The next few minutes seemed to move in slow motion. They were all bound with tight metal bonds that were somehow flexible, but seemingly impossible to break. They were then led out of Lord Acton’s mansion and into a sleek vehicle that waited for them, hovering in the air. Linth’s body was left where it had fallen. Anith was pale and silent and moved with the shocked stiffness of sudden grief.
Nable was feeling both stunned and terrified, but the adrenalin transferred itself into rapid thought and observation. He took in everything he could see of the vehicle they got into. He observed right away that it was a space faring vehicle. He wished he knew more about the technology on this side of the black hole. Then he began to wonder if black holes had ‘sides’, but he had no where farther to take that thought.
They were all put in a small dark hold and bolts slid into place inside the door with a hydraulic hiss. Classic imprisonment technique.
“Who are they and where are they taking us?” Miranda asked the instant they were alone.
Lord Acton didn’t answer for a moment and Linth was too distraught to pay attention.
“And what are we not supposed to know if they question us?” Nabel stood over Acton, staring down at him pointedly.
After a moment Acton snapped to attention. “I’m sure they are listening to us now. In answer to your question,” he looked at Miranda, “They are clearly a faction of the enemy. I had no idea Julius was still…functioning. And I don’t know where they will take—” Lord Acton didn’t finish his sentence because it had suddenly gone completely dark. As dark as it had been in the black hole, only this time, Linth wasn’t glowing.
“Impossible,” they heard Linth mutter. “They couldn’t have a reach a hole that quickly. And what are they going to do now?”
“Last time you dissolved our ship,” said Nabel. “Can you do it again.”
“It’s really complicated.”
“Tell me anyways,” Nabel demanded. “I want to understand more about these black holes.”
“Well, the problem is that I don’t really understand them myself. I’m more like a magician, what people call a ‘hole artist’. I was able to dissolve your ship before, because you had no experience with holes and because you had no idea what to expect. Your minds were open to believing that anything could happen--including that you ship could dissolve. So I sort of believed that it had dissolved, and it became true for you two… and thus it became true. The folks running this ship would not let down any mental defenses to us.”
“What about our bonds? I’m ready to believe them away.” Nabel tried, but nothing happened. “Why was it impossible that they got into a hole?”
“Because holes are unpredictable, and the probability is extremely low that there would be one that close to Lord Acton’s house. We had only just lifted off when we entered it.”
“So, low probability, but not impossible?”
“No. So low, that it is impossible. You know that, when you are standing in a normal room, there is a probability that all the air molecules might suddenly congregate in a corner. But it’s so low that it never happens. That’s the kind of probability we are talking about.”
“So, is there another way we could have entered a hole? Could they somehow be controlling them?”
Linth laughed, a tight, unhappy laugh.
“No,” Acton’s boy voice weighed in thoughtfully. “He might be on to something. We can’t rule out any possibilities at this point.”
“But controlling a hole? Seriously!”
The lights came back on. Nabel began to look about the room quickly, analyzing everything. His thought was that if they were going to escape, this was probably their last chance. But no way of escape presented itself and the bolts in the door hissed open a few minutes later. They were escorted by gunpoint out onto an empty landing platform in the middle of a barren waste. The air was thin, but breathable, apparently. The land was gray as a box of graphite pencils and pocketed with craters. They were then led to separate cells; each cold, dark and tiny.
Nabel sat down on the old mattress that took up most of the floor space, put his head deliberately in his hands (which had been unbound) and thought. He had escaped a cage once before, as he had always viewed his life on that space station as nothing more than life in a cage. He had experience. Maybe he would be able to do it again. Too bad the last time had taken him most of his lifetime.
His thoughts were interrupted some hours later when the door opened and Julius stood in the doorway, illuminated by the dull white lights in the hall. Nabel didn’t move.
“I thought I wouldn’t have to say the obvious,” said Julius, annoyance in his voice. “Get up and come.”
Nabel got to his feet and followed Julius down the hall and into a square gray room.
“Cheery place you’ve got here,” Nabel commented sarcastically.
Julius ignored him and pointed to the only object in the room; a small stool. Nabel obediently went and sat down. There was only the two of them in the room, but Nabel entertained no hopes of overpowering Julius and escaping. The man, no—robot—was heavily armed and Nabel was not trained in combat.
There was one thing about Lord Action’s story that was puzzling Nabel, so he asked. Nothing wrong with at least trying to start your own interrogation, he figured. “What did they do with you, when they discovered you were not a real person?”
“None of your business.”
“They destroyed you, right? That’s why Lord Acton was so surprised when you turned up in his house. Isn’t it?”
Julius shrugged. It was creepy to think of this man as a machine. Creepy, but exhilarating. If technology was advanced here enough that this man, who was so convincingly human, could be an android… the possibilities!
It was Julius’ turn to ask a question. Or, well, in this game, it should have been his turn first. “So you are the one who is supposed to stop the war. How do you plan on doing it?”
That was easy. “No idea.”
“I’d say that you were lying, but my lie detectors are not picking up anything dishonest.”
Lie detectors? That wasn’t encouraging. Nabel waited for Julius to go on. When he remained silent, Nabel decided to ask another question.
“I bet you want the war to end too. Don’t you?”
“Interesting thought,” said Julian. “I can see why they’ve chosen you. You’re quick. But you are also wrong, in this case.”
“If I had lie detectors, they’d be going crazy,” said Nabel with a nervous grin. He wasn’t entirely sure this was the best way to handle Julius. The robot was dangerous. That had been well proven with the still body of Anith. “If you didn’t want the war to end, you’d torture me till you got all the information out of me that I could give you—which I might as well tell you now, is about nil. War-enders these days are kept very ill informed. After that, you’d kill me. Or maybe you’d just kill me outright—no questions asked.”
“And how do you know that is not my planned course of action?”
Nabel shrugged. He didn’t know, really. But predicting the future wasn’t going to change it, in any case.
There was a long silence, in which the android paced carefully in front of Nabel.
“Do you have any idea how terrifying androids are to humans?” Nabel was nervous. He talked when he got nervous.
“Well, I just hope you aren’t holding some grudge against, Lord Acton, and well, the Other Side or whatever, when they couldn’t forgive you for spying on them. I doubt humans will ever learn to truly trust machines. You needn’t take their reaction to you personally, that’s all I’m saying.”
“Interesting. You are trying to psychoanalyze me.”
Nabel didn’t respond and silence reined again. This time Julius broke the silence.
“And if I would like the war to end?”
Nabel wanted to say, ‘I told you so’, but resisted the urge. Instead, he said, “You mean if whoever is controlling you wants the war to end.”
“I do not see the difference.”
“Right. Well, I don’t know what the other side was planning for me. You know, if they had any brilliant ideas as to how I was going to go about ending this war.” Nabel thought that for the time being it would be best to leave Miranda out of this, even though she was supposed to help him stop the war. He could always add her in, if it seemed safe. Strange that he was already thinking of her safety above his own. Only a few days, or was it hours ago?, she had been his enemy, along with everyone who had kept him at that accursed space station. “I wasn’t with them long enough to find out if they had plans. Do you have any ideas?”
“No. But I might be able to get you access to certain, technology, that the other side does not have.”
Nabel brightened up at that. Then he frowned. “What’s the catch?”
“Our side wins the war.”