She nodded, "Right. One more time." Blake re-set the controls and listened as Jenna instructed, "Cut primaries reverse thrust."
Gan braced himself at the station behind them as Blake obeyed, "Check." They could hear the engine's drone deepen.
"Stabilize, and trim back to stationary."
"Check," he said.
Jenna turned to Avon at the left-front station. "Negative anti-grav!" and when he did that, she turned back to Blake. "Compensate for orbital drift and hold." He reached down and gripped the directional handles that cupped the chair and straightened them. Jenna pointed at a button he'd forgotten, "Hold." She smiled slightly as he obeyed.
He settled back then. "All confirmed."
"Good!" Jenna approved with a smile.
He eyed her, feeling patronized, then turned to Zen. "All right, let's check with the expert! Zen, report status."
Liberator is stationary and is stabilized in an anti-orbital posture.
Vila slouched at the station opposite Avon's. "Whatever that means," he grumbled.
Blake shot him a stern look, "It means we got it right."
Jenna leaned forward, amused by the thief. "Together we can fly this ship manually."
Gan added, "I think we make a good team."
"Well hooray for us," came Avon's cold, sour voice.
Vila looked at him, surprised and annoyed. "What's eating you now?"
The other man leaned against his chair and turned his head to answer the thief, "I'm just wondering how long we're going to live to enjoy our new-found skills."
Blake ignored them and left the pilot-console to go stand in front of the computer. "Zen, please fix the visual survey, put the detector beams on maximum, report any space vehicles within range." He turned to Vila, one hand resting on a hip and pointing at the thief's station ordered, "Vila, put visual survey on the screen." The other man obeyed, and the holo-screen irised out to show stars everywhere.
Negative on all systems, as the computer spoke, Avon watched Blake suspiciously. There are no space vehicles within detector range. Blake straightened up, radiating smugness.
Jenna and Vila grinned at each other, and Jenna said "We've lost them!"
"So much for Federation pursuit ships!" the thief agreed.
Gan nodded behind them, "At least we know we can outrun them."
"Outrun them?" Vila gestured smugly at his console, "In this we can out-stroll them!"
Blake turned around, smiling a broad self-satisfied smile as Vila shut of the screen. Avon's cool voice dimmed his lights, though. "Don't get too relaxed about it, they'll keep on coming."
"We have the whole universe to hide in..!" reasoned the thief.
Blake turned sternly to him, not missing Avon's lack of surprise. Yes, you knew it was coming didn't you? "Except we're not going to hide. Very soon now the Federation ships will know exactly where we are. Or at least, where we've been...."
Vila looked utterly bewildered. "I don't follow you."
Avon jerked around to glare at him with angry mockery from the other station, "Oh but you do! And that's the problem!"
Blake interrupted them before Vila could respond. "Up until now we've only been a minor irritation to the Federation. I think it's about time we hurt them." He turned a warning gaze on Avon, who pretended to ignore him.
"I don't like the sound of that," muttered Vila.
Avon turned to Blake now, his voice ice-cold. "Neither do I! I thought it was agreed we wouldn't do anything without discussing it thoroughly."
Blake met his furious eyes without flinching, and let threat slip into his tone. "True. It was also agreed that anybody could opt out at any time. Just tell me when you want to leave."
The velvet-black eyes smoldered, and Avon said with quiet harshness, "Oh I will. But in the meantime I think we have a right to know what it is you're planning."
Blake broke the gaze and turned to the computer. "Zen, set a course for Saurian Major, speed, standard by two."
Speed and course confirmed.
Blake turned and wandered over to the couch, looking pleased with himself. Avon's cold voice followed him, "That falls a little short of my idea of a thorough discussion."
Gan stepped down from his station and paused beside the angry man, "We can talk and travel. We're safer on the move."
"Another one who's prepared to let Blake do his thinking."
"ENOUGH!" Blake snarled, spinning around. He eased the tone and almost pleaded, "Avon...." The other man glared at him, fuming.
Vila interrupted to demand, "Saurian Major?"
Fortunately his question allowed Blake to break his glare with Avon. He turned back to the computer, "Zen, visual star-sector forty-two point sixty-one." The screen irised open again to view a different starfield. "It's there, on the edge of the system," he began lecturing. "One of the early self-governing colonies, subsequently annexed by the Federation." He began to pace, as he always did when upset. "When the settlers declared their independence again, the Federation crushed them with typical efficiency...." he paused grimly.
Jenna prompted cautiously, "How typical?"
"Half the population were butchered. The other half were rounded up and transported to frontier planets." He turned to face them again, "A few managed to escape to the hills and form guerrilla bands."
Vila frowned, "Why are we going there though?" Jenna shot him a glare, and he added, "I mean I feel for them, but we've got problems of our own!"
Blake looked up at the viewscreen, which now showed a desert land with red sand and red sunlight, making the air seem choked with dust. "They've built a vast transceiver complex there. All Federation signals and navigation controls are beamed into Saurian Major, boosted, and re-directed." The camera panned out to show a building complex, with a huge satellite antennae dish several miles wide. "It's a vital nerve center in the Federation space-control system. Destroy that, and you blind, deafen and silence them." He turned to them again, and said with determination, "That's what we're gonna do."
Avon responded with dry sarcasm, "A blow for freedom."
Gan nodded, "Yes, our freedom." He turned to rebuke Avon, "For a clever man you're not very bright,. Deaf dumb and blind, how're they gonna catch us?"
Avon looked at him for a moment, gauging the question and deciding not to take offense at it, then looked away. "I'm sure Blake will manage it somehow." Blake raised his brows, but kept silent.
The Liberator moved through space like an eagle flying on smooth winds. Only two of her crew were on the flight deck. Jenna was monitoring their course and Blake was asleep sitting up on the couch. A steady beeping alerted Jenna to look at the scanner, and she spent several moments trying to identify what it was picking up. Finally she tapped the console in annoyance and said, "Blake...."
He stirred and asked sleepily, "Yes?"
"Are there any artificial satellites on our course?"
He blinked awake and untangled his arms from their folded position around his chest. Groggily he turned to the computer console behind him. "I dunno. I'll check." After a moment of sleepy reading he answered, "Well there's none to be seen. Are you getting something?" he asked, looking back at her over his shoulder.
She was concentrating on her scanner and nodded, fine golden eyebrows drawn together in puzzlement. "Yes, something."
He looked at his console again but there was still no data there. "How long has it been registering?"
"Couple of minutes." She looked over at him, "Signal's getting stronger," she said in warning.
He clambered to his feet and turned around, "Zen, visual detector scan and computer analysis on grid... eleven point five, please."
The holo-screen irised out, marred by grid strips across the image. The signal is mechanical. It emanates from a space projectile of unidentified origin. Translator units categorize signal as a distress call.
Blake frowned, then decided he could slow his trip to investigate this curious ship. "Estimate the projectile's speed and course." He came around the couch to join Jenna at her station.
No indication of motive power. The projectile's movement is only subject to space-drift and orbital influence.
Jenna looked at Blake, "If they've lost power they're in real trouble."
He sighed, but his eyes twinkled. "We don't have much option then, do we?" He asked the computer, "How far away are they?"
One million, seventy-three thousand spatials and closing.
Jenna didn't miss the gleam in Blake's eyes, though speaking he tried to sound long-suffering, "Well reprogram course and speed to rendezvous with the projectile, lock off on one hundred spatials." Jenna idly tapped in the instructions, hiding her amusement.
Speed and course confirmed.
Blake nodded when Jenna showed him the readout. "Hmmm... You'd better tell the others,"
She nodded, "All right." On her way out, she stopped and turned a troubled look to Blake.
"Problem?" he asked.
She met his eyes and frowned. "Putting out a false distress signal. It's a trick used by space pirates."
He smiled mischievously at her and turned back to the console, "Well then we'll have to be careful."
She glared at his oblivious back for a moment, then turned away with a sigh. "I'll get the others."
Blake stood near the computer's reference point with Jenna and Vila. He turned a questioning look on Avon, who had settled himself on the couch and was working on the console there. The dark-eyed man looked up and said pensively, "There's nothing coming back except the same distress call. It must be on a mechanical repeater."
They all looked at the small, bullet-shaped projectile floating in their visual range. Blake asked curiously, "Do you recognize the type?"
"No," and Avon was plainly annoyed that he could not. He stood abruptly and told them what he did know. "Primitive. Too small to sustain a full life-support system by the look of it."
Jenna added to that, "Doesn't seem to be any heavy armament."
Blake cocked his head to her, "Could it be a high-speed transporter?"
"To transport what?"
Vila asked her quickly, "Do we care?"
She chuckled, "Getting nervous?" she asked, moving to stand in front of him. Avon rested his hands on his hips, frowning at the screen.
"No! I've been nervous all along!" the thief was quite serious. "I do not like the look of that thing."
Blake ignored them, "Zen, have the sensors picked up any sign of life?" he asked as Gan sat down on the couch.
No information can be given.
Blake glared at the computer. "That is NOT what I asked! I want to teleport across there." Jenna looked at him in surprise.
There is room, and somehow, the computer sounded reluctant.
There is life-support... for a... limited... period.
Blake ignored the strange way the computer suddenly was speaking and turned to Jenna. "I'll go take a look at it."
She did not like that, especially with the way Zen was acting. "I'll come with you."
He nodded, and asked, "Avon?"
The other man rolled his eyes but started to follow them out, stopping when Zen spoke again, It is in -in... in...
As the computer fell silent, Avon said contemptuously to Vila, "I'll have to overhaul that - thing!"
... sane.... finished the computer, and somehow there was an urgency to the word that made both men look at its fascia in shock. Avon shook his head and left the flight deck.
Gan stood up and joined Vila, looking very thoughtful. "I wonder. It's almost as if Zen has a limiter..!"
The thief was confused, "A limiter?"
Gan explained, "Something that stops him from helping us too much." Then he frowned and met Vila's eyes, "Or maybe it's someONE who stops him."
Vila grinned a sickly grin. "Gan, if you're trying to scare me," the grin vanished, "you're succeeding."
The Liberator approached relatively close to the tiny transporter. In the teleport room Blake was putting on a bracelet, ignoring Jenna's uneasy expression. Avon sat at the controls, watching every move with a hawklike gaze. Blake suddenly said to him, "Let's see just how precise you can be."
The dark eyes glinted, and Avon said mockingly, "Are you sure you can trust me?"
As Jenna slipped on a bracelet, Blake shrugged. "For as long as we're useful to each other." He turned on the broadcast button of his bracelet. "We'll keep the voice channels open," and then he stepped into the teleport chamber and looked at Avon. "All set?"
Blake suddenly smiled mischievously, "Sure?"
He had the satisfaction of Avon looking slightly surprised, before the man replied in a voice rife with meanings, "As I'll ever be."
Turning away to hide his silent laughter, Blake touched Jenna's shoulder and asked her, "All right?"
"Yep." Only her worried glance at Avon showed her reluctance.
They stood together in the teleport and Blake said to Avon, "Right, put us across." Avon's hands flicked over the console setting the distance and adjusting some controls, then he hit the send switch and the two of them wavered out to appear in the other ship.
They found themselves bent down by the low ceiling and extremely cramped quarters in the empty ship. They both winced at the awkward way their backs were bent, and Blake said wryly, "Not a very good job, that."
"Don't tell him that," Jenna cautioned.
Blake raised his bracelet to his mouth, "Thank you, Avon."
Bending down, trying to get a little more room, they looked around. The ship had adequate internal lighting. There were three long rectangular storage compartments that took up a great deal of the floor space. Blake rubbed his neck and asked, "You ever seen anything like this before?"
"No." She saw two pilots' seats at the front end of the ship and made her way over to sit in one, studying the control panels.
At the other end of the ship, Blake found a closed hatch with a small shuttered slot that he opened and poked into. Unable to make sense of it, he turned and made his way to the other side where Jenna was. "Well?" he asked.
She answered distractedly, "Controls are very basic, just enough instruments to make a safe landing." She added in surprise, "Everything's manual!"
Confused, he asked, "Why put manual controls into an un-manned craft?" One of the panels was lit up, and he poked at it, "What's that?"
Jenna glanced over and checked it, "Distress relay. Probably cuts in automatically when a major fault develops." She activated the diagnostics. The panel's lights changed configuration, confusing Blake, but Jenna nodded knowingly. "Ah, there it is."
"The fault, circuit-tracer. There's a malfunction reading on the autonavs." She stood up, bending low to avoid the ceiling. "That's what must've activated the cut-outs on the propulsion units."
Blake pushed in to sit where Jenna had been and looked around. "Well that explains why they're drifting... but you don't put circuit tracers in an un-manned craft." He puzzled over it a moment, then concluded, "There must've been a crew on board."
Jenna looked toward the hatches behind them, and then made her way across the ship and checked the airlock, then peered into the slot of the other hatch. "Well the locks on the inner hatch are still secure, what about this one, here?"
He joined her, "It's locked."
She turned thoughtfully around, "So, if there was a crew...."
"They're still here!" In sudden understanding they looked at the storage compartment Blake was leaning on. He reached over to the controls, and activated them. The cover slid back to reveal a glass casing, and inside it was a man. They stared down at him.
His arms were folded across his chest. The leather clothing he wore was barbaric in design, and a thick scar traced a pattern up his left cheek. His eyes were wide open and staring.
Jenna grabbed Blake's shoulder, "Blake look! Look at his eyes! He's alive!" Blake looked at the air vent on the storage box, then tentatively touched it, only to hiss and jerk his hand away. "What is it?" Jenna asked.
Blake stuttered in alarmed confusion, "Well it-it-it's cold, it almost took the skin off my fingers!" The brown eyes looked innocently bewildered.
"That's it!" Jenna exclaimed. "This is the same process they used centuries ago on the early deep-space flights," she pointed down at the man, "they subjected their crews to extremely low temperatures to suspend the aging process." She touched the cool glass curiously, "This is a cryogenic capsule!"
Blake turned around, and opened the next capsule. The cover slid back to show another man, much like the first. Jenna opened the third, but this one had suffered a malfunction. The glass cover was frosted over, but through it they could see a corpse. They turned away, deciding the living ones were more fascinating and less gross.
Blake considered, "There's not much we can do for them here, re-animation will be a slow process."
"We can't just leave them here!" Jenna was quite indignant at the idea, rife with curiosity about this ship and its crew.
Blake chuckled, "Well we'll worry about that when we get back. Our air's running out in case you hadn't noticed."
"I hadn't wanted to worry you."
Blake raised his bracelet, "Avon, do you read?"
"I hear you," came the dry tones back.
"Bring us back." It took a moment, but then it became obvious they weren't going anywhere. More urgently, Blake called, "Bring us back!"
Gan stood worriedly in front of the teleport console, Vila joined him. Avon looked up at them, a frown creasing his brow. "I can't, the teleport control is burnt out."
Jenna's voice came over accusingly, "What did you do?"
"Not a thing. It blew all by itself." Avon's two companions shifted uneasily, glancing at each other.
Blake asked urgently, "Can you repair it?"
Avon leaned back, satisfied to be asked. "No need. There's an automatic repair system and it's working."
"I don't know."
Blake's voice came back enraged, "Why not!?"
The dark eyes flashed in momentary affront, Avon looked up to meet Gan's worried eyes, "Zen won't tell us."
Blake controlled his panic and said firmly, "Our air is running out."
He was startled to pick up a note of sympathy in Avon's reply, "Yes, I was afraid of that. How long?"
"Minutes!" He met Jenna's eyes, and suggested, "Get Zen to maneuver the ship 'round and bring the entire projectile on board."
"I'd already thought of that, Zen refuses to do it."
For a moment Blake stared at his bracelet, not sure if he heard right. Already? You tried everything already and there you go trying to get me not to trust you? He found it humorous, and teased Avon in his reply. "Then you'll have to."
Avon was startled by Blake's affectionate tone, but he responded with slight unease, "That's very chancy, Blake. If Liberator so much as nudges that ship-"
The interruption was cold, and more acceptable that way. "Then you'd better get it right."
Dark eyes flashed with annoyance, and Avon looked up at Gan and Vila, saying coolly, "Shall we get on with it?" Gan moved quickly for the flight deck. Vila was still so confused by the turn of events that Avon passed him by.
Blake vented his fear and fury on the only thing left to do it on. "WHY didn't Zen warn us?!"
"I think he tried to."
Jenna's firm reasonable answer calmed Blake immensely. He sighed, and said sheepishly, "I'm sorry."
She nodded, "I'm all right." Blake grinned engagingly back at her.
Avon settled in Jenna's chair, eyeing his hands with some suspicion and not a little hidden nervousness. He rubbed them together, trying to somehow get any little twitches out. "Lock the inner hatches, positive pressure," he said rapidly.
Gan looked up from what was normally Vila's station, "Locked."
"Equalize the lower hold pressure."
"Open the main locks." Outside the ship, the locks were opening. Avon was nervous that he couldn't see it, and said irritably, "Visual." Gan touched a control, and the holo-screen opened to show a view looking out of the hold.
Vila murmured, "Ramp fully opened."
"Good," Avon set his hands on the controls. "Readings line-up. Right lateral, minimum power." They could see the ship swinging, the projectile slowly being centered in the viewscreen, then passing center.
"Too much! You're over-shooting," Vila warned.
Avon said grimly, "Left lateral," and in a moment the projectile was centered. "That's enough, hold."
"Square on!" crowed the thief.
Avon turned to Gan, "Give me a full-line projection." They watched a course indicator point straight to the little craft. "Good. We're aligned and we're ready to go. Do you two know what you have to do?"
Gan nodded, "Uh-huh."
Vila looked doubtful, but that they ignored. He always looked that way. Avon's tone revealed too much insecurity to soothe Vila's doubts. "I hope so. Commencing docking procedure... now." He gently sent the ship forward.
Blake and Jenna took small breaths in the capsule. It was making talking difficult, but they kept talking anyway. Blake looked suspiciously defeated as he spoke, "He's taking his time."
Jenna wondered how she always wound up in a position of defending either Vila from Avon, or Blake from Avon, and on this one occasion, Avon from Blake. "It's a difficult maneuver," she nodded, "he'll get there."
Blake had enough breath to say wryly, "I'm breathless with anticipation," triggering a snicker from Jenna.
Avon watched intently as they closed upon the projectile. "That's very good," he said softly as they closed in. "Gently... easy... easy... good...." as the ship stayed centered. He was white with tension. "Alignment is exact!"
Suddenly the little ship started to slide sideways. Vila gasped, "She's turning!"
"Right lateral," Avon said.
"Quickly!" Vila urged, staring in panic at the screen.
Gan activated another control and frowned. "She's drifting out of the laser projection."
Avon cut in urgently, "Down degree point zero one."
Vila began to panic, "You're too close! She's gonna hit the ramp broadside on!"
For all the use it was, Gan still hissed at the projectile, "Get around!"
"Down another point! More lateral," Avon ordered.
In the ship, Jenna and Blake clasped hands and waited to live or die.
Vila was near panic. "You're too close, pull away Avon!"
Avon's throat was dry, his voice hoarse. "No time, she's coming 'round!" He pulled back on the controls, slowing the Liberator. "Gan! When the tail is on the laser projection I'll go straight in!"
Gan watched intently for it. "Now!"
Avon slid the controls forward, and the little ship was scooped into the giant's maw smoothly.
Vila shouted, "You've done it! You've done it!"
The dark-eyed man let out an explosive breath, and released the controls and eyed his sweaty hands with some suspicion. All business, though, he said, "Close main locks. Zen, transfer to inner-hold number five."
Transfer process commenced. The locks closed.
Gan's hands moved over the controls, "Hold re-pressurized."
Vila added, "Inner hatches released..!"
Avon looked up from his hands, relieved. "Switch to visual." The screen showed the little ship sitting on the docking cradle.
Vila raised his brows, impressed. "Very delicate." He looked at Gan, eyes twinkling, "You know, with hands like that and a decent up-bringing, he might've made a respectable pickpocket."
Avon cast a doubtful look at the hands in question and shrugged tiredly, coming down from the adrenaline high. "Yes, we'd better go down and check that they're all right." He started to go and paused to pick up a tool. Vila dashed by him on his way out. Avon cast a quick look at Gan, "Keep a watch, Gan," who thumbs-upped him, and then Avon followed Vila.
In the projectile, Jenna and Blake worked to open the inner hatch, and breathed sighs of relief when it finally opened. They clambered out onto the loading platform as Vila swaggered in grinning at the two who gave each other a hand down to the floor.
"There you are, you see? Nothing to worry about!" the thief said as they walked over to him, still breathing hard. "What have we here?" he indicated the little ship.
Blake waved towards it and said hoarsely, "Oh, take a look!"
Avon dashed through the door and quickly slowed to a dignified walk, expression cool. Blake turned to him and said with very firm relief, "Thank you."
He nodded coolly, "Glad to be of help."
Jenna raised an eyebrow, "You don't sound too sure about that!" Avon turned a swift glare on her, and she added smoothly, "Thanks anyway, nice flying." With seeming affront he headed for the projectile. Blake squeezed Jenna's shoulder and grinned before he went to the comm panel and signaled the flight deck.
"Gan," came the big man's response with a questioning note.
"Blake. See if Zen's back on our side yet."
Wry amusement colored the reply, "I don't think he ever left it."
Blake chuckled, relieved. "Tell him to resume course for Saurian Major, speed standard by two."
"Understood," came cheerfully back.
Blake shook his head and turned off the comm. Seeing Jenna at the little ship, running her hands over it's hull, he came over curiously. "Anything?"
She patted the hull, obviously annoyed. "Most of it's been scraped away." She leaned against it, frowning.
"Must've been in space a long time," he said, looking it over.
Jenna tossed her head, blazing curiosity in her eyes, "I wonder where it came from?"
Blake laughed, "More interesting is where it was going and why!" Jenna mumbled an agreeable note as he turned and headed for the hatch, "Let's see if Avon's got any ideas."
He clambered in and found Avon and Vila poking around at the ship's control panels. Avon was of course being very systematic, and the thief was randomly looking things over. "What do you think?" Blake asked the dark-haired man.
He always found it funny that Avon could combine irritation and tolerance so well when lecturing. "It's an old ship," Avon began, as Vila shrugged into the seat beside him. "All from a technologically backwards culture. Sub-light drive, so obviously the destination was outside the star-system from which it was launched."
Vila nodded agreement, "Obviously," and then turned a confused face to Avon. "Why?"
Avon glanced at him, frowning. "They wouldn't bother to put the crew into suspended animation unless the journey was to last longer than the natural life-span of a man." He turned and pointed at the capsules, "The cryogenic system halts the aging, and the decay. These two are probably hundreds of years old." Vila stared in utter amazement at the capsules.
Blake cocked his head, "Is there any idea of... where they were going and why?"
Avon shook his head and said firmly, "No. But they weren't planning on coming back." He indicated the station he was sitting at, "All the instruments are set for landing, there's nothing for takeoff."
The curly-haired rebel grinned at him before commenting, "There's no point in going back, the world they left would be dead years ago!" and, his curiosity rising to a new high, bent to look into the capsule at his feet.
Avon paid no attention. His brow furrowed as he sought a logical way through this new puzzle. Vila's eyes were intent on the other man's face, as though he was trying to watch the thoughts processing from one point to another. "No sign of any weapons... in fact, there isn't much equipment a'tall. Either they were headed for a civilized destination where they expected a friendly reception, or...." and Avon smiled, enjoying the challenge of this mystery, "we are missing the point entirely!" He stood up and started heading for the exit.
Vila shook his head, "It all seems a bit single-minded to me!"
Avon paused to answer Blake's questioning glance, leaning on the capsule. "I've cut in the re-animation unit, it'll take a little while, but these two should come out of it, and then they'll be able to tell us what it's all about."
Blake asked hopefully, "Well can we speed it up?"
Avon's eyes narrowed and at first he seemed angry but then switched to ironic amusement. "It's programmed. Interfere with it, and you could kill them!"
The big rebel raised his brows and said cheerfully, "Well there's no point in waiting around! We'll take a look at them in a couple of hours." He started backing out.
Avon startled them by exclaiming with real delight, "Oh wait a minute! There is something we could do. We could take out the program in the auto-navigational unit and link it into our own computers and take a reading on the planet of origin, the course, and the destination."
Blake was bemused by Avon putting all those words into one quick statement. "It's worth a try." He started to back out, noticing with surprise that Vila had slipped by them at some point and was nowhere to be seen. As Avon turned to pull out the unit, neither of them saw fingers twitching on the man in the first capsule Blake had opened.
Avon put the unit into one of Zen's scanner boxes, a half-sphere on the flight deck. He was deeply involved in reading the data Zen put on his station's console when Blake rushed enthusiastically into the room and slowed to casually wander over to him. Looking at his watch, Blake asked cheerfully, "How're you getting on with that?"
"I'm still waiting for the decoders to work out the notational system," he grumbled. Then he gave Blake a look of faintest injury, "It's taking rather longer than I thought!"
Blake nodded sympathetically, and then went over to Jenna. "Has anyone been down to see our guests, lately?"
"Vila went down a little while ago," she answered.
He looked over at Vila, who was dozing at his station. Raising his voice slightly he asked, "And..?"
The thief opened his eyes, "Thawing nicely. Couple of hours we should be able to talk to them."
Jenna was inspecting her controls when Zen said, Liberator is now in stationary orbit one thousand spatials from the surface of the planet Saurian Major.
Blake looked up, smug and determined. "Then it's time we went." He turned and looked at Avon, then at Vila. "Vila! I shall want you down there with me."
The thief went white, "Oh!" and tried to quickly think of an excuse not to go. Unable to get something, he just said, "Right."
"Bring your bag of tricks." He went to Avon's side, and asked hopefully, "Avon?"
Avon avoided his eyes, suddenly concentrating on the detectors. "Isn't he enough?" he asked, as Vila left.
Blake shrugged idly. "Their detectors are concentrated on neutral space. We came in from the Federation territory, they won't have spotted us, YET." He glared as Avon pretended to ignore him. "But they WILL, sooner or later. And I can do what needs to be done FASTER with your help."
Avon continued taking readings. "No doubt."
Blake gazed at him for another moment, then decided to risk it. "Jenna will teleport us down." The black eyes came up to glare furiously at him, flashing angrily, but Blake just turned his back and left.
Gan and Vila loaded a number of spare teleport bracelets into the thief's equipment box. Blake arrived with Jenna in tow, she rolled her eyes at them in the look that'd come to mean, he's been arguing with Avon again. Blake turned to her, "Put Zen on constant scan, I want to know immediately if those Federation ships come into the system." Avon arrived just on their heels, his glare seeming permanently attached to Blake's back. The others pretended not to notice.
Jenna nodded, "Of course."
He wagged his finger at them sternly. "Gan, help Jenna keep an eye on those aliens. And remember one of you must be on standby at all times. We may have to get off Saurian quickly."
Gan's amused reply brought a twinkle to Vila's eyes, "Don't worry," he said as he left the room for the flight deck.
Blake handed Avon a bracelet, since the tech did not appear about to get one himself. Jenna leaned on the teleport console, hiding her amusement as best she could. She asked, "How long are you going to stay down there?"
"Depends on what we find," Blake answered as Vila stepped into the teleport. "A Saurian day is about thirty-six hours. That should be all we need." He turned around to find himself face to face with a still-furious Avon. Exasperated, he asked the man, "Are you ready?" Avon backed into the teleport, still glaring. Blake followed and said to Jenna, "Right, put us down." She flicked the switches and they vanished.
They appeared again, to find themselves standing in the bowl of a small valley. The red sunlight made them seem red as well, and though it looked dusty, the air was damp and scented with odd, sharp smells they couldn't identify.
Vila set his box down and went to look at a large, trumpet-shaped plant. He touched it curiously and jerked away, backpeddling as he exclaimed, "Eyuch!"
Avon turned around and joined Vila. Cocking his head at the plant he asked, "Did it sting you?"
The thief was wiping his hands, looking disgusted and wary of the plant. He lifted his head and answered indignantly, "It's warm! Clammy! 'Bit like flesh!" and he shuddered.
Avon stretched his fingertips out to touch the plant and Blake warned from behind them, "Have to be careful of the plant-life 'round here, some of it's carnivorous." Avon's fingers danced away from the plant as Blake added musingly, "Some species even have an intelligence rating!" He idly worked on a small machine he had brought with him.
The other two men looked at each other and then Vila said to Blake, "Well that's a comfort! I should hate to be eaten by something stupid!"
Blake raised his head. "Now look...." Avon came to his side quickly, to find the machine Blake had brought was a computerized map. Blake pointed at one location, "This is the Communications Complex. This is where we are," he showed them.
Vila winced. "Looks like a long trek."
Avon asked suspiciously, "How do you intend to make contact with the rebels?" He had a sneaking suspicion Blake planned this poorly.
"If they're any good they'll make contact with us!" Blake moved away from them and looked up at the hills above. "We won't make any secret of our presence, just set up camp and wait."
"And if the security forces get to us first?" Vila asked.
Avon met Vila's distressed eyes coolly. "They won't patrol this far from the complex."
"A small fire, first, I think," Blake said, resting his hands on his hips and looking up into the hills confidently. His two companions favored him with very doubtful looks, then separated to look for firewood.
Jenna was bored. She stood on the flight deck and stared up at the holo-screen. "No sign of pursuit ships yet," she said dis-spiritedly.
"They'll find us," said Gan from where he sat at the couch. "Sooner or later."
Jenna looked at him and tried to figure out where that pessimism came from, but then she nodded reluctant agreement. "And then we'll fight."
Joining Gan on the couch, Jenna sighed unhappily. "I keep wondering whether it wouldn't be better to opt out of all this. Find a safe planet," she met his eyes, "hide."
He shrugged wryly. "They'll still find you."
Jenna looked glum at that. "I suppose."
"But if you WANTED to leave you--you know that Blake... wouldn't try to stop you."
She shot him a surprised look, then gave a weary laugh, "No, I know." Curious, she asked, "What about you, are you going to stick with him?"
Gan looked very bleak and nodded, his voice slightly strained as he spoke. "I have to, I--I want to stay alive, and to do that I need people I can rely on. I can't be on my own."
Jenna shook her head, confused. "What d'you mean?" She became concerned when he started to speak and then couldn't. His expression was so pained! "Gan?"
When he responded it was with a very strained voice and obvious mental stress. But it was what he said that startled Jenna. "I killed a security guard. They said it was murder... and he had a gun. I was unarmed. You see..." and utter grief colored his voice and body language, "he killed my woman."
"That must've been terrible," was all Jenna could think of to say.
She noticed suddenly that Gan was in real physical pain. He pulled himself to his feet saying, "I'm sorry, my head aches. I'll be all right in a little while. I suppose I should... go and look at our frozen friends."
Jenna blocked him and set a firm hand on his shoulder. "Relax, I'll go." She didn't move until he agreed.
"Thanks," he said softly, and sat down. He did not see that Jenna stopped on her way out to look at him sympathetically. His head ached blindingly and he slumped forward, waiting for it to end.
Jenna opened the hatch to inner-hold Number Five and stepped in, looking around in surprise. The hold was dark, but she remembered they left the lights on. She moved quickly to the little ship, peering cautiously around. Inside the ship she found that one of the cabinets, the one which had malfunctioned, was finished thawing. Grimacing at the sight, she closed its cover. Then she turned to look in the others only to find their covers both closed. "Surely we left these open!"
Struggling around to the capsule's controls she slid its cover back. This one was also finished thawing but the man inside was as still as he had been before. She slid back its secondary cover and reached down to check his pulse. Suddenly his other hand grabbed her wrist firmly, startling her so she pulled free. When he made no other movement, she nervously checked the next case. It was empty.
First Jenna looked out the inner hatch. Then she checked to see if the partition to the other side of the ship was unlocked, but it wasn't. So she climbed out, peering around into the darkness.
Something touching him woke him. He reached for it and it pulled away. Instinct said, "Keep still. Wait." When he saw through his eyelashes the other being leave the ship, he sat up and stared after it. "Enemy," his instinct classified. "Kill."
Jenna hopped to the floor and nervously looked around. She called, "I know you're here. We're not going to harm you." Her nerves jangling, she edged to the ship's bow. "There's no need to hide!" she said, heading for the hatch. "Can you understand me, we're not going to harm you!" Suddenly a heavy metal bar hurtled from the shadows and smashed into her left arm with bone-cracking force. She spun, cradling her arm and backed swiftly to the comm unit, only to gasp in furious anger and fear. It was smashed. Not one to waste time staring she raced for the hatchway and hauled it open.
The man who had thrown the bar at Jenna ran after her but she beat him out the door narrowly; he got an arm through. With no hesitation Jenna hauled on the door, grinding skin against bone and hearing a quite satisfactory snarl of pain from the other side. His hand groped through the air and caught her hair but she twisted around and bit him as hard as she could. He released her with a scream and pulled his arm away, allowing her to shut the hatch and seal it.
Jenna cradled her injured arm, breathing hard. When she had caught her breath she ran for the flight deck.
"Gan! One of the--Gan, where are you?!" for there was no one there.
Gan rushed in from one of the other halls. "What happened? What's the matter!?" he asked, staring at her pale face and wild eyes.
Jenna met him at the couch and hid for a moment in his arms. She said breathlessly, "Gan, one of them attacked me, I-I tried talking to him but I couldn't make him understand."
Alpha grades are a lot like children when they get scared, Gan thought, hiding his smile. Blake would do it too, look at you with utterly injured eyes and make you feel protective. "It's all right, you're safe now. Where is he?"
"He-he-he's in the hold I-I've locked the door. He-he threw something at me I-" she lifted her arm and looked soulfully wounded. "I think he's practically broken my arm," with her lower lip trembling.
Gan used his most reassuring tone, like he would for a hurt child. "Let's take a look at it, eh?" He rolled up Jenna's blouse-sleeve and breathed an amazed "Whoosh!" at the nasty bruise, pretending not to notice that Jenna kept looking suspiciously toward the door as if expecting a crazy man to come through it any minute. At his soft exclamation she looked at her injury and winced as he probed at the spot gently.
She glanced again at the entry, "I tried to get you on the communicator but he smashed it. Then he rushed me."
"He's probably frightened."
Jenna shook her head doubtfully, calming down. "No, he didn't look frightened, he just looked murderous."
Gan squeezed her shoulder kindly and went over to the weapons' rack, where he lifted out a small first aid kit and started poking through it, checking the instruments for one that suited his needs here. "He could be. He's been asleep for centuries, and then he wakes up in a strange place...." He came over to Jenna and gently took her arm. As she watched in confusion, Gan rolled a small curved box back and forth along her bruise. "Not knowing what's happening, or why."
Reluctantly Jenna muttered, "He could be confused, I suppose." The pain was fading from her arm and she continued speaking, "We have no idea what mental damage can be done by long-term cryogenic suspension." Gan lifted the little box away and Jenna gasped in delight. Her bruise was fading away. "That's amazing!" Gan grinned at her. She flexed her arm happily and said meekly, "Thank you."
He smiled and replaced the instrument in the med kit and then put that away. "You stay here, I'll go and sort him out!" He started cheerfully for the hold.
Jenna frowned and snatched a blaster out of the weapons' rack. "Gan!"
Jenna handed him the blaster and said firmly, "Be careful." He grinned at her and left. Still a bit nervous she rubbed her arm and leaned against a console, then the comm unit beeped. She activated it, "Jenna."
Blake's voice came over, he sounded a bit disgruntled. "Blake. We haven't made contact with the rebels yet, we're moving. Reference three, three, four, zero. I'll call in again when we get there."
She gritted her teeth but said, "Right."
With sudden hopeful curiosity Blake asked, "Anything happen to the crew of the projectile?"
"One of them-" Jenna stopped and chuckled at herself. Childish, she thought, to tell him when she had only been scared. "They're recovering. Everything's under control."
"Good, I'll check with you later."
Blake stood near their campfire and as he broke contact with Jenna, turned his communicator to contact the other two men, identifying himself as he had done before for Jenna. "Blake! Either of you found anything yet?"
Avon answered back dryly, "Not a thing."
Vila caught Blake's attention from the top of the valley, Blake peered up at the amused thief whose voice through the tinny speakers was rougish. "Several plants with designs on my body... apart from them, there's nothing else in sight!" Vila shrugged.
Speaking into his bracelet Blake said, "All right, come on down! We'll try somewhere else!" He knelt to throw sand on their fire.
Avon was coming back to the fire when he saw the girl. It was a lucky coincidence, she slipped out of the underbrush just when he was looking that way. Her grimy appearance and clothes that were the same red as everything else around here made her nearly invisible against the sands. Avon debated whether or not to fire upon her, then decided against that. She was obviously one of the rebels that Blake was waiting for. Besides, he thought with a grin, it might be fun to watch her trounce Blake before they cleared up the misunderstanding.
Blake heard a sound behind him and started to rise when some instinct warned him to duck his head, and a gunbutt came crashing down on his shoulders. He dived sideways and wound up rolling further down the valley slope shouting, "What the bloody H-!!" and getting choked off by a mouthful of dust.
The girl slid down to Blake and kicked the panting man onto his back. He stared at her in surprise. She was young, maybe only eighteen, he could not be sure under all that grime. She was also quite efficiently holding a deadly laser rifle trained on Blake's chest. Then someone demanded, *Who are you?* Blake immediately looked around and then realized it was her. *Will you answer my question..?* The words carried icy fury with them but Blake was still gaping at her. She had a long, rectangular face and defiant cheekbones, a pug nose and dark eyes. *Who are you?* Blake sat up cautiously as the girl's voice radiated fury at him. *I ask you for the last time, who are you?*
He gave her his most honest appealing look, "Do you mind if I get up?" Then quickly he lunged for her feet. She skipped aside, the gun trained firmly on his head now.
*Try that again and I'll blow your head off! Now, what are you doing here?*
Blake, now covered with soft red dust, answered the girl firmly from where he lay on his back. "My name is Blake. I'm trying to make contact with the resistance group." He cautiously got to his feet.
She stared intently at him. *How did you get here?*
"We came from-" he broke off, casting a startled look to their right. Off-guard she turned and Blake snatched the gun away from her. Before he could even get a good hold on it, she jumped him but he fell back and sent her flying over his head with a twist of his feet. She landed heavily on her back. Blake scrambled for the gun and trained it on her.
She glared defiantly up at him, and spoke with hissing hatred. "May you die alone, and silent!"
It was obviously a curse, but that he ignored. "So you can talk then." He moved around to stand in front of her and said mockingly, "You may be telepathic but you certainly can't READ minds, or you never would've fallen for that, would you?"
She sat up, glaring at him. "I will tell you NOTHING!"
Blake said very seriously, "I'm not with the Federation security force."
"I do not need to read minds to know that you lie," she said smugly.
Blake sighed. "I came here with two of my crew a few hours ago."
The girl sniffed and turned her head arrogantly away from Blake. "I keep a check on the landing area! Nothing has come in, or gone out."
That got a laugh from Blake and the girl was startled by it. "I'm hardly likely to use the landing area, am I! I NEED to contact the resistance fighters."
"Your words are meaningless to me."
Blake saw a gleam in the girl's eyes, she was enjoying this! Exasperated he said, "We came here to destroy the communications center! Your people have information that would be invaluable to us!"
"Oh it's quite clear that you seek information!"
Blake had enough. He removed the laser clip from the girl's gun. "I'll make contact some other way." He started to turn away, then paused and tossed gun and clip at her feet. "Take it! We'll manage without you." He headed for the campfire, angrily stamping his feet to clear sand out of his boots.
The girl stared after him for a moment, then cheerfully picked up gun and clip and stood up. She called, "Can you PROVE what you say?"
Huffing his way up Blake called back, "If I can get inside that center I'll prove it with the biggest explosion you've ever seen!"
She coolly replaced the gun clip. "I might be able to help you... perhaps."
Blake turned, his hands on his hips. "Well make up your mind, I've got no more time to play games!"
The girl idly checked her gun's settings. "What is it you want to know?"
Blake started back down, "Well let's start with who YOU are!"
She eyed him, then shrugged. "Cally. My name is Cally." There was a rustle in the bushes nearby and she spun, dropping into a crouch with her gun ready to fire. "Out!" she shouted.
Vila came around a tree with his arms spread wide, flashing a charming smile. "No need for belligerence, pretty lady! Heh, I'm harmless!" He grinned at Blake too and said proudly, "Quick, isn't she?"
Cally straightened up and eyed him doubtfully. "Is he one of your crew?"
"One of them," Blake replied, eyes dancing.
The voice from behind them startled Cally into nearly shooting at it. "And he's useless as he said." Avon stepped over a hillock, his weapon trained on her coolly. "I've had a gun on you the whole time. You were dead as soon as you broke cover." Cally stared at this new stranger, utterly amazed.
"Harmless was the word I used," grumbled Vila.
"You couldn't even get that right." Avon ignored Vila's voiceless glare and turned to meet Cally's eyes. She was still staring at him but now she looked amused. He ignored the gun that was reflexively pointed at him. "How do you come to be telepathic?"
Cally lowered her rifle. "I am from the planet Auron. I was sent from there to aid the freedom fighters of this planet. My people are the Auronar." She sized him up curiously. He was very different from any human she had met before, but looked the same.
Avon's tone became a tangle of respect and curiosity. "And they... are telepathic."
"And quick." Cally looked at Blake with slight threat. "I would not have died alone."
Vila moved nervously to stand behind Blake and eyed the girl from that dubious safety. "Why can't you read our minds?" he asked.
The question surprised her, "Because you are not telepathic!"
"Could I read yours?" Blake shot the thief a look over his shoulder that indicated he thought this was a stupid question.
Cally was amused and puzzled by it, though. "You could receive my thoughts if I wished you to."
Blake rolled his eyes, realizing this conversation could go on and on as long as these two had questions and the girl kept answering them. "Cally... how do we contact the resistance force?"
She met his eyes and said angrily, "There is no resistance force, they're all dead."
Blake gaped, horrified. "ALL of them!?"
She looked him over then began calmly, "We were getting stronger, the security forces kept hunting us, but we knew the hills and jungles too well. We made an attack on the main generating plant, and for the first time they saw us as a real threat." Cally fell silent and moved away from them, staring up into the hills with silent pain on her face.
Avon lowered his gun and asked Cally softly, firmly, "What happened?"
She answered him bitterly, feeling his eyes on her. "They released poison from the sky, and all the fighters died." She turned, hiding the bitterness in wry exhaustion. "Except me! Perhaps because I'm alien to this planet."
Blake had an uneasy feeling that these two could become quite fascinated with each other, so he called Cally's attention to him. "And you've been working alone ever since?"
She turned to him, her voice going from soft anger to pure fury as she spoke. "My work was in communications. But there will be companions for my death. I plan to raid the complex. To destroy until I am destroyed."
Blake rested his hands on his hips. "Well our aim is the same, but-uh-I wasn't planning on a suicide mission."
Vila, who eyed Blake suspiciously when he started speaking gasped out in relief, "I should hope not!"
Cally cast the thief a startled look. "He fears death?"
Vila's response caused Blake to chuckle and made Cally smile. "I plan to live forever! Or die trying!"
Blake turned back to the girl. "If you can get us inside that complex we'll provide all the destruction you want! And still get out safely."
Avon looked at Vila and added, "Or die trying."
Cally found that amusing. She glanced at Blake and telepathed, *I will guide you!* and started up the hill.
Bake followed after her, then noticed his two friends looking confused. So Cally had sent that message only to him! He shot a smug look at Avon and shrugged his shoulders, "She said yes!" The thief and technician looked at each other worriedly, then followed Blake.
It was taking too long. Jenna walked into the teleport chamber hoping to find Gan there, but it was empty. She fretted and started back toward the flight deck when all the lights suddenly dimmed. Diving for the teleport console she activated an inner-ship pager and called into it worriedly, "Gan, are you all right? Gan, I'm talking to you! Report your location." She waited for a short time, then tried again. "Gan, where are you?" Finally she took her blaster out and headed for the hold, warily looking around each turn. She didn't see a shadowy figure following behind her.
The door to Hold Five sat halfway open. Jenna peered around inside and whispered harshly, "Gan!" She stepped inside and stared at the long, thick yellow cord coiled along the floor between the little ship and one of Liberator's power conduits. She studied where the cord plugged into the little ship for a moment, then climbed up to look inside at the capsules. Both were empty. Jenna called urgently, "Gan!"
The hold door slammed shut with a loud crash. Jenna jumped down from the ship and moved cautiously toward it, her weapon ready to fire. Changing her mind she ran to where the cord plugged into Liberator and looked around, following it back. She was searching for tools to sever the link with.
One of the men dropped down from above her and grabbed at her. She acted quickly, slamming an elbow into his gut and sending him tumbling. This was not, she noticed, the one who had attacked her before. This one coiled to his feet quickly and brought a knife out from behind his back. Jenna decided that this was enough, and brought out her weapon and fired at the man. He fell backwards and lay limp. Not satisfied, she checked to make sure he was dead.
A sound from the ship behind her made Jenna spin around, gun at ready. It was Gan. He pulled himself painfully out the hatch and started to crumple to the floor. She ran to his side. "What happened!?"
He struggled to answer her through a rain of pain and desperation. "Couldn't stop them! Couldn't stop them!"
"Implant!" He pulled his hair clear of a tiny square of metal that seemed almost a part of his scalp.
"What!?" She saw it and hissed furiously, hating the Federation anew. "Brain implant!"
"Limiter... n-not possible for me to kill, now!"
Jenna held his shoulders and asked frantically, "Gan, what happened in the projectile?"
Gan was sinking fast, and it took him a few seconds to catch up with her question. "N-never wanted to... they kill... anyone! Everyone who isn't theirs!"
"One of them's already dead!"
Gan fought to hold onto consciousness and warned in a panic, "The other one!" he pointed at the hatch. "I saw his face, Jenna! The spa-AUGH!" No longer able to hold on to consciousness, he collapsed. Jenna stood protectively over him at first, then headed out to hunt the other alien.
Cally led the three men into the Federation complex. *Quickly!* she sent to them. She ran up a stairway with Blake right behind her, followed by a cautious Avon and then Vila. They hurried along a roof to the entrance of the next level, sneaking past windows to an unlocked door Cally knew of.
The interior was lit by white florescents, revealing that the young rebel girl was a pale thing, with dark brown eyes and her clothes were the same dusky red as the outside sunlight. Cally peered around a corner at a group of guards, then ran back to the others and lead them in another direction. Avon trailed the group, his gun held ready. One startled guard saw them briefly out of the corner of his eye before they disappeared down a ladder.
Cally brought them to a halt by a large, heavy door. Blake stared at it, then crowed, "THIS is IT! Control room for the para-neutronic generator!" He turned to Avon excitedly, "If we can sabotage the limiter-settings, the chain reaction will blow the ENTIRE complex off the planet!"
Avon was doubtful. "We'll need to blast the door. That will alert the guards before we've even started."
Vila swaggered over and said with mock-superiority, "Listen, Fingers! Computers are yours, locks are mine, right?" He met Avon's chill gaze cheerfully.
Blake looked at him with surprised respect. "You can open it?"
"One side, please." Blake obediently moved over, then peered over Vila's shoulder as the thief stuck a probe into the lock and activated it. There was a low hum and Vila sat back smugly, putting his probe away. "There you are."
Hesitantly, Blake reached out and tried pulling the handle. The door gave immediately. "Good, Vila! Very good!" He leaned back and hauled the thick door open.
Vila grinned at Cally, "It was almost nothing!"
Voices shouted from above and Blake hurried them into the next room, "Everybody inside, now come on, quick!" They shut the door and jammed its controls.
Avon snatched the toolkit out of Vila's hands and summoned the thief to help him, moving quickly to the generator. "Vila!"
Blake stood near the door with Cally. He turned around, "Avon, can you do it?"
Vila was peering intently over the dark-eyed man's shoulder as he knelt by the generator. Avon aimed his voice at Blake. "Five minutes." He glanced up as the guards outside began firing on the door and said wryly, "I know. Make it two." He caught Cally's eyes briefly and nodded calmly.
Jenna stepped cautiously into the teleport room. The lights were dim throughout Liberator; she didn't like that at all. She turned at a noise and found herself face to face with the man she'd fought earlier. They grappled; he caught Jenna's wrists and twisted, making her drop her blaster. She ducked to the floor and flipped the man over her head, he landed rolling and jumped to his feet. Jenna lunged for her gun but it had broken loose from its powerpack and was useless for the moment. The man caught her by her hair and she knocked him away, diving for the gun again. This time the man kicked out, hitting Jenna solidly in the gut. She fell into the teleport chamber and curled up, coughing helplessly.
Breathing hard, he bent down and picked up the object they held like a weapon, looking at it curiously. It made no sense to him, so he tossed it away and pulled out his nasty-looking knife to use it on the female. A harsh sound behind him caught his attention and he turned to see a huge male with one of those things the female had been carrying. It had to be a weapon, else why hold it that way? But the male seemed frozen, snout twisted in a pained grimace.
The alien stared interestedly at Gan for a long moment, then stepped forward and grabbed his hands. Gan hissed in helpless fury as his weapon was snatched away and thrown contemptuously aside. The alien raised his knife to strike, then stiffened and crumpled silently to the floor, dead. Gan stumbled to the couch, fighting to stay conscious.
Jenna sagged coughing against the console, lowering the blaster which she had re-connected with its powerpack while their enemy was distracted. Between coughs she managed to say, "Perfect, we got them. Everything is over." Gan flashed her a relieved, pained grin.
Cally had taken Vila's place handing tools to Avon, who turned to her and said, "Adjuster."
Blake called urgently, "The door won't hold much longer!"
Avon called back, "I've nearly finished." To Cally he said, "Magnetic probe."
Vila looked over the two's heads at the machine's indicators and what he saw frightened him. "That's running up into the danger levels!"
Avon did not bother looking away from his work as he replied, "I had to neutralize the safety circuits otherwise it'll close down the reactor."
Blake cocked his head, listening to the sound of shots being fired outside. He turned away and scooped a teleport bracelet out of Vila's toolkit and gave it to Cally. "Put this on."
"What is it?" she asked suspiciously.
"Our way out. Put it on." When she did, Blake turned away and rejoined Vila at the door.
The lights dimmed again. Jenna was puzzled but then she remembered, "Gan, the aliens have linked our ship to their power source!" She bent and checked one of the readings indicators. "I'm getting a very heavy power loss." Angrily she stood up and turned for the hold. "I'll have to disconnect. You'll be all right, won't you?"
Gan nodded at her. While she headed for the storage hold, he decided to head for the flight deck. The moment he entered that section, Zen spoke. Olag Gan. Basic decoding of projectile's auto-log is now complete. As Gan's legs suddenly gave way beneath him, the computer continued somewhat urgently. Occupants are identified as programmed guardians. They are conditioned to eliminate any life-form which could be a threat to the brood-units and genetic banks contained in the rear section of the projectile. Liberator crew are such a threat, and will be attacked. There are four guardians. Repeat: four guardians.
Gan scrambled to his feet with a strangled cry and staggered up the flight deck stairs. "Jenna!"
Jenna had found a tool kit and was carefully severing the link between the two ships.
Gan made his way into the teleport room and tossed the dead alien off the couch. Exhausted and in terrible pain Gan had to sit down. He tried to shout, "Jenna!!" but was unable to get much volume into it.
In the projectile long fingers opened an access panel from the inside now, and slowly began to open the interior hatch.
Avon severed a final link and removed an essential piece from the generator. He flashed a rare grin at Cally, "Got it!" To Blake he warned quickly, "Reaction's building, nothing can stop this generator now."
Blake signaled the Liberator. "Jenna, we're ready. Stand by to bring us up." Behind him, Avon kicked a pile of parts away from his feet and Vila lifted his tool kit. The three joined Blake, who looked just a little worried. "Control!"
On the Liberator Gan opened his eyes, not sure if he was hearing Blake call or if it was just wishful thinking. He dragged himself over to the teleport controls as Blake called again in a panic, "Control, now!! Jenna..! Gan! Teleport now!"
Vila flashed Avon a frightened look. Avon glanced at Blake's closed face and urged, "Let's go! It's going up!" Around them the generator's hum was rising in pitch.
Blake called frantically into the bracelet, "TELEPORT NOW!"
Vila caught his eye and gave him a reproachful "Well look what you've done to me," look, which Blake found he had no response for.
Gan reached over and activated the retrieval switch, then collapsed in a faint.
The Federation guards burst in just in time to see four figures waver out of sight. They had only enough time to see what was happening before the room went up in flames.
Their first sight was a dead body crumpled in front of the teleport console. Their second was Gan slumped on the couch. Blake checked the body quickly and then went to Gan. "Where's Jenna?!"
Gan lifted his head groggily."... Jenna... in the hold...."
Blake turned to Avon, "Look after him!" and ran out into the corridors. Avon put his blaster down and went to help Gan.
Jenna had managed to half-way shut down the link and was working on the rest. Absorbed in her task, she did not see a man step out of the projectile and stalk her, carrying a knife with a crossed double-blade. He raised it to stab at her unprotected back when Blake slammed into the hold shouting, "JENNA!!" and barreled toward them, grabbing the pilot's arm and dragging her around with him at the same time as he shoved the alien into the control panel. There was a flash of electricity and the alien screamed, his body jerking. He fell forward, a trace of smoke raising from his dead body, the smell of burnt flesh filled the hold.
Blake sat on the flight deck couch with Cally and Gan. It was night now over the Federation base, they watched it blowing up on the holo-screen. Jenna, at her flight station, narrowed her eyes as a particularly satisfying explosion lit the screen and showed Saurian Major's brown and green landscape around surrounding the base. Blake grinned from his place beside Cally. "That should give them problems for a while." He raised a chart and started studying it intently.
The Auron stared at the viewscreen for a moment, then turned and telepathed, *You have my thanks.*
Blake met her eyes and smiled slightly. "My pleasure. Do you wish to return to Auron?"
"I cannot return to my people." The quickness of her reply caused him to look closely at her, and she shrugged. "I have failed."
Blake considered that for a moment and suggested warmly, "Then stay with us."
"Thank you," Cally said, looking very relieved.
Jenna leaned forward across her station and firmly brought their attention to her, "What are we going to do about the projectile?"
Blake looked over his shoulder, "Dump it in deep space."
She nodded, satisfied. "Thanks a lot."
Gan shook his head and picked some food out of the selection on the table. "Don't like the sound of THAT. It's murder."
Avon stepped down from his station, angry at the irrationality of Gan's statement. "Would you rather it was hooked back into the power system?" He indicated the computer, "You heard Zen, a single cell from those genetic banks can be incubated into a fully-grown adult in one point six minutes."
Vila grinned down at them from his station, arms folded across his chest. "We could be up to our armpits in homicidal maniacs within the hour!"
With sudden realization, Blake pointed a finger at the thief. "Maybe that's why Zen was so uncooperative!" Vila nodded agreement.
Jenna interrupted coolly, "Seems to me it should have taught us something," she eyed Cally as she spoke, "something about the wisdom involved in bringing aliens aboard...." Cally looked back at her challengingly.
Blake caught Jenna's eye and said firmly, "Seven of us can run this ship properly." Jenna glared back at him.
"Six, surely!" said Vila.
"You forgot Zen," Blake told him.
Avon turned around, for once actually startled by Blake. "You're not counting that MACHINE as a member of the crew..!" he exclaimed.
The rebel grinned back at him and stood up. "Whew! What do you say to that, Zen?" he asked the computer, moving to stand with Avon.
Please state course and speed.
Blake met Avon's glare, his eyes dancing. "Very diplomatic." He turned back to Zen. "Set a course for Centero, speed standard by two."
Avon shot Blake an even fouler look, and prepared to demand to know why they were going to Centero.