Chapter Index
-First Command - A Tom Corbett Adventure

Chapter 20

The jet-truck cruised at high speed for hours. Astro was keeping time by monitoring his own pulse. As each hour passed, he would mark it on the floor with a piece of sulfurous stone that he found wedged between some metal plates. Roger had detected an irregularity in one of the wheels of the vehicle that had given him a means of calculating that the average speed of the truck was about seventy-five miles an hour. Tom and Paul relieved each other as they continued working at digging a hole in the skin of the truck. The vehicle never stopped for any provisions and the only contact with the crew of the truck was an announcement from a speaker that there were food and drink supplies under the bench seats. The benches on the left side of the truckís bed contained sanitary facilities and an empty bin that Tom had briefly considered as a route to the outside of the vehicle. The bin was in front of the rear wheels and it would be impossible to exit the truck without becoming tangled in the drive train. The possibility brought back memories of a time on Mars when Tom had been kidnapped and he exited through the bottom of the vehicle. Unfortunately, the circumstances were different as was the design of the truck.

After fifteen hours, the truck began quickly decelerating. Tom, Roger and Astro quickly calculated that they had traveled about eleven-hundred miles. Each of the occupants was aware that the interview facilities were about twelve-hundred miles from Venusport and eleven-hundred miles from Ishtar Terra. By drawing an arc at those distances from the center of the two sites, a fourth-grade student could determine the general area in which William greeted new candidates into Tamos Senís service.

The jet-truck came to a brief stop and then began moving at a slow rate. The sound quality entering the bed of the truck changed dramatically. "Weíre in a building or a tunnel", said Bull. "Now remember, if they split us up, work your way to your assigned area as soon as there is any sign of trouble."

After a brief ride, the truck came to a stop and the occupants could hear the noise of construction coming from the outside. The rear doors opened and two uniformed men motioned for the disguised Guardsmen to exit and follow them. As Tom jumped down from the truck, he was amazed at the size of the cavern, There were men going in all directions and all with a specific purpose. Some were obviously masonry crews and some were driving carts with electrical equipment that was destined to be part of this great facility. He and the others were led to a large office or meeting room that had been dug out of the walls. They were greeted by a young man who called himself Digby.

"Men, thank you for volunteering your services to Crux Venus. I have received your personal information and have evaluated each of you for placement within our organization. Our glorious leader, Master Sen, will address all of his children in the great hall tomorrow. You will indeed be blessed to be in his presence. Now please take seats and we will begin your orientation."

Bull and the others sat down and listened to Digbyís presentation. As Digby began opening the individual dossiers, Tom noticed that each was color-coded, possibly designating a section or type of job. Except for two of them, each was a different color.

"Mr. Taurus,", he began, "I see that you and Mr. Robertson have been recommended for quartermaster positions." He paused while studying the files and then continued. "That is unusual, indeed. You must both have unusual qualifications or outside contacts that are valued highly. You will report to the quartermaster division in central command."

Tom worked hard to hide his pleasure with the fact that Bull and Paulís assignments would work out perfectly with the mission profile.

"Mr. Rossi!"

Roger became attentive as Digby looked over his file.

Digby looked at Roger over the top of the file. "Mr. Rossi, your talents seem to be best used in the area of electronics and controls. We have two openings that need to be filled soon. Would you prefer to work in the communications shop or electrical generating station?"

Roger almost jumped at the chance. "You mean I can choose?"

"Certainly, Mr. Rossi!" , stated Digby. "In fact, our glorious leader wants his children to be happy in their work. If you find that you have difficulty in an area, we will do our best to find something suitable for you."

"Iíd like to try my hand in the communications department, sir.", said Roger meekly. "I always liked to build radios and gadgets when I was a kid."

"Consider it done, Mr. Rossi."

Now eyeing Astro, Digby said, "Would you like to work in the power station, "Mr. Tank?"

Astro, beaming with confidence, replied, "Sure would! Just show me what you need done and Iíll do it!"

Digby was pleased with Astroís enthusiasm and smiled as he made a few notes in Tankís file. He then turned his attention to Tom. He muttered a few grunts as he went through Skankís files and then finally said, "Mr. Skank, you have worked all over the solar system and have always been good at anything you have done. However, you have always had a problem working within society and never worked very long at any job."

Tom started to interrupt, "But, sir, that was before! I have seen Master Senís plan and it has a wonderful purpose. I am willing to.."

Digby held up his hand to cut Tom off short. "My dear young man, Master Sen knows that you have dedicated your life to him. Yet, we must all begin somewhere and in time you will be given increasing responsibility. Remember, we are the seeds of Venus reborn. We will all be the leaders of our world one day soon. We will begin your service in the western section in a cleanup crew. The job is dirty, but necessary."

Inwardly, Tom knew that Roger must be chuckling at the fact that he had received a less than responsible position. Tom was more worried that his position might keep him from being useful as the mission progressed.

The men were taken back into the cavern and asked to wait for transportation to each manís specified job. Tom mounted an electrically motorized cart and the driver began the long drive to the western section. As they passed various subvenusian structures, Tom recognized each one from his briefings. He had visualized each one many times, yet the massive scale of the complex was something he was not totally prepared for.

Roger had a much shorter ride and was soon standing in the center of a brightly lit electronics lab and repair facility. A young man in a white lab coat was assigned to give Roger his orientation. "Hello, Mr. Rossi. My name is Max Pyron. I am a technician in this lab. Are you familiar with most types of radio equipment?"

Roger looked around and did not see anything that was above the current state-of-the-art, but he decided to play down his knowledge. "Well, Max, I recognize a lot of it because I used to build a lot of radios when I was a kid, but some of this stuff is way beyond me!"

"No problem, Al.", said Max. "Youíll be a veteran at this before long. I think weíll look around at the various stations and then put you to work at monitoring our receiverís for a while. Weíre a little shorthanded in some basic areas."

Max pointed out bins of parts, rolls of cables, transmitters, receivers and complete testing facilities. Max told Roger that it was impractical to run miles of cables under the surface and all communications was made possible by ultra-high frequency links and data repeaters that connected every part of the facility. All communication was carried to a central processor, located next to the lab, for redistribution to the required area in the complex. Roger knew that disabling the processor would be necessary to effectively shut down any coordination within the facility.

Roger picked up a piece of familiar equipment and asked Max, "Mr. Pyron, what is this used for?"

Max smiled and said, "That is called a spread-spectrum amplifier module. We use them in our surface-mounted scanners."

"You have scanners on the surface?", asked Roger with faked amazement. "They would be easily detected, wouldnít they?"

"Not very easily.", said Max. "In fact they are well disguised. Some of them look like scrub brush and some look like parts of the rock surface." Then he laughed and said, "There are even a couple that look like small dinosaurs! Master Sen insisted that they even be animated to further confuse our adversaries!"

"Master Sen seems to think of everything. Doesnít he?"

"Master Sen is wise indeed.", stated Max. "Master Sen saved my life and gave me purpose in that life."

Roger could hear the reverence in Maxís voice. He also knew that Max was a basically honest person. He wondered how an intelligent person, like Max, could be persuaded to blindly follow someone like Tamos Sen. "Sen must have recruited many of these men when they were at the bottom of their emotional states.", Roger thought. "These men will need help and lots of it."

Astro was in all of his glory as he was shown the controls and distribution grids for the encampmentís power supply system. His tutor, a short man named Lexman, was impressed with Astroís quick grasp of everything he was shown. In fact, Astro, like all former Space Academy Cadets, had learned about power plants and distribution while in his second year at the Academy. It was a requirement in case the Solar Guard would be needed to restore power to a destroyed city or a damaged Guard base. He had spent many hours in the Academyís power plant monitoring the hydro-electric supplies and atomic generators. He quickly learned how to balance and distribute power where it was needed. He also knew how to take the entire grid off-line and leave the facility without anything but emergency battery backup power.

"Very good, Astro.", said Lexman. "You are a good student. Tomorrow, I will have you spend the entire shift monitoring the grid... under supervision, of course."

Astro, grinned and did his best to gain the confidence of Lexman. The short man was grateful that Astro had taken to the job so readily because he was short-handed due to many of the relocation of technicians and electricians to new construction areas.

"Come, Astro. We will now inspect the generators. It will not take long."

Astro, mimicking, Lexman, grabbed a hard hat and put it on before exiting the large room. He followed the man down three flights of stairs into a large, unfinished cavern that was dimly lit except along the walkways. As they walked, Astro could hear the familiar sound of steam turbines in the distance. He could also tell that he was getting closer to the sound with each step. Actually, Astro could have made this walk with his eyes closed because he had studied every crevice of the base for many hours.

As soon as he was able to view the layout of the generators, he knew what he would have to do.

Bull and Paul were sitting in a comfortable room waiting to be assigned work duties. A door opened and a gaunt man entered slowly. He then stood upright and announced, "Mr. Taurus and Mr. Robertson, please rise in respect. I am pleased to introduce you to Master Tamos Sen."

Neither Bull or Paul was prepared for such a meeting and Bull called on his lessons in etiquette in order to properly respond. Bull decided to bow deeply and Paul did likewise. Tamos Sen, dressed in white trousers and tunic, entered the room and assumed a seat behind a small desk. As he became seated Bull and Paul stood up and looked at their adversary for the first time.

"Be seated, my children.", bade the surreal-looking figure. His voice was very low-key, yet demanding of attention. "It has come to my knowledge that you have offered to provide Crux Venus with certain gifts."

"Yes, Master. We are honored to do so.", said Bull

Sen nodded his head toward the frail-looking man who opened a metal box of about nine inches on each side and set the box on the desk in front of Sen. Sen reached into the box and produced one of the devices that Paul had smuggled aboard the Andromeda. "Mr. Robertson, will you please describe this object?"

Paul arose from his chair and looked directly into the pink eyes of his questioner. "Yes, Master. That is an enhanced plutonium detonator that was previously stored in a munitions depot on Titan. It is completely self-contained and can produce an explosion of over one-hundred kilotons of TNT value."

"You have brought us several of these and can produce more?"

"Yes, Master."

Sen looked at Bull and asked, "Mr. Taurus, what is your involvement in the procurement of these munitions?"

Bull cleared his throat and said, "Master, I have the ability to provide unfettered transportation and clearance through customs. I have never had a single shipment of merchandise examined or even questioned about in many years." He then added, "Mr. Robertson and I make a good team for procurement, Sire."

Sen laughed loudly. It was not laughter from amusement, but more like that of a jackal that had found an entire carcass to feed on. Paul was unsure as to how to react, so he fell back into his seat.

"You men could be very valuable to Crux Venus.", stated Sen. "You will be shown to quarters and await my decision as to your duties. That is all."

Bull and Paul again stood and bowed as Sen exited the room. A uniformed man then entered and escorted them to a dormitory that was almost a duplicate of the one that they had occupied at the interrogation center. The major difference was that this room was designed for two occupants and the men were allowed to room together. After showing the roomís amenities, the uniformed man said, "You will not be required to attend dinner in the dining hall. Master Sen will have your meals sent here. Good evening."

Unsure as to whether they were being monitored, they sat beside each other and tapped messages onto each otherís arms. Bull noted, "We seem to be more like prisoners than guests."

Paul responded, "Seems so. But not for long."

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