Vila was rolling over in bed in his new cabin on the Liberator and couldn’t fall asleep. Yes, this ship was like a sweet dream. But something was wrong or… disturbing? Maybe the problem was in the low hum of the ship engines? No. Not that, obviously. He had spent eight months on board the London and had always slept well, though the engines had been much louder. Or was it the bed? No. How could it? It was so cosy and soft… Too soft? No, not even that. The bed was okay. He wasn’t hungry – they had had a great meal. He wasn’t hurt. Blake had found the medical unit, where there was a magic stuff that could heal minor scratches in seconds. Vila could swear the equipment of the medical unit could easily cope with much more serious injuries, but none of them had been really hurt. And yes, he WAS tired. He was exhausted. And yet, he couldn’t fall asleep.
Vila sneered bitterly.After a year of a nightmare the sweetest of the dreams could feel disturbing, couldn’t it?
Unwillingly, he got up and put on his new outfit. The soft fabric felt good against the skin. Vila sighed. Everything was so good. Too good to be true. And suddenly he realized what was disturbing him. When the things had been too good, it had always meant a trap!
He opened the door of his cabin and stepped outside. The opposite door led to Gan’s cabin. Vila approached it in hesitation, but decided not to disturb his friend. To the right was the way to the flight deck. The cabin closest to it was Blake’s, of course. Jenna had chosen the one opposite Blake’s and next to Vila’s. Avon occupied the farthest cabin in the corridor next to the door they had failed to open earlier. About a dozen cabins were left vacant. Vila looked right. Blake had decided to keep watch that night, if you could speak about nights on board a spaceship. Somehow Vila didn’t want to meet Blake right now, so, he turned left. The closed door attracted him like a magnet. And of course he wasn’t afraid of waking Avon up. Vila was a highly qualified thief, and he could work very silently.
Now, when Blake wasn’t making a fuss, Gan and Jenna weren’t watching with curiosity, and Avon wasn’t standing by with that sarcastic smile of his, it didn’t even take him long.
Very cautiously Vila peeped in and saw a long hexagonal corridor with doors along both sides of it. He stepped inside and checked some of them – all were empty cabins! The corridor turned to the right in a long curve. Vila moved along counting the cabin doors. No less than 50 or 60 of them. Boring…
The corridor ended in ahexagonal niche. The markings on the floor resembled those of the teleport section, but Vila saw neither bracelets, nor the control panel around… Ah! There was a row of buttons each painted in a different colour. Vila pressed the blue one.
He was still standing in the same niche, but the corridor disappeared. In front of Vila there was a large hall with hundreds of glass columns, and inside each column there were strange objects he had never seen before. A shining black stick, the size of an arm in one of them. A piece of silver cloth in another. Here he was attracted by a crystal sphere; there he found a large knotty piece of wood. The functions of some objects could be guessed, like that brown leather thing, which was obviously a bag. Others seemed too strange. Why on Earth should an old-fashioned looking glass have buttons? Or was it a kind of a visual communicator? And some of the columns were empty. What were they? How did they open?
Vila looked around to see if there were control panels that could open the columns… and suddenly realized that he couldn’t tell which way he had come from. He turned back. Yes! He had obviously seen that necklace with false gemstones before! Or… Vila came up to have a better look. These gemstones could be genuine – or at least they looked as such from behind the glass. No, he hadn’t been here. He wouldn’t have missed a real book! Vila had seen them before, when they had penetrated that rich apartment in the Alpha Sector and had been caught by the troopers.
Vila had to admit – he was lost! He told that to each new column he met. And finally he came up with a plan. He was on board a spaceship, no matter how huge. Following one direction – any direction – he would come to the wall of the columned hall.
So he did. And when the wall was found, it was very easy to find the teleport niche. Or rather A teleport niche, because again the objects in the columns seemed unfamiliar.
Vila examined the coloured buttons. The blue one was missing. Of course! He was on the blue level. But which one was the level he had come from? Vila didn’t know. So, he decided to press each button in turn. Thus he pressed the red one, found out that it wasn’t the point of his destination, but couldn’t just leave. Now in front of him was a huge water reservoir. In Vila’s opinion it wasn’t wise to store water like this. It could be easily synthesized in necessary amounts. Why would one want to keep a stock? But the strangest of all was that he saw two plastic ladders leading to the bottom of the reservoir. What for? You could easily dip the necessary amount of water standing safely on the floor. Or were the ladders used when there was little water left in the reservoir? Vila didn’t know.
He returned to the niche and pressed the orange button. Yes! The long hexagonal corridor was there! Vila ran along it expecting to find the door that lead to the shorter corridor with HIS cabin. But instead he found himself in a new place. A small hexagonal hall with similar hexagonal corridors leading to each side of the hexagon. And now he couldn’t remember which way he had come from. Vila was in panic. But very soon he found the answer to his riddle. He was to enter any corridor looking for a teleport niche, and if it wasn’t there, he could come back and check the new way, moving clockwise… or counter clockwise… no, clockwise.
He was exploring the third corridor when he found the hugest and the most solid door he had ever seen in his life. With the most complicated lock system he had ever come across with.
* * *
Blake’s voice sounded from all the dynamics hanging all over the corridors. The communication system! How could he have forgotten about it?!
“Vila, where are you? We have been looking for you for half an hour already!”
“Blake! I’m here! I don’t know where. I’m lost! Help me!”
About twenty minutes later they were all standing on the flight deck. Eighteen minutes had been lost to make Vila explainintelligibly what had happened to him, and two minutes Avon had needed to find the thief and bring him to the flight deck.
“I understand now, why this ship wastes so much energy,” Avon said.
“Yes, it’s the life support system on all these empty and useless levels. Zen, can it be switched off there and left on only in this zone?” Blake indicated the necessary zone on the plan of the ship shown on the screen.
“So, do it, Zen!”
“No, wait!” Avon cried.
*PREVIOUS COMMAND ABORTED*
“What is it, Avon?”
“What about that door I found Vila next to? We haven’t checked what is located behind it. And it is not indicated on the plan.”
“How can we?” Vila asked. “I’ll never be able to open it, and neither will you.”
“Are you sure?” Blake inquired.
“Then I don’t see any point in wasting our time and the energy of the Liberator. Zen, switch off the life support system in the indicated zone.”
Avon curled his lips. But somehow this time he agreed with Blake. Most of the levels were really useless. Six levels of empty cabins. A museum of useless objects. A dangerous water reservoir – what if you fall down into it? You can easily drown in it.
* * *
Vila was lying in his cosy bed and the last clear thought before he fell asleep was about the locks. There wasn’t one in the universe he couldn’t open. But sometimes it was better to pretend there were such locks. Back on the London it had saved him from the necessity to crawl over that frightening creephole to the computer room. And here it had saved Zen from Avon’s (and Blake’s) curiosity. When Vila had opened that kingsize door, he hadn’t understood at first what he had seen. A huge abyss full of thick and thin wires leading to a kind of a pulsing knot of thicker ones. It had been expanding and shrinking in amindbending rhythm. Vila had been watching it in trance, when Zen’s voice had sounded inside his head: *VILA, PLEASE, DON’T TELL THE OTHER’S. KERR AVON MAY WANT TO FIND OUT HOW IT WORKS, AND IT WILL KILL ME.* “Yes, Zen.” Vila had answered, and had locked well the door that led to the heart of the Liberator.