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Then There Were Seven

By Louise Watson-Carver
Page 3 of 3

INFORMATION. THREE FEDERATION PURSUIT SHIPS ARE CLOSING ON LIBERATOR'S POSITION, SPEED STANDARD BY TWO. SHIPS WILL BE IN FIRING RANGE IN 8 MINUTES.

"What the hell--Zen, where did those ships come from?" Blake rose to a half-crouch on the seat, staring at the oval panel of translucent mottled brown inset on the far wall. Coloured bars marched through the cloudy depths as the voice answered:

FEDERATION PURSUIT SHIPS ENTERED SYSTEM AS ESCORT FOR A SMALL PERSONAL VESSEL OF THE SPACEFARER CLASS. THIS VESSEL HAS NOW LANDED AT THE MALTHUS SIGMA PENAL FACILITY.

Avon was also looking at the panel, his face tight with suspicion. "Zen, identify the vessel."

REGISTRATION OF VESSEL IS TERRAN AUTHORITY 127-LX-

"Don't give us the registration, just identify the damn thing!" Avon snapped. Unflustered, unhurried, the resonant voice replied:

LIBRARY COMPUTERS IDENTIFY VESSEL AS FSV WHITE TIGER, PERSONAL VESSEL OF--

"Federation Supreme Commander Servalan, yes, Zen, we know." Avon turned to glare at Blake, his face set and his brown eyes bright with anger. "Enough talk, Blake. We have to get out of here!"

"At ease, Avon." Taymar Merric leveled her laser at Avon, unimpressed by his rage. Smiling tightly, she said, "The pursuit ships aren't going to be a problem. They're not going to fire on us, not with White Tiger in port. And if she's here... then perhaps we won't have to go all the way to Earth after all."

"Blake, they must have signaled Servalan as soon as we were brought us in--" Jenna began.

"Sooner," Taymar interrupted. "You obviously don't understand just how important your capture is to my aunt. She's trying to uphold the law while you lawless few try to tear it down. She needs to see you held accountable. She probably got underway the moment she heard you'd finally been captured... and her trip won't be a wasted one." Taymar's tone was proud, fiercely satisfied. "And now she'll be able to take possession of Liberator completely intact."

In the long silence that followed, the strident beeping of the communications station was insistent. Blake lifted his head and met Taymar's eyes. Without turning his head, he said, "Gan, get to communications. Find out who it is and what they want."

"Right." The big man got up at once and headed for his station. He didn't even glance at Captain Merric in passing. She said nothing, just nodded once, her eyes still locked with Blake's.

"Liberator calling, Liberator calling." Gan's voice was steady as he returned the hail. "We hear you. Go ahead."

The voice was clear, realistic, without the tinny inflection even the most advanced Federation communicators tended to impart. "Attention, Liberator. This is Captain Jerge Petrik commanding Federation assault wing Delta. Hold your position and wait for rendez-vous. If you attempt to manoeuvre, you will be fired upon."

"I don't think so," Taymar said to Blake. "He's bluffing."

"And what if he isn't?" Vila demanded. "He's got three ships and we've only got one... why would he need to bluff?"

"Be quiet, Vila," Cally ordered, frowning. "You're not helping."

"Thank you, Cally," Blake said briskly. Then, to Gan, "Tell them about our guest, and see what they say."

Gan nodded. "Right." He touched a control and leaned forward. "Attention Captain Petrik, we have a Federation officer aboard. If you fire on us--" Gan glanced down at Blake for confirmation. Blake nodded. "--we'll kill her."

Blake looked back at Taymar and smiled. "Sorry about that," he said casually. "Just a little misdirection."

"Is it now," said Avon quietly.

"Attention Liberator. It seems extremely unlikely that you have any of our officers aboard your vessel. It's a lot more likely that you're simply bluffing. Well, Liberator, I'm calling your bluff--this exchange is terminated."

"Gan, get them back," Blake shouted. "Now! We can't face that kind of firepower, so don't give them an excuse to use it." Like the paw of a bear catching minnows, Gan's big hand flashed out to the controls with surprsing deftness.

"Got 'em," Gan announced. "Captain Petrik, her name's Merric, Taymar Merric. Captain. Servalan's her aunt."

"Wait." The faint hum of a live relay cut off momentarily, then resumed. "Attention Liberator. I have been in contact with Supreme Commander Servalan, and she instructs me to tell you that her niece, Captain Taymar Merric, was killed in action against dissidents on Eridau 3." The man's voice was as uninflected and expressionless as the voice of Zen. "The officer you have is an imposter. The Supreme Commander suggests that you neutralize her immediately and promises that your co-operation will be considered a mitigating factor in determining the severity of your sentences."

There was a sudden airless silence. Wordlessly, the crew of the Liberator turned to look at Captain Merric. Beneath the warm olive of her skin she'd gone very pale, but her weapon never wavered. "Servalan...?" she asked softly, staring at Blake but speaking almost to herself. "I'm not my mother. Why are you doing this?" Avon started to smile.

Blake felt the weight of Cally's thoughts in his mind, sorrowful and serious. *Blake, I know she is not an imposter. I know... the pain and grief are making her thoughts much clearer. She is Servalan's niece, and she believes in her just as she believes in... duty, and honour. Taymar would never betray her aunt... but her aunt has betrayed her. Servalan wants her dead*

And us blamed for it, thought Blake. I hope you're watching closely, Avon, you'll enjoy this. He rose and walked slowly towards Captain Merric, holding out his hand for her laser. "I don't think that's an option anymore," he said.


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Louise Watson-Carver

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