And besides the man is deadBy Helen Patrick
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|He heard Gambrill arriving with the idiot just pulled out of the tunnel, looked up to see who the idiot was. And was very surprised to find he recognised the idiot. Roj Blake.|
"This is the one I've just fished out of the evacuation area, sir," Gambrill said.
No trace of recognition in Blake's eyes as he looked steadily at Bellfriar. That was hardly a surprise, after what had been done to the man. But what was he doing on this base? "Well?"
Gambrill was heartily pleased with his catch. "Well, you said this base was full of psychotics, you wait till you hear this one."
Psychotic? Foolhardy, maybe, but not psychotic, not Blake. Not even after what the Federation had done to that fine mind. "What exactly is that supposed to mean?"
Blake answered before Gambrill could. "I told him I teleported here. He didn't believe me."
Ye gods, the personality was still there, even if the memory wasn't. Some things never changed, and apparently Roj Blake was one of them. Still that dry sense of humour. "Well, Gambrill's like that, I'm afraid. Lacks faith."
"Defined as the capacity to believe what you know isn't true? Read this," Blake said, leaning over the monitor screen to hand him a printout.
As political as ever. He took the note, glanced at it, pleased to see that his hand was steady. "What is it?"
"The service history of that ship you've got in the landing bay. I sent you a warning about it earlier."
So it was - and complete too. "Where did this come from?"
He couldn't see Central Registry happily handing out information to someone like Blake, not even ancient information like this. How had he got it? "Seven hundred years old?"
Time to let Gambrill know who they were dealing with - only fair on the man. And to test just how open Blake was willing to be. "And just who are you?"
"Well, according to the Federation, I'm a political criminal. You may have heard of me. My name is Blake."
Thank you, Blake. It's good to know you're still honest with people as to what they might be getting tangled up in. "Yes, but then we're absentminded scientists, you see. In fact, we've forgotten your name already." He looked at his partner. "Haven't we, Gambrill?"
Gambrill grinned, then suppressed it and said, all innocence, "Whose name, sir?"
Good man. Gambrill wasn't the stuff of rebellion, but he wasn't about to make Security's job any easier. He had no more love for the administration than did Bellfriar, even if he didn't have Bellfriar's incentive to protect Blake.
And he did want to protect Blake, even if Blake no longer remembered him, no longer remembered their time together. There had been nothing he could have done to help Blake back then. He'd been secretly glad about that, to his secret shame. Afraid to get involved, afraid that even his professional stature wouldn't protect him. Perhaps he could make up, a little, for that now. Not that he could do anything more than that. No hoping to renew their acquaintance. Wouldn't be fair on Gambrill. But still...
A bleep from the intercom interrupted his thoughts. "Dr. Bellfriar, they're now bringing out the body."
"Body?" Blake asked, walking around to lean on the corner of the desk and looking at the screen. Not close enough to touch, no, but still close enough to be distracting. The years since, Gambrill, and he still responded.
"I'll get down there now," Gambrill said, hastening away.
Leaving him alone with Blake. No time to think about that now, there was work to be done. Focus. Blake had said that there was hostile life aboard the ship, had thought it important enough to come onto a Federation base to reinforce the warning in person. That had to take priority, any reunion with Blake would have to wait. They would have time later; time for explanations, time for memories.
He examined the scene on the monitor. "That body doesn't look seven hundred years old. What made you think there was hostile life in that ship?
"One of my crew comes from Auron."
He'd heard of Auron, and their experimentation. "A telepath?"
"Yes, she sensed something malignant out there. Not necessarily human. I think you'd better be very, very careful, Dr. Bellfriar."
"We're always very, very careful." Training that had stood him in good stead, a few years ago. As they waited for the body to be moved to the mortuary, he let his mind drift to the past.
"Dr Bellfriar, I presume?"
He put down the journal and looked up at the owner of the rich, melodious voice. A tall man, solidly built, with a long face framed by a tangle of brown curls and smudged with dirt. He glanced at the name badge. Yes, this was the engineer he'd been sent to discuss decontamination procedures with.
"Yes. You must be Blake." He stood up, offered his hand.
Blake glanced at it, and grinned, holding up his hands to display the palms rather than shaking Bellfriar's hand. "I'm rather grubby, I'm afraid. We weren't expecting you this early." He glanced down at the journal Bellfriar had been reading. "You found something to occupy yourself with?"
"Yes. I haven't had a chance to read this week's issue yet, and I like to keep up with the general science news."
"Good, that's what we need, someone with a broad understanding." Blake dropped his hands, then gestured for Bellfriar to follow him. "It's been tricky getting people, given the security classification on this project."
That was one of the things that had puzzled him. "Your security is intense. My own clearance was adequate, but security insisted on checking it very thoroughly before I was allowed in, even though I was expected." He followed Blake into a lift, braced himself against the jolt, then continued, "What exactly are you doing here?"
Blake glanced at him in surprise. "You weren't told?" He shrugged. "Security paranoia, I suppose. We're working on matter transmission."
"A teleport system?"
"We hope so." The lift stopped and the doors opened. Blake walked out into the corridor. "The theory says it's possible, but there are practical problems."
He followed Blake. "And where does virology come into it?"
"We need to consider decontamination procedures. Surely you were told that much." Blake's voice changed, taking on a cynical tone. "Or were you just ordered to come here, with no say in the matter?" Blake pushed open a door. "My office."
Yes, that was more or less what had happened. He'd been told where, and when, and that he'd be discussing decontamination, and that was all. He'd come early partly in the hope of learning a little more. "Ours is not to reason why, just to obey those paying the grant money." He followed Blake into the office.
Blake immediately made for the small sink in the corner, started to scrub his hands with engineer's soap. "Do you really believe that, Dr Bellfriar? That pure science is all that matters, that you have no responsibility for what others might do with your work?"
"Of course not, young man." It wouldn't hurt to remind this arrogant young engineer of his seniority. Then again, the young man didn't seem to have much respect for authority. Good. It was becoming more and more difficult to find young people willing to stand up and say that eminent authority might be wrong, and that was not a good thing for science. "And to begin with, I'd like to know more about what the work you are doing here will lead to."
"I'm pleased to hear it." Blake dried his hands, walked over to the side table. "Tea, coffee?"
Oh, so it did have manners after all. "Tea, thank you."
"Please sit down." Blake gestured at the chairs, then busied himself with making tea. "What I would like the work to lead to is a cheap, fast transportation method. At the moment, it looks like it will lead to a very large waste of money. Even if it does succeed, the practical applications will undoubtedly be restricted to the military. Milk, sugar?"
Oh dear, another political type. The arts faculty certainly had more than its fair share, but he'd always thought that the engineers saw nothing beyond their design boards. "Just milk, thank you. And where do I fit in?" This one looked old enough to have been out of university long enough to grow out of it, or at least grow into enough sense not to immediately start ranting at a stranger. If you really wanted to succeed at politics, you needed to know your enemy first. He'd spent too many hours in grant meetings not to have learnt that.
"The engineering section is supposed to be constructing the prototype equipment, if the lab simulations produce useful results that we can calibrate from. Now, if the teleport can be developed with a long enough range that it can be used to transport goods or personnel between ship and planet," a cup of tea appeared in front of Bellfriar, along with a plate of biscuits, "we will be bypassing the standard decontamination procedures."
"Not a problem, of course, on planets where the local flora and fauna are known to be harmless. But you need decon for unfamiliar planets, and it's vital in cases where there is disease present on a planet or ship."
Blake set his own mug on the desk, and flopped into the chair. "Exactly. We have engineers who trained in the appropriate equipment speciality, but that isn't good enough when we're dealing with an unknown like this. I was told to liaise with a medical specialist, ensure that we hadn't missed anything."
"Very sensible." He sipped at his tea, and considered the problem. "I'll have to know more about the technical side, of course. Can you explain in terms suitable for the layman?"
Blake picked up a pen and design pad. "The basic principle involves..."
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