283 - Flucht vom Giftplaneten
Flight From The Poison Planet
Kurt Mahr


Four months have passed since the Jago operation. Homer G. Adams is held prisoner with five other key characters of the Terran administration on an unknown ammoniac planet, allegedly in the Milky Way. The intentions of the Tefrodians are unclear at that point, they don't seem to be really interested in questioning them. The Terrans suppose that the only point in their captivity is that the Masters of the Island replaced them with duplicates, who must now have deeply infiltrated the Terranian govermnent.

A guard comes to take them before the commandant of the base. The first shock is the identity of this guard: he is a duplicate of Homer G. Adams. The commandant of the base introduces himself as Miras-Etrin, and he quickly admits being a Master of the Island. The prisoners are taken back to their room and one of them, General Strugov, begins to suspect that Miras-Etrin did not decide to unveil himself without a reason. Strugov is eventualy convinced that at least one of them is a duplicate, who took the place of the original prisoner, and who must be reporting all the captives plans to the Master of the Island. He decides to trust Homer G. Adams and together, they proceed to question discretely the other four prisoners in order to find out who the traitor(s) might be.

The manoeuver bears fruits : the duplicate is identified (Weinstein) and is unfortunately killed in the fray. Miras-Etrin immediately comes to see them, gets the dead body back and lets the original Weinstein join his comrades. Of course, the Terrans immediately suspect the newcomer to be a duplicate as well, but they do not have to work it out since the new Weinstein (Weinstein-3) turns himself in and immediately admits being a clone. He then proceeds to explain why he decided to betray Miras-Etrin.

However blindly faithful to the Masters of the Island, the duplicates have a survival instinct and Weinstein-3 is well aware that another duplicate (Weinstein-2) is at work on the Earth, where he is infiltrating the Terranian government. Whether Weinstein-2 succeeds or fails, Weinstein-3 will become useless (obviously, if Weinstein-2 is uncovered, the Terrans won't allow another duplicate to reiterate the substitution). Therefore, Weinstein-3 realized that his best chance is to ally himself with the Terrans. Convinced but still suspecting another trap from Miras-Etrin, the Terrans accept him among them but decide to leave him out of all strategic decisions they might make.

Another duplicate contacts them, the duplicate of Adams (now referred to as "Gershwin", which happens to be the "G" in Homer G. Adams). For the very same reasons as Weinstein-3, he wants to join the Terrans and proposes to help them escape if they can guarantee they will take him with them. He pretends having very valuable information on the layout of the base, which turns out to be true.

The Terrans can use a secret passage he made through the floor and from there, reach the main energy supply. A bomb will plunge the base into darkness and the ensuing confusion will allow them to steal a vehicle and reach the surface, where they will wait for rescue. How this rescue will come, General Strugov won't explain but he volunteers to achieve it.

Strugov asks Gerschwin to bring a clone of himself (Strugov-3) to him. When they meet, Strugov knocks Strugov-3 down and takes his place, pretending he's now a duplicate. Spending some time among the numerous duplicates of all the prisoners, Strugov realizes they are very badly considered by their masters. They are also very carefully trained : Tefrodians keep them under a permanent surveilance and make them notice when their behavior strays from their original's. After behaving aggressively toward one of the guards, Strugov demands to be taken before Miras-Etrin, to which the guard complies.

Miras-Etrin seems puzzled to see a duplicate behave differently, and decides to hear what Strugov has to say. Strugov then explains that it is impossible to create accurate clones of important Terran personalities if they are permanently under the orders of guards. They need to work out their authority, otherwise only mild-mannered, and therefore unrealistic, persons will be created. Miras-Etrin admits not having been in the base long enough, and therefore he didn't think too much about this. But he seems to agree. Then Strugov makes his second move : he says he wants to be sent to Earth where he will replace his first duplicate, whom, he estimates, he outperforms now. Miras-Etrin says he will give him his decision shortly.

Meanwhile, the other prisoners are almost done setting up their escape, with the diligent help of Gerschwin. Some time later, Miras-Etrin lets Strugov know that he accepted, and therefore the General will be sent to Earth alone on a ship where he will replace Strugov-2. Everything goes smoothly: a bomb is placed in the energy supply and Strugov departs on board of a Tefrodian ship. Shortly after taking off, Strugov finds out that no escape pod is present on the ship, and suddenly, Miras-Etrin's holographic image appears before him. Strugov understands that he played and lost to someone stronger than him.

Miras-Etrin explains that he has never been fooled by any of their plots. Even the duplicates who assisted him didn't actually work for him. Miras-Etrin had simply anticipated their behavior and knew they would turn themselves in to the Terrans. The escape of the prisoners has worked perfectly, they are now roaming the ammoniac-filled surface, waiting for very unlikely help. The linear drive of Strugov's ship has been deactivated. Strugov has two options : either he tries to rally the Terran territory at sub-light speed, which he will reach in forty thousand years, or he tries to send a message. But then, a bomb will immediately blow the whole ship.

Mad with rage, Strugov controls himself and decides to cast one last jab at the Master of the Island. He says that even though he was able to suppress six Terrans, billions of others are still there, and that it only took them a few years to kill three of the seven Masters of the Island. And the other four will eventually fall (which is a bluff : so far, Rhodan can only suppose that there are only four Masters of the Island left, given the conditions in which this information was obtained). However, Miras-Etrin's reaction confirms the hypothesis: he doesn't deny that there are only four of them left and disappears, leaving Strugov alone with his dilemma.

Strugov decides to try a third option: find the bomb. After some reasoning, he realizes that the bomb must necessarily be very close to the hypertransmitter. He eventually finds it in the first of the four spacesuits in the central command. He drops it in space and just as he is about to send a message, Miras-Etrin appears to him again, to congratulate him for finding one of the bombs he put on board. At first discouraged by the news, Strugov then realizes from the words used by the Master of the Island that he seems to have acted all alone (he despises the Tefrodians, who are merely servants to him). Therefore, he had very little time to put the bombs on board, and Strugov quickly deduces that Miras-Etrin had no way of guessing which spacesuit he would use. He takes the other three spacesuits, drops them into space and can then send his SOS safely. Strugov and his companions are rescued by Pucky and Ras Tschubai, but none of the duplicates materialize together with the mutants back on the Terran ship. Adams then explains what happened: It seems that some hidden genetic characteristic of the duplicates prevents them from traveling through the fifth dimension. This information, added to the fact that Rhodan now knows for sure there are only four Masters of the Island, gives the Terrans a definite edge on their enemies.

*Note - found this summary several years ago on an old internet site - http://www.ed.ac.uk/~geas?CYCLO/P/PR-283.sub.html - that no longer exists (same site that the previous short summaries in the "Master of the Island" cycle that Cedric had obtained came from).

Michael P. Mahoney 2007-09-10

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