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Circle of Life

By William Charlier
Page 2 of 3

"Skipper, I have three bogeys on the long range. Tight formation, intercept course."

The words seemed to just drift in the air for a moment, then suddenly, Blake was wide awake. At last, some sign that they weren't the only living beings left in the galaxy. He switched on the intercom, "I'm on my way," he barked. He ran to the bridge still pulling on his tunic as he left his cabin.

"Report," he commanded sharply.

Lt. Cdr. Tomkins looked up from her scanner console. "I have a bad feeling about this, sir. The incoming vessels have broken formation and appear to be maneuvering to surround us. Recommend defensive posture."

"I agree," replied Blake, "Activate defense shields, prime laser batteries."

The tension was high as the three ships silently took up positions surrounding the Defiance. The ships just hung in space, sizing each other up for what seemed an eternity. At last a tone broke the silence. Ellis pressed a switch locking the comm scanner to the frequency of the incoming message.

"You have violated restricted space," a voice said, "Identify yourself and prepare to be boarded."

Blake hesitated a moment, then activated his commlink. "We apologize for the intrusion sir, we were unaware of your restriction. Our intentions are peaceful."

The voice just repeated, "Identify yourself and prepare to be boarded."

"This is the patrol craft Defiance," Blake responded, "Cdr. Roger Blake commanding."

"Blake!" the other shouted and the commlink went dead.

Suddenly the ship jerked hard. "They've fired on us, sir!" Ellis said, "Defense shield four weakened fifteen percent."

The battle was over almost before it began. The Defiance launched a missile at the ship directly in front of them. The ship was destroyed on impact. The other two ships, realizing that they were outgunned, turned to run. Blake ordered his crew to pursue one of the vessels. The ship tried to maneuver, but could not shake Defiance. At last it turned to fight. The ship fired a volley of three plasma bolts, but only one hit its mark. Defiance's powerful forward shield swallowed the bolt, weakening only slightly.

Blake returned fire with the forward lasers. Four shots later, the pursuit ship was disabled, the battle finished. The last shot had breached the hull, killing most of the crew.

Section Leader Kronin just lay in the corner of the cabin where the last impact had thrown him. He knew he was finished. Even if his injuries didn't prove fatal, he knew that the Federation didn't salvage wrecked ships to save one lowly section leader. If anyone else had survived, they'd have had the emergency bulkhead open by now. He estimated he had maybe four hours of air before he died of oxygen depletion.

Kronin didn't know how long he had been unconscious - perhaps he was dead and was on the other side. Finally, he got the courage to open his eyes. He was in a strange room surrounded by strange faces.

The man nearest him was holding a device he didn't recognize. He crossed the room and whispered something to a large man who was waiting by a table. The large man walked slowly over to him. He looked concerned somehow. He leaned in close and said quietly, "Why did you attack us? We told you we were non-hostile." He paused a moment then continued, "My name is Roger Blake. I command this vessel." He paused again. "Dr. Kline ways there's no more he can do for you. Your injuries are just too extensive. Why did you attack us?"

Kronin swallowed hard. "Your name," he said, "the commander thought you were him."

"Who - he thought I was who?" Blake asked. Kronin recounted the story of a terrorist, who's activities had become almost legend among the people of the Federation, both military and civilian. The man's name had been Roj Blake. Blake had been traced to the planet Gauda Prime where he was rumored to be building a new revolutionary army. Command reported that Blake and all his followers had been killed in a Federation raid on his headquarters, but they had claimed his death before. When the group commander heard the name Blake, he thought that the revolutionary had escaped again. He thought to destroy Blake and his ship, and claim credit for the death of a legend.

"I think the commander was afraid that if he hesitated or tried to capture you - er Blake - that you - that is Blake - would escape again. The Federation is very hard on officers who let this man escape. Also, officers who try to capture him have a tendency to die in the attempt. I think he figured that your - that is, Blake's - destruction was the only alternative."

"Fatal error," Blake said dryly.

Kronin never heard that last comment. His eyes just stared straight ahead. Kronin's body was cremated and buried in space, joining the crewmen Blake had lost passing through the black hole.

Blake was more determined than ever to reach Earth. He didn't understand what was happening, but he was determined to find out. This whole thing made no sense. Federation security just didn't work this way. Security ships didn't open fire on suspect vessels just because they heard a name that frightened them. That was grounds for summary court martial. Officers weren't punished severely for not being able to catch a criminal. They were given the help and resources needed to accomplish their missions. That was the whole reason that Defiance was commissioned.

He had never seen uniforms like Kronin's. They weren't security uniforms - at least not from any branch he had ever seen. If they were Federation security - no, he couldn't accept that. But if they weren't security, then who were they? Clearly, Kronin believed it. Dying men don't make up stories like that. All the answers could be found on Earth. Blake was sure of it.

Ellis resumed a heading for earth. She picked up the speed, because now it was clear that the Federation knew they were here. But where was here? What happened to the Federation? Was this really the Federation, or was it just some horrible coincidence? Throughout history it had always been difficult to tell if governments were truly democratic by what they called themselves. Tyrants always call themselves president, and they would kill anyone who disputed their "election". If they were really merciful, dissidents might only be thrown in jail for the rest of their lives. Democracy by fear - that was the tyrant's way. They traveled in silence each asking themselves the same questions.

The comm scanner was activated again. Someone was hailing them. Tomkins responded, "This is the Defiance. Go ahead."

"This is Commissioner Sleer, representing the Terran Federation", a woman's voice said, "You wont take us by surprise again. Surrender your ship, and you will be treated fairly."

Blake was surprised by her brashness. He didn't know why, but he just didn't trust her. He decided to be cautious about this meeting. "I'll come aboard your ship," he said, "to discuss what happened. Remember - your people fired on us. We just defended ourselves."

"I am aware of that, Commander Blake", she stressed the name. "I know that you are not the criminal Blake. He is dead. We'll come along side, prepare to dock with us."

Tomkins switched off the comm link before Blake could respond. "Do it her way, sir, she doesn't know about our teleport or she would have asked you to use it."

Blake nodded and she switched the comm link back on. "We'll extend our air lock. I look forward to meeting you Commissioner."

Blake waited at the port side air lock for Sleer's ship to connect. "Be careful, sir", Tomkins warned.

"I will, Number One," Blake answered, "Stand by the teleport. If I yell, get me out of there fast. I'll use `breakdown' as a code word. Disconnect the air lock as soon as I'm over there."

"I still wish you'd carry a hand laser," she said.

Blake shook his head, "No, I don't want them to find it if they search me. Better if they feel secure."

The Federation ship came along side and Ellis sealed the air lock. Blake entered the air lock, making sure they sealed the hatch behind him. He crossed to the other side, and entered the Federation ship. He was greeted by a woman, beautiful and elegantly dressed. Somehow, he knew before she spoke, that this was Sleer. She was surrounded by guards, all female, all heavily armed. They all had the same cold look about them - like machines. If this was the Federation, it clearly wasn't his Federation.

"Welcome," Sleer said, "I'm happy we could do this peacefully. Come to my cabin. Let's talk." She strode away gracefully.

Oh, watch this one, Blake thought to himself, That's a black widow if ever I saw one. He followed her, knowing that her guards were close behind. Carefully, as not to be seen, he switched on his comm link. He wanted this monitored.

Sleer was clearly a seductress. Everything she did was suggestive. Her every word cut to the bone. She knew that her beauty was her best weapon. She directed Blake to a plush sofa in her cabin. The guards didn't come in, but he knew that they weren't far away. Sleer poured two drinks and sat down next to him. She was so friendly, Blake knew he was in danger.

He sat and waited for her to speak. She was in control of the situation, and she wanted him to know it. She just looked at him for a long time, making him ill at ease. Finally she spoke, "You remind me a little of Blake - you have the same eyes."

Blake silently took the drink from his hostess. He smiled slightly at the thought of his crew's impression as to what was happening here. Sleer, noticing his smile, continued, "I see deep conviction in them. I think you could make a tremendous contribution to the Federation. We could make quite a team, you and I."

She put her arm on the back of the sofa behind him. In his mind's eye Blake could visualize a knife in her hand. He resisted the urge to pull away from her. Instead, he played along with her little game. He relaxed back into her arm and sipped his drink. "Tell me about this other Blake," he said, changing the subject.

She stood up and strode across the room. "He was nothing - a criminal. We stopped him."

"Judging by the reaction of your people, I'd say he was much more than that," he rebuffed, "He clearly had quite a following."

"Rabble," she responded, "All killed except one, who we took prisoner. His name is Avon. He will serve as an example to anyone else who tries to defy the Federation."

She continued to tell her story. It was clearly slanted but Blake was able to filter out a few facts. This Avon was obviously one of Blake's most able leaders. Blake decided that he would have to try to meet this man; get his side of the story.

Sleer sat down again and continued, "With your help, we can put an end to this terrorism once and for all. I can arrange for you to be commissioned as a Space Commander, attached to Federation Security. Together, you and I can finally bring peace to the Federation. Then, perhaps, we could avoid the kind of misunderstandings that almost made us enemies."

She stood up again and put her drink down on a table. She held out her hand to him, and added, "Why don't you show me your ship."

Blake decided it was time to take his leave of her, before he got into trouble. He stood up, deliberately avoiding her hand. "Perhaps later," he said, "We've been having problems with some of our systems. I wouldn't want to experience a breakdown with someone of your stature aboard. Give me a couple of hours to complete repairs, and ..."

As he spoke his image began to waver slightly. Sleer knew immediately what was happening, but she could not react in time. His voice trailed off and suddenly she was alone. Her eyes grew wide and her hand fell to her side. Her face was red and she was shaking visibly, unable to maintain her usual calm image.

She ran to the flight deck, still shaking. "Open fire," she shouted, "destroy that ship now!" "We cannot ma'am," responded her pilot, "They are pulling away too fast. They are already out of range."

She sat in her command chair, watching the shrinking form of the Defiance on her view screen. "This isn't over Blake," she said calmly, having regained her composure, "We will meet again. And when we do, you and your ship will be mine."

As soon as Blake was aboard, Ellis moved away at maximum speed. She knew Sleer would not like the way they had snatched Blake from her grasp. As Blake entered the bridge, they were rapidly pulling away from Sleer's surprised pursuit ships. Surprised as they were, they couldn't hope to match Defiance's acceleration.

"Where to?" Ellis asked.

"Gauda Prime", Blake responded, "Set course for Gauda Prime. That's the best place to begin our search."

Ellis looked confused. "Search for what?" she asked.

"Who," Blake answered, "We're looking for a man. A man named Avon. I think he can help us. If we have to make a life here, I don't want to be part of Sleer's government. This ship was designed to protect people, not subjugate them. I think this Avon can give us a little perspective. Also, if other revolutionary groups know that we snatched one of their own from the clutches of the Federation, it may help give them inspiration."

Kline looked concerned. "Do you really think we should take sides on this thing? It really isn't our fight."

"Face it Doc, this is home now. Could you live with yourself knowing that this kind of tyranny exists, and you did nothing about it?" Blake insisted. Perhaps he felt that this would make amends for his lost crewmen, but Blake was sure he was doing the right thing.

The trip to Gauda Prime was uneventful. Two patrols passed within scanner range but they passed without spotting Defiance. Upon arrival scanners were used to locate Blake's headquarters. There wasn't much left. The Federation had burned the structures after removing all of the equipment. They thought to erase all signs of defiance to their rule.

Blake and Ellis teleported to the surface just out of sight from the ruins. Blake holstered his laser after a quick look around. Ellis was looking around for some sort of clue as to where to look next. It was clear that no prisoners were being housed here. One thing had to be said for the Federation - they were efficient. There was nothing here to show that anything had ever been here except a farm. They were about to give up when there was a rustle in the bushes to their right. Instantly both had lasers drawn. As they approached the bushes, Ellis saw a figure running away. Whoever it was, he was surprisingly agile and quiet. They followed the figure at a discreet distance until he reached a small, poorly kept shack.

They took up positions of cover outside. "In the building - no one's going to hurt you. Come on out." Blake tried to sound as unthreatening as possible. "We're not from the Federation. You're safe with us."

"The last man who said that to me tried to kill me." The man's voice sounded frightened though he was trying to mask it.

Blake holstered his laser and stepped out from his cover. He held his hands out to reassure the man in the shack. Ellis kept her laser trained on the door. The blanket covering the doorway pulled slowly to the side. The man stepped out. He was a small man, in tattered clothing. He looked as if he hadn't eaten for a week.

"I'm looking for a man. I'm told he survived this," Blake said, indicating the ruins they had just left.

"Then you're looking for me," the man said.

Blake and Ellis looked at each other. Could this be Avon? Hardly the kind of man Sleer had described. Besides, Sleer had said that Avon was her prisoner. Blake extended his hand, "My name is Blake. Roger Blake."

The man shied away. "No way," he said, "I knew Blake. I was with him from the begin-ning."

Blake and Ellis looked at each other again. "Then you're Avon?" he asked suspiciously.

"Avon?" the man laughed, "For all his brains, he couldn't get away. They took him away. Only I escaped. Only worthless little Vila. I dropped to the floor when the shooting started, and when it was over, everyone was watching Avon. I just crawled to a door and ran and hid. Nobody noticed I was gone. Come to think of it, I should be insulted." He seemed almost jovial now. "Is your name really Blake?"

"Yes," Blake answered, "If we take you with us, could you identify Avon?"

"I'd better be able to," said Vila, "he's the one who tried to kill me. He did kill Blake." Blake and Ellis looked shocked. Vila noticed, "He thought Blake had betrayed us. We all did."

"We'd better get out of here," Blake said, "We've been out in the open too long." He activated his comm link, "Three to beam up, Mr. Piper.

When they materialized aboard Defiance, Vila looked surprised. "You have teleport?" It was as much a statement as a question. He looked at his wrist, surprised. "I didn't need a bracelet."

They allowed Vila to shower and eat before questioning him further. The uniform they gave him to wear didn't quite fit, and it added to the almost comical air he seemed to exude. When he had eaten and drank half a bottle of wine. Blake asked him to tell them about Avon. The story he told was as much about the other Blake as about Avon, but that helped them to understand it all. When he finished, Blake asked him if he knew where they would have taken Avon.

"Knowing Servalan, she probably will take him back to Earth and brainwash him. Then she'd keep him as a pet. She likes men, she does."

"Who's Servalan?" Tomkins asked.

"She used to be president. Nasty lady. Short black hair. Blacker heart." Vila answered, "She goes by the name Sleer these days."

"I've had the pleasure," Blake said with a grin.

"If it was a pleasure, it wasn't her," Vila came right back, "Even her own people want to kill her. That's why she changed her name."

Everyone laughed. "Toni," Blake said, still laughing, "set a course for Earth. We're going home. It's time we see just what `home' has become."

"Why do I always end up with people who don't have enough sense to stay away from danger?" Vila asked, aloud, but really to himself. "If you're gonna drag me to the Dragon Lady's lair, I might as well enjoy it." He picked up the wine and left for the quarters they had assigned to him. Again they all laughed.

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