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A Lamb to Guide the Lion

By Jean Graham
Page 3 of 5

Zen's voice startled Cally from a routine check of the Liberator's orbit status.

+Information+ he intoned. +Federation pursuit craft are approaching Liberator on vector zero zero four from planet's surface. Interception will occur in fourteen point seven minutes.+

"How many ships, Zen? And have they detected us?"

+Two pursuit vehicles have been launched. Flight pattern indicates standard search formation. Sensors have not recorded scanner radiation.+

"Orbit adjustment to one-eight-five, Zen. Keep Belleron between us and those ships for just a few minutes longer."

+Confirmed.+

Cally did not hear the computer's reply. She was already halfway to the teleport section.

Minutes later, a retrieved landing party was on its way back to the flight deck with Blake in the lead. Vila trailed behind, secretly pleased at the excuse to come "home," yet hoping Blake would not be foolhardy enough to tackle Federation pursuit ships head on, even with the Liberator.

"Status report, Zen." Blake slid into his flight position, encumbered by the gun and field equipment he'd had no time to remove.

+Pursuit craft have split formation. Now approaching Liberator at opposing vectors zero two zero and zero seven five.+

"I didn't think it would work for long," Cally murmured.

"Let's get out of here," Vila prompted from his own chair. "They know we're out here."

"They suspect we're out here," Blake corrected. "So they sent up search craft. That can only mean one thing."

Of the three gazes that fell on him, only Jenna's was understanding. "The Federation have Avon and Gan," she said.

"Very probably. But they don't know who they -- or we -- are yet."

"So let's not send them a paid advertisement, shall we?" Vila urged. "Can we go?"

Blake made a swift systems check before stepping down to the deck area in front of the alien ship's computer. "Zen," he said. "Take us out of orbit, standard by three. Take us out 500 spacials and hold. Keep me informed on the pursuit ships' movements at regular intervals."

+Confirmed.+

Cally made adjustments to the flight console as the huge ship began to vibrate gently beneath them. "Are you going to wait them out?" she asked.

"We'll be out of their detector range. When they don't find us, maybe they'll go home again."

Jenna frowned. "And if they decide to start searching farther out instead?"

Blake gave her a hard look, his jaw set with stern determination. "Then we'll deal with them," he said.

*     *     *

Through many back alleys and lesser-travelled roads, the building into which Dro eventually led Gan and Avon was one of several long, woodframe dormitories built to house the Delta workers. He ushered them into a back room, where racks and shelves of drab brown clothing lined the walls, and began rummaging immediately for something large enough to fit Gan. Ultimately, he selected two sets of clothing and handed the entire bundle to Gan, still casting wary glances at Avon.

"Put these on," he said. "You can wash in the next room. Then just follow this hall into the main dining room. I'll introduce you to my family."

"What about Davin?" Avon demanded before Dro could turn to go. "We still need to retrieve those bracelets."

For the first time, Dro looked Avon directly in the eye. He waited a long time before he answered. "There's a small resistance movement on Belleron," he said. "I'll talk to our leader, Argus. If he thinks these bracelets of yours are worth risking an organized raid, he'll let you know. Tomorrow."

"Tonight would be better. I'll want to talk to this Argus. If he--" But Dro had gone before Avon could finish. Incensed at the affront, Avon turned his fury on Gan. "Tomorrow will be too late!"

"Relax, Avon. Blake is not going to leave us here."

"Blake is the least of our worries. If Davin succeeds in identifying me--"

"Then the last place he'll be likely to look for you is among a dormitory full of Deltas." Gan pressed the smaller of the brown tunics into Avon's hands. "Go on. Change into these." When Avon eyed the clothing with obvious distaste, he added, "Davin's not the least of our worries either, you know. If you want to survive the night right here, we've got to somehow convince those people out there that you're a Delta."

At that, the look of distaste grew into unsheathed repulsion.

Gan permitted himself a mildly amused smile. "I know that won't be easy, Avon. But try. For both our sakes?"

When they had each donned the borrowed clothing, Gan checked Avon over and frowned at the result.

"Only you could still make Delta drab look Alphan," he complained.

Avon's glare had withered lesser men. "Sorry," he said, clearly not meaning it. "But I'm afraid I fail to see the point of this exercise at all. We are wasting valuable time."

"You said you wanted to talk to this Argus," Gan said patiently. "He's probably the only one can get us to Davin, or better yet to a communications station where we can contact the Liberator."

Avon's contempt receded a little as he chided himself for not considering that possibility. There were times when Gan surprised him. Aloud, he said, "These are your people. Or they were. How do you go about passing yourself off as one of them again?"

"It's not the same," Gan told him. "Not exactly, anyhow. Well, try not to stand so straight, for one thing. And let me do most of the talking, till it comes to Argus anyway. And..."

"And?"

Gan looked hard at him. The dark eyes glittered back. "You'd probably do better to keep your eyes down."

He saw bewilderment cross Avon's face at that. Could he really not know that his eyes were the most articulate part of him? They spoke more of arrogance, of pride and wealth and upper class than words could ever do. His eyes alone were enough to label him an Alpha, and in this place, that would not be an advantage.

"Just do it, Avon." Gan had no idea how to vocalize his concern. "Trust me. "

It was the wrong thing to say. Avon trusted no one. Gan wondered if he ever had.

The dining hall was a din of human voices laced with the aroma of roasting meat. Tables crowded with brown clad workers stretched under the high-beamed roof. An enormous central firepit labored to cook several haunches of meat on rotating spits. No one seemed to notice the newcomers' arrival until Dro materialized from the crowd to grasp Gan's arm and pull him toward a table.

"Come in, come in. You're just in time to eat."

Avon hung back as Dro enthusiastically introduced Gan and "Myan" to the table full of people, most of them relatives. Only one name seized Avon's attention. Dro had called the broad, red-bearded man with the wool overcoat "Argus." He was presently pumping Gan's hand, having risen from the table, and proceeded to do the same to Avon, mouthing "happy to meet you" platitudes. He did not look like much of a resistance fighter to Avon, who met the man's eyes and said quietly, "It is important that I speak with you. Alone."

Argus' broad hands moved to clasp Avon's shoulders, a gesture apparently meant to be congenial. The reaction was anything but, though Argus chose to ignore that. "Glad you could join us," he said loudly. "Be sure to stay for the festivities after dinner, will you? They're sure to be interesting."

Gan was summarily guided to the table and sandwiched in between two of the relatives. Avon declined both the seating and the meal, preferring to stand against the nearby wall, in partial shadow, and watch. Whenever too-curious gazes were directed his way, he studiously admired the wooden floor. Lost in thought, he had tuned out most of the table conversation until he heard Argus say, "You're friend doesn't say much."

"Don't mind Myan," Gan said, perhaps a little too quickly. "He's a very good worker, really, but a little... well ... slow."

Avon did not look up, but Gan could sense the dark eyes burning holes into the floorboards.

Dro's sister Syl, who was thirty and not at all unattractive, spoke quietly to one of the brothers, then rose from the table and disappeared into the kitchen. She returned a moment later with a plate of food and pressed it resolutely into Avon's hands.

"Eat," she said in sympathetic tones. "You'll need your strength to work tomorrow." Squeezing his hand, she returned to her place at the table. Gan found himself wishing he could have bottled the look on Avon's face to show Vila and the others later, when they were back aboard Liberator. That thought made him frown for a moment, remembering Avon's pessimism about Blake's returning for them. It was pointless to worry, of course. Avon was wrong, that was all. Even an Alpha-prime genius could be wrong, couldn't he?

Shunting the thought aside, Gan bent to concentrate on his meal, noting with some satisfaction that Avon, though he still stood aloof against the wall, had done the same.

*     *     *

Jenna Stannis drummed bored fingers on her flight console. "They're still out there," she said.

Blake gazed wearily at Zen's visual display of the pursuit ships encircling Belleron. "Yes, I can see that."

"Well, are we just going to sit here?"

"They haven't extended the search pattern."

"That isn't what I meant." The hard edge in Jenna's voice reflected more than boredom. Cally cast her a sharp glance.

"What are you suggesting?" she asked.

Vila's sleepy voice came from the lounging area. "That we leave. What else?"

Blake shook his head, a slow and contemplative gesture. "We're not going anywhere."

"They could both be dead by now," Jenna said coldly.

"We don't know that."

"No, but I'm not sure finding out is worth the risk." At Blake's questioning look, she added, "Avon would have left you, you know. On Cygnus Alpha."

"But he didn't."

Jenna's scowl deepened. "He would have done." She left the rest unspoken, though it was clear enough to Blake. If it hadn't been for me.

"I'm not concerned with what Avon may or may not have done," he said curtly. Jenna's -- and Vila's -- willingness to abandon the others both annoyed and disappointed him. He had hoped that by now, their criminal backgrounds notwithstanding, his crew might have developed some semblance of loyalty toward one another. What galled even further was the knowledge that Jenna was right about Avon. Of them all, Blake knew Avon to be the most untrustworthy, and that also made him the most dangerous...

"Zen," he said, the abrupt command making Vila start. "Can you monitor outgoing messages from the Federation base on Belleron?"

+Affirmative.+

"Have there been any such messages concerning prisoners taken near the Delta grade manufacturing complexes?"

Zen's lights meandered slowly across the amber fascia for several moments before he answered. +There has been one subspace transmission of data requesting fingerprint identification.+

"Transmission to where?"

+Message destination is the planet Azrus.+

"The nearest Federation computer link," Cally supplied. "And by subspace beam transmission. Avon was right. They really do have antiquated facilities."

Blake sat down at his flight position, unconsciously biting at the knuckles of his right hand. After a long moment, he said, "Why ask for fingerprint ID? Why not voiceprint, or better yet a hologram of the prisoners themselves? Unless..."

"Unless they don't have prisoners," Cally finished. "Only something that belonged to them. Something they'd touched."

"Like guns," Blake said. "Or teleport bracelets. Zen, maintain surveillance of messages coming in or out of Belleron. And I want periodic status reports on those pursuit ships. I want to know the instant they break formation."

+Confirmed.+

Vila's head came up over the back of the couch, trepidation written in his eyes. "Should I ask what that means?" And then half to himself, "Do I really want to know?"

Blake leaned back, arms folded over his broad chest. "It means," he said, "we're staying."

*     *      *


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