AfterthoughtsBy Alicia Ann Fox
The Andromedan ships seemed to pour through the one gap in the mine field for days, though it was actually only a few hours. Liberator was inexorably drawing on its power reserve; they had already dimmed or cut off what lights they could to conserve power, and shut down non-essential systems. Even so it was barely enough, and Avon had to make a decision. The Federation fleet had finally arrived and appeared to be holding its own, though with heavy losses. "Jenna," he called. "How much more can we take of this?"
"Not much," she answered, not able to spare him a glance. "Fire, Vila. I say we've done enough. I don't want to risk losing life support--" The lights dimmed momentarily as the ship lurched under simultaneous hits.
"Agreed?!" Avon shouted, feeling like an idiot. They didn't really have time for consultation. Vila and Cally, however, did not waste time in answering.
"Run, Jenna!" Liberator turned tail and began to limp away. At this point power was so low they were forced to limit the strength of the neutron blasters. Thus Vila was unable to "kill" an alien ship, which recovered from the low-power blow and scored a direct hit on Liberator.
Things exploded on the flight deck. Flames licked up at Cally's station and she screamed before being thrown out of the way as again the flight deck tilted. Jenna was thrown against the flight controls with enough force to crack a rib or two. Vila could be heard mumbling heartfelt curses as the lights blinked out completely.
Blake held his head woozily as he propped himself against a bulkhead in a corridor near the flight deck. It was terribly dark...just at that moment the lights came on again. Blake rested on one arm as he explored his wound. The immobilizing bandage was a lost cause--Like mine?--and the bandage actually covering the wound was again soaked with blood. I liked this shirt.... He pressed his hand against the bleeding wound and debated trying to get up. Earlier it had been risky, but necessary he felt; now it was probably foolish and nothing more. He leaned back carefully and closed his eyes. Contemplating possible courses of action, he slipped into unconsciousness.
When the lights returned, Jenna immediately checked the flight controls. The ship was drifting. If they were lucky they would be counted a hulk and left alone. Zen would not respond, so she did what she could to the automatic systems, breathing painfully around what she feared were broken ribs, or at least severely bruised. She stepped out to check on Cally, who had been thrown clear of her station. From the corner of her eye she noted Avon, heading for Vila.
Cally was luckily unconscious; her face and neck were badly burned. Jenna hurried as best she could for the medical kit, though every step was agony. She could hear Avon's low queries and Vila's strained replies as she ran the skin regenerator over Cally, then sat against what was left of Vila's console to catch her breath. Avon came to her and crouched down. His left arm was held against his chest and blood welled from a slash in his forearm that curved around to the back of his hand. He said nothing, only picked up the medical kit one-handed and carried it over to Vila. Jenna watched Cally and concentrated on breathing.
"Avon, is this going to hurt?" Vila asked quietly. The flight deck was so silent after the noise of battle, speaking normally seemed out of place, though Avon wished Vila would complain noisily, just for the normality of it.
Avon was having a difficult time with his own injury, but Vila's arm was quite definitely broken and thus more urgent. He fought to keep his voice steady as he answered, "I'm afraid so."
"Glad it's you, then," Vila sighed. "Get it over with quick," he added, and stuck his other hand in his mouth as Avon slipped the bones back into place as quickly as possible. Unfortunately he only had full use of one hand, so Vila had passed out by the time Avon began wrapping the arm in healing pads, trying to brace it against Vila's body. When he had finished he sank to the floor and critically examined his own arm. Stitches were obviously required or at least clamps to hold the edges together before the regenerator could be used, and he was not up to either. He wrapped it in a bandage and slowly made his way back to Jenna, as Cally was still deeply unconscious.
Afraid to jostle her, he very lightly touched her cheek. Her eyes flew open, then half-closed as she recognized him. "We're drifting. We'll be drifting for a--ouch--while."
"There?" Avon asked, probing delicately.
"I think I cracked a couple of ribs when I hit the top of my console."
Avon sat back, clenching his teeth. "What can we do for that?"
"I don't know." She paused. "How's Vila?"
"Broken arm. That's where the healing pads went."
"I don't think any of us are in any shape to make it back to the medical--Blake. Where's--"
"Don't know. He'll have to wait." Avon was rummaging through the medical kit, tossing aside one of Vila's probes in disgust. "How about tape? It won't help the bruises."
"Better than nothing." Jenna sighed and wished she hadn't. "I suppose that's it for the leather?" Avon nodded grimly. "I'll need another shirt." Avon went to the cabinets under the flight couch, where he discovered Vila's favorite sleeping-on-watch shirt and carried it back. "Don't bleed all over me if you can help it--" Avon produced a pocket knife and Jenna winced as her lovely leather was efficiently and utterly ruined. I never liked red much anyway.
Sometime later Jenna straightened and drew a careful breath, gladly noting that Avon had not, in fact, bled on Vila's shirt. Tidy sort. "Better. Is that Cally coming around? Avon?"
He was bent over his arm, breathing heavily and looking alarmingly pale.
"Let me see." She pulled the arm away from him and unwrapped it. It looked messy.
Cally peered over her shoulder and promptly dropped to her knees beside them. "That needs to be sewn together so the regenerator will be able to heal it cleanly."
Jenna carefully traded places with Cally. "You see to it, then; can you do it on your own?" Cally nodded absently, running a needle through the sterilizer. Jenna made her way to Vila and gave him a small nudge with her boot; she had decided that bending over might be unwise.
"Is it done?" he asked weakly.
"A while ago. I think you passed out."
"Oh...." He fell silent as a hiss of indrawn breath from Avon made him wince. "That's my favorite shirt you're wearing."
"I'll give it back," Jenna retorted with some humor.
Jenna sobered. "All right, I hope. We haven't been able to check. Right now--" she wandered shakily to the flight couch and sat down "--none of us is in any shape to go looking." Vila made a noise of assent, pushed himself to his feet, and joined her on the couch.
"Zen!" he called. "Are you there, Zen?" No answer. "Never there when you need him," Vila grumbled.
"How's the arm?"
"Not bad, except for the agony--Avon?" He indicated with his head. "I didn't notice before."
"Bad slash in the arm. Cally's sewing it up." Vila's nose wrinkled in sympathy, but Avon of course could not see. He was occupied, watching Cally's deft fingers; the pain was less when he had something to concentrate on. Soon he would have to rouse himself and try to bring Zen back on-line, or at the very least question Orac about the progress of the battle. And someone needed to check on Blake.
"Cally," he began, shocked at the weakness his voice betrayed. "We need to find Blake." He moved. Cally shoved one-handed and he was pushed back.
**Be still.** "I'll go, when I have finished." She made another stitch. He scarcely felt it, as the injury pained him more than the needle.
"Fine," he bit out, then was struck by a sudden thought that had been eluding him. Liberator was his.
The battered Federation scout ship which had, by luck, fallen to Del Tarrant, drifted slowly from the vanguard of the battle to its fringes. At this point the former space captain was more than willing to let it do so. He had already lost one ship--his own--and that was enough.
Tarrant put the sensors on automatic alarm, looked with disgust at his badly torn shirt, and began to strip the uniform from the body of the scout ship's original pilot. With some humor he noted that the insignia equaled the rank he had held at the time of his desertion. He cared more, however, that there was no blood on the uniform.
A klaxon blared, and the forward scanner screen was blinking red. Tarrant banged it with his fist. The image instantly resolved into what had to be a mistake. Nothing was that big. An alien? No...the alien ships were of a type, and even they were smaller than this leviathan.
It drifted lazily, covered with the scars of heavy fighting; it had probably been one of the first ships that arrived to defend their galaxy from the Andromedans. Thus it was probably abandoned, and doubtless in better shape than the scoutship...Tarrant began to look for an airlock.
Thirty minutes and some extremely clever piloting later, Tarrant had docked his craft next to the ship and was attempting to engage the lock. This proved difficult, as power on the huge ship was apparently very low. At last, however, the lock cycled. Tarrant picked up his small pistol and stepped through into darkness. The locking mechanism must have drawn power from the lighting systems in this part of the ship. The lock suddenly sealed and his scoutship fell away. You're committed now, Del, old boy....
It was eerily quiet. Tarrant moved forward cautiously, guiding himself along a bulkhead with his free hand. As he became more confident in the dark, he walked faster and suddenly found himself sprawled in an ungainly heap, having tripped over something large and soft. A body. Shakily Tarrant climbed to his feet and at that moment the lights came back on. Tarrant considered, then bent to examine the--not a corpse. Blood had soaked through a bandage on the man's chest, but he lived. How had he gotten himself shot?
There was nothing Tarrant could do at the moment except look for more survivors. He straightened and continued down the corridor.
On the flight deck, Vila had produced a bottle of adrenalin and soma from which he took a healthy swig. "Want some, Jenna?"
Jenna weighed her options and finally nodded. "Do you have any glasses?"
"I don't have germs," he protested, but came up with glasses anyway. Jenna tossed the drink back like a smuggler (which of course she was). Vila was suitably impressed. Balancing the bottle on his arm and carrying two more glasses, he made his way over to Cally, just finishing her ministrations to Avon's arm. "Does anybody want any?"
Cally shook her head as she exited. Avon looked dubious. "What is it?"
"Adrenaline and soma. It's good for you."
Avon half-shrugged and mutely stuck out his hand for a glass. At that moment Tarrant wandered onto the flight deck, then stopped short when he saw Vila slowly standing up. Vila thought, oh hell. He's Federation. We're going to die.
Tarrant decided to try and brazen his way out of what looked to be a nasty scrape. After all, one of these people had probably shot the man in the corridor. But if that were true, then why the bandage? Never mind. They could be dangerous. "Captain Del Tarrant," he said, crossing his fingers behind his back.
Avon set the now half-empty glass down quickly but Vila spoke first. "Space Captain, hey? You were in the battle then? This is Deathwish, an experimental vessel--the frontiers of Federation science--we'd been out testing our weaponry systems when we heard about the battle. Would you like to have a seat?"
Numbly Tarrant crossed the flight deck. Oh hell. They're Federation. I'm going to die. The man seated on the deck looked up and Tarrant was followed every step of the way by piercing dark eyes; when he seated himself on the couch, tucking away his gun in the hope that they wouldn't notice it, the blond woman--pretty--watched him as though he were a particularly nasty insect. "My ship was damaged--" that much was true "--the crew killed. I happened to come across your ship and--"
"Thought we, being loyal Federation citizens, could give you sanctuary," interrupted Vila in his best parade-ground voice. "Well, you're wrong. This is a science vessel and we--"
Vila was interrupted in his turn by Cally, who ran onto the flight deck and said urgently, "I've found Blake!" before stopping just before the steps to stare at Tarrant.
Tarrant was trying in vain to close his mouth. Oh damn. They're terrorists. I'm going to die.... He had realized just who it was he had fallen over in the corridor.
"Who is he?" Cally asked, her tone hostile, advancing.
The situation was too far gone for Vila to salvage. Cally ignored his attempts, strode forward, and got Tarrant in a headlock. Surrounded by bloodthirsty terrorists, and immobilized anyway, he didn't even try to struggle. "Who are you?" she demanded.
Truth or consequences.... "Del Tarrant," he said quickly. "I used to be a Federation space captain but I became a mercenary...I thought this was a Federation vessel, so I decided to use the uniform to my advantage."
**Vila, get a gun and give it to Jenna.**
Tarrant said, in a strangled voice, "This is the Liberator, isn't it. That was Blake I tripped over in the corridor. Blake the rebel."
"Yes." **Guard him, Jenna.**
Jenna took the gun and trained it on Tarrant's belt buckle. "That was Blake the rebel. And I'm Jenna Stannis the crack shot."
Cally released her hold and took Vila's sleeve, leading him out. She scooped up the medical kit on the way, from where it lay next to Avon. He hadn't bothered to move. "There aren't any more regen bandages in there," he said.
"I'll get some from the med unit--it should be accessible by now." She stopped and peered at the bottle, then at Avon's glass. "Finish that." Then she and Vila exited to see to Blake.
Some minutes later, Zen flickered back to life. +Information. Auxiliary power banks are fully recharged+
Tarrant jumped. Jenna very slowly relaxed her gun hand. Avon pulled himself to his feet and wandered over to Zen, flashing a brief brilliant smile to Jenna on the way. "Zen--status of life support systems."
+Life support systems are fully operational.+
"Medical unit status?"
+Medical unit is fully operational.+
"Status of main power banks."
+Banks one and three are fully recharged. Bank two is at one-fifth of capacity. Bank--+
"Stop. Have we enough power to maneuver?"
Without moving her gun or her gaze from their prisoner, she said, "Zen, engage autopilot functions. Give current orientation on the main screen."
"Avon, take the gun." He did so, and took her place as she rose and studied the screen carefully. "Escape route Gamma, standard speed. Engage."
"What if we're attacked?" asked Avon. "Can you pilot?"
"I suppose...." She took the gun back and Avon wandered back over to Zen.
"I can pilot," ventured Tarrant. "If it gives my life any more value."
"I know you're a pilot," said Jenna. "I do keep up with these things."
"You can identify us. Your life is in a precarious position." Avon was not looking at Tarrant as he spoke.
"Not if you need a pilot," Tarrant retorted.
"We have a pilot."
"As what? I trust no-one's word."
"Then why not kill me now?"
Avon turned to face him. In a conversational tone he said, "Jenna, do you remember the bargain that Blake and I made?"
"Yes. Both sides. Are you serious, Avon?"
"Of course. This is my ship. Not Blake's. If I killed Tarrant now, Blake need never know."
"I would tell him."
"I know. That is why you're still alive, Captain Del Tarrant. I don't want to listen to Blake's moralizing."
Dangerous, thought Tarrant, very dangerous. Stannis the smuggler I was sure of. Seems Avon is dangerous, too--and of course the one with the killer headlock. I wonder what her crime was...none of them needs to be a criminal any more, that's for sure. This ship is incredible...wish it were mine. Avon seems to think it's his, he must have a power struggle going with Blake, and I'm stuck right in the middle.
"Avon, what are you doing?" Jenna asked, startling Tarrant. Avon was carrying a box, held tightly to him with his right hand, and heading for one of the consoles.
"I need to work on my station. Some of the modifications I installed are not yet attuned to the regeneration circuitry."
Tarrant pricked up his ears. Regeneration circuitry. Fantastic.
Jenna shrugged, then winced as if it had been a bad move. "What comes next?"
"We wait, until the ship is in proper working order."
"Liberator is mine," Avon said absently, surveying the scorched remains of an inset video screen. "None of these overloads should have occurred," he continued in a more positive tone. "Explosions, fires...some of these circuits should have fused before they did anything of the kind...perhaps a result of the low power reserves...."
Jenna did not ask again. She knew artistic reverie when she saw it. Instead she spoke to Tarrant, though her gun did not waver. They discussed technical matters for some time; there was little else they could do, except wait.
"Blake," Cally's voice said urgently. "Blake, wake up."
Blake growled softly at the hand which was shaking his uninjured shoulder. "Mrph."
"C'mon, Blake," Vila said. "You're too heavy to carry." This had more effect; Blake opened his eyes and studied them carefully.
"It's very quiet."
"We're out of the battle now. We were badly damaged and are drifting. You need to be in the medical unit, Blake."
"I--think you're right." It took some time to maneuver around the bits of debris in the corridors, but at last Blake was settled, and Vila--he was apparently ambidextrous--removed the old bandage. "Tell me what's been happening."
Cally catalogued the injuries of the crew, and then told him about Tarrant. At some point during this Vila sat down to the side and Cally re-bandaged Blake's injury.
Blake did not comment for several minutes. Finally he said, "Mmm." And, "Has Avon said anything about our bargain?" He was not ready to go to Earth...not alone....
"Bargain?" Vila asked, arm propped on his chest, seemingly with every intention of staying in the medical unit. "What do you mean?"
"About the Liberator, he means," said Cally. "No, he has said nothing. Nor has he mentioned the promise he made to you."
"Oh," said Blake. Cally was buttoning yet another clean shirt for him. "How many have I bled on?" he asked.
She began hooking up an iv of fluids. "Just the two."
He leaned back again and closed his eyes. "Tell him--no. Later." Within moments he was asleep.
When Cally trotted onto the flight deck again, Jenna relaxed slightly; and Avon looked up as if she had said something. Tarrant sensed a sudden change in the atmosphere, but could find no reason how the woman with the killer headlock could have effected such a change. Thus he had a rather bemused expression on his face when Cally stopped before him.
"I am Cally," she said. "This is the Liberator, and we fight the Federation. I am wondering what should be done with you."
Avon put down his laser probe and walked around to stand by Cally. "I believe he looks much more stupid than he actually is."
Was that a compliment? Tarrant wondered.
"What did Blake say?" Jenna asked, a trifle wearily.
"He said that he would discuss it later."
"It seems to me the decision is ours," Jenna continued.
"Whatever will we do without Fearless Leader," Avon growled.
Cally sat down, out of Jenna's line of fire, and stared at Tarrant intently for a moment; then her eyes went slightly unfocused. "Cally--" said Jenna.
Cally blinked three times and stood up again. "I think we should keep him," she said calmly.
Avon sneered. "As a pet? Or perhaps as a fancy candleholder near the airlock."
"That is pain speaking, Avon."
"I'm not in any pain. You're going to tell us how your mysticism discovered his good intentions, aren't you? I for one have never believed--"
"Oh, come on, Avon. What do you think? I'd rather not sit here all night," Jenna broke in. Cally took the gun and switched places with her. Avon's glare at Jenna was murderous, but at last he answered.
"Fine, then. I want him watched, but who can say when we might be needing an extra pilot." He turned his glare on Cally and snarled, "I suppose you'll be wanting to consult Vila as well."
Cally ignored him. "Jenna?"
"I trust you, Cally."
"Who put her in charge?" Avon asked the air.
"No one. In case you had forgotten, this is supposed to be a democracy of sorts." Cally rose and carried the gun over to the rack, slotting it neatly in.
They're serious! Tarrant thought.
"Welcome to the rebellion, Del Tarrant," Cally said.
Avon looked disgusted. Cally grabbed his arm and sat him down, producing regen bandages from the kit she had bought. "Give me your arm."
He uncurled it slowly, making a sharp noise when she accidentally touched a particularly sore spot.
"No, it doesn't hurt, does it?" Jenna said.
"You're next," said Cally, wrapping up the arm. "The stitches should dissolve under the bandage."
Avon's face relaxed as the bandages began their work. With some difficulty he said, "Thank you, Cally."
"A miracle," commented Jenna. "Avon saying thank you. Don't bother glaring, Avon, it won't affect me."
Tarrant watched with interest as Cally set to work on Jenna. He thought, I could have overpowered her easily if she hadn't had the gun. If I'd been able to pull my own. They must be crazy. "Should I--be doing anything? he asked with some trepidation. Avon turned piercing eyes on him again. Tarrant reacted with bravado--a brilliant smile. Jenna saw it and smiled, too; his smiles tended to have that effect.
Avon did not smile. "As far as I know we aren't doing anything except running. We appear to have accomplished Blake's main goal."
"The destruction of the Federation's central authority." He went over to where a clear box sat, unnoticed, and pulled the something from his pocket. "That is Orac, my computer." He plunked a key on top, and the box made an odd noise, colored lights suddenly flickering within the casing.
*What is it now?*
"Status of the battle, Orac. General terms."
*Very well. Star One has been destroyed by the Andromedan invaders. The Federation fleet has suffered massive damage but has secured several footholds, thus driving out the majority of the alien fleet. Scattered fighting still continues.*
"Any in the vicinity of the Liberator?"
*None within two thousand spatials.*
"Has the Federation taken further action?"
*Currently, no. You will be interested to know that Supreme Commander Servalan has declared herself president.*
"Ah," said Avon. He snatched off the computer's activator and dropped it into his pocket again. "That changes things. We can move more quickly."
"I'm going to tell Blake," said Jenna, as Cally finished her ministrations.
"Don't forget to tell him about our new pet pilot as well," Avon commented.
Tarrant gritted his teeth. He had the feeling that he was not going to get on well with Avon, at least for a while.
Avon returned to his tools. Tarrant looked to Cally, who still sat on the couch. "Why did you decide to trust me?"
"I didn't. I decided to give you the chance to earn my--our--trust. I think you will be worthy. I trust my judgement."
"And that's it? One minute I'm a prisoner and the next you're putting away the gun?"
"You seem to be a reasonable young man. I think you will be useful to us."
"I'm a mercenary, not a rebel."
"You must have had some quarrel with the Federation, since you deserted."
"Yes--the military was a little savage for my taste."
"Then you are in good company. We seek to destroy the Federation which oppresses the people."
Vila entered. "I'm to take Tarrant to see Blake." Tarrant went with him, with a backwards glance at Cally.
"I think that's just about finished, Cally," Avon said, still working with a probe. "Star One is destroyed."
"Servalan is president," she threw back. "If anything, the situation is worse than before."
"That's Blake's problem."
"And not yours?"
"I said that when all this was over I would return him to Earth. Strange as it may seem I am a man of my word."
"It is not over yet, Avon."
"What more do you want?" He put away his probe and sat on the couch again, putting his feet on the table. "The Federation is in a delicate position. What better time for Blake to get to work?"
"I should think you wouldn't be concerned about that."
"I will undoubtedly be safer under a Blake government that under the Federation. Therefore his success makes my survival a good deal more likely."
Cally smiled. "Don't you ever get tired of being logical?"
"No. Logic tells me I should return Blake to Earth and let him fight it out with Servalan--"
"He gave me Liberator, Cally."
"He did not give you us. I would go with him. He needs us. Logically, if you want him to be successful, you will help him."
Avon closed his mouth and pondered. He had talked himself into a hole and Cally's smiling indulgently at him did not help in the least. Finally he said, "Blake could manage on his own. He draws followers to himself easily--"
"Is that what you really think?"
Avon pulled his feet off the table and stood up abruptly. "I promised, Cally."
"'When this is over,' you said. It is not over. You made no stipulation about when you would bring him back; you have a way out."
"What makes you think I want a way out?" Avon said, outraged. "Why I put up with the fool for this long--"
"For the Liberator, of course." Cally smiled again.
"Don't smile at me like that!"
Cally stopped smiling obediently. "You haven't spoken with Blake yet. Why not discuss it with him?"
"There is nothing to discuss."
"Yes, there is. You can't just leave him--he needs us. All of us. Where do you think he would find another computer technician of your calibre?"
"He would manage," Avon said stubbornly, pacing away.
"He won't have the time to look for new people. You said yourself the timing is important."
"I--Cally, what are you trying to do?" Exasperation set in. He stopped in front of her.
"I am trying to keep our group intact."
"What makes you think I--"
"Many things. Your survival is a good deal more likely if you have someone to watch your back."
"Cally--this is ridiculous--I don't need--"
"Oh, hell," he said, and turned away. "I care nothing for Blake's cause. Nothing." Cally heard him rummaging in his toolbox.
**Avon--** No answer; he radiated preoccupation. Cally rose and walked over to him. He was buried under his console. A hand came out, reaching for a tool. She stooped and captured the probe's opposite end, tugging until he came out and glared at her. "Avon--"
"What do you want?"
He sounds like Orac, she thought with amusement. "Do you really wish to be alone again?"
"I promised, Cally," he repeated. "I must."
"Oh, Avon, you don't really think he would be angry if--"
"You heard what he said to me!"
Cally knew immediately what he meant. Blake had said he trusted Avon, presumably to keep his word. "Blake might not want to go back. You haven't asked."
"I can't. He would think I was--pushing the bargain."
That Avon was trying to get rid of him. That he really did hate him. "You don't hate him, do you?"
"No. I don't hate anyone."
"Then tell him."
"At least ask--there will be details--"
"Leave me alone, Cally!" They were almost nose to nose.
**He doesn't want to go!**
Avon sat back suddenly, staring at her. "What?"
"He doesn't want to go. He knows it isn't time yet."
"Did he say that?"
"No--but I could tell."
"Just this once, believe me. Talk to him. Please."
"Please? I thought you would have asked for my teeth."
"Will you talk to him?"
"I--all right. Cally, if you're wrong--"
"Why would I want him to stay?"
"Because if he goes, I go, and so does Jenna--you need a fighter and a pilot. Remember?"
"Just so," Avon said calmly. "I will speak to Blake. I'll do it now." He very carefully and quickly began putting away his probes and scanners, his screwdrivers and wire snippers.
Just so, Cally thought. All he needed was a good excuse....
Vila stopped in the corridor. "I've forgotten--I'm Vila Restal."
"Hello," Tarrant said. "Why didn't they ask you about me?"
"Once Cally'd made up her mind, it didn't matter, did it? I don't count for much anyway," he said breezily, hitting the door access. "Here he is, Blake."
Blake was sitting up, his color much improved from the blood transfusion Cally had set up earlier. It was his own blood; they all had a reasonable supply stored in a particularly well-protected spot in the medical unit for just such occasions as this. Tarrant followed Vila in warily, wondering if Blake were anything like a pirate he'd been up against recently; the hair was certainly similar. Of course, his own was curly, too...Jenna was seated next to Blake, and she eyed Tarrant coolly.
"You're Del Tarrant?" Blake asked.
"We haven't had anyone new for nearly two years...Cally came only a few months after we found the Liberator. I gather you wouldn't mind staying."
"I...haven't really anywhere to go, actually. I'm between contracts. I happened upon your ship by chance and it was in better shape than the one I was in, so I--" He shrugged.
"Avon's ship," Blake corrected.
"Blake--" said Jenna. She did not sound pleased.
"I'll deal with it later, Jenna." Blake looked back at Tarrant. "Will you throw in your lot with us, then? I can't promise fortune, but I could manage fame, I'm sure. We're going for about thirteen million credits right now, if I remember correctly."
"You can't do much better than Liberator when it comes to ships, " Jenna added, like any pilot unable to prevent herself from praising her ship.
"And we've been one short for several months now," Blake said. "What do you say?"
Blake's voice was low and musical, and there was a warm glow in his brown eyes. He wasn't at all what Tarrant had expected. He had incredible charisma...no wonder the Federation feared him so. Come on Del, Tarrant thought. Make a decision. Blake is top of the Most Wanted list; and Tarrant liked him. A lot. "Yes," Tarrant said, simply. "I want to stay." It was best to trust his instincts.
Blake smiled at him, a smile which was mostly in his eyes and which quickly vanished. "There are quite a few empty cabins--we're spread all over the ship. Vila, could you show him--"
"It doesn't matter," Tarrant said quickly. "I haven't got anything to put in a cabin--"
"Better now, while we're not in the thick of a fight. You need clothes. A Federation uniform won't do."
Tarrant shrugged, smiled. "Afterwards I'd like to see the ship."
Blake looked questioningly at Jenna. "Do you think you're up to a tour?"
"I'll manage," said Vila.
"Mmm, all right. Will you--"
"Come along, Tarrant." Vila seemed to sigh.
Tarrant and Vila intercepted Avon on his way to the medical unit, but he said nothing, so Vila simply stepped out of his way, looking after him sadly...fearfully?
"Vila, what's going on?" Tarrant asked.
"I hope it's not trouble...you see, when Blake first wanted to go after Federation Central Control--that's what Star One was, though we didn't know it then--"
"It's been destroyed," Tarrant said slowly. As if the aliens weren't enough trouble....
"Yes. Well, Avon didn't want to. Didn't want to go after Central Control, I mean. Blake hadn't told us anything about it beforehand, you see. And Avon thinks it's his duty to argue with Blake about everything; always saying what an idiot bleeding-heart Blake is...anyway, Blake told Avon that if he would go along, and we destroyed Central Control, then Avon could have the Liberator. He's been saying all along it was the only reason he stayed with us--though I don't think so--"
"Avon?" Tarrant asked. He hoped the point Vila was going to make was as enlightening as the convoluted story leading up to it.
"Yes. And Central Control--Star One--just got blown up. So Liberator is Avon's now. But that isn't the trouble."
"It isn't?" Tarrant was truly confused now. "I'd think Avon is more dangerous than Blake--"
"Not really. Avon'd keep us out of danger and forget the rebellion. The point is, when we finally found Star One, Avon promised Blake a free ride to Earth, to lead the rebellion while the Federation was a shambles."
"It certainly is," Tarrant said. "Traffic control alone must be a royal mess." He glanced apprehensively at the way Avon had gone. "And you think Avon is going to tell Blake--but if that's what you already knew, then why are you worried? We'll be safe enough."
"No, you couldn't understand, could you? If Blake leaves, then Jenna would go with him, And Cally too--she's the only real rebel we've got besides Blake--I'm just a thief, no harm to anyone, really. I'd be stuck in the middle."
"And so would I. Let's hope it doesn't come to that."
"If Servalan's declared herself president, it'd be foolish to go to Earth now. Avon might have figured that out." He began walking again. "Come on, we'll find you a cabin. Maybe you'll even get to keep it."
When Avon walked into the medical unit, Jenna got up. "I'll go and check on our course."
Beyond reflecting that they weren't on course, Avon did nothing. He had rather hoped he could speak to Blake alone. He waited until Jenna was well down the corridor before going over to him. "How are you feeling?" he asked.
Blake looked up at him, equally bland. "Rather better than I did a few hours ago."
"Good," Avon said. He clasped his hands behind him and took a few paces. There was silence.
Blake thought, it looks like he wants to bolt out the door. "Are you enjoying your ship?" he asked.
For a split second, Avon looked utterly flabbergasted--his eyes widened fractionally--then he looked down at the deck. "I haven't had the time nor the opportunity to do so. Does this mean you are prepared to honor our bargain?"
"Yes, of course. I like to think of myself as a man of my word."
"I had begun to suspect that you might be."
"Did you ever doubt it?"
"I had not yet decided. There is a difference."
"Does this mean you don't trust me?"
"I--" Avon hesitated.
Don't trust anyone. Go on, say it, Blake thought, a little sadly.
"Your judgment could, at times, be better. You take incredible risks for minimal results. You--"
"Are an idiot," Blake finished. "Or so you've told me, often enough."
"That is not what I came here to say."
"Oh?" Blake quirked an eyebrow. That was a sure way of getting a response.
"I, too, am a man of my word."
"I made a promise to you. Star One is destroyed."
"Yes, to both." Keep him talking....
"I had thought Star One would be the end. I did not of course expect an alien invasion."
"Your rebellion, now, has a better chance than it did before the battle. Had Servalan not taken power, the disorganization would have been complete, and you would have been able to use your appearance on Earth to great advantage."
Avon looked up, and gazed at Blake intently. "I made a promise to you. However, I think that in this case going to Earth would not be the wisest course of action." He stopped and looked down at his hands, twisting one finger with the opposite hand.
Blake thought, he's waiting...for me to say he's wrong. To say the Cause transcends danger. To be a fanatic...no. Not again. Besides, I don't really want to leave and he never asked.... "You're right."
The other man's eyes flickered up again. "You don't want me to keep my side of the bargain?"
"I said you were right. I trust you, remember? Someday, perhaps."
"Because you've never given me cause not to trust you. You could have betrayed me a thousand times. You never did."
"Ah." He stopped. "Blake, I had intended to say...I don't hate you."
Blake smiled. "I'm glad." Avon turned quickly to leave. "Avon, will you send Jenna back here when you get to the flight deck?"
"As you wish."
"Jenna," Cally said. "Did Avon go to talk with Blake?"
"Yes," answered the pilot. "But when he came in, I left." Jenna began checking her instruments. "Zen--recalibrate my port scanners."
Cally finished her own checks and began on the console that had once been Gan's. Jenna had a panel open and was watching with interest as complex circuits "grew," completing the auto-repairs at te pilot's station. "Cally, has anyone done the weaponry console?"
"Not yet. Avon began his own, though."
"Blake sent Vila to show Tarrant around. I'll do it."
**Feeling better, are you?** A smile accompanied the thought.
"I think we can take the bandages off soon. Thos ethings are a miracle."
"They've certainly been useful to us." Cally looked carefully under the console. Auto-repair at this station was complete, so she went to face Zen's main reference point. "Zen, what is the status of the auto-repair?"
+Regeneration is seventy-eight point two percent completed. Flight systems are completely operational. Force shield is at full capacity. Teleport is fully operational.+
"Thank you, Zen."
"Status of weaponry, Zen," called Jenna.
+Weaponry systems are fully operational.+
Avon entered as Zen was speaking. "Blake would like to see you, Jenna," he said, as he crossed the flight deck to Orac. He pulled the key from his pocket and put it on.
*What do you want?*
"Did Blake say why?" Jenna asked.
"No. Orac, have you intercepted anything that could be useful to us?"
*There is a distress call emanating from the planet Sarran. However, the transmitter is faulty and only I am able to receive the signal.*
"And how is that useful to us, Orac?"
*The call is a request for immediate pick-up from President Servalan.* There was a note of smugness in the computer's tone.
Very, very slowly Avon smiled. "Cally," he said quietly. "Did you hear that?"
"Orac, pinpoint that signal, please," Avon said.
*I have already done so.*
"How long ago was it sent?"
*The last signal was six minutes ago.*
"Zen, set course for planet Sarran, standard by six."
"Orac, I would like you to get a fix on that communicator, if she attempts to use it again."
*As you wish.*
"Thank you, Orac." He snatched off the key and whirled, a large predatory grin on his face. "Zen, estimated travel time to Sarran."
+Forty-one hours fifty-three minutes.+
Avon scowled and went to check something at the pilot's station. Apparently satisfied with what he found, he went back to Zen. "Increase speed to standard by eight."
"Cally, keep an eye on the scanners while I finish my repairs."
"Aren't you going to tell Blake?"
"Don't you want to surprise him?" He paused. "Of course I am. Eventually."
In his new cabin, Tarrant suddenly looked up. "We've just increased speed."
Vila, sprawled in an armchair, said, "What makes you think that?"
"Can't you hear it? The engines don't make much sound, but the sound just changed. A more intense sound, if you like."
"Don't look at me," Vila said. "I'm not a pilot."
When Vila said nothing futher, Tarrant asked, "Well, do you know anything about it?"
"Someone must have decided where we're going. We'll find out where pretty soon. I can ask, if you'd like."
"It would be nice to know." Tarrant pulled a jacket of dark brown leather from the small pile of clothing on his bunk and put it on over his open-necked shirt.
Vila sighed, got up, and punched the comm. "Is anybody on the flight deck?"
"It's Cally, Vila."
"Tarrant wants to know where we're going."
There was a brief pause. "A planet called Sarran."
"Sarran," Vila told Tarrant. "Why Sarran, Cally?"
There was another, longer, pause. Avon answered this time. "We're going to capture Servalan there."
Vila mouthed something obscene. "You're joking, aren't you, Avon. You're having me on."
"I'm not joking."
"And what are we going to do with her once we've got her?"
"Give her to Blake."
"Uh--thanks, Avon." Vila shut the unit off. "That answer your question?"
"Let's go to the flight deck, Vila."
"Blake," said Jenna, "We've just increased speed to about standard by six."
"I'll take your word for it. How am I doing?" He referred to his wound, which Jenna was currently inspecting.
"It looks a hell of a lot better than when they brought you on board. There was blood everywhere...make that standard by eight."
"Surely they'd have called you if we were being pursued?"
"I imagine so. If there are any pursuit ships they can waste on us. Sorry. Did I hurt you?"
"It's all right. Thank you--hello, Avon. What brings you back here?"
"We are on course for the planet Sarran."
"Standard by eight?" Jenna asked.
Avon nodded, allowing a small smile. "Very good. Orac has picked up a distress signal. Only he could have done so, luckily for us. It was Servalan."
Blake let out a small, exultant whoop. "We might pull something off yet."
Sarran. Dayna Mellanby put a final shovel of sand over the body of her foster-sister. Then she lifted her gun and shot down the overhang. A small avalanche of rock, sand, dirt, and gritty dust poured over the graves of Lauren and Hal Mellanby.
Dayna stepped back, coughing, tears streaking the dust on her face, and turned away, bending down to pick up her bow and quiver. She slung the quiver over one shoulder and the rifle over the other and straightened. "It is time for you to die, Servalan." Then she loped off over the dunes.
Tarrant staggered a little as they materialized on Sarran. "Some ride," he said, chuckling. He again wore the Federation uniform.
"You'll get used to it," said Avon. He lifted his wrist. "Down and safe, Vila. Tarrant, have you swallowed the transmitter?"
"Give me your bracelet, Tarrant," said Cally. "She knows what they look like." Tarrant unsnapped his bracelet and held it out to Cally, who clipped it securely onto her own arm. They began walking.
"If we have been very lucky, she has stayed in the same general area as the one from which the transmission originated," Avon said. "If we have not been lucky, we will try the next sector."
Tarrant grinned. "I'll go on, then."
"Try to keep within visual range," Cally reminded him. "And watch out for the natives."
Tarrant grinned again, saluted, and trotted off. Cally and Avon waited a few moments, then followed, staying out of sight as much as possible. Tarrant, as planned, was quartering the area, acting as a Federation Captain who had homed in on Servalan's distress signal. Cally and Avon were his back-up.
Sarran was warm but not distressingly so; there appeared to be few insects and little plant life in this coastal area. Twice they came upon the bodies of natives who had been tied to frames standing in the ground, and once they say a party of Sarrans riding horseback down the beach. None came close enough to worry about.
When darkness fell, they teleported up, ate, and decided to try again, for a few hours at least. The next sector could wait until the following day. Tarrant carried a torch, moving slowly to allow Cally and Avon to follow easily. On a small ridge he suddenly cut the light, stretching out on the ground and looking below. "Cally! Avon!" he called softly. A moment later they hit the ground on either side of him, guns and eyes reflecting in the brilliant moonlight. "Down there--that fire. The natives have her."
It was true. Servalan was barely recognizable in a darkish dress, but her profile and haircut were unmistakable. "Change of plan," Avon murmured. "We need to get a bracelet on her somehow. Sneak attack, Cally? One of us could teleport directly behind her, snap on a bracelet and teleport out."
"That might be risky, Avon."
"I've learned from Blake," he conceded, grinning in the dark.
Cally considered. "I cannot think of anything better," she confessed. "But perhaps two of us should go."
Surprised that his opinion had been asked, Tarrant took a moment to answer. "It sounds reasonable. Who's on teleport duty?"
"Jenna. She's accurate. You two can go," Avon said.
"I'll cover you from that ridge." Avon pointed. "Jenna--bring up Cally and Tarrant."
"Teleporting now." They vanished.
Avon moved quickly and quietly to the next sandy ridge, a better vantage point, and called in again. "Ready." He braced his gun against a pile of rocks.
"Ten seconds, Avon." Apparently Blake had taken over the teleport.
"All ri--" There was a chush noise as a spear embedded itself in the ground, narrowly missing his left ear. He rolled to the side and shot, but unfortunately there were three Sarrans, not one. Avon lashed out a foot, missed, quickly rolled in the other direction to avoid an axe, and came up hard against the spear, trapping his gun hand beneath him--he looked up reflexively, saw moonlight glimmering from an axe blade and a knife, knew he couldn't pitch himself over the ridge, saw the glint of teeth as the knife was thrown at him--and then an arrow was poking through the Sarran's throat. With a gargling shriek, the Sarran tumbled forward and staggered over the edge, rousing the camp below, to judge from the noise.
Avon unfroze and kicked again, again missed, only to see another arrow appear as magically as the first, this one neatly between the Sarran's shoulder blades. The body landed next to him. Avon stared, gasping for breath.
Angry Sarrans were pounding up the hill, then a young woman appeared, bow in one hand, the other hand reaching to help him up. "Come on," she said. "They're coming after you!"
Avon took the hand up and pulled a spare bracelet from his pocket. "You--never mind." He clipped the bracelet on her arm without letting go of her hand and yelled, "Teleport!" Sharp weapons hit the sand as they vanished.
Moments before, Cally and Tarrant had also appeared in the teleport room, empty-handed. "Blake, no!" Cally exclaimed. "We haven't gotten her! She'll escape!"
"Avon--" he said blankly as Avon called for teleport. Blake complied. Avon pulled the young woman off platform as Blake hurriedly sent Tarrant and Cally down again. "Oh, damn."
"Blake, what have you done?" Avon hissed. His rescuer looked about her in utter confusion.
"Blown it, I'm afraid." Blake's head was in his hands. "You broke off, I thought you needed help."
"I--I was--" Avon suddenly remembered to release the young woman's hand, and looked in confusion at the blood running down his arm.
Blake lifted his head. "Avon, there's a knife in your shoulder."
"I guess so." He grinned, then yelped because the young woman plucked it out and pressed her hand over the wound.
"Vila! Get a medkit!" Blake called into the comm as Avon sat down, hard, on the teleport bench. He appeared to have been crawling through a dust pit. Blake looked at the girl. "Hello, what's your name?"
"Dayna Mellanby. How did I get here?" she asked coolly.
"Teleport. My name is Blake."
"Blake! Roj Blake?"
Blake hadn't expected quite that much enthusiasm from a total stranger, but obviously she knew who he was. "Yes."
"My father, Hal Mellanby, kept track of everything you did. He--he's dead now. Two days ago." At this point Vila ran in with the medical kit, and Blake was distracted from further inquiry.
"Did you get her? What's happened to Avon? Who are you?" The last was said appreciatively.
"Her name is Dayna Mellanby," said Avon, carefully leaning back. "She killed two Sarrans with a bow and arrow," he added by way of warning. Vila's expression fell.
"I'm Vila. Are Cally and Tarrant still down there?"
Blake sighed. "I think we've lost her. I brought them up too soon--I thought Avon needed rescuing."
"And so I--ouch--did." That was apparently the closest Avon would come to thanking him, so Blake decided to accept it as such. "Of course, we've probably lost our chance at Servalan--"
"Servalan!" Dayna exclaimed. "You were trying to kill Servalan?" She moved to allow Vila to administer a painkiller to Avon.
"Capture, actually," Blake said.
"She's mine. She killed my father and sister--I want her blood. I was tracking her when I found Avon being attacked."
"We need her alive," Blake replied. "She would be a valuable hostage."
The communicator signaled. "Blake, bring us up. We've lost her." Blake operated the teleport and Cally and Tarrant appeared.
"She escaped in the confusion," Cally sighed. "She must have worked her way free of her bonds and been waiting for a chance to escape."
"She won't get far," Dayna said. "The Sarrans don't take kindly to losing their prisoners."
"Apparently she had gotten somewhere," Tarrant commented. "Most of the natives were headed in the wrong direction."
"My direction, no doubt," Avon growled. "One of the Sarrans Dayna shot died rather noisily."
"Well, at least his knife isn't in your eye," Dayna replied archly. To Cally she said, "Are you going to look for Servalan again in the morning?"
"You saved Avon's life?" Cally asked.
"I helped him out a bit."
"Then you have my thanks."
"Do you still think we have a chance of finding her?" Blake asked.
"Maybe," said Tarrant. "If someone else doesn't find her first. Don't forget those two ships that came into scanner range."
"I could guide you," Dayna suggested. "I've lived on Sarran nearly all my life."
"I am willing to offer you free passage in exchange," Blake said. "If you want to leave."
"There's nothing left for me there," Dayna said.
"We want Servalan alive, though," Blake reminded her. "Are you willing to let us have her?"
"I--yes. In exchange for free passage. But someday I will have my chance."
Blake noticed Cally and Tarrant looking confused, so he told them, "I'll explain later. Vila, find Dayna a cabin. I'll get Avon to his room."
Avon pushed off Dayna'a hand and stood. "I'll manage. Isn't it your watch, Blake?"
"Why don't you introduce her to Dayna? She might be interested to know we have another passenger. And Dayna might like to see our weapons systems."
Dayna smiled delightedly. "How did you know?"
"You said your father was Hal Mellanby."
Blake raised a quizzical eyebrow. Avon looked at him. "Surely you remember the name. He disappeared some eighteen years ago--he was an extraordinarily gifted weapons tech and a known rebel, I might add."
Blake smiled ruefully. "My memory is not what it once was. You're right. It would make Jenna angry if we didn't consult her. Come with me, Dayna. And the rest of you, so I only have to explain this once. Are you sure you'll be all right, Avon?"
"Of course. I think I'll get some sleep."
Avon woke rather late the next morning to the sound of his doorbuzzer. He rolled out of bed and groggily opened the door. Jenna stood outside.
"It's a bit late," she said. "I thought I'd better check on you."
Avon blinked, raised his hand, and croaked, "Wait," before rummaging in his clothes chest and vanishing into the washroom. Either the painkiller had a sedative effect, or he had been more tired than he had realized. Three minutes under cold water drove all thoughts of sleep from his system and he re-entered the main room, having been unable to lift his arm enough to get his shirt on. Ignoring Jenna, who was sitting patiently in a chair, he tossed the offending but neatly folded garment back in the chest and found one with buttons to fit loosely over his half-healed shoulder, which had begun to ache abominably.
Jenna watched him struggle for several moments before getting up and taking the shirt from him. She held it out to enable him to put his arm in, then buttoned it up the front. "Blake had the same problem," she commented.
"Thanks,' he said, grudgingly. "How late am I?" He rummaged again, found socks.
"You aren't. Blake had intended to let you sleep through morning watch, but when you didn't show after that he was worried."
"It's second watch? They've gone, haven't they?"
"Hours ago. Can you manage the boots?"
"Yes--they haven't found her yet, I take it."
"Dayna's very efficient, but apparently there are thousands of places to hide in the vicinity. And one of the unidentified ships has landed. Blake's trying to get something on it now."
"Vila's on the teleport?" Avon stood, stamping his feet to get them properly settled in his boots. At Jenna's nod, he headed for the door. "Then I shall have a word with Orac."
"Here, take these first." Jenna held out two small orange pills.
"What are they?"
"Painkillers. Go on, take them."
Avon took them and got a glass of water from the washroom to swallow them with. "Thank you again. Now may we go?"
Cally's bracelet chimed. "Cally," she said.
"It's Blake. The unidentified ship has landed about two klicks from your present position. Be careful."
"Thank you for the warning, Blake. We'll call in again in fifteen minutes."
"All right. Out."
"Out." Cally passed on the message and started walking again. In a few moments, her bracelet chimed again.
"Blake to Cally."
"We have identified that ship. It's a medical vessel from one of the unaligned worlds."
"Do you have any idea why they landed here?"
"Looking for survivors, perhaps. Wait--Orac's got something." Cally took the opportunity to recall Tarrant and Dayna. "Orac says he picked up a transmission asking for help, source unknown. So did the ship."
"Could it be Servalan?" Tarrant asked Blake.
"Not hers, and her communicator was damaged, remember," said Blake. "And I doubt Sarran has many long-range transmitters--am I right, Dayna?"
"None. Except--our own--" Dayna turned to Cally, suddenly urgent. "We must hurry. She must have used our transmitter--she knew where it was and how to use it, if she got into the house--"
"Too late, I'm afraid," said Blake. "They're lifting off."
"Damn," said Tarrant.
"We will check, anyway," said Cally. "Lead the way, Dayna."
But Blake was right. They were too late.
Vila had been listening in on the conversation, so he was expecting the disgusted looks worn by the landing party when they arrived in the teleport bay. Cally was saying, "We cannot blow up a hospital ship! The aim was capture, if you had forgotten."
Vila hurried to the flight deck to give advance warning.
Dayna put her bracelet in the rack with unnecessary force. "I know! That doesn't mean I have to be happy about it." She walked quickly in the same direction as Vila, followed by Tarrant and Cally at a more moderate pace.
Blake, Jenna, and Avon were all on the flight deck when the landing party arrived. Jenna was at the flight controls; Avon and Blake were on the couch, staring at Orac, silent.
Vila sat in his seat and made himself unobtrusive. Blake had nodded, once, when Vila had reported, and that was all. So Vila watched with interest as Dayna marched over to Blake.
"Are we going to pursue?" she demanded.
Blake looked up at her. "No." After a pause, he continued, "Would you like to stay with us, Dayna?"
Dayna said, surprised, "You'd want me?"
"That is what he said," Avon murmured.
"All right, then." She sat beside Blake, seemingly forgetting her disappointment for the moment. Tarrant flung himself onto the couch next to her but said nothing. He was distinctly dusty and disgruntled, but his optimism would no doubt return. The fight he'd joined was far from over. Cally sat beside him as though agreeing.
"Are we going after Servalan again soon?" Dayna pressed.
"I think we'll wait for a lucky break on that account. We'll run across her again, never fear. Are you still willing to stay, on those terms?"
"Yes--I'll stay. I don't think I'll be bored."
"Good. Jenna, take us out of here."
"Right." Jenna took the ship out of orbit and then glanced up, waiting for further instructions. Blake turned to Avon, who was still staring at Orac, digesting the fact that their plan had failed.
"Where are we going?" Blake asked.
Avon started. "We're going--" He stopped.
Vila came down from his position and sat next to Cally, grinning at her and patting her hand. "Yes, Avon, where are we going? How about Freedom City?"
Avon said, "Vila--" threateningly. "Not a word."
"Sure, Avon, anything you say."
"I need a course heading, Avon," Jenna prompted.
"You know, Avon, we were supposed to pay a visit to a young man in Space City--"
"Stay out of this, Blake. Course heading--" Avon stopped again.
"Well?" asked Dayna.
Vila grinned at Tarrant, startling him.
Decisively, Avon said, "We're going...lay in a course for...Space City. Standard speed."
"Sounds like a good choice," Blake commented, not smiling.
"Great choice," said Vila. "Do you still want me to get you a necklace, Cally?"
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