Tom, Roger and Astro had just finished their interviews and Tom was pleased with how well they had conducted themselves. There had been no slips and each one had corroborated the otherís story under brutal cross-examination. To anyone, the three space-bums would appear as represented.
The door opened and William entered, closely followed by Paul and Bull. "Please have a seat, gentlemen.", William invited.
Bull and Paul sat in chairs at the right side of the table as William mounted the platform.
"Gentlemen, before we progress in our relationship, we have a vid spool that we would like you to view.", said William. "In fact, we would like you to listen intently and study the content of the presentation. We will ask you for your observations and impressions afterwards."
William nodded and the room darkened as a large view-screen descended from the ceiling. The sound system began playing a haunting and powerful musical score as rhythmic lights pulsated on the view screen. In a moment, a low but forceful voice began speaking about an individualís worth to society. The voice spoke in a lyrical fashion, well measured and with emphasis that carried the listener along from sentence to sentence. The subject slowly changed and flowed from individual to society and in turn to civilization, industrialization, pollution, natural disaster, restructure, reclamation and again to the individual and how society must learn to be responsible to him through political change. As each subject changed, the voice became louder, faster and more intense. The monitor presented images of masses of people, Venus itself and scenes of Venusian life, wildlife and natural beauty. The image of the speaker slowly appeared as the other images faded into the background. All five men knew that the speaker was Tamos Sen and they also knew that they were being treated to a masterpiece vid spool that was designed to mesmerize and convert the viewer into a follower of Senís cause. The Guardsmen were prepared for this type of indoctrination and they each performed a simple routine that would counteract the hypnotic propaganda. While pretending to study the video, the darkened room helped to conceal the fact that each man had laid his right hand on his thigh. The men would press their fingertips into their legs while performing a count, almost as if they were doing a math problem while using their fingers for calculation aids. Even though they were watching the screen, each was concentrating on maintaining his count and increasing the complexity of the calculation. Senís carefully constructed intonations which had been so effective on thousands of men, were effectively neutralized by a childís math technique. As Senís speech built into a crescendo of truths, half-truths and lies, the guardsmen increased the rate of the count.
As the video ended with a speech of triumph and victory, Senís image became an icon of the champion of the cause. The image faded away as a glorious musical score emphasized the need for personal involvement in the liberation of Venus.
Taking their cue from Bull, all five men arose from their seats and began applauding the conclusion of the video. When the lighting intensity increased, William could see all five men smiling and clapping. Even Astro was pounding the table with his right hand. William was pleased and he approached the group of men with a new confidence. Bull grabbed the small man and began hugging him like an old friend.
"William,", stated Bull, "There is no need to consider my products as samples. You may have them for use in the fight for freedom!"
"Why, thank you Taurus.", said William. "I will be happy to pass the message along to our glorious leader." He then looked at Tomís crew and asked, "And you gentlemen. Would you like to join us too?"
Tom grabbed the manís forearm and pleaded. "Yes! Please allow us to help Master Sen to reclaim Venus! We will do anything! There is no labor too lowly or dangerous that we will not do for Mother Venus."
Astro grabbed the manís other arm and stared intently at William. He then spoke truthfully and deliberately. "Venus is my home. I will let no harm come to her. Master Sen shall one day know the extent of my love for Mother Venus."
Roger smiled as he heard Astroís speech. "You can add my vows to those of my friends."
William was both pleased with and suspicious of his new converts. Before they would be transferred to Ishtar Terra, he would test them again.
All five recruits were shown to a row of dormitory rooms and each assigned to a room. The facilities were small, yet comfortable and private. There was no communication equipment other than a call button for an attendant. Each was instructed to stay in his room until called for breakfast. Tom was sure that the rooms and hall were monitored, so he didnít make any attempt to devise a communication system. He could easily have called to Roger in the next room by tapping in code on the wall, but the tapping could have been heard and possibly interpreted. There was a speaker that provided music and Tom turned up the volume and listened to the diversion. Before long, he noticed that the music consisted of mostly popular tunes, but not one of the composers was from Earth. In fact, none of the artifacts in the room was of earthly origin. He found several pamphlets and booklets that were obviously propaganda and designed to bolster the readerís devotion to Tamos Sen. Tom decided that it would be a good idea to open each of the publications in order to give the appearance of having read them. While he pretended to read the books, he mulled over the dayís events in his mind. He was sure that Bull, Paul and his crew were doing the same. Even the possibility of this kind of capture and incarceration had been planned for during the long sessions of mission training. Tom was now grateful for the training because he knew what his friends were thinking and planning. Now it would be a matter of following through when a new opportunity arose.
After a restless night, Tom heard a knock on his door and a voice announced that breakfast was being served. All five of William's guests assembled in the hall and were escorted to the dining area. They were all seated together at a large round table and breakfast was served family-style at the table. There was little talking and the exchanges that took place were concerning the meal itself. Bull was drinking from a large glass of orange juice when the entire room reverberated from a raspy siren. William and several men in uniform jumpsuits burst into the room and took up positions. William, in a very agitated voice, screamed above the din. "Do you men want to defend Venus and our glorious leader?"
Bull, half-choking on orange juice, held his hand out and gasped, "Anything! What do you need?"
The other four men shouted, "Yes!"
William screamed, "Good! We are under attack by the Solar Guard. I need you men to take up a position through that door." William pointed to the door that led to the barracks area. He then shouted to one of the uniformed men, who then produced a bag that was filled with hand-held heat blasters. Each of the disguised Guardsmen grabbed a weapon and ran through the door. Once in the hallway, Bull told the others to open the nearest room door to use it as a shield. He then ran toward the entrance and used his heat blaster to fuse the entrance door and each of the unused dormitory room doors to prevent them from being used as shields by the invaders. As he made his way back to the defense positions, he stopped behind each door and told Tom and his crew to shoot to kill and not to hesitate.
Tom swallowed hard because he had just been ordered to kill fellow Guardsmen. He was also concerned at Bullís enthusiasm to the job at hand. Had he been converted to one of Senís minions? No... if he had, he would have given up Tom and the others. He must have a plan in mind.
As the seconds passed, sweat built up on each manís brow. There was a sudden rumble from explosives beyond the entry door and then the door itself collapsed onto the floor. Astroís eyes grew wide as he saw men in red uniforms milling around in the area beyond the entrance. Bull shouted, "Now!", and began pouring short bursts of heat rays into the adjoining room. Paul, Tom, Roger and Astro began firing also and they could hear war-cries and shouts of pain coming from the room. Roger continued firing as fast as he could even as tears obscured his vision. The scorched metals and plastics in the entry room produced a sickening odor and heavy smoke that billowed into the hallway. As suddenly as it started, it was over. The siren became silent and William poked his head in from the dining room shouting, "Cease fire! cease fire!"
The sudden, eerie silence was as difficult to adjust to as the battle itself. Astro showed the most emotion as he stood behind the door shaking uncontrollably. William interpreted Astroís quivering as post-battle nerves, but Astro was as good a soldier as the Academy every produced. It was true that the big Venusian would never provoke a fight. In fact, it was his nature to be a peacemaker. He had spent a large amount of time at the academy putting himself between Tom and Roger because Rogerís initial attitude during training was always at odds with Tom and the ideals of the Academy. As a result, Astro learned to de-fuse bad situations and he learned to absorb all manner of barbs that Roger would send his way. Over the years, Rogerís comments became good-natured jibes because he had learned to respect Astro as well as the Academy. Yes, Astro was a good soldier... he was also a Guardsman and his shaking was out of fear that he may have wounded or even killed one of his own.
Paul was the battle-hardened veteran of the group. He began walking forward and told William to step aside so that he could mop up any remaining resistance in the entry room.
William grabbed his arm and announced, "Gentlemen, please relax. You should all be pleased to learn that you have passed your loyalty exam and that you will be joining our glorious leader at out base camp this evening."
Astro's face grew ashen and he flew into a rage. "You mean that this was just a test and nobody was hurt?" He the grabbed William by the collar and as he began lifting upward, the room began spinning and the huge Venusian collapsed to the floor.
"Tank!", shouted Roger as he rushed to his friend. He asked Tom to get some water from the dining room in order to revive Astro. He glared at William and shouted, "You son-of-a-space-monkey! That was a dirty trick on us. This big lug will outwork any ten men for Mother Venus, just donít ask him to kill again!"
William, now recomposed, tried to appear unimpressed. "Just tell your big friend that we will do what we can to keep him happily at work."
Several minutes later everyone was seated in the dining room. Bull had decided that it was unlikely that they were now being monitored and he had manually inspected the table for devices by seating himself at different positions over the last two days. He spoke in low tones to reduce the chance of being observed by a remote device. "Men, if we are going to Ishtar Terra, we need to know where we are now. Observe everything, use your pulse for timing. We donít know anything about this facility."
Paul spoke in a normal manner, almost in a boastful fashion. "Men, that was a pretty good fire fight back there! If there had been Guardsmen there, we would have toasted them real good."
Tom know that the speech was for the benefit of William and his crew, but he was pleased that his training had paid off. Once he received the order to fire from Bull, he did not hesitate. It was his faith in his commanding officer that allowed him to pull off the ruse.
A uniformed man came through the door and announced the arrival of transportation. The five new recruits stood up and formed into a line. William reappeared through the door and approached the group. He walked up to Bull and said, "Mr. Taurus, please wear this at all times." he then handed a gray finger ring to Bull. Bull held it up to the light and saw the image of the crescent and the cross-shaped constellation that was engraved into the ring.
After handing out the remaining rings, William announced, "Congratulations men. You have all proven your worth and loyalty to our leader and you are now officially members of Crux Venus. May your efforts to free Venus be rewarded in short time."
William left the room and the uniformed man led the group into the hallway and through the entry room. As they passed through the room, Tom was relieved to find about twenty dummies which were dressed in Solar Guard enlisted menís uniforms. The dummies were attached to a series of remotely controlled wire hangers, which were not visible from the hallway.
At the far end of the entry room, the door opened to the outside and the men saw sunlight for the first time in two days. Tom noted the sunís position and looked around quickly only to see a non-descript buildingís wall that was long enough to indicate that this was a fairly large facility.
The five men were loaded into the back of a jet-truck and the doors were closed and sealed quickly. As the turbines began whining, Bull assigned each man to a job of collecting data so that this facility could be identified later. It wouldnít be easy to locate without good data and the buildings and even the jet-truck were painted to match the soil and rock colors.
The jet-truck began moving and Tom, using a small nail that he found on the floor, started digging at a rivet in the skin of the covering. If he could remove the rivet, perhaps he could make observations through the hole.
It would prove to be a very long ride.