~ Chapter 4 ~
The pod door lowered itself, forming a bridge onto a walkway. A comical sight greeted them: Gibber, waving wildly at the end of the ramp, leaping from side to side on his stubby legs.
“Gibbergunah will escort you to your quarters on level two,” said Bajool.
Gibber hopped up and down as they crossed the bridge, a one-being welcoming committee. He hugged them, rushing from one to the next. “Follow me,” he chirped as he waddled along a wide walkway. They all kept a wary eye on his tail as it whipped around. Aiden was sure he was some sort of evolved dinosaur.
The air was thick, and a dull hum from somewhere in the landing bay filled the air. They turned in circles as they walked, inspecting the charcoal stone floor, the grey speckled walls and high ceiling. Aiden ran his fingers along a wall and found it cool and soothing. Amber’s bag that he had gallantly volunteered to carry was a lot heavier than he first thought. Who brought a sewing machine out into space? Gibber placed his large claw–like hand into an oval opening in the wall. Panels parted to reveal a small room, and they followed him inside. The doors closed and silently the lift rose. Within a few seconds, the doors opened onto a curved corridor and Gibber led them out. Next to the lift was a wide ramp that went halfway down and turned a corner, descending to the floor below. On the other side of the lift was a ramp to the floor above.
“Here we are on level two. This is home,” chirped Gibber. “All levels are circular.”
Aiden stared up at the ceiling. It was blue, sky blue. It seemed to have no start or finish.
They had taken no more than a few paces down the grey walled and floored corridor when Gibber stopped again. “Here are your quarters, Peter.”
They stared at the wall.
“Place your hand in here,” said Gibber, indicating an oval hole in the wall next to a large panel.
Doctor Hudson edged his hand into the hole. He yanked it out as the panel slid open. They all peered in. It looked comfortable enough, with a reasonable-sized sitting area, a viewer on the far wall, two bright blue couches and doors on either side. Doctor Hudson placed his bags in the room and rejoined the group.
A little farther, they stopped again. “Boys,” said Gibber, with a comical hop and a wave of his tail. Cosmo rushed forward, shoving his hand in the wall. The door slid open and he and Aiden dropped their bags in a sitting room identical to Doctor Hudson’s. They hastily stuck their heads into the side rooms. To the right was a bedroom with two long single beds mounted on the walls, two small desks on the back wall and little else. The other room was the bathroom. It had a sink, a mirror, a peculiar toilet and what they guessed was a shower cubicle. The walls were an uninspiring grey. They hurried out to join the others who had already passed two other rooms on the right. Doctor Peasley no longer carried her suitcase.
Aiden prodded Cosmo in the ribs. “The ceiling, it has clouds drifting across it.”
“Wow, how do they do that?”
“I don’t know how,” whispered Amber, “but I know why. It’s to reset our body clock. The blue of the sky tells us it’s daytime.”
“My watch does that,” replied Cosmo cheekily.
The next door was the girls’. Other than the magenta-coloured couch it was the same as the others. Gibber bounded forward, swishing his tail, until he came to another door. “This is the recreation room. I designed it myself for the chosen ones,” he said, extending both arms invitingly for the doctors to enter.
Cosmo leaned over and whispered in Aiden’s ear. “Did you hear that? We have a name. We’re the chosen ones!”
“Superb job, Gibber,” said Doctor Hudson, slapping Gibber on the back as he turned and grimaced to Doctor Peasley. They walked into a long large room, curved as all the rooms were, with a huge viewer covering the wall in front of them. The expanse of deep space that filled the viewer made Aiden feel insignificant. Comfortable chairs, couches and even beanbags filled most of the room – enough to seat a couple of football teams. The walls were the same grey that covered the rest of the ship, but the furniture was a sea of bright mismatched colours that had Aiden’s eyes struggling to find focus. Gibber was obviously no interior designer.
“I’ll have to wear my sunnies,” said Cosmo.
Sarah-Jane scowled at Cosmo as she brushed past him. “It’s great, Gibber.”
“Hey, there’s a basketball hoop and a table tennis table,” said Cosmo, pointing to the far end of the room.
“Brilliant,” said Aiden, perhaps Gibber had done a good job after all.
Gibber ushered them out and continued their tour, passing one door on the left before coming to a stop outside the only other door on the left. “This is the training room,” said Gibber, without opening it. “And this is where we started, the level access area,” he added, pointing to the lift. “Bajool will meet you after you have unpacked and rested.”
Doctor Peasley called them over as Gibber left. “As your guardians we are here to ensure your safety and wellbeing. If you have any problems please come and see us, day or night. Doctor Hudson and I have drawn up a few rules. First, you may not enter each other’s rooms. Under any circumstances!” she said sternly, singling out the boys with a cold stare. “We will respect your privacy by requesting permission before we enter your rooms. You are likewise to seek our permission before entering ours. You will be in your rooms by nine-thirty every night. You are not to leave this level unless I, Doctor Hudson, or one of your instructors accompanies you. You will be on time for everything! You have two training outfits on the end of your bed. You are to wear these for all training sessions. You are not to accessorise!” she said, to the girls. “We are ambassadors of Earth,” she continued, “and we need to behave accordingly. You must be respectful to everyone. Any questions?... No? Enjoy yourselves and unpack.”
Back in their room, Cosmo picked up the training outfit. “Could they make it any less interesting?”
“White, patternless and three sizes too big – it suits you,” said Aiden, tugging at the sleeve, not sure what sort of material it was other than light and very strong.
Cosmo leapt onto the bed on the right. “Comfy.” Aiden lay on his bed. Cosmo was right.
“That Sarah-Jane is tops,” said Cosmo. “Maybe a bit snobby, but I’d say she’s purr–fect.”
“Yeah, I noticed,” said Aiden, wincing as he remembered his awkwardness in the pod. It about summed up his luck with girls. “Amber’s nice.”
“I guess so. Can you believe we’re going to be real wizards?” said Cosmo bouncing on the bed.
“Magwans. Bajool said once we’ve trained our powers we’d be magwans. I guess that’s like a wizard only there’s no wand or spells.”
“Magwan, wizard, doesn’t matter,” said Cosmo, flinging a pillow at Aiden, narrowly missing his head. “What powers do you think you’ll have?”
“I have some second sight, not sure about anything else. I want to have healing powers like my Dad.”
Cosmo whistled. “That’s one of the higher powers. It’s very rare. I’ve got second sight too. My parents don’t have any powers. Neither do my brothers. I’m the only one,” he said with a grin.
Aiden sank into the bed as he remembered Bajool’s revelation that he had trained Aiden’s father for two years. Both Aiden and Aunt Del had been stunned. Apparently, his father had the power to heal. What else didn’t he know about his parents? It turned out that even Aunt Del had basic sensing powers. She knew on that morning Aiden first met Doctor Hudson that Aiden would soon be leaving Hastings on a long trip. She just didn’t expect it would be going into space with aliens.
Cosmo bounced on the bed. “The base powers that all magwans have would do me. There aren’t many magwans in the galaxy, so any powers would be special.” He moved his hands figuratively through the air. “You know, like illusions, and energy pulses to blast things.” He flopped back onto the bed. “Do you think we’ll be treated like kings by the Alliance?”
“Kings? As if!” Aiden said throwing the pillow back. “The Galactic Alliance oversees the galaxy, ensuring peace and the sharing of knowledge. I don’t think that means carrying us around on padded chairs and feeding us grapes. Look at Bajool, he’s hardly dressed like royalty.”
“Maybe I’ll have to wait until we get home then.”
Aiden rolled his eyes. “Maybe... Are there any more lights?” he asked, touching the dimly glowing narrow strip that ran horizontally around the middle of the walls. They searched the sitting room for some form of controller for the lights. They found nothing.
“Lights on!” Aiden bellowed. To his surprise, the narrow strips now lit up the whole room.
“Lights off!” Cosmo mimicked, and the room plunged into total darkness. “Lights on!” he said urgently.
In the bathroom, they were both at a loss as to how the shower worked. There were no taps, showerhead or buttons. The toilet was most amazing. No water came to flush the toilet. Instead, when you stood up there was a popping sound and everything disappeared.
Doctor Hudson knocked and poked his grey-haired head into the room. “We’re meeting Bajool in the recreation room in five minutes.”
“Okay,” they said in unison as the door closed.
“Let’s check out the training room first,” Cosmo suggested. “We’d better hurry.”
They ran full speed down the corridor, with Aiden just in front determined to beat Cosmo. Nearing the room, Aiden put on a last burst of speed to edge further in front. In full flight he glided along towards the door with hand stretched out, and crashed into what he thought was Bajool coming out of the training room, knocking them both to the ground.
To Aiden’s horror, it was another Yendi, who could have been Bajool’s great grandfather. Aiden apologised as he held out his hand and helped the old one up. He picked up the old one’s walking stick. It had an old rag wrapped around the base and a dull glowing globe on top, which had a comforting warmth when he touched it.
“I’m terribly sorry, Sir,” he apologised again. “Are you okay?”
“I am not hurt,” said the old Yendi, as he accepted the walking stick. He was even more gaunt than Bajool. “Please continue,” he said, and with a wave of his hand he bent over the stick and left.
The boys stared at the huge empty oval room, which could easily hold a tennis court. The ceiling was so black Aiden could not tell if it was there at all. Dim light glowed from strips around the tall charcoal-coloured walls that dominated the room. Small irregular bulges like lumps growing under skin dotted its surface. What purpose they could possibly serve escaped Aiden. There was no pattern to their placement or size. The floor was a wide expanse of dull grey, and had a little spring in it as they walked. The only thing of interest was the undulating path about two metres high that started as a steep ramp and ran around the walls. It appeared to grow out of the wall. The path curved in and out haphazardly, like a rubber footpath bent out of shape. In places it narrowed so much a cat would have had trouble balancing, whilst in other places it widened so two people could walk side by side. Beneath the path were thick mats.
“Is this what they call training?” Aiden puzzled. “One goat track half way up the wall?”
“Shall we?” Cosmo invited, already walking up the ramp.
“BOYS!” shouted Doctor Peasley. The boys reeled around in fright. “Get out of there this instant!” she barked. “Does this look like the recreation room?”
“No, Miss,” Aiden murmured. “We were just...”
“You are not to go wandering about. You don’t know what dangers there are. Now come along.”
The boys slunk into the recreation room under the irate gaze of Doctor Peasley. The girls were already sitting on a red two-seater couch. Sarah-Jane’s black hair fell over her shoulders, highlighting her clear ivory skin and sparkling green eyes. She sat with a model’s elegance with her face expressionless. Amber was quite a contrast, bright, bubbly with a welcoming smile, but slouching, with her hair looking as if a gust of wind had caught her unaware. She rubbed her red nose and pushed past her large glasses to dab watery brown eyes with a tissue. The allergies, thought Aiden. Cosmo slowed as he gaped at Sarah-Jane and Aiden bumped into the back of him. The boys tried to regain their composure and strode purposefully to a brown couch.
To Aiden’s relief, everyone’s attention moved to the door as Doctor Hudson, Bajool, Gibber and a fierce lizard creature entered. The lizard was man-sized, with a lean build. It had a smooth, flattish face with a barbed ridge down the centre of its skull, no ears, and holes for a nose. Murky black scales covered its hardened body. What gave Aiden the shivers were the fiery red eyes that seemed to single him out and bore into him. Aiden felt an instant dislike for the creature, and he had the sense the feeling was mutual. A flowing cloak of shimmering purple cascaded over the lizard’s bare chest and tight black pants. Aiden thought he must be some sort of lizard king.
“Welcome,” began Bajool, “to Deep Space Discovery. I hope the quarters are to your liking. Training will start tomorrow morning. You will spend most of your time here on level two. Overseeing your progress will be Matong.”
He motioned towards the lizard that let out a raspy hiss in reply, as its gaze swept across them. “Thank you, Bajool,” hissed Matong, pulling his cloak to one side with long scaly fingers. “I am a magwan, a Mulgoa. The Galactic Alliance Council has seen fit to commission this – mission,” he said, with a contemptuous glance towards Bajool. “You should know you are not the only species from an outer planet on-board this ship. You will obey your instructors and all ship personnel at all times.”
His long forked tongue flicked in and out. He paused as a towering beast marched into the room, its shoulders brushing each side of the doorway and its head narrowly missing the top doorframe. Light brown fuzz covered massive arms, and fastened across the muscular chest was a breastplate decorated in golden swirls. Its large head and long flowing yellow-brown mane was intimidating. The four moved closer together.
“Ogmore is a Buwah,” said Matong, tilting his head towards the beast. “He is one of the ship’s guards, a functionary, charged with maintaining order and other administrative activities.”
Ogmore tensed and the hair on his mane prickled. His lips curled to reveal sharp, jagged teeth in a flat lion-like snout. Aiden thought Matong was crazy to taunt such a creature.
Matong ignored Ogmore and continued. “You are to see Gibbergunah for matters not related to your training.” Gibber bounced up and down, chirping happily. Matong glared, and Gibber stopped. “Should you possess any significant powers, you may not use them outside of your training. Penalties will be severe should you do so,” he said, his stare fixed on Aiden. In addition to his mistrust of Matong, Aiden now felt physically threatened.
With no questions, Matong turned and left. Ogmore followed.
“Not everyone agreed with this expedition,” said Bajool, his eyes twinkling with kindness. “But we are all committed to it. We have now started our journey towards the Source. Have a good night’s sleep, for tomorrow you begin training.”
As Bajool left the room, Aiden checked his personal digital companion. It was five o’clock.
“Gibber, what do we do about food?” asked Cosmo.
“Behind you,” said Gibber, waving his arm. They turned to see a large plain machine up against the wall with five large buttons and a slot down the bottom. Gibber bounded over to the machine, his tail sending a beanbag flying through the air. “The buttons correspond to different meals,” he squeaked, oblivious to Sarah-Jane getting up from under the beanbag and flicking her hair off her face.
Cosmo groaned. Aiden felt the same. He wished he had packed food.
“Is it vegetarian?” asked Amber.
“I’m a vegan,” Sarah-Jane added, now standing with the others.
“Girls, girls...” Doctor Hudson jumped in. “The food bars meet all your dietary requirements. We are all vegans on this trip. Diet is an important part of your training. A vegan diet will cleanse your body.”
Aiden turned questioningly to Cosmo. “No dairy or animal products,” said Cosmo.
“Ta,” he replied, cursing he hadn’t packed food.
Gibber did not notice the less than enthusiastic response. “And drinks,” he said, pointing to a table a small distance away. The drinks were more conventional, with juices and water in large containers stationed on a small table with tea and coffee making facilities. “The purple drink,” chirped Gibber, licking his lips, “is called Vitalise. It is a mix of plant juices. It is used throughout the galaxy.”
They jumped to one side as Gibber turned and waddled towards the door. “If you need me at any time, my quarters are next to the boys’,” he called. The doctors left too, to check on their medical supplies, leaving the four to explore the room.
Cosmo pressed every button on the food dispenser and had five different food bars. “We can’t eat this for eight months,” he groaned.
“We have orange juice,” Aiden said encouragingly.
“What did you think of Matong?” said Cosmo.
Aiden was sure it was some sort of conspiracy. As if life wasn’t hard enough. There was something out in space waiting for him, and now Matong. “Scary. I got this feeling he was dangerous. I wouldn’t want to be left alone with him.”
While the girls examined the skeletal charts on the wall, the boys found a strange oval holograph suspended above a small table. Aiden guessed it was some sort of computer and they both tried prodding the strange images suspended within it. Unable to get any response, they joined the girls around a small coffee table. Sarah-Jane had brought her Tarot cards. “These were given to me by my grandma. She’s a gifted Tarot reader,” said Sarah-Jane.
“Are you good?” asked Aiden, as a lump formed in his throat.
“I’m here, aren’t I?”
“Yeah, of course,” he said, cursing his stupidity.
“I could read your cards if you like?”
“Okay,” he said, sitting down.
“Me next!” said Cosmo, leaping onto the couch beside Aiden.
Sarah-Jane handed the cards to Aiden. “Shuffle.”
He shuffled the cards and placed them face down on the table. Sarah-Jane turned over the first card, which had a woman dominating a lion. “The strength card,” she announced. “You have courage and great inner strength... you have personal honour and are a loyal friend.”
“That’s my roomie,” said Cosmo, patting Aiden on the back.
The next card had a man hanging by his foot from a tree. “The hanged man,” Sarah-Jane continued, “... means you will learn a great deal, but at great personal sacrifice.”
“That doesn’t sound too good,” Cosmo murmured.
Sarah-Jane squinted at him. “It can be very good,” she counselled. She turned over the next card, which had two people falling from a tower positioned on rocks, and a bolt of lightning. “The tower card represents war.”
“Is that bad?” asked Aiden.
“War,” Amber interrupted, “normally represents false concepts, not an actual war.”
“That’s right, it’s symbolic,” said Sarah-Jane, tapping Aiden’s hand. Her eyes suddenly widened. Her whole body flinched, and her mouth dropped open. She jumped back as if she’d received an electric shock and stared at him in horror. “I don’t feel well,” she said shaking. She turned and ran out of the room.
Stunned, Cosmo and Aiden looked at each other. Amber rose and ran after her.
* * *