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By Alicia Ann Fox
Page 1 of 6

"Fire," said Avon, his voice a harsh rasp, and the battle for Star One--for the galaxy--was joined. Almost immediately Liberator took a hit, and Avon was forced to grab his console to keep from falling. He spared a thought for Blake who had been on his way back to the medical unit, then turned his full attention to the battle.

The Andromedan ships seemed to pour through the one gap in the mine field for days, though it was actually only a few hours. Liberator was inexorably drawing on its power reserve; they had already dimmed or cut off what lights they could to conserve power, and shut down non-essential systems. Even so it was barely enough, and Avon had to make a decision. The Federation fleet had finally arrived and appeared to be holding its own, though with heavy losses. "Jenna," he called. "How much more can we take of this?"

"Not much," she answered, not able to spare him a glance. "Fire, Vila. I say we've done enough. I don't want to risk losing life support--" The lights dimmed momentarily as the ship lurched under simultaneous hits.

"Agreed?!" Avon shouted, feeling like an idiot. They didn't really have time for consultation. Vila and Cally, however, did not waste time in answering.


"Run, Jenna!" Liberator turned tail and began to limp away. At this point power was so low they were forced to limit the strength of the neutron blasters. Thus Vila was unable to "kill" an alien ship, which recovered from the low-power blow and scored a direct hit on Liberator.

Things exploded on the flight deck. Flames licked up at Cally's station and she screamed before being thrown out of the way as again the flight deck tilted. Jenna was thrown against the flight controls with enough force to crack a rib or two. Vila could be heard mumbling heartfelt curses as the lights blinked out completely.




Blake held his head woozily as he propped himself against a bulkhead in a corridor near the flight deck. It was terribly dark...just at that moment the lights came on again. Blake rested on one arm as he explored his wound. The immobilizing bandage was a lost cause--Like mine?--and the bandage actually covering the wound was again soaked with blood. I liked this shirt.... He pressed his hand against the bleeding wound and debated trying to get up. Earlier it had been risky, but necessary he felt; now it was probably foolish and nothing more. He leaned back carefully and closed his eyes. Contemplating possible courses of action, he slipped into unconsciousness.




When the lights returned, Jenna immediately checked the flight controls. The ship was drifting. If they were lucky they would be counted a hulk and left alone. Zen would not respond, so she did what she could to the automatic systems, breathing painfully around what she feared were broken ribs, or at least severely bruised. She stepped out to check on Cally, who had been thrown clear of her station. From the corner of her eye she noted Avon, heading for Vila.

Cally was luckily unconscious; her face and neck were badly burned. Jenna hurried as best she could for the medical kit, though every step was agony. She could hear Avon's low queries and Vila's strained replies as she ran the skin regenerator over Cally, then sat against what was left of Vila's console to catch her breath. Avon came to her and crouched down. His left arm was held against his chest and blood welled from a slash in his forearm that curved around to the back of his hand. He said nothing, only picked up the medical kit one-handed and carried it over to Vila. Jenna watched Cally and concentrated on breathing.

"Avon, is this going to hurt?" Vila asked quietly. The flight deck was so silent after the noise of battle, speaking normally seemed out of place, though Avon wished Vila would complain noisily, just for the normality of it.

Avon was having a difficult time with his own injury, but Vila's arm was quite definitely broken and thus more urgent. He fought to keep his voice steady as he answered, "I'm afraid so."

"Glad it's you, then," Vila sighed. "Get it over with quick," he added, and stuck his other hand in his mouth as Avon slipped the bones back into place as quickly as possible. Unfortunately he only had full use of one hand, so Vila had passed out by the time Avon began wrapping the arm in healing pads, trying to brace it against Vila's body. When he had finished he sank to the floor and critically examined his own arm. Stitches were obviously required or at least clamps to hold the edges together before the regenerator could be used, and he was not up to either. He wrapped it in a bandage and slowly made his way back to Jenna, as Cally was still deeply unconscious.

Afraid to jostle her, he very lightly touched her cheek. Her eyes flew open, then half-closed as she recognized him. "We're drifting. We'll be drifting for a--ouch--while."

"There?" Avon asked, probing delicately.

"I think I cracked a couple of ribs when I hit the top of my console."

Avon sat back, clenching his teeth. "What can we do for that?"

"I don't know." She paused. "How's Vila?"

"Broken arm. That's where the healing pads went."

"I don't think any of us are in any shape to make it back to the medical--Blake. Where's--"

"Don't know. He'll have to wait." Avon was rummaging through the medical kit, tossing aside one of Vila's probes in disgust. "How about tape? It won't help the bruises."

"Better than nothing." Jenna sighed and wished she hadn't. "I suppose that's it for the leather?" Avon nodded grimly. "I'll need another shirt." Avon went to the cabinets under the flight couch, where he discovered Vila's favorite sleeping-on-watch shirt and carried it back. "Don't bleed all over me if you can help it--" Avon produced a pocket knife and Jenna winced as her lovely leather was efficiently and utterly ruined. I never liked red much anyway.

Sometime later Jenna straightened and drew a careful breath, gladly noting that Avon had not, in fact, bled on Vila's shirt. Tidy sort. "Better. Is that Cally coming around? Avon?"

He was bent over his arm, breathing heavily and looking alarmingly pale.

"Let me see." She pulled the arm away from him and unwrapped it. It looked messy.

Cally peered over her shoulder and promptly dropped to her knees beside them. "That needs to be sewn together so the regenerator will be able to heal it cleanly."

Jenna carefully traded places with Cally. "You see to it, then; can you do it on your own?" Cally nodded absently, running a needle through the sterilizer. Jenna made her way to Vila and gave him a small nudge with her boot; she had decided that bending over might be unwise.

"Is it done?" he asked weakly.

"A while ago. I think you passed out."

"Oh...." He fell silent as a hiss of indrawn breath from Avon made him wince. "That's my favorite shirt you're wearing."

"I'll give it back," Jenna retorted with some humor.

"S'okay...where's Blake?"

Jenna sobered. "All right, I hope. We haven't been able to check. Right now--" she wandered shakily to the flight couch and sat down "--none of us is in any shape to go looking." Vila made a noise of assent, pushed himself to his feet, and joined her on the couch.

"Zen!" he called. "Are you there, Zen?" No answer. "Never there when you need him," Vila grumbled.

"How's the arm?"

"Not bad, except for the agony--Avon?" He indicated with his head. "I didn't notice before."

"Bad slash in the arm. Cally's sewing it up." Vila's nose wrinkled in sympathy, but Avon of course could not see. He was occupied, watching Cally's deft fingers; the pain was less when he had something to concentrate on. Soon he would have to rouse himself and try to bring Zen back on-line, or at the very least question Orac about the progress of the battle. And someone needed to check on Blake.

"Cally," he began, shocked at the weakness his voice betrayed. "We need to find Blake." He moved. Cally shoved one-handed and he was pushed back.

**Be still.** "I'll go, when I have finished." She made another stitch. He scarcely felt it, as the injury pained him more than the needle.

"Fine," he bit out, then was struck by a sudden thought that had been eluding him. Liberator was his.




The battered Federation scout ship which had, by luck, fallen to Del Tarrant, drifted slowly from the vanguard of the battle to its fringes. At this point the former space captain was more than willing to let it do so. He had already lost one ship--his own--and that was enough.

Tarrant put the sensors on automatic alarm, looked with disgust at his badly torn shirt, and began to strip the uniform from the body of the scout ship's original pilot. With some humor he noted that the insignia equaled the rank he had held at the time of his desertion. He cared more, however, that there was no blood on the uniform.

A klaxon blared, and the forward scanner screen was blinking red. Tarrant banged it with his fist. The image instantly resolved into what had to be a mistake. Nothing was that big. An alien? No...the alien ships were of a type, and even they were smaller than this leviathan.

It drifted lazily, covered with the scars of heavy fighting; it had probably been one of the first ships that arrived to defend their galaxy from the Andromedans. Thus it was probably abandoned, and doubtless in better shape than the scoutship...Tarrant began to look for an airlock.

Thirty minutes and some extremely clever piloting later, Tarrant had docked his craft next to the ship and was attempting to engage the lock. This proved difficult, as power on the huge ship was apparently very low. At last, however, the lock cycled. Tarrant picked up his small pistol and stepped through into darkness. The locking mechanism must have drawn power from the lighting systems in this part of the ship. The lock suddenly sealed and his scoutship fell away. You're committed now, Del, old boy....

It was eerily quiet. Tarrant moved forward cautiously, guiding himself along a bulkhead with his free hand. As he became more confident in the dark, he walked faster and suddenly found himself sprawled in an ungainly heap, having tripped over something large and soft. A body. Shakily Tarrant climbed to his feet and at that moment the lights came back on. Tarrant considered, then bent to examine the--not a corpse. Blood had soaked through a bandage on the man's chest, but he lived. How had he gotten himself shot?

There was nothing Tarrant could do at the moment except look for more survivors. He straightened and continued down the corridor.




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