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A Matter of Trust

By Steve Lake
Page 1 of 4


A Matter of Trust, picture by Mark Simpson

A short story, set during season 1, by Steve Lake

Vila stood in front of the star map on the screen above him and folded his arms, studying the display quizzically.

"So what exactly is on Galba Proxima, then?"

Blake seemed intent on making adjustments to his flight panel and didn't bother to look up to answer. "It's a communications centre for the Federation. I thought I told you that."

Vila pulled a face. "Another one? Wasn't Centero enough for you?"

Jenna looked up from her controls and shot him a look. "The Federation have communications centres everywhere, Vila. Blowing up one only effects that sector."

Gan stepped down from his control position and moved across to join the blonde girl, studying what she was doing. The big man looked and talked slow sometimes but he was a fast learner, and had rapidly picked up a lot of the Liberator's basic flight functions simply by watching the others. He nodded in agreement with what she'd said. "And the Federation controls a lot of sectors!"

"You're telling me," the diminutive thief muttered. "But do we have to blow them all up?"

"If necessary," murmured Blake, rubbing his face with his hands wearily. Suddenly he felt very tired.

"I was afraid you'd say that," Vila complained.

Gan moved across to join him, grinned and slapped him across the back. "Then why ask?"

"I'm naturally inquisitive," he replied, wincing at the force of the friendly blow.

"That's not always a healthy way to be," warned Jenna.

"You're telling me..." Vila winced at the memory of another blow, one he'd suffered long before he'd become a member of this crew. His pained expression turned into a sly leer at why he'd earned that blow. "Did I ever tell you about the time I sneaked into the girls' section of the first - no, I tell a lie, second correction facility they sent me to?"

Gan chuckled. "Vila..."

Jenna glowered at him. "What did they say they arrested you for? I thought you were a thief, not a deviant!"

The thief beamed. "You name it, I've been arrested for it!"

"The one thing they certainly cannot arrest you for, and that is for your intelligence."

They all turned to face the new arrival on the flight deck. By now they were used to Avon's almost perpetual sour mood and cynical asides, but this time the man had outdone himself in looking grim. He stalked into the room and glared at his companions, saving a particularly withering look for Blake, who still stood with his face in his hands at his flight station.

"Then, low intelligence seems to be contagious at the moment. Even I appear to have succumbed. I certainly should have known better than to allow myself to be led into an alien laboratory and then stand by idly by and watch its contents splashed across the walls."

"What's eating you?" Vila frowned. It wasn't like Avon to put himself down. His own ego would kill him if he tried.

Avon swung round to face him, and Vila was struck by how pale the man looked.

"Eating me is possibly the right description..." Avon slowly raised his hands up and they all gasped.

They were covered in a glistening, scaly red rash.

"What is it?" hissed Jenna, horrified.

"Is it contagious?" squawked Vila, hiding behind Gan.

Avon swung round accusingly to face Blake. "Something released in that lab your friends the Decimas smashed up, Blake..."

Jenna couldn't believe it. "But that was days ago. It can't be that."

Avon turned on her. "Oh but it is! I've run tests on myself in the medical centre, and all the evidence points back towards that laboratory. A slow developing alien virus, probably something Saymon was cooking up to carry out his genocide of the Decimas." He turned to face Blake again. "Congratulations, you've probably achieved something I'd vowed you'd never do. And that's kill me!" he hissed.

"You're over-reacting," snapped Jenna.

Blake finally looked up, removing his hands from his face in the process. "No, he's possibly right," he said slowly.

"I usually am," he breathed, but his face altered slightly when he took the other man's appearance in.

The rash was on Blake's face as well.

"I might have killed both of us," he said deliberately.

***

The Liberator had magnificent facilities; or rather, they looked magnificent. The trouble was, its new crew was still finding their way round the ship and hadn't yet figured everything out. Including its infirmary.

Cally was doing her best to understand it, but her medical knowledge was restricted to wounds and injuries received in the field, during combat situations. The gleaming alien technology the Liberator's medical bay contained was largely beyond her comprehension, even with the assistance of Zen, the ship's computer, to describe what she was looking at.

But try telling her shipmates that.

Jenna in particular wasn't happy, but then Jenna hadn't been happy since Blake had teleported her on board from Saurian Major anyway. Cally could guess her reasons for disliking her, but didn't dare raise them. After being possessed by the Lost and forced to sabotage the ship, she didn't blame any of the others for distrusting her. But it went a little deeper with Jenna.

They'd taken Blake and Avon to the medical unit where they were both now resting, and with Zen's help and Avon's earlier research, had been able to identify the disease, and better still, work out a cure.

Except there was one problem. A very big problem.

Which was why Avon was so worried.

And Jenna too.

"What do you mean, we can't cure them here?" Jenna demanded to know. They were both standing in the corridor outside the infirmary. Jenna's face was set, hostile, and was matched by her tone of voice. Cally tried to be conciliatory.

"I mean, we cannot cure them here with what we have. The equipment has identified the cause of the virus, and has worked out a cure, but..."

"But?"

"We do not have the necessary supplies to create a vaccine."

Jenna folded her arms. "Why not?" she demanded, almost accusingly.

Cally shrugged, baffled as much by the girl's hostile attitude as anything else. "I do not know. Perhaps the people who owned this ship did not feel the need for such supplies. Nor the use of them."

Jenna frowned. "Then we'd better come up with some, hadn't we?"

She pushed past Cally and started back towards the flight deck.

"Jenna..."

The blonde girl paused and turned round reluctantly, her expression bordering on the contemptuous.

"Why do you not trust me?"

Jenna blinked for a moment, then replied quietly: "I have my reasons."

"Is it because I am an alien?"

Jenna sighed heavily. "I've worked with aliens before. I'm no speciest, Cally."

"Why, then? Because of what happened before?" Cally stepped closer. "The Lost took possession of your mind too..." she reminded gently.

"It's not that either," she said coldly. "Just drop it, will you?"

Cally reached out and took her arm. "Jenna, if it's because of Blake..."

"What?"

Cally hesitated. "I'm not your rival, Jenna."

"I don't know what you mean," she said stiffly.

"I can... sense, certain feelings in you... towards Blake..."

Jenna slapped her hand away angrily. "You can stop doing that for a start!" she hissed. "Just stay out of my head!" She stormed past, pushing the other woman roughly aside.

Cally grimaced. She thought she understood now...

***

"According to Zen, those are the closest inhabited planets in this sector..."

Jenna studied the star map Gan had called up carefully. "I know this sector," she said slowly. "We used to make runs through it sometimes. It's a bit of a backwater, no major colonies."

"That's not going to be much use then," said Vila.

"No, it's exactly what we need... very little Federation activity here. Speaking of which, what's the status of those pursuit ships?"

Gan shook his head. "Long gone. I don't think they'll be back on our trail today."

"Good. In that case, I think we'll go there..." She pointed up to one of the planets on the display.

"What's there?" asked Vila.

"That's Alden. A small mining colony. Well, ex-mining, really. The ore stream all but ran out a century ago."

Cally appeared on the flight deck and came across to join them. "There are still people there?"

Jenna didn't bother to turn round. "There were when I was last there a year or so ago."

"You've been there before?"

"We used to use it as a stop-over sometimes on our trading runs."

"Trading!" chortled Vila. Jenna shot him a black look.

"It's a quiet place... used now by a lot of deep-space merchants and freighter crews as a stop-over before going out deep."

"But will it have what we need?" asked Cally.

"It has a trading post that should meet our requirements... Zen, lay in a course, standard by six."

The computer hummed briefly. "Confirmed."

"Good." Jenna turned around. "We'll be there in fifteen minutes. Gan, get kited up and meet me in the teleport bay."

"Right," he nodded, and moved off.

Cally stepped forward. "Let me go with you."

Jenna glared at her coldly. "No. I want someone I can trust. You can operate the teleport. Vila, keep an eye on things up here. If you have any serious trouble, Blake and Avon should be able to assist from the infirmary. They're not too far gone - yet."

With a final dark glance at Cally, she set off after Gan, Cally watching her go with a heavy expression. Vila noticed her sombre face and put on a friendly smile.

"Don't worry about it. She's just on edge, that's all."

"She doesn't like me, let alone trust me."

Vila shrugged. "She never liked me to begin with. And anyway, trust is a hard thing to come by these days, especially in our position."

Cally frowned. "In our position, it is more important that we trust and like each other. We will not survive if we do not."

"Huh, tell that to Avon," Vila muttered.

"Avon knows that too. He has a measure of like and trust in us all."

"He's got a funny way of showing it!" Vila's grin broadened, and he slipped an arm round her shoulders. "For what it's worth, I liked and trusted you from the moment I saw you!"

Cally looked at him dubiously. "Thank you," she said neutrally and carefully removed his arm. "I'd better get down to the teleport bay."

She left the room. Vila shook his head. "Women!" He turned to face the computer display. "At least you like and trust me, eh Zen? Zen?"

There was no response.

"Computers!" he muttered disgustedly.

***


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