Neil Faulkner


No answer. Greasy fingers hammered out the code again, bashing the keys as if that could make the other end buzz louder. "Ooo'Ryyy-an! I know you're there, princess, and what you're doing. It stunts your growth, you know. Now, are you going to answer, or do I press the open channel and tell the whole ship your chest isn't flat but concave?"

<That's you, isn't it, Greb? What do you want?>

"I want you to prick up your ears and listen. Then you can bring that shapely behind of yours down to engineering."

<Greb... piss off. This is my off shift. Nobody tells me what to do on my off shift. I don't hear anything wrong.>

"Correction, my sweetheart, you don't hear nothing at all and that's the problem. We've got a little trouble with the TD drives. A little total pack-up trouble to be precise, and I seem to remember you telling me how you were the chief engineer on this crate. What's the matter? You want to pass up a chance to show us boys what a clever girl you are."

<Greb, all I want is for you to go get ->

"Cap's orders, princess."

Silence. Then: <Okay. I'll be down. Five minutes.>

It was quiet on Liberator's flight deck. Dayna wandered in, looking for something to do. All she found was Tarrant checking the readouts, and none too carefully at that. He didn't need to, everything was doing what it should be doing. He also was simply looking for something to do.

"You like having all this to yourself, don't you?" she teased, as he looked up from a blank detector panel.

"I wish." He grinned. "Actually I'd rather not have any of it right now. It's supposed to be Avon's watch, but there's no sign of him."

Dayna pulled a face. "We ought to go easy on him. He's got a lot to sort out with himself."

"You mean Anna?" It was a rhetorical question. Of course she meant Anna. He shrugged. "I'd be more inclined to go easy on him, as you put it, if he'd only admit he was going through something. Pretending it didn't happen isn't doing any of us a lot of good."

"Tarrant! That's unfair."

"So's life." He checked the course bearings, and found them spot on. "Strange. Never thought I'd want to see Avon his normal cold, brooding self. As opposed to his current abnormal cold, brooding self. What we need is something that'll take his mind off it."

Dayna smiled with him, but with more in the way of true sympathy. "What are the chances of that happening?"

"At the moment, none." He checked the detector panels again. They hadn't exactly changed in the past minute. "There's absolutely nothing out there."

The commbox beeped loud on the bridge. Captain Droge was nearest.

<Cap?> The voice at the other end was high-pitched, nearly squealing.

"Ms O'Ryan? What's the situation with the drives?"

<Er...I ain't got to the drives yet, sir. I''ve...>

Droge drummed his fingers on an instrument panel. "Ms O'Ryan," he said clearly, projecting the full measure of his annoyance down the commlines. Projected it with ease, he had had many years of practice. "Ms O'Ryan, this ship has a destination to go to. It is not going to get there until those TD drives are working again, which is an engineer's job, and you are an engineer. Is that too complicated for you?"

< don't understand, sir. I've found someone... down here in storage, and...>

"Congratulations, Ms O'Ryan. You should in fact have found two people, namely Grebbins and Storsky. Which is it? I can't believe you only know both of them with the lights off."

< don't know...>

Droge clenched a fist and flashed pugilistic glares at the commbox. Everyone else on the bridge did their best to look busy. Busy, but quiet with it. They didn't want to miss a word.

"Ms O'Ryan, I don't care what you do with yourself in your off duty hours, but when I give you a job to do I expect you to get on with it. Now sober yourself up, find Grebbins and Storsky and -"

O'Ryan's hysterical voice suddenly screamed out from the commbox and echoed round the whole bridge. <Shut up, you bastard and get somebody down here!> Droge promptly turned a dangerous shade of white, and the rest of the bridge crew fell deathly silent.

Listening to the sound of someone being violently sick.

Continued in Star Two

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