Sticks and StonesBy Kathy Hintze
"Avon?" Blake struggled to see through the dust-filled room. Avon had been right behind him as they had entered the room, then all hell had broken loose. The dust finally settled and Blake saw him. "Avon!" Blake hurried over and knelt by the unconscious figure of his companion. A five-foot, solid steel girder lay across the man's legs, pinning him to the floor.
"Blake," Vila's anxious voice called over the bracelet communicator. "Blake, are you all right?"
"I'm fine, Vila," he replied. "But Avon was caught in the explosion."
"Should I try to teleport him up?"
Blake thought for a moment, then shook his head. "No. I don't want to risk it. If there's internal injuries, the teleport stress might be too much for him."
"Then what are we going to do?"
"Get Gan. Be ready to teleport him down when I give the signal. Blake out." Damn the Underground, he thought. They were to wait until he gave the signal, then attack. But they had attacked too soon, using antique explosives which had brought the ceiling down on himself and Avon.
A groan drew Blake's attention and Avon's eyes were blurred with pain as he opened them. "What...what happened?"
"The fools attacked before I gave the signal," replied Blake.
"No doubt driven by their dedication to the Cause," Avon muttered.
Blake smiled wryly. "No doubt. Let's see about getting you free. Can you move your legs?"
Avon tried, but the effort brought him up short. "No," he managed to get out between clenched teeth. "I think they're broken."
The complex alarm was blaring now, adding its voice to the distant gunfire as the harried members of the Underground tried to make good their escape.
Blake started clearing away some of the smaller pieces of debris, trying to relieve the pressure on Avon's legs when he noticed a stream of blood trickling from under the girder. There was no way to see where the blood was coming from, but it was flowing steadily. He activated his bracelet. "Vila, is Gan there?"
"I'm here, Blake," the big man replied.
On board the Liberator, Vila heard the worry in Blake's voice and asked, "Blake, how bad is he?"
"I don't know. Get Gan down here."
"Teleporting now," Vila murmured.
Seconds later, Gan stood over Avon, concern visible on his face. "What do you want me to do, Blake?" he asked.
"We have to remove the girder and get him back to the ship," Blake explained.
Avon watched the proceedings with quiet eyes, trying to analyze his condition and why he felt so weak. His strength seemed to be melting away, minute by minute, and he couldn't stop the strange numbing sensation which was creeping up his legs.
Gan took hold of one end of the girder and pulled. He'd lifted it no more than an inch or two when Avon screamed. The pain coursing up his legs had hit with lightning speed and Gan nearly dropped the girder in shock.
Catching himself, he lowered it gently back into place while Blake checked on Avon. He had passed out, his pulse irregular. Gan stared down at Avon and said, "Blake, I didn't..."
"It wasn't your fault, Gan." Blake shook his head. "I should have known what releasing the pressure would do."
The man below him moaned and opened his eyes. "Blake?" Avon tried to keep his voice steady. "You and Gan cannot lift that. And Federation troops will be here at any moment. Leave me."
"Sentiment is for fools, Blake," Avon snapped.
Blake smiled. "A trait you've accused me of often enough before." Motioning to Gan, he said, "Let's try it again. Lift."
Avon was prepared for the pain this time but it never came. The numbing cold had spread to the top of his legs and upward, stealing his strength as it advanced. Finally, too weak to fight it any longer, he closed his eyes and let the darkness and cold take him.
"It's no good, Blake," muttered Gan, lowering his side of the beam. "We can't lift it." Then he noticed the growing pool of blood. "From the look of that, he doesn't have too much time left."
Blake stared at the blood a moment, then raised his bracelet. "Vila?"
"Get Cally and have her teleport down immediately."
"I am here, Blake," the Auron called. The thief had notified her as soon as he'd teleported Gan down.
"Good. Bring the portable med kit with you." Blake made no attempt to hide the concern in his voice.
Cally exchanged worried looks with Vila. The kit meant one thing, Avon was in serious trouble. "I will get it."
"Vila, bring Gan up. I want him to get the portable laser unit. We're going to have to cut Avon free."
Gan looked at Blake in surprise. "But that'll take too long, Blake."
"Don't argue, Gan. Get it and come back down with Cally. Bring him up, Vila." As Gan shimmered from sight, Blake checked Avon. His pulse had grown weaker and his skin felt chilled.
Avon stirred under his touch. "Are you still here?" he mumbled.
Blake smiled. "I'm a sentimental fool, remember?"
Avon was trying to find an appropriate answer when Vila announced, "Blake, Gan and Cally are ready."
"Put them down."
Blake looked up as the pair appeared. Cally, carrying a small box, hurried to Avon's side while Blake moved to help Gan set up the laser. The Auron's eyes darkened as the medical readouts indicated the seriousness of Avon's condition. "Blake, he's losing blood much too fast. An artery must have been severed."
"Tell him to go, Cally," Avon broke in. "You see the uselessness of this. Gan cannot cut through this in time." He paused, trying to keep his mind clear. "He's endangering all of your lives."
"Blake will leave no one behind," she replied calmly, wiping the dust from his face. "You should know that."
"That's the final link, Blake," Gan said, connecting the laser to the power unit. "Where do you want me to cut?"
Blake looked at the girder. "We're lucky Avon's trapped near the short end. If you trim off the excess, I think between the two of us, we should be able to lift that smaller piece off."
As Gan activated the laser and began his work, Blake walked over to Cally. "How is he?"
Cally looked up. "I cannot be sure. But unless the bleeding is stopped, he will die."
Blake gazed down at Avon and carefully phrased his question. "I know it's dangerous to try, considering Avon's precarious medical history, but isn't there some drug which might safely slow the blood loss?"
Cally's face grew thoughtful. "Yes, there is. Syntice 40. It is used to slow the blood flow during some surgical procedures." She nodded slightly. "Yes, it might work. But, Blake, what if Avon should prove allergic to it? Or there are unexpected side effects?"
"One problem at a time, Cally," Blake answered, praying her fears would be unfounded. "Do we have any on board?"
"There is a small supply in the medical unit. Vila could get it. It is clearly marked," the Auron explained.
"Don't I have anything to say about it?" Avon's voice was faintly sarcastic.
"No!" Blake and Cally answered together. Then Blake raised his bracelet. "Vila?"
"Yes?" The thief sounded very worried.
"I need you to help Cally."
"You want me to come down there?" asked a frightened voice.
"But who'll operate the teleport?" Vila complained.
"Jenna can," Blake exclaimed, his patience beginning to ebb.
"Avon's life depends on it, Vila," Blake snapped. "So to the medical unit and find an ampoule labeled Syntice 40. Then get down here."
"All right." Vila ran for the medical unit, his mind in turmoil. Blake sounded terribly worried. Avon couldn't be that badly hurt, could he? he thought. "Syntice 40," he muttered, searching the cabinet. Then he paused and took a small container carefully from its protective case. "Syntice 40 to be used in emergency and extreme surgical cases only," he read aloud. Now he was really worried.
Jenna's attention was riveted to her scanner when Vila arrived on the flight deck. "Jenna, Blake wants you to operate the teleport. Avon's in a bad way and he needs me down there."
"I can't leave right now," she replied, adjusting a control. "He'll have to wait."
"But he can't wait," Vila pleaded. "Avon might die."
"Zen has picked up three Federation ships heading this way."
"Jenna, please, we're wasting time."
Jenna looked up at Vila, who innocently returned her gaze. "All right. Zen, keep me posted on the Federation ships and their locations."
Vila followed Jenna to the teleport, grabbed a bracelet and stepped nervously onto the teleport skid. "Tell Blake we've less than an hour," Jenna instructed.
Vila nodded and an instant later found himself in a room filled with fragmented concrete and steel. Gan was cutting through a massive piece of steel, while Cally knelt to one side of it. "Blake," he called, picking his way through the rubble. "We have to hurry. Zen's picked up three Federation ships coming this way and..." His voice died as he saw Avon's pale face.
"Help Cally with Avon," Blake ordered. "How's it coming, Gan?"
"Another few minutes, Blake."
Vila nodded slowly and handed Cally the drug. "Thank you. I want you to watch the monitor," she instructed, thankful that Avon had lost consciousness and could no longer argue.
"Is he hurt very badly, Cally?" Vila asked.
The Auron looked up and saw his worried face. "I cannot be certain. He has lost much blood. And until we get him to the ship, there's no way of telling how seriously he has been hurt. Now, watch the monitor."
"All right," Vila murmured, gazing at the drained features next to him.
With practiced ease, Cally slid the ampoule into the hypospray, laid it against Avon's arm, and sent it into his system, watching his face as she did so. He is very pale, she thought, so very pale. "What are the readings now, Vila?"
"It's holding in the safe area," he answered. "He's going to die, isn't he?" The thief's voice trembled with fear.
"I hope not, Vila," Cally murmured softly, looking at him. "I hope not." Then she gazed toward Blake and Gan. "We're ready, Blake."
"Blake," Jenna called through his bracelet. "Zen estimates thirty minutes until Federation ships arrive."
"Confirmed, Jenna. Stand by." Blake watched the laser melt its way through the metal. "Come on, Gan."
The big man nodded, urging the laser to burn faster. Time was running out for them and for Avon. He had heard the fear in both Blake's voice and in Cally's. Hurry, damn you, he thought to himself. Hurry.
On board the Liberator, Jenna grew more and more tense. "Zen, how close are the ships now?"
"5,000,000 spacials and closing," replied the computer.
"Come on, Blake," she muttered to herself. "Come on. We're running out of time."
"That's it, Blake," Gan shouted at last, switching off the laser and laying it aside.
Blake moved to one side of the severed girder. "Now, we must move it carefully. Can't afford any slips." Gan gripped his end and nodded. Blake's hands tightened as he counted. "Together. One, two, three, lift!" Groaning with effort, they slowly lifted the piece of metal free.
Vila gasped. Avon's right leg was covered in blood. Ragged holes in his trousers revealed bone fragments jutting through the skin in a dozen places. Blood dripped down on his left leg which lay partially wedged under the right.
Cally glanced at the monitor. The indicator had dipped into the danger level. Avon was alive, but his condition was deteriorating. His waxen, almost translucent features looked like a statue's and his body was growing cold as Cally draped a thermal blanket over him.
"Blake, we have to hurry," she cried, stepping aside. Gan picked Avon up as carefully as he could, ignoring the blood which stained his tunic, leaving Blake to retrieve the laser while Vila gathered up the med kit and a small metal box he found under the debris.
"All right, bring us up, Jenna," Blake called.
On board one of the incoming Federation ships, Travis was impatiently waiting for the progress report from the garrison commander on Atar. News of the attack and the report of an unusual vessel meant only one thing to him--Blake. Unfortunately, the communication center had suffered damage in the attack and word was now being passed via an emergency transmitter.
A message came in--but it was from Supreme Commander Servalan. "What news?" There was no greeting or formality observed.
"There's been no news from Atar since the first alert was sounded," he replied. "I will be arriving in approximately twenty-one minutes."
"I've seen the preliminary report, Travis. If Blake is there, I want him--alive or dead. I want him and the Liberator."
"If he's there, he won't get away, Supreme Commander," Travis promised.
"Good. I will await your report."
As soon as they were back on board, the crew started en masse toward the medical unit. Cally hurried ahead to prepare the equipment, while Gan carried Avon, still unconscious and wrapped in the thermal blanket to help ward off shock. Blake and Vila followed a few paces behind, their faces taut with concern.
Jenna fell in step with them, using the corridor to head back to the flight deck.
"One of these days, you're going to cut it too fine, Blake," she chastised. "Those pursuit ships are coming in fast."
"Then you'd better take us out of orbit," Blake snapped.
As Gan round the intersection, Jenna caught a glimpse of Avon's face, ashen and drawn. Her hand snatched at Blake's arm. "Is Avon badly hurt?" she asked softly.
Vila answered for him. "I hope not!" he said fervently.
Blake glanced at Jenna. "You'd better get to the flight deck."
Gan lowered Avon gently onto the diagnostic couch and stepped back. The rebel leader quickly connected the computer links to his injured companion. He looked down at the unconscious figure and said, "There's no telling how long this will take."
"I think I can be of more use on the flight deck, now," Gan said. He paused, studying Blake's face. "You worry too much, Blake," he told him confidently. "Avon'll be all right."
Blake stared after him, wishing he could believe that.
Jenna had already taken the Liberator out of orbit by the time Gan arrived. "You certainly waited long enough before...." her voice trailed off as she saw the dark stains on his tunic. "He is badly hurt, isn't he?"
Gan followed her gaze. "It's difficult to tell," he answered. "He lost a lot of blood. His legs looked badly broken. But I've seen worse and the man recovered. And he didn't have the advantages of our medical unit." Gan smiled broadly. "This ship is capable of miracles."
Jenna looked at him curiously before replying. "Let's hope so."
In the medical unit, Blake wasn't so sure. After cutting off the tattered remnants of Avon's trousers, the sight of the actual injury had been staggering. The femur and tibia of the right leg had somehow been jammed into one another, forcing the kneecap through the skin. Only straining ligaments and tendons had prevented its total detachment from the leg.
Blake's shock was mirrored in Cally's face as he looked up at her. "This isn't going to be easy." There was a gasp behind him and Blake turned.
Vila stood looking at Avon, his face white as a sheet. Then he said softly, "You'll need someone to watch the monitors, Blake. I'll do it," he offered.
"All right, Vila," Blake replied, wondering at his behavior. He couldn't stand the sight of blood, and yet here he was volunteering to help. No time to think about that now. "Cally, let's get this over with."
"What do you mean there's no sign?" snapped Travis. "Blake was here, wasn't he?"
"Yes, sir. The prisoners we've taken have confirmed it. He...er...must have slipped out when we were regrouping our forces."
"Slipped out? You mean you let him escape," Travis snarled, backhanding the garrison commander. Turning to an aide, he snapped, "Contact the ship. Have them scan for any vessels leaving orbit. Not that they'll find anything now." The frightened man ran to comply.
"Sir," yelled one of his troopers, rushing in. "We found something." Travis followed the man to a debris-filled room. Near a fallen, partially melted girder was a pool of blood along with tattered bits of bloody blue cloth. "None of the rebels made it this far, sir," the trooper reported. "It had to have come from one of Blake's people."
Travis smiled. The room had housed the complex computers and only one man would have had reason to come there. "I want a sample of this tested. Make sure they run a complete series."
"Send the report to me on board my ship within the hour."
"At once, sir."
A scant twenty minutes after Travis returned to his ship, there was a knock on his cabin door. "Come," he commanded.
The communications engineer entered and saluted. "The test results you requested, sir."
Travis snatched the papers from the man's hands and read the results. He looked up and asked, "They are positive?"
"There is no doubt, sir. The samples are identical to those of Kerr Avon. His particular allergy strain is uncommon among Terran inhabitants."
"Very well. Put in a priority call to Space Command Headquarters," he ordered. "I wish to speak to Supreme Commander Servalan."
You're running out of time, Blake, Travis thought to himself. Then his call came through and he smiled at the image on the screen. "Supreme Commander."
"Commander Travis," Servalan returned. "I presume you have news for me."
"You have Blake."
"Not yet, but it's my belief that we have one less traitor to worry about." He held up a small square of blood-stained cloth.
"And what is that supposed to mean?" she inquired.
"The person who wore this has--or had--a rare blood condition. An allergy, it seems. And only one member of Blake's crew has it."
Servalan's face grew angry. "Don't play games, Travis."
"Your pardon, Supreme Commander. The party in question is Kerr Avon."
"Kerr Avon?" she echoed. "The computer expert?"
"Yes," he replied confidently. "I have the test results to prove it. I have consulted the medical team and they advised that with such a blood loss, he's either dead or soon will be."
"Very well. Keep me posted." Servalan broke the contact and smiled. "And then there were five. Your luck has run out, Blake."
It took Cally and Blake close to an hour just to remove the dirt and foreign matter from Avon's leg before any actual reconstruction could begin. Then under the computer's instructions, Cally made several lengthy incisions on the right leg and clamped them open.
Vila blanched at the sight and kept his eyes locked on the monitor, trying to ignore the grinding noise as the bones were realigned. Then the horrible odor as Blake fused the broken ends together threatened to overpower Vila, but he forced the nausea down. Later, he told himself, I can be sick later. Right now, Blake and Cally need me. Avon needs me.
After two hours, Cally sighed and looked up at Blake. "That's the last, Blake. Everything is as it should be. Vila, how is...."
"Readings are holding steady, Cally," he answered. "No sign of shock, either." The relief in his voice was shared by his companions.
"Good," Blake murmured, using an epidermal regenerator to seal the incisions and the wound. "Cally, how's the left leg?"
The Auron carefully checked the swollen appendage, noting the purplish blotches which covered it from thigh to calf. "Nothing broken. Just badly bruised, Blake. It should heal within 24 hours."
"And this one?" Blake questioned as she bandaged the right leg. "I know we did everything the computer said, but...."
"Everything is as it should be, Blake," she repeated. "We'll know for certain in a few days." She looked up at him and smiled. "I think you need some rest."
He glanced at her and nodded. "Very probably. And you and Vila need..." He looked around. The thief was nowhere in sight. "Now where do you suppose he went?"
"His cabin probably," she murmured. "I was not surprised he offered to help, Blake. He is very fond of Avon, and I think Avon feels the same toward him."
"Yes, I feel that too," Blake replied, then yawned. "Sorry."
"Get some rest, Blake. I will stay with him."
"If he comes round, I'll be in my cabin," he replied, stifling another yawn.
"I will call."
Blake went to his cabin, but knew he would not be able to rest. Not until he knew that Avon would be all right.
No pressure, no pain, Avon mused as his mind approached consciousness two hours later. In fact, there was no sensation at all. Perhaps he was wrong and they weren't broken after all. Then an unbidden thought crept in. Maybe there was no pain because they were no longer there. Not there? Avon screamed in terror. A hand touched his forehead while others tried to hold him still.
Then a voice penetrated his fear and spoke to his mind. *Avon, It's all right. You're on the Liberator. You're safe, Avon.*
"Cally?" Had he said that aloud? He couldn't be sure. His mind refused to function and he felt so damnably weak. But weak or not, there was something he had to do...something he had to confirm for himself. Avon willed his body to wake up from its lethargy.
"Blake," Jenna's voice echoed from the wall comm. "Zen has picked up another Federation patrol coming this way."
"All right, Jenna," Blake answered. Damn, he wanted to be there when Avon came around.
"Avon, lie still," Cally scolded as he opened his eyes and tried to move.
The rebel leader turned in time to see Avon struggling to sit up. "No, Cally, I have to see," Avon muttered in a faint but insistent voice. With Cally supporting him, he managed a makeshift sitting position. Though his legs were plainly outlined under the sheet, Avon was not satisfied and pulled the sheet off. His face was expressionless as he stared at the bandaged appendages, then slumped back down on the couch and closed his eyes.
"Avon?" Blake grabbed his shoulder and squeezed gently. But there was no reaction. Avon had slipped back to unconsciousness.
"Blake," Cally interrupted in a soft voice. "Jenna may need you."
She was right, of course, but he was still worried about Avon. He glanced up to find understanding in Cally's eyes. "I'll be on the flight deck."
Cally nodded, knowing how worried he was. She felt much the same, and so did Vila.
The thief had returned shortly before Avon regained consciousness, a change of clothing indicating where he had disappeared to, and the pallor of his face, the reason why. Since then, Vila had done nothing but wait and watch. Cally put an arm around his shoulders and smiled. Vila tried to smile back but couldn't. "I...I probably should go, too, Cally," he stammered, getting to his feet. "Unless you think I..."
"Go on, Vila. I will stay with him." There was fear in his eyes as he left for the flight deck, fear for Avon that Cally pretended not to notice.
On the flight deck, Jenna looked up as Blake came in, his face mirroring his concern. "Have they picked us up yet?" he inquired.
"No," she responded, still watching him.
It was Gan who finally asked the question. "How's Avon?"
"Alive, Gan. He's alive."
Vila walked in then, moving silently to his place, eyes averted. Gan looked at him and murmured a greeting. The thief nodded absent-mindedly and concentrated on his console.
Blake looked toward Zen's flashing lights. "Any indication that the Federation ships have spotted us, Zen?"
"Good. Maintain this course."
Vila looked up then. "Blake, what about Avon?"
"What about him?"
"Will he...will he be all right?" Vila asked.
Blake seemed a long time answering. "I don't know, Vila. We rebuilt the leg as the computer instructed. The rest is up to him."
Cally was involved in analyzing some blood samples when Avon opened his eyes again. "Cally?"
The Auron turned and smiled. "I am here. Are you in pain?"
"No," he lied. The waves of pain had begun again but this time he welcomed them. It meant the nerves were still alive and recovery was not beyond hope. "How long have I been out?"
"About four hours," she replied, watching his face. From time to time, his eyes would cloud over, revealing just how intense the pain was. But only someone who knew him would have detected it. "Avon, you are in pain."
He looked up, taking in her worried features and smiled. He could not fool her and they both knew it. "Pain is something I can deal with, Cally."
The door opened then and Vila entered carrying a tray. "I thought you might be hungry, Avon, so I brought you something."
"And enough for yourself as well, it seems," Avon commented as he viewed the large selection.
"Well, Cally might want something, too, you know," Vila shot back with a grin.
Avon admitted to himself he was hungry, but as he viewed the array of edibles, a sudden nausea swept through him. Consciousness receded so fast that Cally's voice was only a faint echo as white hot nails of pain pierced him, shattering his control. Wave after wave passed through his mind, threatening to drown him in their intensity.
As soon as Avon lost consciousness, Vila called Blake, who ran to the medical unit. Avon's body was trembling so badly that Cally had to strap him down and the medical computer registered a sharp increase in body temperature to nearly 107 degrees F, pulse rate well over 150.
"Blake, we've got to do something," Vila wailed. "Cally, can't you give him anything?"
Cally took in Vila's fearful face, and shook her head. "With his temperature this high, any medication I give him could kill him."
Abruptly, the tremors stopped, and Avon's body fell limp. Cally checked the monitor and relaxed. His temperature and pulse rate were dropping back to normal.
A few minutes later, Avon's eyes fluttered open, confusion visible on his face until his mind cleared. He saw Cally and Blake exchange worried looks and then Vila's frightened face. "What...." he began and found his mouth parched. Blake held him steady while Cally gave him some water.
"How do you feel?" Vila asked anxiously after Avon had taken a swallow.
Avon paused before answering. "As well as can be expected." His eyes asked a question.
Cally nodded. "We had to take the chance, Avon. You were losing blood too fast and the drug seemed the only way."
"Whether I wanted it or not, it seems." Avon stared coldly at Blake. "My legs, how bad?"
"You were lucky. According to the medical computer, the left one is only bruised. Painful, but only bruised."
"And the other?" Avon queried, noting how Blake's express ion changed.
Blake hesitated. "It was broken, Avon, badly broken. But we've set it and followed the computer's instructions to the letter. There's no reason it shouldn't heal cleanly."
"Have you tried to move them?" Vila asked.
"No," came the quiet response. "I'm tired now. Leave me." Avon closed his eyes, willing them to leave.
*Would you like....* Cally telepathed. Avon shook his head in answer to her unspoken question.
After the door closed, Avon ventured a look and was startled to find Vila still there. "Well?" he snapped. But Vila's eyes reflected such misery that Avon's anger faded. "I'm all right, Vila," he said gently. "Leave me, please." The thief stared at his companion for a moment, then withdrew.
Avon closed his eyes and took a deep breath, dreading what was to come. Concentrating, he tried to move his legs. Pain shook his body and nearly made him cry out. Move, damn you, he raged. Move. Tears ran unchecked down his cheeks as each effort failed. After an hour, thoroughly exhausted, he collapsed into a deep sleep and in his dreams, Servalan and Travis laughed at his helplessness.
The nightmare finally drove him back to consciousness six hours later. Cally sat near the couch, dozing. Feeling cold, he drew the sheet closer and discovered someone had changed his clothing. Irritation crossed his face.
"Gan and Blake did it while you were asleep, Avon." Cally had awakened the moment she heard the sheet move. "And Blake asked me to apologize for the alteration to your trousers, but it was necessary."
Avon nodded in silent agreement, although he was annoyed at the intrusion on his person and the fact that his favorite pair of pants had been victimized.
"How do you feel?" she asked, checking the monitor.
"Better," he admitted.
There was a brief knock on the door then, and Blake walked in like an actor receiving his cue. In his hands was a small metal box. "So you're awake," he said a trifle too loud.
Avon eyed Blake and Cally suspiciously for a moment. "You want something, Blake. What is it?"
Avon's tone was definitely hostile so Blake chose his words with care. "Vila found this in the rubble on Atar." He opened the box. Within was an envelope containing some papers. Blake handed them to Avon, who with Cally's aid, propped himself up on the couch.
Avon's eyes scanned the papers with no apparent interest until on the bottom of the last page he noted a name--SERVALAN. He looked up. "So we did not come away from Atar totally empty-handed," he replied.
"No, we didn't," Blake agreed. He'd hoped that Vila's find would have some effect on the computer specialist, but he was wrong.
"Blake," Jenna called from the wall comm. "Orbit has been established around Dastar."
"On my way, Jenna," he replied.
Avon stared at him in disbelief. "Don't tell me you believe that?" he exclaimed, pointing to the papers.
"It's not a question of believing it, Avon."
"Then what is it, Blake? Another heroic episode to add to your legend? Another chance for your followers to risk their lives? Who else has to suffer?" Avon's voice quivered with rage. "Or will one of us have to die before you see the stupidity of it all?"
Blake kept his voice calm. "Avon, if the Federation has developed a device like this, it could endanger three-fourths of the civilized systems."
"Those same civilized systems allowed you to be condemned to Cygnus Alpha, or have you forgotten?" Avon countered. Then he slumped wearily back on the couch and closed his eyes. "Arguing with you is pointless, since you plan to do it anyway."
Blake paused, then said, "I'll need you on this one, Cally."
"I will meet you at the teleport, Blake," she acknowledged and watched him walk slowly from the room. Then she turned her attention to Avon. "You must try to understand, Avon," she began.
"I understand," he raged. "I understand that Blake is going to get all of us killed before he's through."
"You are wrong, Avon," she told him and silence descended like a wall between them.
Then Avon opened his eyes and said in a mocking tone, "You'd better go, Cally. He's waiting."
She sighed. "Try to get some rest, Avon."
"Why not?" he muttered to himself. "Blake has seen to it I can do nothing else."
Jenna, Gan, Cally and Blake teleported to the surface while Vila remained on board. "Down and safe, Vila. But keep alert. You may have to pull us out in a hurry." There was a pause, then Blake added, "And Vila, keep an eye on Avon."
"I will," Vila replied. Then he activated the ship's intercom. "Avon, if you need anything, Cally said she left the comm open. Just let me know." There was no response and Vila grew worried. "Avon? Avon?"
"I need nothing, Vila," came the harsh voice at last.
The thief breathed a sigh of relief. At least Avon sounded more like himself.
On Dastar, in the main command headquarters, things were warming up. "All ready, sir," stated the communications engineer.
"Good, notify the perimeter guards. Let's see if we can do it in under 5 minutes this time," Garrison Commander Rosman snapped.
"Yes, sir," he replied and activated the complex PA system. "Attention all personnel, Condition Red. Repeat, Condition Red." Men scrambled for their positions as the alarm blared.
Some distance off, Blake and his party also heard the alarm. "They must have picked up the ship," Jenna muttered. "It will be suicide to try it now, Blake."
He nodded, then activated his bracelet. "Vila, bring us up.
"What happened?" asked Vila, startled, as his companions materialized on board.
"The alarm is blaring loud enough to hear up here," Gan explained as Vila followed them back to the flight deck.
Blake checked the console. "Their scanners must have picked us up."
"The deflectors are on full, Blake," Vila reported, checking his panel. "There's no way they could."
"He's right, Blake," confirmed Jenna. "Something else must have set off the alarm."
"Zen, are there any other ships in orbit around Dastar?" Blake inquired.
Cally stepped down from her station. "Blake, there are some tests I should run in the medical unit."
"Go ahead, Cally." He understood how she felt. He was worried about Avon, too.
Jenna waited until Cally had left, then asked, "What are Avon's chances, Blake?"
"His chances at what?" Vila demanded.
Jenna eyed Vila curiously. "At being able to walk again, Vila."
"I don't know," Blake admitted. "He's experiencing pain so at least some of the nerves are intact. But even with our equipment, the bones and muscles will need time to heal."
"I see," was all Jenna replied as she walked to the pilot's position. "What do we do now?"
"We wait. Zen, maintain deflectors on full and keep scanning for any Federation ships entering or leaving this system."
"You look tired, Blake. Why don't you get some rest?" Gan suggested, his voice carrying a note of concern. Blake looked at him and smiled.
"You're probably right, Gan. And as soon as we've finished what we came here to do, I plan to sleep for a week. Right now, though..."
"Then I'll turn in," Gan sighed. "Good night."
"Good night," his companions replied.
Vila stood up from his position and stretched. "I think I'll see if Cally needs anything."
"She'd have called if..." Blake stopped when he saw Vila's face. "She needs to rest, too, Vila. Maybe you should relieve her."
Vila smiled and hurried off the flight deck. "You know, Jenna, if I didn't know better, I'd think Vila liked Avon."
"You're imagining things," she answered.
"Very probably," he murmured, rubbing his eyes.
"Blake, will you please try to get some rest? If nothing else, lie on the flight couch."
"Jenna, I'm all right," he snapped.
"No, you're not. You're tired in mind and body," she shot back. "And you can't think clearly in that condition."
Blake glared at her. "Sometimes you remind me of Avon."
Jenna scowled. "Will you get some rest?"
"All right, I'll try." Blake moved to the couch and closed his eyes. But instead of just catching forty winks, he fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
Vila raced down the corridor toward the medical unit but nearing the entrance, he slowed as questions rose in his mind. What am I doing? I can't lie to Cally. And what am I worried about Avon for? All he ever does is make life miserable for me. On the other hand, Cally did look very tired when she came back up from Dastar. But she's as stubborn as Blake or Avon at times. Well, I'll just have to think of something, that's all. At the doorway, he paused. Cally and Avon were talking.
"Has Blake decided yet, Cally?"
"Decided what, Avon?"
"Where he plans to leave me if..." he indicated his legs.
"If Blake did not leave you at Atar, what makes you think he'd leave you anywhere?" she asked.
Avon pondered the question. Cally was right, of course. Blake wouldn't abandon him, not even for his own good. What then? "I suppose he could have Gan rig up some kind of motorized chair," he replied sarcastically. "Vila and I could race in the corridors."
Cally stood up and stared at him. Worry and fatigue showed in her face and perhaps it was fatigue which made her say, "Do you enjoy tormenting those who care for you, Avon?"
Avon looked up at her. The sincerity in her voice had taken him completely by surprise and he didn't know what to say.
In the corridor, Vila decided it was time he entered the scene. Walking in, he announced, "Cally, Blake said you were to get some rest. In fact, he...er...ordered you to."
"He did what?" Avon snapped, glad for once of Vila's presence.
Vila looked at him and said, "Blake gave orders that Cally was to rest. She's been pampering you long enough."
Cally looked Vila squarely in the eyes. "Are you sure Blake gave the orders?"
Vila managed to keep his face straight. "Yes. He said 'Cally needs rest, too. So I'm here to see you get some."
Cally looked doubtful, then nodded. "All right, Vila. I'll take your word for it."
"Well, I don't," Avon remarked, although he was relieved to see her leave. That last remark had come very close to unnerving him. "And I suppose you are my new nursemaid?"
"Uh, well, sort of, yes," Vila stammered.
Cally tapped Vila gently on the shoulder as she left. "I'll relieve you in a little while, Vila."
"Uh, don't hurry, Cally." Avon's eyes followed her out, a strange expression in them. And Vila, who missed little, noted it. As soon as the door closed, Vila let out a big sigh. "I never thought I'd pull it off."
"You mean Blake didn't order it?" Avon inquired, cocking an eyebrow.
"Well, in a roundabout way he did. She's not slept since...since...Atar."
"I don't need a nursemaid, Vila," Avon told him. "Why don't you leave?"
"I can't," Vila announced with a grin. "Besides, I wanted...that is, Cally said someone should be here in case you have another one of those shocks."
"Unlikely," Avon replied, studying him. From his looks, he had not slept much either. "Where's Blake?"
"On the flight deck, I suppose. Jenna was trying to get him to rest. I hope she did. He looks almost as bad as you...oops, sorry."
Avon closed his eyes, trying to will himself to sleep but to no avail. Then a noise broke his concentration. "What are you doing?" he snapped, opening his eyes.
Vila was wandering around the room. "Uh, nothing, just looking around."
"Well, find some place to light so I can get some rest," Avon remarked acidly.
The thief nodded. "Oh yes, I'm sorry. I didn't think."
"That would be asking too much." Avon closed his eyes and tried once again to sleep.
Vila curled up on the opposite couch and relaxed. "This is better than my bunk," he murmured.
"Quiet," Avon ordered. A few minutes later, he turned his head to find Vila sleeping peacefully. Suppressing a smile, Avon turned his mind to the matter at hand. Staring down at his legs, he willed them to move. Fire ran through his nervous system, but he ignored it. He felt stronger than before and could control the pain better. Move, he demanded of his body.
Avon was not conscious of the passage of time, nor anything but forcing his legs to move. Then to his joy, there was a slight movement in his left leg. A twitch, no, more like a spasm, but it had moved. Sweat rolled down his forehead, pooling in the recesses of his eyes like tears. Blinking them furiously, he glanced over to find Vila watching him. Avon read the relief in Vila's eyes, but said in a tight voice, "I thought you were asleep?"
"Who could sleep with all the racket you're making?" Vila complained with a smile.
"Go away," Avon ordered, anger ringing in his voice.
"I can't," Vila replied cheerfully. "Cally said I..."
"I don't care what Cally said," Avon yelled. "Get out."
Puzzlement filled Vila's eyes as he edged off the couch. Avon had moved his leg. It had to have been painful, but he moved it. Why was he so angry? "Avon, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to..."
"I don't want or need your sympathy. Now get out."
Blake stirred on the couch and looked up to find Gan standing nearby with a cup of coffee in his hand. "I thought you might like one when you woke up.
"Thanks," Blake murmured, taking the cup. "Where's Jenna?"
"Asleep, I hope. I relieved her about three hours ago. She looked exhausted." Glancing at Blake, he added, "You still do."
Blake rubbed a sore neck and stood up to stretch. "How long did I sleep?"
"Oh, around four hours would be my guess."
Both men looked up as Vila walked onto the flight deck, looking dejected. "Aren't you supposed to be in the medical unit?" Blake asked.
"Avon told me to get out so I left," Vila mumbled.
Gan glanced at Blake, then walked over to his friend. "I'm sure he didn't mean it."
"Oh no? You should have heard him," Vila shot back. "I don't know what Cally will say. After all, I did promise her I'd stay with him. Wanna know why he yelled at me? Because I saw him move his leg. Nothing else, just that."
Blake nearly choked on his coffee. "You saw him do what?"
"I saw him move his leg. I was lying on the couch next to his, and heard something. When I looked over, his left leg was moving. Just a little but it was moving. Then Avon saw me looking and started shouting."
"But this is wonderful, Vila," exclaimed Blake.
"What's wonderful?" came a voice from the steps. Cally had decided to check on Blake before going to relieve Vila and now stood glaring at Vila.
"Don't be angry with him, Cally," Blake said. "He's just told us something marvelous. Avon has movement in one of his legs."
Her face cleared of its anger immediately and Vila recounted his experience in the medical unit. Then Jenna walked in and Vila had to relate his story a third time.
"But why was he angry with you?" Gan queried.
"I don't know," Vila answered in a puzzled voice. "I guess he thought I was asleep. If I'm asleep, he gets mad, and when I'm not asleep, he gets mad. I don't understand it."
"Neither do I," Blake reflected. "If it were me, I'd be happy."
"But it's not you, Blake," Jenna corrected. "It's Avon and his reasoning doesn't follow the same line as yours, or mine for that matter."
"I think I had better check on him," murmured Cally.
"Do you mind if I come along?" Blake asked meekly.
Cally looked at him and smiled. *What are you planning, Blake?* He looked at her in surprise and shrugged. Future plans would depend on Avon.
Servalan was entertaining when the priority call came in from Travis. "This had better be Important, Travis," she threatened.
"I believe it is, Supreme Commander," he drawled. "I've just received the damage report from Atar. It appears that a certain metal box containing some highly classified documents is missing."
"What documents?" she snapped.
"Something to do with the authorization for the Magma Project."
"The Magma Project?" Servalan exclaimed. If Blake had the authorization, her career was doomed, maybe even her life. The High Council had dismissed her proposal as too risky, calling it a "Doomsday Device." So at great personal risk, she had forged that authorization and now Blake had it. "Travis, you must recover that document at all costs," she ordered.
"And my orders concerning Blake still stand?"
"Of course, they still stand. I want that document recovered intact."
"You seem upset, Supreme Commander," he said mockingly.
Servalan recovered her composure and smiled. "And you are insolent, Travis. Contact me as soon as you have it."
"Depend on it."
Avon was feigning sleep when Cally and Blake arrived. But the beads of sweat dotting his forehead and the flushed look on his face made it all too apparent what he had been doing.
"You sent Vila away, Avon, why?" Cally asked
"Do I require a reason?" he countered, his eyes flashing open.
"He told us, Avon," Blake said, seeing Avon's grim expression.
"Told you what?" the computer expert demanded.
"Don't play games," Cally replied. "He saw you move your leg. I should think you would be happy."
Avon regarded the pair coldly. "And so you had to come and see for yourselves? If I can move my legs, that would let you off the proverbial hook, wouldn't it, Blake?" Avon's eyes flashed with fury.
Blake stared at him in shock. The blame for Avon's injury was his and he acknowledged it. After all, if he had not requested his presence, Avon would have stayed on board the ship. But the venom in the man's voice drove the guilt deep into Blake's heart.
Cally glanced up and saw the hurt in Blake's eyes. *He does not mean it, Blake. Lashing out at us is his only way of dealing with the pain.* The hurt look left Blake's eyes, but she knew the guilt was still there.
Blake forced himself to relax. You couldn't use anger against Avon and hope to win. "Vila said you moved your left leg. Any luck with the right?" he asked in a quiet voice.
Avon took a moment before answering to steady his rattling nerves and get himself back under control. His irrational outburst had only made the situation worse. Of course, Blake blamed himself. He always blamed himself if something went wrong. "No," he replied, relieved to find his voice calm.
"But you are having pain in both?" Cally asked, watching his eyes carefully.
"Need you ask?" Avon responded.
"Blake?" Gan's voice called from the intercom. "Zen says things have quieted down on the base. There's been no further activity." There was a pause, then he added, "You know, I've been thinking."
"First Vila, now Gan," Avon remarked dryly. "It seems to be contagious."
Blake glanced over at him and grinned. "Thinking about what, Gan?"
"Well, I know this is far-fetched, but maybe they were having some type of drill down there. I mean, there was no long-range scanning after we teleported back up. No distress calls, nothing that Zen could pick up."
"You could be right, Gan," Blake admitted. And Jenna was right, he thought to himself. I was too tired to think clearly. "Perhaps we should go back down and take another look."
"Shall I wake Jenna?" Gan inquired.
Blake grimaced, remembering how tired she had been, but knew she would want to accompany them down. "Yes, have her meet us at the teleport. Is Vila still there?"
"Right here, Blake," came Vila's voice.
"I want you to operate the teleport for us."
"But Blake, what if you should need me to open a door, a vault or something?" Vila exclaimed.
"Vila volunteering?" Avon asked in disbelief. "Now that is something."
Blake glared at him. Avon could be very trying at times. "You stay on board. If I need you for anything, I'll signal. Now get to the station."
"All right," Vila mumbled.
Blake turned from the comm to face his companions. "Cally?"
She looked at Avon and nodded. "I will meet you there," she murmured and left the room.
"Avon, I've left the comm open if you should need anything," Blake explained.
"And Vila will fetch it for me," Avon replied sarcastically. "Wonderful."
Blake looked at him with a feeling of helplessness. "Avon, if there were some way I could undo what's happened..."
"But you can't, Blake." Looking at Blake's bleak expression, Avon realized how much he had hurt him. He really hadn't meant to let go like that. After all, his self-control had always been the one thing he could rely on.
The comm chimed and interrupted what could have become a very compromising situation for both men. "We're all set, Blake." Jenna still sounded sleepy.
"Go on, Blake," Avon muttered, trying to find a way out of the situation. "And don't take all day. Vila's bedside manners leave a lot to be desired."
Blake nodded, relief written on his face. "On my way, Jenna," he called over the comm and left for the teleport deck.
"What was the time on that last drill?" Rosman asked.
"Three minutes and fifteen seconds, sir," his aide replied with a smile. "Headquarters will be pleased."
"Let's hope so," the senior officer muttered. He'd been in charge of this backward planet for over two years and yearned for some action. "Have all of the units reported back?"
"Nearly all, sir. Orange Squad is just finishing up their routine patrol and..." A warning buzzer went off. The aide flipped a switch and said, "Auto distress signal. Something's happened to Orange Squad."
"I want a silent alert to go out immediately," the garrison commander ordered. "Have Orange's last position relayed to all unit leaders. I want that location completely surrounded. Nothing and no one is to get out. Understood?"
"Completely, sir," returned his aide.
Something had happened to Orange Squad. Quite by accident, they had come across Blake and his party just after they had teleported down. The squad opened fire and wounded Gan before the rebels were able to eliminate them. Then with Cally and Jenna keeping watch, Blake checked his companion's injury.
"How bad?" Blake asked, kneeling beside him.
"Just a scratch, Blake," muttered the big man. "Took one step too many, I guess," he added with a grin. Gan had been leading the party when the ambush occurred.
*Blake,* came Cally's telepathic call. *There are more troops coming. We must...* The voice disappeared from Blake's mind.
"Blake, what is it?" Gan asked, seeing Blake's shocked expression.
"Cally's in trouble," Blake explained, helping Gan to his feet. "I think we'd better find Jenna and..."
"You'll do nothing," a voice from behind them ordered. "Except drop your weapons and move out into the clearing."
Blake hazarded a glance and saw more than a dozen troops standing behind him. More materialized ahead leading an angry Jenna whose disheveled appearance indicated she had not given up easily. Then another trooper appeared carrying Cally, who had been knocked unconscious.
"I'd say we have no choice," Gan mumbled, cradling his sore shoulder and the men moved to join their companions.
"Blake! Come in, Blake!" Vila cried anxiously. It had been nearly two hours since they had gone down and still no contact.
"Vila, have you reached them yet?" Avon's voice queried over the comm.
"Not yet, Avon. And it's not for want of trying."
The thief tried to think of what could have happened, but the only conclusion he could reach was that they had somehow gotten themselves caught. "Avon, maybe I should go down and see If I can find them."
"Don't be stupid, Vila," came the instant reply. "How could you, unless I operated the teleport?"
"But Avon," he began, then stopped. Avon was right. He couldn't leave the ship. Besides, who would be there if Avon needed help? "I hope they're all right," he murmured.
So do I, Avon thought to himself. This is one mess you'll have to get yourself out of, Blake. I can't help you this time. Then without warning, a wave of darkness washed through his mind, sweeping Avon into oblivion before he could call for help.
"There will be medical aid for your injured companions if you'll just tell me who you are and what you are doing here," Commander Rosman demanded.
Cally had come to and was all right, with the exception of a headache. *I told you I was getting out of practice,* she sent with a wry smile.
He smiled in return, then turned his attention to their captor. "I told you. We needed supplies for our ship." It was a bluff, of course, but with their bracelets taken and their visuals en route to Space Command Headquarters, there was little else he could do. And neither Avon or Vila were in a position to help them.
"Your ship?" queried the officer. "Our scanners indicate no such vessel in orbit." The officer's eyes flashed. "Do you know what I think? I think you are saboteurs...mercenaries sent here to destroy the complex. That's what I think."
And you're right, Blake thought to himself but assumed an innocent look. "I tell you we were just looking for supplies and your men took us by surprise."
"Six men killed and you want me to believe you were just seeking supplies?" the officer snapped back. "What do you take me for?"
The door to the interrogation room opened then and his aide hurried in along with two heavily armed guards. Blake looked up. The aide seemed excited and that meant only one thing--they had been identified.
"Sir," the aide announced. "We've just received verification from Space Command Headquarters. It seems the prisoners are Blake and his band of renegades."
"Blake?" the commander exclaimed in surprise, turning to look at his prisoners. "The rebel leader?"
"Yes, sir. Supreme Commander Servalan and Commander Travis are both on their way here to take formal charge of the prisoners."
Then we're dead, Blake thought to himself. Servalan wants the Liberator, and Travis--well, I know what he wants. If ever we needed a plan, now is the time. "A pity you won't be delivering us yourself," he said, surprising the commander.
"What do you mean?" Rosman demanded.
"I should think it obvious," Blake explained. "Space Commander Travis will no doubt claim whatever share of the credit is left after Servalan takes hers. And you'll be lucky to receive even an honorable mention." From the frustrated look on the man's face, Blake knew he'd read the man right. Maybe they had a chance after all, slim, but still a chance.
"We'll see about that," snapped the officer, turning to his aide. "See to their injuries and watch them carefully."
It had been four hours since the party teleported down when Zen suddenly intoned, "Information. Long range scanners have detected a solitary Federation ship approaching our position."
"Have they detected us yet?" Vila asked nervously.
"Good. Keep the deflectors on maximum, Zen."
"Avon. There's a Federation ship coming in. What do you think I should do?" No response. "Avon, are you all right? Avon, answer me!"
On board the incoming ship, Servalan stood watching Travis pace the deck. When she received the transmission from Dastar, she had recalled him to Space Command Headquarters in order to pick her up. He was still fuming over the loss of time.
"They have Blake and most of the crew, Travis," she soothed. "Control your impatience."
"Whoever got away could still attempt a rescue," Travis countered.
"Do you really believe Vila is capable of trying anything like that?" Servalan asked, smiling.
Travis stopped pacing and smiled. "Now that changes the picture considerably, Supreme Commander."
"I thought it might," she purred. "As soon as we have the Liberator, you may dispense with Blake. The rest of the crew will be then delivered alive for public trial and execution on Earth."
Travis stroked his hand laser in anticipation. "As long as I get Blake, Supreme Commander."
"Oh, you will, Travis," she promised. "You will."
The door to the cell block slid open and Servalan, flanked by Travis, walked in. "Well, Blake, it seems your luck has finally run out," she said.
Blake looked at her intently. "We're still a long way from Earth, Supreme Commander."
"You are ever the optimist," she sighed.
"Oh, he was always that," Travis confirmed. "That's what made his moves so predictable."
"Predictable? Hardly," said Blake. "Or did you 'predict' I would come so close to killing you that time on Earth?"
Travis pushed Blake hard against the wall, pressing his mechanical arm menacingly across the other man's throat. "But you didn't kill me, Blake, and that was your mistake."
"I insist the prisoners be treated properly," a loud voice cracked behind him.
Travis whirled to face Rosman, who stood glaring at him. "You insist," he laughed. "These prisoners are now under our 'protection'. And..."
"And we shall treat them according to Federation regulations," Servalan finished, her eyes warning Travis. "You must tell me, Commander Rosman, how you accomplished something even the distinguished Space Commander Travis was unable to do."
Travis' eyes were hateful as Servalan took the garrison commander by the arm and led him from the room. Then he turned back to Blake. "I promised you that I'd kill you, Blake."
"Yes, you did," mused the rebel leader. "In fact, you're always saying it. What's keeping you this time? Fear of the Supreme Commander's displeasure?" The blow came too fast for Blake to dodge and he was knocked to the floor. Travis then stormed from the room.
"I believe you touched a tender subject," Gan ventured, helping his companion to his feet.
Blake rubbed his sore jaw and nodded. "It appears so. I wonder what they have planned for us."
"I wish I knew how Avon and Vila were faring," Cally wondered.
"Avon? Please answer me," Vila wailed. But there was no response. As Vila got up to check on him, the communicator chimed.
"Blake, is that you? Where the hell...?"
"Vila, this is Supreme Commander Servalan." The thief sank slowly back into his seat as she continued. "Your companions are my prisoners. You will teleport both myself and Travis up immediately or I will let him kill one of your friends."
Vila had a fair idea which person Travis would start with. "I don't believe you, Servalan," he answered. "Blake is worth more to you alive."
Servalan frowned. The thief was not as stupid as he looked. "Who said anything about Blake, Vila? No, I was thinking more of one of your charming female companions or the other man, Gan, is it?"
Gan, Vila thought desperately. No, not Gan. But she said it could be Jenna or Cally, too. "Give me a minute to think," he muttered.
"Of course. You have one minute, Vila, then Travis will make his choice."
The comm went dead. Vila nervously tried the medical unit again. "Avon, this is no time to act high and mighty. I can't make this decision on my own. I need your help. Avon!" But there still was no answer.
"You're bluffing, Servalan," Blake told her. "Vila knows you won't kill any of us. The Federation wants us alive."
"You overestimate your value, Blake," she replied with a smile. "And Vila will do as I ask. You'll see."
As if in answer to her comment, the communicator chimed. "Servalan, I've thought about it and the answer is no."
Servalan looked at Blake in surprise. "I told you he was no fool," the rebel leader remarked, feeling very proud of Vila.
"And that's your final word," she asked, nodding to Travis.
"Uh, yes, it is," Vila answered.
"All right, Travis, make your choice," Servalan ordered.
Travis smiled and grabbed Gan by the injured arm. "I haven't had much practice lately and would prefer a big target, Supreme Commander. I choose the big one."
"Gan," she corrected, watching Blake's face. "I'm leaving the channel open, Vila, should you change your mind. It will, of course, be too late for Gan, but you may be able to save the others."
On board the Liberator, Vila sat sweating and talking to himself. "She won't do it," he murmured. "I know she won't do it." Then there was a shot and Gan yelled.
"That leaves three left, Vila," came the soft voice over the communicator. "You have one minute before Travis executes another of your friends." Servalan closed down the contact.
"Avon?" Vila cried frantically. "She's killed Gan. She's going to kill the others. What should I do? Please tell me what I should do?" The medical unit was silent. Not even a groan. Maybe Avon's dead, too, Vila thought suddenly. That's it. He's had another one of those attacks and I'm up here all by myself.
The bracelet communicator chimed, making Vila jump. "You have less than thirty seconds left, Vila," Travis laughed. "And in case you're wondering, I was thinking of the Auron next. They tell me even their minds scream when they die. It will be interesting to find out, won't it?" The communicator went dead.
Vila trembled with fear and indecision. "I can't save the others all by myself. But Servalan will kill us all if she gets on board. What to do?" Seconds ticked away. Then an idea popped into his head. "It might work. Even if it doesn't, what do I have to lose?" he muttered and opened up the computer link. "Zen, are you equipped with any type of tranquilizer gas?"
There was a brief pause as Zen analyzed the request. "The ship is equipped for limited distribution but a period of fifteen minutes would be required before the substance is accessible for use."
"Fifteen minutes, huh?" murmured Vila. "All right, start making it up. Then when I give the word, release the gas in the medical unit. Do you understand?"
"Your time is up," announced Servalan's voice over the communicator. "Really, Vila, I was not aware that you cared so little for your companions."
"No, wait. Wait a minute, Servalan," he begged. "I've...I've changed my mind. Please don't hurt anyone else. I'll bring you up."
Servalan smiled at Blake, and motioned Travis away from Cally. "You see, it took a little longer than I anticipated but I knew he would give in."
Travis sneered at Blake, then activated his bracelet. "Teleport us up. And no tricks, Restal, or the rest of your friends are dead."
"There'll be no tricks, Travis," stammered Vila as he moved the controls.
"Move away from there, Vila," Servalan ordered and Vila complied. "Now, I want you to lead us to the flight deck."
"Don't you want to see Avon first?" Vila inquired innocently.
"Avon?" Servalan asked in surprise. "You mean he's alive?"
"Uh, yes. He is." At least, I hope he is, Vila thought to himself. "He was hurt pretty bad on Atar, but he's getting better. This ship can fix almost anything."
"Don't believe him, Servalan, it's a trick," Travis warned, pointing his hand laser at Vila.
"No...no, it's not. He's in the medical unit," Vila cried. "You know me, Servalan, I couldn't fool you."
Servalan smiled. "No, you couldn't. All right, Vila, take us to Avon, but move very carefully."
Slowly, the party walked through the winding corridors until they reached their destination. Vila opened the door. "He's right in there."
"You first," Travis snapped, pushing Vila inside.
Vila caught his balance, then froze. Avon lay very still on the couch, his eyes open, looking as pallid as when they had first brought him up from Atar. Was he dead? wondered Vila. No, don't even want to think about that.
"I believe alive might be an overstatement," Travis remarked as he and Servalan gazed at Avon.
"Yes," Servalan agreed, gliding over to the couch. "He doesn't look at all well."
The attack had left Avon very weak, but not so weak that he did not realize what was happening. Blake had been betrayed and there was only one way Servalan and Travis could have gotten on board. Vila. As his eyes came to rest on the poor thief, they burned with rage.
"Avon, I had to," Vila stammered. "Don't you understand? They killed Gan and threatened to kill the others. I had to..." His explanation was cut off as Travis knocked Vila to one side. Vila hit the wall next to the door and slid limply to the floor.
Servalan smiled down at Avon. "You left enough blood back on Atar to make Travis think you were dead, Avon. But I'm glad you're not. You see, I have a problem I think you can help me with."
"Problem?" Avon's voice was shaky despite his attempts to keep it steady.
"Yes," she answered. "When you were on Atar, either you or one of the others removed a small metal box. I want that box and its contents, Avon.
His face gave nothing away as Avon replied, "I don't know what you are talking about, Servalan."
"You disappoint me, Avon," she replied, frowning slightly. "Perhaps Space Commander Travis can change your mind."
"I doubt it," was all Avon said, although he knew of Travis' methods of obtaining information.
Travis approached the couch and laid a hand callously on Avon's left leg. "Contrary to what others may say, Avon, I do not enjoy inflicting pain. Why don't you tell the Supreme Commander what she wants to know?" He squeezed ever so lightly, watching his captive's face.
Avon kept his face calm, despite the pain. He knew he could not hold out for long, but he would not give in easily. Involuntarily, his eyes strayed to Vila's crumpled form lying on the floor, remembering what Vila had said. If Travis had killed Gan and then threatened the others, there was little else Vila could have done but give up. Blake would have understood. And so would I, he admitted belatedly. I'm sorry, Vila.
Servalan's patience began to run out as Avon remained stubbornly silent. "Don't be a fool, Avon. Why put yourself through all this suffering?" But Avon still said nothing. She sighed. "Travis, I'm afraid you'll have to be more persuasive."
"As you wish, Supreme Commander," he replied with a nod. Removing the bandages from Avon's injured right leg, Travis began applying pressure on the healing wound, gently at first, then increasing it slowly in the metal vise which was his mechanical hand. "The box, Avon," he said in a low, even tone. "Where is the box?"
Avon knew what was coming and tried to prepare for it. Tried and failed as the torrent of pain overwhelmed his defenses, drawing a gasp from his clenched lips. Silently cursing himself, he struggled to regain control, but the agony was simply too great.
"Tell us where it is and the pain will stop," droned the space commander's voice in his ears.
"No." Avon's answer was no more than a whisper.
"Enough," Servalan snapped abruptly. "This is pointless. If Avon won't tell us, I'm sure Vila can be persuaded."
Avon gasped as the pressure was released, turning his pain-filled eyes to where Vila lay, but Vila was gone. There was blood on the wall so Vila was hurt, but where had he gone to? Where? thought Avon as pain and darkness claimed him.
Vila regained consciousness in time to see Travis tighten his grip on Avon's injured leg and hear Avon's gasp of pain. Unable to help him, Vila crawled quietly from the room and down the corridor. When he was sure it was safe, he pulled himself to his feet and took a deep breath, trying to steady his shaking body. Then he staggered to the flight deck and down the steps.
"Zen," Vila murmured, holding onto the flight seat for support. "Secure the medical unit door and flood the room with gas." Dizziness and throbbing pain warred in his head while blood trickled down the side of his face. But all Vila could think of was getting Avon away from his tormenters.
Travis followed Avon's gaze and shouted, "The thief. He's gone."
"Find him, you fool," Servalan ordered, then whirled as the door slid shut. "He's locked us in.
"I told you I should have killed him," Travis snapped, pushing her to one side and readying his laser. "Once I've blasted this door open, I'll..." He never finished. The gas filtering through the ventilation system overpowered everyone in the medical unit in seconds.
On the flight deck, Zen announced, "Operation completed. Total saturation is confirmed."
Vila sank onto the flight couch in relief. "How long will the gas keep then out, Zen?"
"Normal period of tranquilization is one hour."
"Good. That will give me time to get them tied up before they come to," Vila calculated. "And I'd better do something about Avon, too."
Down on the planet, Commander Rosman was growing uneasy. It had been nearly forty minutes since Supreme Commander Servalan and Travis had teleported up and not a word.
"Try them again," he instructed. Blake's words were beginning to echo in his mind. 'Not even an honorable mention.' He and his men had captured the renegades and he was damned if any female and her henchman were going to rob him of his just recognition.
"Nothing, sir," reported the communications engineer.
In the holding area, Blake was also wondering what was happening above. Vila's voice had sounded strange. Frightened, yes, but there was something else there, too. And Avon? Blake found himself wishing he'd followed his advice just this once.
Cally studied her leader's face. She did not need the ability to read minds to know what he was thinking. "Blake, there was always the chance of this happening. You must not blame yourself."
"I know, Cally. It's not that. I keep wondering what's going on up there," he replied quietly.
"Maybe they took the ship and left," Jenna ventured. "After all, Zen will obey anyone's commands. Avon told you to...."
"I know, Jenna, I know. I should safeguard Zen with only our voice patterns being accepted for command." He looked across at Cally. "Have you tried reaching them telepathically, Cally?"
"Yes," she sighed. "But the distance is too great. Besides, there is no way we would know if they received my thoughts anyway. No, Blake, we must wait and see what Fate decrees."
Blake nodded and stared up at the ceiling as if hoping that he could somehow see the ship and know that his friends were all right.
When Avon opened his eyes, he found himself lying on the couch at the teleport station and wondered how he got there. Then he saw the empty emergency stretcher nearby, which somehow had sprouted wheels. Necessity is the mother of invention, Avon thought to himself with a smile and glanced across the room.
On the floor near the teleport grid, Vila was busy with Servalan and Travis. Both were still unconscious, but Vila was taking no chances, securing their hands tightly behind their backs.
In a futile attempt to ease his legs into a more comfortable position, Avon groaned and Vila turned around and smiled. "So you're awake at last." The relief in his eyes and in his voice was all too plain.
"Sometime you must tell me how you did it," Avon commented wryly.
"It wasn't easy, I can tell you," Vila moaned. "Took me three trips getting the lot of you down here."
"Nothing ever is for you," Avon remarked. "Tell me, do you also have a plan for saving the others?"
Vila grimaced. "I knew I should have left you in the medical unit. Cally will have my head for moving you down here."
"What an interesting idea," Avon said, amused. "Now help me operate the communicator."
Vila got to his feet and carefully positioned Avon so he could reach the control on the console. Then drawing the blaster from his belt, Vila turned to face the prisoners. "I've got them covered, Avon. Go ahead."
"I don't think they're going anywhere, Vila." Then he activated the control. "This is Avon on board the Liberator. We have Servalan and Travis. What do you propose to do about it?"
Vila winced. That was putting Blake and the others in a very precarious position. Then he smiled; Servalan and Travis were coming around. Too bad Gan wasn't there to see the expressions on their faces. But Gan is dead, Vila mourned, murdered by Travis.
Avon waited with a patience Vila hadn't thought possible. Then the communicator chimed. "I don't see where we have much of a choice," came a reluctant voice. "Teleport them down and we'll send your people up to you."
"You must think I'm a fool," Avon replied. "No. I will bring Blake and the others up first, then return Servalan and Travis to you."
"What guarantee do we have that you'll keep your side of the bargain?" the frustrated garrison commander demanded.
"You don't. You have one minute," Avon countered and broke the contact.
"That's cutting it a bit fine, isn't it?" Vila asked fearfully.
"Don't worry, Vila," he answered, looking at Servalan and Travis. "They have no choice if they want their precious Supreme Commander back."
"I should have let Travis kill you, Avon," Servalan said. "Next time...."
"What makes you think there'll be a next time?" he queried with a predatory smile.
Servalan smiled back. "Blake won't let you kill us. His sense of honor would not permit it."
Avon's reply was cut off. "We accept your terms," the garrison commander mumbled. "But you'll have to send someone down with two more bracelets."
"Agreed," Avon returned looking at his companion.
The thief laid the blaster on the console and grabbed the bracelets. "All set," he said, stepping onto the grid below.
"Teleporting now," Avon announced to the party below.
Blake thought Vila looked terrible as he materialized. The strain of whatever had happened above clearly showed in his face. The thief's pallor grew as he saw Gan lying against the wall.
"He's not dead, Vila, just stunned," Cally assured him. "Servalan wanted you to believe Travis had killed him." Then she saw blood on the side of Vila's face. "What happened?"
"It's nothing, Cally," he answered, brushing aside her hand as she tried to check the wound. "I didn't duck fast enough, that's all."
"And Avon?" Blake asked, twisting Vila around to face him. "That was his voice we heard. How is he?"
"None the worse for wear," Vila replied. "But I thought for sure that Travis had..."
Blake didn't get a chance to answer as a voice over Vila's bracelet demanded, "Vila, do you have then?"
"I told you he was all right," Vila muttered, switching on his communicator. "Yes, Avon. They're all here and Gan's not dead after all. It was just a trick."
Avon smiled at the relief in Vila's voice. "Tell them to prepare for teleport, Vila," he replied, adjusting the coordinates.
Vila had tied Servalan and Travis as tightly as he could but he had not reckoned with the strength in the space commander's artificial arm. While Avon's attention was diverted to the teleport console, Travis worked on loosening his bonds.
The communicator chimed and Blake's anxious voice broke the silence. "Avon, we're ready to teleport."
As Avon activated the controls, the final link snapped and Travis scrambled to his feet, bringing his hand laser up to fire. Avon caught the movement and ducked awkwardly down behind the console, grabbing for the weapon Vila had left as he did. Travis blasted the spot Avon had occupied seconds before, but didn't get a second chance. Avon fired twice in rapid succession, his first shot destroying Travis' metal arm while the second sent the space commander howling to the floor.
When Blake and the others materialized on board a split second later, Avon was struggling in vain to get back on the teleport couch. Travis lay near the teleport grid, screaming in pain as blood poured from his shattered right knee.
Blake ran to his companion. "Avon, are you all right?"
The computer expert looked up at him through blurry eyes. "I have felt better," he managed to say, then everything went dark.
Cally checked him and sighed. "Gan, let's get him back to the medical unit."
"This is beginning to become a habit," he replied with a smile and gently picked the unconscious man up and followed her down the corridor.
Blake watched them for a moment, then turned. "Vila, help me move them onto the grid." The thief nodded. Servalan shook off Vila's help and managed to get to her feet by herself. Travis was another matter. It took both Blake and Vila to drag him into position.
Vila chanced a look at Travis' wound and said, "It's not too bad, Travis. A bit painful, though." Then his face turned serious. "If it'd been me, I'd have blown your head off."
Servalan stared at Vila for a minute, then said, "This time, I misjudged your crew, Blake. I will not make the same mistake again. And there will be another time, Blake. Mark my words."
"Put them down, Vila," Blake ordered without bothering to answer.
"I'll kill you, Blake," Travis yelled as Vila activated the controls. "I'll kill you all." Servalan looked down at the bleeding man in disgust, then they disappeared.
"I'm all right, Cally," Avon snapped as she felt his forehead.
"You don't mind if I see for myself," the Auron shot back. "And what happened to your leg?" Avon winced as she touched the spot that Travis had played upon and Cally looked up in concern.
Avon feigned annoyance. "The bandage was too tight so I removed it."
She eyed him questioningly for a moment, then continued her examination. "He appears all right, Blake," she sighed at last. "And the bones seem to be healing normally despite the exertion." She looked at Avon suspiciously. "Why did you leave the medical unit?"
"More important," Blake asked, "how did you manage to overcome Travis and Servalan?"
Avon glanced at Vila. "You'll have to ask Vila. I really don't remember very much."
Blake looked at Vila and grinned. "So you're responsible for the rescue, eh?"
The thief was startled for a moment, then shrugged. "Sort of. I didn't know what to do. I couldn't raise Avon. He must have had another of those attacks or something. So I tried something they had used against me."
"Who had?" Gan inquired.
"The Federation, of course. How else do you think I got caught the last time, Gan? They had a room baited with a beautiful collection of rare gemstones they knew I couldn't resist. The minute I picked them up, they flooded the room with gas."
"So you turned the tables on them," Blake laughed.
"But how did you know they would go to the medical unit?" Jenna asked curiously.
"Well...I sort of hoped that hearing Avon was still alive might bring them here." Vila looked at Avon with misery plain in his eyes. "Of course, I didn't know what would happen," he added.
"Why?" Blake demanded. "What happened?"
"Nothing concerning you," Avon commented, his eyes warning Vila.
"Anyway," Vila continued hastily, "Once the gas knocked everyone out, I had Zen circulate the fresh air and I hauled everyone down to the teleport, including Avon." Cally frowned at that. "Look, Cally, if he had any more of those attacks, I could at least be there to help him, right?"
The Auron was forced to agree. "I suppose so," she conceded, glancing at Avon. "He hasn't had any more since then, has he?"
"No," Vila sighed in relief. "I made him as comfortable as possible, then tied up Servalan and Travis."
"And when I came to," Avon broke in, "I took over since Vila appeared to be at a loss as to how to continue. The rest you know."
Blake looked from Avon to Vila. There was obviously more to it than that but neither of the men would admit to it. "All right, I'll accept it for now," he exclaimed. "Jenna, get the ship out of here. We were very lucky this time and I'm not about to tempt Fate again."
"I thoroughly agree," she said and headed for the flight deck.
Glancing at Cally, Avon announced, "One more thing, Blake. Now that I feel able, I intend to go to my cabin."
Cally was immediately against the Idea. "Avon, you're not strong enough yet."
"How do you know?" he fired back.
"It will be at least a week before your leg heals completely and then it will be stiff for a while," the Auron explained.
"You do seem to have a problem staying on your feet, Avon," Blake mused.
Avon frowned. "I admit it is inconvenient, Blake. But it is my problem, is it not?"
"Yes, Avon, it is. If you wish to retire to your cabin, I will not stand in your way," Blake replied. He knew Avon hated depending on others, but Avon had to keep off that leg or it might not heal properly. "However, to ease Cally's mind, I ask that you not attempt any little excursions without notifying someone."
The frown deepened on Avon's face as he looked at his companions. "Very well. Since you seem determined that I have a watchdog, Blake, let Vila do it."
"I thought you didn't need a nursemaid?" Vila asked with a mischievous grin.
"I don't," Avon snapped. "But If we run into trouble, your absence from the flight deck will pose no problems to the running of the ship."
"Oh," Vila muttered in dismay.
"Now I am going to my cabin," Avon announced and started to slide off the couch. The instant his foot touched the floor, he winced involuntarily.
"Gan, didn't you say you were going near Avon's cabin?" Blake inquired innocently, catching the other man's eye.
The gentle giant smiled. "As a matter of fact, I was. Can I give you a hand, Avon?" Without waiting for an answer, Gan scooped him off his feet.
To struggle would be both futile and undignified, so Avon contented himself with glaring at Gan. Then he sighed and said, "Under the circumstances, I accept your offer."
"Then I think you'd better take a look at my back, Cally," Gan said with a laugh. "After all this lifting, I think I've strained something."
"Not your brain, that is certain," Avon remarked. "Can we get on with this farce?"
"All right, Avon. You'd better come along, too Vila," the big man added. "There's no telling what else he may want done and frankly, I'm a bit tired."
The thief nodded and followed as Gan, carrying Avon, headed for the door. "And Vila," Cally called after them, "when Avon's through with you, I want to check that cut. It's bleeding again."
Vila started to protest, then saw the concern in her eyes. "All right, Cally."
Once the door had closed, Blake burst into laughter. Cally looked at him curiously for a minute, then smiled. "I wonder what really happened?" she asked.
"I don't think we'll ever find out, Cally," Blake sighed.
Jenna's voice broke in. "Blake, I can't run the whole bloody ship myself. Get up here."
"Coming, Jenna," Blake replied via the wall comm. "Don't worry, Cally. With Vila watching over Avon, what could happen?"
"What could happen?" she asked incredulously. Then she realized he was teasing. "With those two," she chuckled, "who knows, Blake, who knows?"
"BLAKE!" Jenna's voice echoed through the ship.
"She's getting to sound more like Avon every day," Blake grumbled. "And don't you dare tell her I said that," he added, heading for the flight deck.
"I won't." Cally smiled and began putting the instruments away.
In Avon's cabin, Gan gently lowered the injured man onto his bed. Avon's legs still throbbed painfully, but he knew that would pass.
Gan smiled at the relief he read in Avon's eyes and said, "I better turn in. I've the next shift. Wouldn't do to fall asleep on watch. Good night."
"Good night, Gan," Vila replied, then turned toward the bed. "Do you need anything else, Avon?"
"No, Vila. I think I'll just try to get some sleep."
"Sleep's just the thing. You'll be yourself in no time." I could use some myself, he thought, yawning.
But as he turned to leave, Avon grabbed his arm. "Vila, I'm...sorry for what I thought."
The thief was surprised. It was rare when Avon apologized to anyone, and never when it came to Vila. "That's all right. I probably would have thought the same myself. I wasn't sure it would work anyway." The color drained from Vila's face. "And I certainly didn't think Servalan would...would have Travis do anything like that."
"Servalan is ambitious, Vila," Avon replied. "Ambitious and clever. A dangerous combination under any circumstances." Then he smiled. "But, your plan did work and that is all that matters."
Vila's face brightened. "Yes, it did." With a mischievous grin, he added, "You wouldn't care to hear the details right now, would you?"
"No," Avon snapped back. "Turn off the light on your way out."
"All right," Vila mumbled.
But as he switched off the light, Avon's voice called through the darkness. "Vila, thank you."
Vila smiled. "Anytime, Avon." The door slid shut behind him. "Anytime."
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