Chapter 4: Pollux and Dumas: Tearful Mornings
Building the device had been the easy part. Keeping anybody from knowing about it had been nearly impossible. Pollux had watched Castor tinkering with his own project for half an hour before feigning disinterest and boredom, and wandering off to dismantle a portable computer on his own.
"I just want to see what it looks like inside," Pollux told Doctor Mellert when she started asking questions. "I've never had one I was allowed to take apart before."
As he disassembled the machine bit by bit, he laid the parts out neatly on the counter of the lab. All but the parts he needed. Those he secreted in his pocket when Mellert's attention was on Castor.
To Pollux's surprise, Castor became curious, and left his own work to see what Pollux was doing. Caster cast one glance at the arranged parts, and raised an eyebrow at his twin. Pollux felt Castor's curiosity change to surprise, then amusement. Obviously Castor had noticed the missing parts, and had guessed to what use Pollux planned to put them. But he said nothing, and returned to his work. In moments, Castor's mood had changed back to cold concentration.
Pollux also managed to pocket a small soldering iron. That night, as soon as they were put to bed, and their nameless attendant had turned off the light and closed the door, Pollux slipped out of his bed and gathered the items. Working quickly on the floor under the room's night-light, he started assembling his pieces. Castor watched for a few minutes, then rolled over and went to sleep.
It took Pollux less than an hour to build the device, then three hours to code and upload an operating system, using Castor's computer. He then wiped the program from the hard drive, wishing he dared to wipe out Castor's latest research as well.
Pollux crawled to the door, and listened. There was no sound but the hum of the building's electrical system. He held his newly created invention near the door, pressing the tiny battery he had extracted from his watch onto a bare wire.
The electronic lock made chuffing, rattling and clicking noises for a few moments, the keys of the numeric keypad quivering. Then, with a final ka-chunk, all the bolts retracted at once. Pollux gently turned the knob and pulled the door open.
The corridor was dark and deserted. Pollux pressed himself to the wall and moved silently to the next door, barely daring to breathe. He heard the sound of fingers tapping a computer keyboard from inside the room, and moved on until he came to the next door, from which he heard only silence
Activating the decoder opened that lock, as well. Pollux slipped into the empty office and shut the door behind himself. There was no light but the red glow of the Emergency Exit sign, but when he lifted the telephone from its cradle, the keys lit up.
During the day, the Brightwater building hummed with activity, and it had proven impossible to find an unattended telephone at a time when Pollux, himself, had been unattended. Now the building contained only a handful of security guards and a few dedicated workers putting in all-nighters.
Pollux tapped in a series of numbers, then held the receiver tight to his ear, hoping that someone would be willing to answer at two in the morning. He held his breath as he listened to the burring ring of the telephone.
He didn't have long to wait. After two rings, there was a click, and a tinny voice proclaimed, "The number you have reached is not in service. If you feel you have reached this number in error, please hang up and dial again."
Pollux did. And then he did it again. And again. And again.
He finally hung up the phone, biting his lip and trying to hold back tears.
Pollux rummaged in his pocket. The card the examiner had given him was still there, bent and battered from days of being slipped from pocket to pocket. Raising the receiver again, he read the telephone number printed on the white pasteboard by the light of the glowing keys, and punched it in.
This time the phone rang endlessly. Pollux listened to the burring for so long that it startled him when a rattling clunk put an end to it, and a drowsy voice slurred, "Hello?"
Pollux panicked. What could he say? It wasn't even as if he were being mistreated. He was just…miserable. And frightened.
"Hello? Who is this? Do you have any idea what time it is?"
What good would it do to tell this stranger that his parents had given him to Brightwater, and moved away without a goodbye? Or that Doctor Mellert seemed to view them as if they were little more than a very exciting new type of computer? Or that his brother was determined to tinker with strange forces that Pollux felt, KNEW were not safe to disturb?
"Is anybody there?"
Taking a deep breath, Pollux whispered desperately into the phone, "Help me!"
Then he hung up.
Unlike the Earth, Greecia's axis was nearly perpendicular to its orbital path. This meant that there were no seasons as such. The equator remained cruelly hot, cooling into a wide, temperate region in both the northern and southern hemispheres, capped by an ice-covered pole that never found itself turned toward the sun. The capitol was situated in a warm area of the southern temperate region, and while atmospheric changes sometimes brought a chill to the air, cold was practically unheard of.
Yet now the palace garden was a blackening waste of withered flowers, and in the new sunlight of each dawn, the monument to Princess Tina sparkled with frost. Crops were failing all over the planet, wildlife migrating to the equatorial regions, and plants, unable to relocate, dying in waves. Each day more of Greecia's water was sealed in ice at the poles.
Dumas looked down from the stage at the Earthly forms of the expatriate Greecian scientists. They had transformed his sister's body into a weapon, sent her soul away to this backward world, and through the reckless abuse of their knowledge, had destroyed their own planet. And they had the unbelievable nerve to resent the fact that their cozy little Earth lives had been disrupted.
When he had returned from Earth and surrendered Georca's forces to the king, the palace had been torn in conflict. There were some who proclaimed Dumas to be the heir to the throne, and as many others who decried him as a traitor and criminal, and even intimated that he had murdered Princess Tina in the hope of stealing her crown.
By the time two weeks had passed, though, even Dumas's most power-hungry rivals were happy to drop the environmental crisis firmly in his lap, and he began his rule as Titas's regent.
"An Orsel imbalance?" Agi demanded skeptically. "From ten people traveling through the Zone?"
"Though you may have been Greecia's greatest living scientists," Dumas said, the words heavy with all the sarcasm he could put in them, "there are other fools who don't have the sense to leave the foundations of the universe alone. Scientists studying the Zone report that its Orsel energy has become severely depleted. The Zone seems to be trying to replenish itself by sucking energy from Greecia. At the same time, Earth's Zone is becoming overcharged, and this planet is warming at the same rate as Greecia cools, in spite of the different rates in the passage of time. In other words, in just the last couple of months on Greecia, the climate change has been as extreme as the change in Earth over the last five years. The changes started when your bodies were destroyed, leaving your souls stranded on this planet."
"Earth's climate has been changing for a lot longer than that," Soreto protested. "The atmospheric pollutants and—"
"While I will hardly argue that the people of Earth seem to be destroying their planet as fast as they can, the fact remains that the change accelerated drastically in the last five years," Dumas snapped. "If it weren't for the climate regulators installed around the polar regions to keep them frozen, this island would be under water, along with most of the world's land mass. By the way, I find it interesting that ancient Earth cultures predicted the end of their world in 2012, just when you ended your mission, don't you?"
"When Earth fires a rocket into space, the whole planet has less mass, but that doesn't send Earth flying out of its orbit," Agi said. "Given the entire population of Greecia and Earth, what difference could ten souls make?"
"I don't know. I am a responsible, sane person, not a scientist," Dumas retorted. "The only remedy our scientific advisors have suggested yet is to see that all the Greecians currently stranded on Earth are sent back through the Zone, the same way as they arrived."
He enjoyed the silence that followed, and the stricken faces staring up at him.
As usual, the insufferable Agi was the first to speak. "You believe our deaths will repair the Zone?"
"Aren't you willing to die for your planet?" Dumas asked. "For all the millions of people suffering and dying of your arrogant mistakes?"
After another long pause, Soreto said, "It isn't exactly that anyone is unwilling, I'm sure. There seems to be no choice. But—"
"No choice?" Seth demanded. "There's no choice, all right! It's totally out of the question! There's no way that I will let you slaughter Tina, or anyone else! There has to be another way, and you—"
"Seth," Tina interrupted. "I'm a princess of Greecia. If the people need me, even if they need me to die, I don't have a choice."
"I won't allow it!" Seth shouted.
Soreto said firmly, "But, as I was saying—"
"As little as I like to say it," said Dumas, "nobody is going to die. And I would certainly not sent my sister back to inhabit a body that has been contaminated by your filthy interference. She will not become a weapon again. A new body has been constructed for her, and for each of you. It is waiting on Greecia now for the transfer."
Now each of them stared in shock, and began shouting at the same time. "Yes, yes," Dumas said. "As I said before, don't all thank me at once."
"It isn't possible, Dumas," Agi said flatly, and the others fell silent. "It's been five years in Earth time since you left us here, and it takes twenty-seven Earth years for a single Greecian year to pass. You expect us to believe that in the short time you've had, the ability to reconstruct a body was developed and the job was completed?"
"If you had pulled your noses out of what didn't concern you more often, you would know that the technology existed, in its infant stage, before you ever left Greecia. It's in current use constantly for medical emergencies—replacement limbs and organs are grown as a matter of course, and an entire body is a simple extension of that technology. Georca ordered your replicant bodies created before he ever left for Earth, in case something went wrong with the preservation chambers," Dumas said. "Apparently, he considered you to be of some value. Growth is accelerated, though not so much for an entire body as for a single replacement part. I'm afraid you will have to be eleven years old again. What fun for you."
"Do you mean," Agi asked in a strained, level tone, "that we could have returned to Greecia at any time? Even after you destroyed the preservation chambers?"
"That's what I mean, yes," said Dumas. "Did I neglect to mention that before I left for home? Well, as they say here on Earth: my bad."
"But what I've been trying to say," Soreto burst in before Agi could respond," is that it won't work, anyway. There are no longer ten of us. We lost Palza and Hesma. And we still have no idea where Saron is, or even if he is living now."
"The scientists of Greecia sent some of their new toys with me," said Dumas. "I am told that they should help you to locate any Greecians existing on this planet. As for the two casualties, I will be going in place of one of them. I'm more than ready to shed this stunted Earth body I've been trapped in. We will have to hope that will be enough…if nothing else comes along."
"And did you happen to bring the data on the state of the Zone and the climate changes?" Agi asked.
Dumas pulled a memory crystal from his pocket. "Of course I did," he said. "Believe me, if you can find a way to repair the damage you caused without setting foot on my planet again, I will be more than delighted."
Agi climbed onto the stage and took the crystal. Dumas was completely taken by surprise when Agi's other fist smashed into his jaw. He landed on his back, tried to roll to his feet, slid off the edge of the stage to fall to the floor.
Clutching his jaw and struggling to regain the air that had been knocked out of his lungs, Dumas snarled at the scientist in the Earth boy's body.
"That was just for Hesma," Agi said. "I still may have to hit you again when you get up."