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Bounty - Novelisation

By Murray Smith
Page 2 of 8

On the Liberator's flight deck, Avon, Jenna, and Vila were staring at the blinking dot on the main screen, which Gan, in his control position, was trying to contact. "Liberator to space craft. Liberator to space craft. Can you hear us?" he asked three times.

While this was going on, Jenna observed, "Looks like some sort of cruiser." She was dressed in black, her top festooned with white dots of various sizes.

"Not making much headway," was Avon's observation. All were apprehensive at the new factor that had, perhaps too co-incidentally, entered into the mission. Was it a ship in distress or a trap?

Blake's voice came over the communicator. "Blake to Liberator, do you read me?"

Jenna went over to the nearest control position and pressed a button to reply, "We read you."

"Do you think he's ready to come up?" Vila, seated in the central seating area, asked Avon. The latter turned to face the former, perhaps to reply; but Blake then answered the question, stating, "We've run into more security than we expected. It's going to take longer."

Jenna hastened to make Blake aware of the situation in space. "Listen, Blake, we've got a problem. There's an unidentified ship moving in on our position."

"Federation?" was Blake's question.

"Zen says not, but Gan can't make a voice contact. Seems to be closing in all the time." She did not bother to conceal the apprehension in her voice.

"Well, what do you want to do?" Blake asked her opinion. After all, she was the one he left in command up there, as well as a smuggler who knew something about deception.

"Investigate."

"Well, be careful." Blake did not conceal the concern in his voice.

"We can handle things," said Avon to Jenna, moving towards her. "If it turns out to be hostile, we'll do a part orbit and lose it."

"We can't just wait for it to close in," she announced to Blake, who know what she had left unsaid.

Blake became impatient. "Well, if you've got to move off-station, you've got to, but be as quick as you can, and don't take any stupid risks," he snapped, then attempted to crack a joke. "We're taking enough of those down here."

Jenna smiled at this. "Don't worry."

"Well, I will if you're not back in time to get us out." Blake was still trying to see the humour in the situation.

Jenna, still smiling, reassured him. "We'll be here."

"Good luck!"

"You, too."

Gan had left his control station and was standing beside Avon, looking at the dot on the screen.

"I don't like the look of that," commented Vila.

"Not again, Vila," was Gan's weary response.

"I'm entitled to my opinion," insisted Vila.

"It is your assumption that we are entitled to it as well that is irritating." Avon's sardonic remark routed Vila's completely.

"What do you think?" asked Jenna of Avon, after joining him.

"As a matter of fact, I don't like the look of it either." Avon's concession surprised Vila, who said to himself, quietly but distinctly, "He agrees with me."

"The flight path is too erratic," was Avon's explanation.

"Makes it all seem worthwhile somehow," continued Vila to himself.

"It looks deliberate to me," concluded Avon, looking at Jenna.

"It could be an injured pilot," the latter pointed out, looking at the former.

"It could be a trap," was Avon's emphatic response.

"Not a very good one, then," said Gan, turning around to face them. "We're suspicious of it already."

Avon made it clear to Gan that he had missed the point. "The test is not whether you are suspicious but whether you are caught."

"Then we'll make sure we're not," commented Jenna decisively, though Avon and Vila's comments had made her even more worried, as they both had a highly developed sense of danger. She began giving orders. "Vila, clear the neutron blasters for firing. Zen, put up the radiation flare shields." Vila began to move to his control position.

+Confirmed,+ answered the computer.

"Keep trying to establish a voice contact," she ordered Gan. "I'll fly her on manual." She then gave Avon an order phrased like a request. "If you'll read the detectors and scanners."

"First sign of trouble, we get out, right?" Avon would obey her order, but wanted to be sure of her strategy.

"Goes without saying," she half muttered before moving to her control position.

"I only wish it did," was Avon's final remark as he moved to his seat.

* * * * * * * * *

After scouting around, Blake rejoined Cally behind a tree near Sarkoff's residence. "We attack the guards or climb," said Cally, in what seemed like a question but didn't quite sound like one.

Blake took it as a question. "There's a door on the ground floor; it's the only entrance," he explained, gesturing at the residence with his gun. "There is an open window round the back but it's high up. We've got to get onto that roof."

"We climb," was Cally's conclusion.

"We don't want to risk raising an alarm. Come on." Both left.

* * * * * * * * *

Deeper in the wood, Cheney, kneeling down, moved a gloved hand over one of the footprints discovered by him and the troopers around the sensor, firmly stating, "It's not a burrowing rodent this time. Looks to be two intruders, two at least." He gestured for the communicator, then spoke into it. "Cheney to all units. Red Standby Alert is now Red Mobilisation, repeat, Red Mobilisation. All units to move in on the residence."

* * * * * * * * *

On the Liberator's flight deck, Gan, wearing headphones, was still trying to contact the unidentified space craft. "Liberator to space craft, Liberator to space craft."

"You're closing too fast for me to get an accurate scan," complained Avon to Jenna.

"All right, I'll reduce speed."

"Thank you."

"Liberator to space craft. Can you hear us?" continued Gan.

"Blasters are ranged and ready to fire," announced Vila.

Avon now had an accurate scan. "No sign of any external damage. Carries no heavy armament."

"I'm getting a voice, very faint, a lot of static," Gan then announced.

"Boost it to the main channel," ordered Jenna. Gan obeyed; and, through a background of static, a firm male voice was heard. "...Star Queen. General distress call, general distress call. This is the civilian cruiser Star Queen. If anyone can hear me, we need help. Please help us. General distress call, general distress call." The voice then faded. Most of those on the Liberator's flight deck began to relax internally.

Gan, who had left his control position to stand in front of Zen's screen, asked the computer, "Zen, are we in teleport range?"

+Liberator will be within teleport range of the civilian cruiser Star Queen in seven minutes,+ announced the computer, its lights flickering.

"Good," was Gan's comment.

"No." Avon did not share Gan's belief regarding the voice being sufficient proof that the ship was in genuine distress.

Gan turned to face Avon. "They need help."

"Do they?"

Gan pointed back over his shoulder to Zen's screen. "Well, you heard him."

"It's not quite the same thing," pointed out Avon.

Jenna supported him, well aware from her own experience of the dangers of space. "Avon's right. We need more information."

Gan said something unexpected. "Let me go across and get it," he volunteered. "If it is a trap I'll warn you." He looked at Vila. "Then Vila can open fire."

"With you on board?" Vila was incredulous.

"If necessary." Gan's steady reply left no room for ambiguity.

"You feeling all right?" This kind of self-sacrifice was foreign to Vila's nature.

"Fine," was the answer.

Avon was secretly impressed that Gan had thought of the possible scenario of him being used as a hostage, but wanted to be sure that he was serious. "You would give the instruction for your own death?" he asked Gan coldly. "You expect us to believe that?"

"Yes, I expect you to believe that." Gan again left no room for ambiguity, and finished any further discussion.

* * * * * * * * *

Behind a tree near the base of the residence's rear wall, Blake took a grappling hook and some attached rope out of the toolbox. "Cover me whilst I climb," he ordered Cally, "then hide the box." He moved to the wall, and threw the hook upwards, while Cally, her gun drawn, moved to the wall's left corner and looked around, ready for anyone coming around.

Blake pulled the rope, then, satisfied that the hook had a good hold, began to climb the wall. Cally then saw a trooper (presumably one of the two guards at the ground entrance) come into view, heading in their direction. She moved back and used her telepathy. "Blake! A guard is coming!"

The guard came around the corner and looked around, at first seeing no one there; then he looked up and saw Cally, as well as Blake, on top of the wall. Cally wasted no time, falling on the guard and knocking him out. She looked at Blake and said telepathically, "You must get to Sarkoff. I will hide this one and then follow you." Blake nodded and moved away, while Cally dragged the unconscious guard under cover.

* * * * * * * * *


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Murray Smith

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