By Judith Proctor

The mihrab had moved closer to the door the ship must have made another course change. Hamid turned his prayer mat towards the holographic niche, to face the direction where Mecca had once been, and began the required sequence of prayers. After the hectic time of fighting, the ritual was soothing to his spirit. Allah had seen fit for humanity to triumph over the Andromedans, and in this, as in all other things, Hamid accepted the will of Allah.

As he completed the first rakat, Hamid heard the sound of flowing water in the antechamber. That would doubtless be Refik washing his hands and feet. The others would follow in their turn. The Prophet (peace be on his name) had wisely decreed that in times of war, prayers might be delayed or said in relays, that the enemy might not gain an advantage over believers. Clearing his mind from distraction, Hamid recited some appropriate verses from the Qur'an. Recalling the prophet's victories seemed fitting today. Refik entered, and began his own act of worship, speaking quietly so as not to distract Hamid.

Completing his prayers several minutes later, Hamid took his shoes from the rack beside the door and slipped them on. There was much work to be done. The weapon system was going to need a complete overhaul, and some of the damage to the secondary hull would need immediate attention, if they were to reduce the risk of a hull breach.

Aiysha smiled at him as he walked onto the flight deck. "I've picked up a distress signal. We're heading towards it."

That explained the course change.

"Is it one of our people?"


"So, leave them."

"Not today," his wife said gently. "We all fought together today. All creatures are God's children, and those dearest to God are the ones who treat his children kindly."

Hamid knew from long experience that when she started quoting the Prophet at him, it was useless to argue. He looked over at the weapons console, hoping for support from his father, but the old man clearly agreed with Aiysha.

"Inshallah." As God willed it.

There was no point in being careless though. Hamid ran a series of checks on the scanners. The crippled ship appeared to be of non-Federation design. Tealian at a guess from the style of the engine housing. That meant that there was a decent chance of getting a salvage payment. Perhaps they'd get something out of this yet.

Was it genuinely damaged? The radiation readings suggested that it was. At those levels, any survivors on board would be lucky to last long.

"Increase speed to time distort eight."

His brother Ibrahim nodded, and the background vibration of the engines changed in feel.

"I'm picking up their signal more strongly now," Aiysha said.

"Can you get visual?"

Hamid watched as her slender fingers adjusted the controls. He had been fortunate indeed with Aiysha. She had married him as the same time as his sister Halide had married Musa from al-Muqaddim. A fair trade between ships. But Aiysha was highly skilled as well as intelligent and beautiful; she had brought much that was good into his life.

There was a face coming up on the screen now: a man with curly hair, the face distorted, but firming into shape.

"I've got a reply!" Blake said to the man behind him, then started coughing as the smoke irritated his throat once more.

The woman on the screen looked concerned. "This is al-Baqi, we will be able to dock with you within twenty minutes. Please advise what assistance you need."

"Amagons!" Blake said in shock. "We can do without your sort of help."

Radway pushed him to one side. "I don't know what your experience is with Amagons, but if we don't get help within a few hours, we'll all be dead. Unless you really think that we can get that radiation leak under control?"

Blake shook his head silently. When his life capsule had been picked up by the Warrior, everything had been fine. He'd reported back to Liberator to confirm that he was safe, told Zen to give priority to picking the others up, and concentrated on trying to get some rest. The painkillers Cally had given him before he left Liberator were beginning to wear off, and his chest felt as though it were on fire. Then the alarm had gone off. Weakened in the battle, one of Warrior's burners had failed. When it blew, it had flooded half a dozen sections with radiation. They'd struggled as best they could. Hopped to the eyeballs on a fresh supply of painkillers, Blake had tried to help. With half the Warrior's engineers dead in the explosion, they'd needed all the help they could get. He hadn't been able to offer much though. Tealian ships used a lot of equipment that he wasn't familiar with. In the end, he'd volunteered to man the communications console that at least that involved minimal movement of his injured ribs, and freed an able bodied man for other work.

"Even if we get the radiation under control, there's been ruptures to the coolant system. There's a chance the other burner might go, and if that happens " Blake didn't bother to finish the sentence. He felt so incredibly tired. After all the fighting and pain, was he to fall victim to Amagon bounty hunters?

"Zen?" He tried his bracelet without much hope. It hadn't worked the last time he'd tried it. Either Liberator was out of range, or the radiation was interfering with the signal in some way.

The woman's voice sounded from the screen again. "Have you any injured on board? What preparations should we make for medical treatment."

Blake could feel himself fading out. It was as though the fact that help of a kind was finally on the way gave him permission to collapse. How much damage had he done to his chest while helping to seal off the damaged area of the ship? He forced himself to stay upright, but the ceiling started spinning slowly above him. Voices stopped making sense, and the world slowly faded out of focus.

Continued in Star Three

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