“I have been space bound for the last twelve years.”
“You look like one of those typical interstellar investigators.”
“Well, oh, I thought so.”
“Not much time remaining, though. I’ve got to make myself scarce and this is the right time as any other. Could you guide me to the nearest interplanetary hangars? Please.” His voice did not sound imploring to the ardent listener. However a slight whiff of imported Jupiter whisky, emanating from the formers coat lapel seemed to do wonders upon the ardent listener’s reflexes.
“You’ve perhaps got a few days at most, before our cities upon Pluto go underground, below the sea level. Those winds! Even outward travelers must take care.”
The listener obviously referred to the harsh, gale force winds which lashed the upper crust of Pluto at a time interval of forty-five earth days each alternate earth month and in consonance with the rising second moon of Pluto which remained visible in the heavenly skies for a time duration of forty-five days altogether.
The slightly tipsy and ardent listener was temporarily unaware of the fact they were standing adjacent to the entrance chambers of Pluto’s interplanetary hangars.
December evenings and nights upon Pluto resembled Earth’s climate by no close match. However, conditioned air feeding the cities of Pluto housed under one mammoth semicircular, transparent plastic glass, was capable of producing an ‘artificial climate.’
Those untamed winds!
The investigator was present upon Pluto with a purpose.
Interplanetary field counter-intelligence personnel always remained in total Earth 1 shape in matters relating to physical health; and he was nearly on the verge of completing a two month workout inside an open air gym located inside one of Earth’s advanced space research laboratory. The two month open-air session also involved vigorous runs in the hills, mountains and fields outside parameters of the gym, at odd hours of the day and the nights. These activities formed a strict curriculum in personal physique development.
“It shall not be possible for me to judge the number of weeks or months you shall be kept away from home planet, Earth,” the chief of interplanetary field counter-intelligence — commonly termed as IPFC Intel by its personnel — remarked casually as they sparred through an invigorating and complex round of close-combat fighting movements.
“Come back from this one-time field assignment and I shall teach you further lessons on how keep your cool at all times — to remain mentally calm and alert — even while fighting at close combat range.”
The chief of IPFC Intel — counter-two intelligence in short — effectively managed to avoid shortness of breath. As a matter of fact he was speaking very casually as he blocked a direct toe hit aimed with deadly accuracy, at the heart region of the chest with a flat and hard palm drive. He unerringly deflected the near-fatal hit with ease, while at the same time, applied combined, total force of the opponent’s strength, the leg muscles, and slight upward thrust of his own palm to allow the now-dangerous foot to skid harmlessly upwards over his head.
He stepped back immediately.
“I was supposed to have closed in to counter your moves effectively!”
“I know.” An equally poised reply. The investigator was selected for very many reasons for this one-time assignment upon Pluto Stations.
“Were you also aware that you can use your opponents’ anger one hundred percent effectively, against the opponent?”
“Whilst at the same time, remain cool and calm inside? No sir, I did not know...”
“I’ll tell you. Sure. I shall teach you. Just come back from your star field duties as soon as you can.”
A few days later the chief of counter-intelligence remarked, in his Earth office, where the investigator was invited for an Earth official level Two briefing, “Your direct flight to Pluto is arranged and due tomorrow. You shall fly solo and land one week prior to moonrise. Your primary field contact is the hangar astronaut coordinator. He takes care of all incoming and outgoing space traffic and trusts nobody. Rather, he trusts a handful of people.”
“Well then, whom does he take orders from?”
“From you for now, as soon as your identity registers across to him.”
“That was not what I meant, sir.”
“He takes orders directly from me and which is immediately counter checked by the deputy chief in most cases.” He obviously referred to the deputy chief of interplanetary field counter-intelligence Pluto. A highly debated-upon and controversial person, for none except the upper hierarchy was aware of his real identity. Other personnel within IPFC Intel were advised to refrain from investigating his whereabouts. Some said he could be traced at Earth Stations. Others however, claimed that he operated from Mars! His presence upon Pluto was unconfirmed. His counterpart upon Earth however, controlled all activities related to IPFC Intel at Mars, Jupiter and Pluto, not to mention earth and the related space field matters.
Pluto cities wore the usual starry looks when viewed via computer telescopes from Pluto’s second moon station, he noted for the countlessth time while watching brighter lights sparkle like distant stars in darkness, as the interplanetary rocket made a gradual descent from half a light-year distance, from Pluto’s second moon to Pluto. He made that primary decision to deviate an arrival schedule direct to Pluto from earth, and landed upon its second moon instead, mainly to shake off humans tracing him or his flight patterns from Earth stations.
Zero-gravity powered and operated vehicles were active everywhere. He noted vast differences between Earth cities and space colonies settled upon Pluto. Even the gardens appeared fresh and the flowers smelled sweet. The people appeared healthier and lighter on their feet as they walked.
The fifteenth generation of Earth population was now settled upon Pluto. Many amongst them had never felt the need to visit Earth, their primary home planet, and upon which their ancestors had walked and lived for countless centuries and ages. Plutonian vacations were a must however, and certain procedural formalities required Plutonians to spend the major portion of such days and nights upon Earth. He wondered which flowers smelt sweeter: the earth roses or the Pluto orchids.
“We shall not waste much time here, because the matter under consideration is related to the second moon sub-city.”
The investigator did not bother to turn his head in order to verify the identity of the speaker, seated next to him. Instead, he continued admiring evening glimpses of richly-decorated shops as the zero-gravity powered fifteen-seater taxi eased through hundreds of cobwebs of wide roads and sub-roads, in the main thoroughfares of Central District arcade, Pluto’s capital’s shopping market area. The taxi driver skillfully maneuvered the vehicle in between thousands of similarly powered vehicles, including personal antigravity cars.
“We are in the company of half a dozen unknown faces, my dear sir.” The deputy director was not known to be an outwardly affectionate man. “We may be joined by an equal number of people at the next taxi stop. We shall have to step out at the halt after that, the next cab stop, I mean.”
The investigator felt his muscles stiffen and the hairs at the back of his neck straighten. Outwardly appearing to be no more conspicuous than the average Earth tourist, he was nevertheless totally composed, and occupied a seated position denoting total combat readiness at close range. He could sense danger in the airs, although Earth airs were different.
Plutonian airs were artificially produced, yet equally efficient, within the huge twelve-foot thick near semi-circular transparent glass-plastic domes which housed the cities, fields, mountains, rivers and also contained portions of the seas of Pluto.
The investigator made no untoward moves even while recognizing an IPFC Intel duo — a male and a female team — enter the cab at the next cab stop and seat themselves directly in front of him. Neatly recognizing them while assured that they had no inkling of his identity, he also noted that they let out no flicker of recognition glances towards the supposed deputy chief seated next to him. Ever since he had boarded the taxi roughly an hour ago, and when the gentleman quietly and unobtrusively seated himself next to him, the investigator was busy scrutinizing him sideways, more so while studying the facade of the shops.
Additionally, he was now totally at ease while studying the duo — a back-up team for the deputy chief — and concluded their status as that from Mars, for their method of field intelligence operation resembled Mars patterns. They were making no tie-up movements suggesting an Earth intelligence style of functioning, and neither did their careful movements resemble Plutonian counter-intelligence methods. He knew, because Earth Command always preferred men like him to keep themselves briefed upon planetary field movements too.
Yet matters seemed out of the ordinary now. Very unfamiliar. Those actions, including the deputy chief’s, their feeble attempts at identifying him or perhaps their normal attempts involving identification procedures signified something else. It was evident that they were making inroads at something else, calculating other matters not yet divulged. Could it be possible that they were unclear of his description or his identity? Was the gentleman seated beside him a fake? Was this an alternate group, collecting permeating trickles of information via the usual network planned by the counter-intelligence? Was all this a primary test? He concluded upon a quick decision: “We shall find out practically.”
He was first to alight from the cab exit door and did not bother to glance around or back, upon the hosts on Pluto.
Walking across the hundred-foot wide pavement bordering the main road, he crossed over several decorated shops to finally halt at an open end instant snack counter. Quickly reading over a huge menu board neatly etched upon the background side wall, he punched corresponding numerical buttons embedded into the side arm of the chair which he occupied within sixty seconds after entering, watching as Earth-green salad and a mug of steaming warm Pluto tomato soup appeared on a tray, resting upon steel springs, while the table top folded outward. About a minute later, he was engrossed in sorting Earth carrots and lettuce with a fork, while relishing preliminary sips of the soup. Pluto tomatoes surely smelt like earth butter, he concluded.
The natural state of December airs upon Pluto was different, and dangerous. Conditioned air in December upon Pluto and within its cities, was much more variant.
“This happens to be your favorite restaurant and you’re here upon Pluto for the one hundred and ninety-ninth occasion.”
The investigator turned his head around just in time to catch sight of the duo team escort a gentlemanly, muscular personality, in his mid forties, to his table. Almost two hundred visits officially recorded. Off the records, he was aware that double the number would have been incorrect in summary of his visits upon Pluto.
He leant back upon the chair in an invitation for them to join in, waiting for one full minute as they made themselves comfortable and punched numerical buttons corresponding to the dishes of their choice, watching as trays appeared from below the table top and the top folded outward. Simultaneously, his personal selection of the menu remained well balanced upon the tray supported upon springs. The table top folded inwards yet again.
“You seem to be aware of my visits. Hmm, you are the city sheriff? Or the Police chief. Perhaps sir, you are the city mayor.”
Mild Plutonian music filled the air and lulled the senses of those present within the instant snack bar.
“Do I really look like a Deputy Mayor?” The gentleman asked, amused yet serious.
The investigator halted his speech. His eyes refused to blink as he caught the flashing glint of light outlined neatly on the spherical, zero powered lenses the female agent wore. Obviously, she had missed the meaning of that signal, as whoever it was — whether male or female — seated in her frontal view, glanced at his or her wrist watch; an exceptional observational procedure and an interplanetary field signal from someone authorized to operate upon any of the planets existing within their solar system.
A direct decipher implied, “You are being followed. Do not make unusual gestures. We are behind you and shall form your back-up party. Trust us and no one else. They are impostors, those now in your company and talking to you. We have confirmed that.”
He had caught on to the meaning of those signals — rather one single, flashy movement of a human-worn wristwatch reflecting one bright overhead light — caught perfectly within those spherical eye glasses the female IPFC Intel agent seated across him was wearing.
“I have made a mistake perhaps. You are intelligence personnel. Pluto Guards. I am sure this time!”
He ensured that the person or people watching him from the rear and at least one table behind, would surely notice that he took slightly more than a normally longer time to chew upon lettuce leaves and an equally varied time yet, to sip the next round of tomato soup — evidently the soup was cold by now — a direct acknowledgement.
“I get your message. Tail me as I talk up to them and follow me to Hell if it exists, because I shall do as they say till the end limits of our organizational codes. Beyond that, I am on my own, and I make the rules.” His calculated movements carried simple counter-intelligence language and conveyed unsaid meanings.
As they continued into a verbal conversation which included Earth and Pluto, he maintained a two-way direct physical language communication based upon interplanetary field counter-intelligence codes with the unseen personnel now confirmed as sitting two tables behind him. The female agent — and her spectacles — was used as a decoy and evidently, her profile was restricted to Pluto missions only, even though she belonged to IPFC Intel. She seemed unaware of the unspoken conversation; yet he made double confirmation that his controlled movements and gestures were keenly noted. He performed the exact quick movements and precise delayed actions to convey his unspoken confirmations to their equally coded messages.
Just for two and half brief minutes.
Such a time limit proved sufficient in toto. Any extra of those calculated movements would ensure that he would be spotted by others outside of their organization. Even school kids could decipher such activities over a longer duration of time, say, five minutes.
He checked himself precisely within time limits and decided never again to revert to such Earth movements. They inevitably practiced such moves and counter-moves in the space lab cafeterias as a sole means of recreation and for nothing else. There existed other directives from Earth Command which stated, “You cannot trust signal networking or rather, physical signal movements. These are like ancient Morse codes and are equally open to decipher by anybody who requires simplification. In such cases the spoken words are always preferred and personal contacts far more realistic.” Those were the principles upon which the counter intelligence personnel performed.
“Even school kids have graduated from signal readings.”
* * *
The space rocket flight traversing a distance of half a light-year and back to Pluto’s second moon seemed ordinary as any other flight as he calculated the presence of one single flight originating from the interplanetary hangars of Pluto, and accepting the same orbital path to the second moon, immediately as they landed upon sub-city station One of the second moon.
A docking computer located inside the passenger section of the rocket displayed the presence of a single Pluto space rocket designed only for travel between the planet and its moons preparing ignition takeoff.
He switched that particular computer while preparing himself to leave, and few minutes later, he was upon moon ground, ruminating over the sequence of events occurring the past day.
There were two groups, each identical yet diverse. One was a welcoming party; the other was a ploy: a deputy director of IPFC Intel Pluto stations, who does not recognize him; the investigator deputized from IPFC Intel primarily because he happened to belong to a senior hierarch covering their entire solar system and not Pluto alone. The deputy chief was supposed to accept him, the investigator, though, only after a thorough screening and identity check.
To his surprise, he had directly stumbled upon the Neptune Factor!
Briefing room personnel, back upon Earth forward labs had correlated with the Earth advanced labs and presented to him details, for which purpose an imminent showdown was on the cards perhaps upon the second moon of Pluto.
The theft of the most advanced version of Earth’s interplanetary spaceship, while it was on its first flight and safely docked within the interplanetary hangars of Pluto.
His IPFC Intel chief had explained in no unusual tones, the urgency of the matter at hand, and briefing room “classified space launch” appeared busier than usual. The chief of IPFC Intel was unable to restrict the presence of every important person who mattered upon earth.
He was presently unknown to the deputy director, and so was the latter unaware of his actual identity. Just a simple communication that the investigator was scheduled upon Pluto within the hour, happened to be the text of a message relayed to Pluto Stations, one hour after his arrival upon Pluto. While this procedure offered simple and precious time to take matters into account, he appreciated the fact that the deputy’s facial appearances were altered immediately after the spaceship had lifted.
Two men with similar motives and destination and who were intent in not revealing an iota of evidence of their whereabouts. Even the most suspicious move would be ineffective in identifying them, and they were acutely aware of the fact. They suspected he was impersonating the investigator while he was unable to confirm whether the deputy chief was present within their foursome company, or perhaps traveling with the rear, the back-up party.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2003 by Deep Bora