apart and, from it, a dozen parachute flares flickered into life; and night was day and Greenbrook and its runways and buildings could no longer hide beneath the friendly blanket of night as the Luftwaffe progressively burned away its protective cover.

When it became obvious that the decoy airfield had not worked on this occasion, the command to illuminate the Greenbrook searchlights and engage enemy aircraft was barked down control lines to the perimeter defence posts, some as much as three kilometres away, but others much closer. The ensuing battle commenced and the night sky was rent with the crisscross stabbing beams of searchlights, followed closely by tracer bullets and ear splitting explosions as the lethality of anti-aircraft fire joined the battle to hurl vengeance towards the heavens. Even at this early stage it was dangerous to not be under shelter because shards of red hot shrapnel from anti-aircraft fire would almost certainly mean injury, or worse, to the unprotected.

Against the backdrop of wavering searchlights and roar of explosions and descending shrapnel, the German aircraft had started to engage the airfield with their on board machine guns. A network of tracer bullets hosed out of the sky to thud into soft earth or ricochet off at all angles, with a shrill whine, when they came in contact with any hard surface. High above, the Luftwaffe suffered their first casualty. An aircraft had been hit and one of its wings torn off by the force of the explosion; and it twirled down as a sycamore leaf, all the time held in a merciless searchlight beam right until the final second when it touched the ground which detonated its bomb load. The aircraft remains were spread over a large area and continued to burn redly for a long time after the event.

The Luftwaffe aircraft were fully in position now and engaging Greenbrook, and occasionally searchlights glowed momentarily brighter for a split second as they were shorted out and extinguished by Luftwaffe machine guns. The bulk of the bomber force streamed overhead and released their payloads and their bombs rained down on Greenbrook with terrifying shrieks. For what seemed to be a long while, but probably only twenty-five minutes, the explosively illuminated airfield could only be viewed as a series of snapshots.

A fuelled up and armed, pilotless Spitfire, briefly exposed in a bomb flash, careened across the airfield as if to take off, only to ignominiously cartwheel as its undercarriage collapsed and in a fireball it spread flaming fuel and exploding ammunition in its wake. In another snapshot, a lorry was propelled by a blast into a parked aircraft and their spilt fuels whooshed out and combined into yet another fire.

Terror was everywhere from ground level up to five thousand metres above Greenbrook. Against this background of fire, two men were sitting in a fire engine in a sandbagged revetment ready to go as soon as the bombing abated. In a series of end to end explosions and fuel fires that maintained daylight conditions, they watched over their sandbagged enclosure as a human head bounded over it and thudded dully onto their fire engine. For them, this was the final straw and they both left with undignified haste and sought refuge on the lee side of the revetment. Another German aircraft, hit as it came into bomb, dived, crippled, into an aircraft hangar. Briefly every rib, joint and bolt hole poured forth the light from within; and as the bombs and aircraft fuel went off inside the hanger, its massive roof whirled away like a top and landed to crush an administration building a full one hundred metres away.

Then it was over; and just the devastation and fires and pop pop of fire exposed exploding ammunition; and a cool measured voice began to issue a rational stream of commands over the station address system system.

Where only minutes before Greenbrook had been an arena of death, unpredictability and disorder, normality and organisation was being imposed upon the scene of death. Already bulldozers were revving up to move to airfield positions; and from daybreak the following day they would fill in the holes in the runway. Phone calls to depots with runway resurfacing equipment were being made. When they totalled it up they found that the airfield and its associated buildings had received over two hundred heavy bombs, plus many smaller ones, and hundreds of incendiary devices. Temporarily, the airfield was out of action, but within forty-eight hours it would be operational again; and within a further two months the damage to non-operational parts of the RAF station would be fully restored.

In the aftermath of war, RAF Greenbrook had survived as a fighter station for a time; but situated, as it was, at the bottom of a natural bowl, the fast jets, replacing the piston engined aircraft, found takeoff and landing restrictive. The airfield would have been closed entirely but was saved by a nearby army Parachute Battalion who occasionally used its open spaces to practice their art.

There were other destructive forces at play now, and the airfield was facing its final battle with a much gentler but every bit as destructive power as nature marshalled its forces to take back borrowed territory.

The stealth war waged by nature had been going insidiously well, and already it had assimilated the outlying dispersal points, gun emplacements and the air raid shelters. Now, it stood in marshalled ranks before the airfield perimeter, with its special forces foraging ahead. First in went the lichens and mosses, probing and exploring the joins and weaknesses in the tarmac perimeter track. Next followed the grasses and ground ivy. As of now, the forces of nature stood in military order, smallest at the front, tallest at the back.

Brambles and wild roses spilled over the edge of the track. Sturdier blackthorn bushes were backed up by taller hawthorn behind them. At the rear, the heavy troops comprised sapling oaks and silver birches.

Nature was in no hurry; it was confident that it would win as it always had done in the past. Decay and assimilation were its weapons of choice, although in this instance it could not know that Greenbrook would not yield just yet and that the airfield was, one day, on course to become one of the most important parcels of land in the whole world.

Yet, in the present still of this late September evening, tranquillity was infused with a deep melancholy at the loss of Greenbrook’s former glory. Once mighty Merlin engines roared their defiance in the bustle and importance of an era passed. Now, tonight, the silver mist had healed over the airfield in a ripple-less lake from which man-made structures of the past protruded, sometimes brutally and inelegantly to manifest as dark squares or rectangular masses. Perhaps the most poignant was the former air traffic control tower, once the policeman of the whole airfield and the airwaves up to sixty or more kilometres distant. It was the place from where warriors were once ordered into battle and cleared to take off, for many of them never to return.

Windowless, the control tower now gazed myopically at the mist, unable to fit in or find a role in its new surroundings. Further over, three blacked out aircraft hangers were majestically keeping an unwavering line astern as they sailed through a mist-created lookalike sea to the stars on the horizon.

It was through this backdrop of gentle Septemberness that Corporal Geoffrey Holder of the Royal Air Force (RAF] was making his way along green footpaths to the airfield. His route was unofficial, but it would have been a longer walk if he had kept to the roads. Eventually, his path would take him to arrive at a rotting and partially overgrown crash gate. Such gates were inserted at intervals around the outer perimeter of operational military airfields to enable fire engines and other vehicles to attend downed aircraft in the surrounding countryside.

Geoff had left the pub before closing time because he was on the morning shift at ‘Irisnet’, the NATO microwave relay station on a hill overlooking Greenbrook. The relay facility was locked into another relay on the French coast that pushed classified data such as nuclear asset availability between NATO administration centres dedicated to factoring it into their daily order of battle and their never concluded, what if, War Games.

In terms of family, Geoffrey’s mother and father had been killed in a car crash five years ago and he had no other local next of kin, although he had some relatives in Canada and Australia but did not know them well. Contact was more or less confined to Christmas and birthdays with an exchange of cards. He had had a relationship with a colleague, who was in the Woman’s Royal Airforce, but she had been posted to Cyprus and, thereafter, the relationship petered out. He did not overly regret this because the flame and passion, that they both claimed at one time to have lit up the night sky, had already defused to become smouldering embers before her posting came through. He still remembered her fondly and knew that she had proved to be a rock during the period following his parents’ death.

Some time ago, Geoff had realised that there was a possibility that he was becoming somewhat insular and he needed to expand his activities, but there were very few after hours activities on the base. So he decided to become enmeshed in the local community. This, in turn, had led him to socialise in the local pub from where he was able to network with the villagers and to be talked into joining the pub darts team. His game had steadily improved until he became a valued member of the team. His training as a radio technician was also recognised and the villagers often sought his assistance to diagnose and sometimes repair their electronic communications devices. At work, he was enthusiastic and professional and he picked up above average marks in his Annual Assessments. He would undoubtedly be promoted to the rank of sergeant in the coming months.

Geoffrey’s service accommodation was located in a small fenced off enclave of the former airfield. The site contained a few residential buildings and a cookhouse, and not much else. Its purpose was to serve as a dormitory for any unmarried airman working at the Irisnet relay overlooking the valley in which the Royal Air Force Greeenbrook slumbered. Currently only five airmen resided there. The remainder of the Irisnet staff were married and lived elsewhere in married quarters.

Geoff was now half way back to the base and was wondering if he had made the right decision to take this route because his progress was hampered by the lower level of mist and, in thicker parts, the bottom layer almost obscured the footpath that he was following. At the moment, he was navigating the most tricky part that was a narrow grass track with agricultural fields on either side. To the best of his knowledge and senses, he was alone in his urban circumstance; but future events would reveal, not quite! Anthony Blyth-Higgings froze as he heard Geoffrey’s soft footfall on the grass.

By description, Antony Blyth-Higgings was a gentleman of the road, and presently he was engaged in an illegal harvest of potatoes. His method of harvesting was to excavate sidewise into the earthed up field furrow to the potatoes growing within, after which he would refashion the soil of the furrow with his bare hands to leave no trace of his activities. It was a technique which he had perfected over the years and, so far as he knew, it had never been detected. The footfall, which he judged to be a scant five metres away from where he lay in the farm field between the potato furrows, caused him to freeze his activities and lay perfectly still.

Tony was an enigma. He had been born into a wealthy family and could have been living a life of style, had he have chosen to. But something called him to the wild side and to a more symbiotic relationship with nature, even though this meant hardship and, often, cold winter nights. Yet he still preferred this to the cut and thrust and insincerity surrounding much of modern civilisation. But now as he lay between the furrows, he gave a sharp but silent intake of breath as he saw a fragmented torso through the layers of mist. The word ‘ghost’ fearfully occupied his mind. Nevertheless, he was also curious. It was not normal for people to pass this way, day or night, so he got to his knees to peer into the mist but the figure had by then passed by and was now some distance away.

At the edge of the field, Michael Babbage, the farmer who owned this particular field and crop, stood quietly with a twelve bore shot gun held broken over his wrist. His reason being that he had recently walked around his fields on a routine inspection of his crops and had spied a row of wilted potato haulms. It could be for any number of reasons but the possibility of blight was something that had to be checked into. As he walked into the field he became suspicious when he saw footprints between the rows. Recent rain would have obliterated any traces of footprints made by employees on the farm. But these were new and showed evidence of somebody using a shuffling gait, as opposed to picking their feet up between steps, leading to his conviction that the person who made the footsteps was doing so stealthily.

Then Michael reached forward to experimentally test the hold in the ground of one the potato haulms; and it came easily out of the soil without a real tug. It was also devoid of any traces of the crop which it was supposed to sustain. He tried a few more but had already concluded that it was theft and connected it immediately with village news that a tramp had recently been seen in a local roadside layby, selling potatoes from a sack. Mindful of that, he decided that a misty evening such as this would be the precise cover a thief would seek to exploit and he was rewarded to observe a dark blob emerging from amongst the crop and his hands stiffened around the shot gun that he now projected before him. He, too, had also seen the figure pass earlier and did not wish, whoever it was, to become involved so his voice was low as he intoned sternly.

“Stand up where you are. I have a shot gun pointed at you, so no tricks!” He snapped the gun together for illustration. “Walk towards me now,” and he broke the gun and snapped it back together for emphasis that he did indeed have a weapon in his hands.

Blythe-Higgings knew that he was caught red-handed and obeyed; although he felt pretty certain that the theft of a few potatoes would never satisfy a jury that it was an offence of such gravity to warrant shooting anybody. The enigma which he could not solve on the spot, however, was the likely stability of the person holding the gun, if he were to make a dash for it. So it was meekly that he stood up and approached the farmer.

“It’s only a few,” he pleaded, as a diversion, whilst at the same time attempting to drop his half-filled sack of potatoes in the darkness of a furrow behind his back; but it dropped awkwardly with a slight thud.

“Pick it up and bring it here,” Michael intoned flatly and Tony had no option but to comply. For a moment the farmer contemplated the half sack of potatoes. “Bit more than you could eat, isn’t it? I wouldn’t have minded just a few but when you are selling my potatoes beside the road I’m afraid that it’s the police for you,” and he prodded Tony with the gun, Tony not knowing if there were cartridges in it.

“Now you walk in front of me carrying that sack of potatoes. We are going to cross the airfield by the gate up the top of that pathway and cut across the airfield to my farm and then call the police. I will be right behind you, now get moving!” and Tony felt the nudge of the rifle to urge him on.

Geoffrey had reached the crash gate and for a moment had sat upon it surveying the autumnal alterations rendered by the mist. He had heard the voices of the farmer and Tony, but they were very indistinct and voices can carry long distances on a still night. They may well have been coming from the dormitory site on the airfield, for all he knew, so it meant nothing to him; but the insecurity of the wobbly timbers of the decaying gate caused him to relinquish his perch to continue his journey across the cut grass of the airfield.

As tranquil as the setting seemed, nobody has ever been alone on the surface of planet Earth since the day that Marconi’s three Morse Dots crossed the Atlantic and heralded the wireless age. Now everywhere, in hundreds of thousands of voices, were radio waves; and at the speed of light they jumped and skipped and ricocheted off objects and off the ground and passed on. They spoke in English, Chinese, Indian and every language of the world, to taxicabs in New York to a construction worker perched high up on a crane in Thailand, to the billions of mobile telephones, television, data services, and to ships and aircraft on their voyages.

They were ever present even if a means of detecting them were absent. As the radio waves moved silently over the landscape, they found crops in the fields, lovers parked in quiet spots in country lanes, foxes on their nightly patrols and birds deep in the hedgerows; and they moved on. In a blink of an eye they skipped right around the world in reflected bounds between Earth and its ionosphere and sometimes came back to the very same spot that they had just left less than a second ago. Others left Earth altogether and tore adventurously into space, perhaps one day to be intercepted and analysed by an alien race in a far off galaxy.

In the meantime, Geoffrey had recently vacated his perch on the crash gate and was nearing the centre of the cropped grass on the way to his quarters in the fenced off enclave; and the farmer was nudging Tony, at the point of his shotgun, towards the same gate. Elsewhere, around the globe exciting events were taking place and scientific minds were marvelling at the sun’s latest coronal mass solar ejections, or CME, in their terms.

Over the past four days, three CMEs had lashed out into space from the sun’s surface and their remnants were now vortexing back into it, as the resulting solar winds flowed outwards to engulf the planets of the solar system.

Chapter 2

QvO

Hull down behind the moon, the Qee van Ongle (QvO) spaceship, although one hundred and seventy kilometres long, was shielded by the bulk of the moon from any possibility of detection from Earth. Its mission was to study the Earth and its peoples and the flora and fauna of the planet.

The only real evidence of this activity, but far too small to be noted, was its’ small discanner-terrain (discan-t) dish antenna erected at the rim of the moon. Currently the discan-t was engaged in sweeping a very localised area of southern England and co-incidentally zeroed in on the Greenbrook airfield. The discan-t was a sophisticated instrument that could map in depth and dimensions, including internally, the flora and fauna or animal life it found. From there datum was fed directly into a 4D printer in the printer department; and the output from this would be sent as hard copy to their Earth Studies Department.

The 4D printers were state of the art and they could rapidly reproduce an insect or small mammal down to tissue and blood type within thirty seconds of the arrival of data from the discan-t. Printer speed was selected automatically depending on the size and complication, but a cat or a dog would take on average one minute thirty seconds for them to reproduce and anything much larger than that would be rejected as ‘exceeding design limits.’ The creatures that they did reproduce were anatomically precise but lifeless. The originals were unharmed and would be oblivious to having been electronically examined inside and out.

Back on Earth at Greenbrook, Geoff was now well into his trek across the grass towards the security lights surrounding the last inhabited remains of Greenbrook airfield while, high above him, unnatural and unseen things were happening in the upper atmosphere. The ionosphere was in turmoil and it had fragmented and thickened in places, moving like an ice-pack with layers being over-topped by new layers as the solar wind swept around the rim of the Earth.

In the downwind protected lee of the Earth these ionospheric layers had unnaturally descended until they had formed an invisible lid straddling the hill tops of the valley in which the RAF base was situated. Ensnared within the descended ionosphere and the surface of the Earth were the billions of radio waves, plus the alien beam of the QvO. With no outlet and with the speed of light, the trapped radio signals jazzed and jostled and bounced between the ionosphere above and the ground below and interacted with each other creating a frenzy of unheard frequencies and harmonics.

Something else unexpected was happening, too, because an entirely new force was being created. It started with a faint buzzing sound, a trembling of the very atmosphere, as it progressed within a minute to become a steady drumming and the very air was felt to be electrically charged.

A small unarmed roving patrol was maintained at Greenbrook and consisted of two airmen. Their main duty was fire watch and to ensure that there was no unauthorised use of the derelict side of the base. They had no particular schedule to follow and were presently stopped in their vehicle drinking coffee from a flask, routinely provided to night patrols by the Airmen’s Mess. They had detected the atmospheric buzzing and had opened the doors of the vehicle to try to ascertain the direction it was coming from. They were astonished to see the thick mist, which had hitherto been hampering their driving, suddenly dissolve in front of them.

Interest turned to alarm as the airmen witnessed a blue haze creeping over the base and the atmospheric vibrations were morphing into a howl. Other events were cascading across the base and it could be seen that anything metallic was, with increasing intensity, starting to glow with a blue light. Aircraft hangers, in particular, were the most spectacular and their skeletal construction became etched out in light blue for the thinner skin and deeper blue for their ribs. Overhead power distribution lines were a dramatic but alarming sight, etched against the sky as glowing strands as they dripped blue white sparks along their entire length.

At that moment the base security lights turned themselves off. For a second or two, the airmen sat in their military pickup truck, trying to make sense of what they saw. Then, when they tried to start up their vehicle, it point blank refused to turn over. With haste, they took a decision to abandon it and dash to the guardroom on foot and from there report the events at Greenbrook to the nearest RAF police post, twenty-five miles away.

Barely noticeable at first, a small white pinpoint of light had developed high up at the edge of space which as it enlarged took on the appearance of the funnel of a twisting tornado of many colours. The vortex of the tornado advanced cautiously, sometimes seeming to lose its nerve as it retreated then tried again, each time probing a little deeper towards the ground. Then, as if it had finally come to a decision, it lunged down with an ear-splitting clap of thunder and sucked back upwards and into itself and vanished from the night sky. In that instance, the buzzing and thrumming sounds and the misty blue light snapped off.

Over in the accommodation area, the security lights flickered on and off twice and then settled for ‘on’.

“What the hell?” The farmer had just finished prodding Tony, at the point of his shotgun, over the crash gate. They had both seen it in the glowing light, the figure of a person walking towards the barrack blocks in the distance; and even as darkness returned they retained that image as if burnt into their minds the figure of a man who had thrown out his arms as he was struck by a colourful bolt of lightning. Immediately the pair hurried over to the impact point and the farmer produced a flashlight and in that instance they were no longer farmer and captive but engaged together to render assistance to the person they had witnessed to have been struck down. They knew that they had reached the place when they found a patch of smouldering grass and their torch picked up a blackened area; but they were dismayed to find no body so they widened their search around the smouldering patch.

“Yuk!” exclaimed the farmer. There in the light of his flashlight beam lay a severed human hand complete with a part of the forearm with a wristwatch still upon it. It was bloodless, he noted, probably cauterised by the heat that had severed it from the body. A lifetime of farming had rid the farmer of the emotions normally surrounding death. Tony, unfortunately, had no such experience and was promptly sick.

The farmer broke the gun with a sharp click and laid it over his arm. “We have to report this,” he said gruffly. “Right now I am too busy to deal with you, but in future keep off my land or it will be the police station next time. Let’s see if we can find anybody from the base,” and they turned in that direction.

At Greenbrook, the farmer and Tony were giving their statements to the RAF police. The civilian police had been called in too and with their very powerful lights they were scouring the grassland around the burnt patch of grass where Geoffrey had last been seen. In the following days, they were to discover that two metres down in the centre of the charred earth was an upright oil drum, still partially filled with oil. It was probably buried, it was concluded, as the result of an air raid and bulldozed over afterwards. Whatever, it appeared to have made an excellent conductor for the lightning bolt which had led to the demise of Corporal Geoffrey Holder.

Laboriously, the Board of Enquiry went through their check lists. Abduction was ruled out because no ransom note had been received. Espionage was unlikely, too, because Corporal Geoffrey Holder’s work did not involve high level military secrets, by reason that the information passing through the relay facility where he worked would be heavily encrypted at source, hence, it would be a meaningless jumbled data stream to operators of the relay stations. Terrorism was discounted because an act of terror, and the reason why it had been carried out, would be pointless if it were not announced by its perpetrators to its followers. No claims had been made by any known terrorist group, and a verbal, unattributable and unrecordable guideline had been given to the Board that a GCHQ investigation had drawn a blank. To a po-faced Board of Enquiry, and the guffaws of the farmer, not officially recorded, Blythe-Higgings ventured that it could have been an alien abduction!

Some weeks later the Board of Enquiry, in its final paragraph, recorded that they were confused by the fact that the meteorological office had assured them that there was no radar trace, nor predictions of a thunderstorm in the Greenbrook area or anywhere in the United Kingdom that night. It was noted, too, that there was no body other than a forearm and a wristwatch that had been fused into a solid piece of metal.

Forensic science input was unhelpful because they were unable to prove the mainly held theory that the body had been simply boiled away or had exploded in the heat and ferocity of the lightning strike. In those circumstances, they said they would have expected traces of human DNA spread over a wide area, but there was nothing to be found.

On the QvO spaceship above, on the eve of the event, Specialist Technician Robot Radio Engineering Designator Eleven, which was a mouth full in any language, thus shortened in conversation to ‘Spectre’ by the crew, was topping up his batteries by hanging on the charging bars in the Radio Engineering Room when the alarm went off.

‘Scan failure,’ was the message sent direct to his brain. ‘Specialist Technician Robot Radio Engineering, Designator Eleven, attend your work station and immediately retract the discan-t and assess and repair the fault.’ The spectre leapt away from the charging bars and hurried through the doorway into the Radio Engineering Room. The discan-t disc antenna was actually on the surface of the moon but the controls to aim and lower it were on-board the QvO.

Robots are not biological, so for that reason it was not necessary to refer to them as he or she; but in practice, for the easy flow of human language, it required such definitions because it was difficult to eliminate them. A spectre was regarded as masculine, thus it was their occupation which notionally decided the sexuality of a robot.

Although robot occupations were often quite interchangeable, work programmes were loaded into them on the basis of current need. As Spectre Eleven walked, he was using his interfaces to access information and he was able to ascertain the problem in advance of his arrival. The scanner, he discovered, had apparently gone into severe vibrations to such an extent that the disk on the moon had lost lock and was now staring aimlessly at the moon’s surface. There were other problems, too, because an unknown and massive power surge had taken out a myriad of transistors and many circuit breakers had popped out randomly. It was an extensive repair situation and he left a sticky note to that effect, to be seen on any appropriate computer on the ship. On the note, he confirmed that, from evidence, an estimated time for total repair would be two days.

He would need a jet-pack to ‘step over’ to the moon. So he placed another sticky note on the ship’s computers that he would shortly be going off ship. The Spectre Eleven needed to pass through the printer room, next door, to access a jet-pack store. In all it housed twenty-five printer tables and a number of human operators to operate the equipment. The primary use of the printers, in this department, was to recreate items required for day to day replacements and repairs for the ship, but they could also replicate anything for which there was a programme, such as a knife or a fork or a baby’s cot, if necessary.

He lifted his hand in salute as he entered the room, but nobody paid him any attention because they were all intently focused upon the large printer table in the middle of the room. It was the table that was normally hooked up to the discan-t he observed. His gaze narrowed to encompass what the human operators were crowded around and looking at and he noted their human expressions of astonishment. What he saw triggered a rising kernel panic, but routine took over and he killed the panic savagely and then took in the new visual experience for the ship’s computer archives. In the middle of the table was laid a human figure clothed in unfamiliar costume. One of the human operatives looked up and caught his attention and motioned him to assist.

All robots were programmed for medical emergencies and he could see that the life signs of the human on the table were very faint, and his medical protocols kicked in and subordinated his other programmes. A medical scan showed him that the human was in shock and blood was oozing from a severed wrist. With movements faster than any human could possibly achieve he fetched an oxygen mask from the jet pack room and clamped it over the figure’s mouth and nose. From a first aid locker he retrieved gel bandages and ambidextrously formed them around the stump of the arm. Simultaneously he was summoning a Red One medical alert.

The ambulance crew were with them in minutes and in the following minutes they rendered injections to lessen trauma; and the body was then whisked away to the nearest hospital on the ship. Thus, Corporal Geoffrey Holder, late of Royal Air Force station Greenbrook, had arrived on the Qee van Ongle.


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