Finding a Balance by David Macfie
Jamie returned to his team accompanied by Teacher. The two didn’t speak on the way, but Teacher kept glancing sideways at the leader of the captives. Finally, a little before they reached the canteen, Jamie stopped and faced the robot.
“Do you have something on your mind, Teacher?” he asked, with an encouraging smile. Teacher looked at him and paused before he spoke. The hesitation was very un-robot-like and Jamie once again was reminded that the Taurian robotics was so far ahead of the human equivalent. It was as if Teacher was carefully weighing what to say next instead of simply answering the question. After due consideration the robot made a sound like the clearing of a throat and replied.
“I was concerned when you angered Komando-Ka. I understood that you did it on purpose to provoke the commander, but it seemed like a very foolish thing to do. Were you not afraid?”
“No, I wasn’t. I had carefully scrutinized him before he spoke and I could see he was not armed.”
“But he is so much bigger and more powerful than you are. If he had caught you he could have crushed you.”
“Of course he could. But I was truthful when I warned him. I really have had experience of combat against very much larger opponents. And, I really do know at least fifteen ways of killing him instantly so his size and strength then become irrelevant.”
“Oh, I understand. You follow a plan that does not allow your opponents to benefit from their strengths, like you did with Pantando-Ka.”
“That is correct. I have been trained to seek weaknesses and exploit them.”
“I will remember this for the next time I am concerned. Thank you for clarifying.”
The two continued again and soon reached the canteen.
The team were sitting just as Jamie had left them and they looked anxious and hungry.
“Didn’t you guys eat supper?” he asked as an ice-breaker.
“No,” replied Jenny. “We were worried you were going to get hurt. It quite put us off our appetite.”
“Then I suggest we all get some food and I will tell all.”
When everyone was seated again and eating with a newly found appetite, Jamie explained what had happened and answered questions on the details. Jenny looked at him with a strange expression.
“I can’t believe you did that,” she said, with a frown of disbelief and concern. “They might have killed you. I could see how angry the commander was when you stood him up in the training room. I was sure they were going to punish you for that.”
There were nods all round. The team obviously needed to understand why Jamie had planned and executed what h had done. He finished a mouthful of food before he answered.
“Before I faced the commander, I had figured out that he was taking our compliance for granted. His arrogance and superior attitude stemmed from a belief that we were too small and too weak to confront him or the Taurians in general. I believed that I had to establish a different mind-frame for him. He had to see us differently – not as weak and helpless captives, but rather as capable and desirable allies. I decided that the quickest way to start that process was by creating a confrontation and then winning the face-off.”
“I understand the thinking,” said Peter. “But what made you think you could win. These guys are seriously big and strong.”
“I didn’t know that I would win, but I am pretty good at unarmed combat so I felt my chances were good as long as none of them could get a hold of me. I also thought that the commander wouldn’t have got where he is by being a hothead. So I took a chance that he wouldn’t press home an attack. I expected him to delegate that responsibility. Then I got a bit lucky. The commander shouldn’t have chosen his son. The youngster was so busy trying to impress his father that he totally underestimated me. When I noticed his slight limp, I knew I had him if I was quick and ruthless. In the end it worked out far better than I could have expected. I get to spend a lot more time with Pantando-Ka and that gives me more opportunity to show these people that we are worthy of respect. As a bonus I have a teacher to help me learn Taurian. I will pass on everything on that and anything else that I find out.”
“You’re kind of scary, Mr. Calhoun,” commented Jenny, appraising him as if she had never really met him before. He chuckled and gave her a grin that made her blush and get a hot flush.
“You ain’t seen nothin’ yet,” he replied in a staged Hollywood gangster accent that broke the tension.
The rest of the meal was completed in a convivial atmosphere and then the group said goodnight. Teacher wished them a restful break and disappeared. The captives were led by their personal trainers to the appropriate one of the five doors Jamie had noticed earlier. The one for Jenny and Jamie was the first they came to. Number One showed them how to unlock the door and then presented each of them with their own keys, which were remotes rather than traditional keys. The lights in side came on as they opened the door and they went in looking curiously about. Number One took charge.
He led them round the living area giving a running commentary. The space was arranged like an apartment. It had a large lounge/family room perhaps six by five meters, with a couch and two single chairs. These were arranged about a rectangular coffee table that measured about a meter and a half by three quarters of a meter. It had a glass top. The chairs were upholstered and looked comfortable. Number One’s description was succinct.
“The living spaces are identical for each pair,” the robot said, in his mechanical sounding voice. “They were laid out according to plans from Earth buildings. The atmosphere is controlled by the ship so you won’t need to worry about being too hot or too cold. He picked up a device that looked like a TV remote control.
“This is your master controller. The top set of buttons is for the Audio/Visual system, which is an entertainment center, a fully populated computer system and a learning environment all in one. The next set gives you control over every light and appliance to the point that you can order meals which will be prepared for you and then served by either myself or Number Two or both. The third set of buttons allows you to speak to anyone on the ship. You will be able to call home with those buttons also.”
He carefully demonstrated each of the functions of the master controller, then showed them how to find instructions for every aspect and view them on the system display, which was huge compared to what they were used to. It was all of one wall of the room, from floor to ceiling. It looked like a normal wall until it was switched on, then it simply morphed into a cinema sized screen. Once it was done with that Number One led the pair to the kitchenette that was fully equipped with everything including a fully stocked fridge-freezer, a microwave and a conventional cooker. There were a prep-bowl and a sink for dishes but also a device that cleaned cooking pots and pans as well as dishes and cutlery. It didn’t use any water or cleaning liquid. Finally, they reached the bedroom suite. It contained a king-sized bed two adjacent work-desks with keyboards and monitors that, Number One explained were connected to the master A/V system. The bathroom had a spa bath, shower and his and her basins as well as a toiled and a bidet. All in all the apartment was as good as the best hotel suite either had experienced. Jenny and Jamie were blown away by the accommodation.
“Is everything to your satisfaction?” asked Number One.
“It is more than adequate,” replied Jamie, with a wry smile. Jenny giggled. She was starting to feel a bit nervous of being alone with Jamie. Number One didn’t seem to notice.
“Is there anything else you need for now?” asked the robot.
The pair looked at each other. Jenny shook her head.
“Nothing that we can think of,” replied Jamie.
“Then we shall retire for the night. As you have been told, to rouse us, speak our names. We will hear. Otherwise we will rouse automatically at six am and wake you. Goodnight.”
The two robots retreated to the living area. Jamie and Jenny both had the same thought. They waited, silently, for a couple of minutes then both moved to the door and peeped out. The robots were positioned on either side if the entrance door and were quite motionless. Their illuminated numbers were dark and there was no sign of activity. They could have been statues. The two humans closed the bedroom door and looked at each other again.
“You have been quite impressive since you were made leader, Mister Calhoun. It was a good choice. But I’m nervous of being alone with you in this situation. I really don’t know you and, although I’m attracted to you, it is too soon for me to know where I want the relationship to go. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t give it a thought,” replied Jamie. “I agree and I don’t like to get intimate too quickly either. Besides, while you get ready for bed, I’m going to search for the surveillance I’m sure is here somewhere. I think you’ll find bed clothes in one of the cupboards.”
He moved quickly to the living area, shutting the bedroom door behind him. He heard the shower come on and started his search. There were four devices hidden in the living area and two more in the kitchen. He made mental notes of their placement to report back to the others then searched again. He found two more in the lounge and another one in the kitchen. Then he returned to the bedroom where he found four more in the bedroom. He’d just finished when Jenny returned, looking very attractive in a form-fitting nightgown. She got into the left side of the huge bed. He took his turn in the bathroom and found two further devices there. These ones he disabled after looking straight at them and explaining why. He returned to the bedroom and told Jenny what he’d found and what he’d done about it.
“I’ll speak to the commander about this tomorrow,” he promised. Now goodnight. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
He made for the door. Jenny looked puzzled, then wary, then anxious.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
“I thought you might like some privacy. I’ll sleep in the lounge.”
“No, please don’t leave me alone,” she cried, showing how scared she really was. “This whole thing has freaked me out and I’m frightened. I need you beside me, if only as my security blanket.”
Jamie laughed. “Then I’ll be the best security blanket you ever had,” he said, softly.
He got in beside her and took her gently in his arms. She nestled closer and sighed.
“That’s better,” she whispered. “Now I can relax. Thank you for understanding.”
“No problem. Sleep well,” he replied, in a whisper, looking at the top of her head tenderly. But she didn’t hear him. She was already sleeping. He lay beside her, fully alert, for a long time, listening to the background noises of the ship and going over the events of the day in his mind. He started to make a list of things to do in his head until he also dropped off.