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By Jean Graham
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"Teleport now, Vila!"

Cally's urgent cry woke the thief from a fitful doze. His hands flew to the controls, shoved them all the way forward until the high-pitched whine of the energy-transfer filled the chamber, and three figures rippled into existence there. Only three...

Tarrant, Dayna and Cally spilled out of the teleport alcove in a tangle of weaponry and equipment. Dayna deposited a case of stolen percussion grenades on the console as Vila reached again for the controls and re-depressed the recall switch.

The energy-beam whined and faded, leaving empty air. Vila stared at it, perplexed.

Dayna turned, almost in unison with the other two. "Where's Avon?"

Vila toggled the controls twice more, then moved aside as Cally slid into the seat and began checking co-ordinates. "He was just behind me when I called. I was certain of it..."

+Information,+ Zen's booming voice cut across her words. +Pursuit ship launch from surface, bearing directly.+

"I'll go back," Tarrant volunteered. "Put me down at the same co-ordinates--"

+Second launch,+ Zen interrupted. +Three additional ships approaching from 5th planetary moon. Plasma bolts launched and running.+

"We're in trouble," Dayna muttered.

"Evasive maneuvers, Zen," Cally ordered from the teleport console. "Take us out of--"

The explosion sent them all reeling, clutching for support as the lights dimmed. Liberator's drives sent a straining rumble through the deck beneath their feet as Zen strove to obey Cally's command.

+Breaking orbit,+ the computer reported. +Pursuit ships are moving to intercept.+

Cally and Tarrant exchanged an anxious look. Then both headed at a run for the corridor, Dayna and a reluctant Vila close on their heels. Whatever had gone wrong, it was apparent that Avon would simply have to wait. At least until Liberator was out of danger.

*      *      *

Arcanian bounty hunters enjoyed a galaxy-wide reputation for ruthlessness. It was said that they were not -- quite -- human, which rumor they did nothing to dispel. It was said that no prisoner, once in hand, had ever escaped their clutches, another rumor they revelled in perpetuating. Efficient and unrelenting, they had acquired the admiration of 'peers' everywhere -- even in the Federation High Command, with whom they did frequent business. Not a force to be trifled with, the Arcanians. Never mind that their mineral-rich home world had resisted all efforts to bring it under Federation rule. They were useful, and President Servalan seemed content to leave it at that.

Arcanian bounty hunters were, however, the last thing Kerr Avon had expected to encounter in the midst of a raid on a 4th sector Federation weapons complex.

While the base alarms continued to squall all around them, he sat and glared, secured to a laboratory chair by steel restraints. His armed captors stood watch at the glass-paned door. They had exchanged terse comments in their native tongue, and now appeared to be waiting for the commotion outside to die down. The female, dirty and sporting a shock of straw-yellow hair, glanced back at the prisoner and smirked. She wore Avon's teleport bracelet at her belt, a trophy suspended from yet another wrist restraint. Her male companion scratched at a vermin-infested beard and growled something. She laughed, tucked her blaster comfortably under her arm and sauntered in Avon's direction. He kept his gaze firmly affixed to the opposite wall, ignoring her. That became no easy task, however, as she approached -- the reek was overpowering -- and deftly loosed one of the cuffs, the one that had pinned him to the chair. She locked it again around his wrist, securing his hands behind him as the male looked on, grinning stupidly.

"Perdy, nod he?" he said in fractured Standard, and the female giggled in equally-insipid agreement.

"Perdier 'n' you, Lorga. Zadda bath sumtime inna last yar, least. More 'n' you can say." She stepped back, and her gun came abruptly barrel-to-nose with her glowering captive. "Get up, Kerravon," she said, this time in more coherent Standard that butchered only his name. "We're leaving now."

"Leaving?" Avon echoed flatly. Surely they had no need to go anywhere outside the base to deliver him into Federation hands. They had only to open the door and march him the few hundred meters to the base commander's office.

Lorga took his question as defiance, and stalked across the room to jerk Avon out of the chair with a fetid-breath snarl. "Move!" he barked. His shove nearly sent Avon sprawling, but the woman had attached herself to his arm and was guiding him roughly toward the door. Lorga opened it, peered out, then motioned them on with his gun.

Under the continuing alarms, Avon could hear loudspeakers ordering pursuit-launches. Going after Liberator, he thought with satisfaction. But too late to catch her. Too late and far too slow.

As the Arcanians hustled him down the corridor, a more disturbing thought dampered his confidence in Liberator's successful escape. The base commander's office was back up the hall -- in section D.

They were going in the wrong direction. Toward the launch bays.

*      *      *

"Got him!" Vila crowed, releasing the firing control. The last of the attacking ships blossomed into fiery death on Zen's viewscreen and dissipated into so much space debris.

"Good shooting." Tarrant left the pilot's station to approach Zen's fascia. His clothes still bore the tears and smudges acquired during the weapons raid. Vila had yet to learn how they'd managed to leave Avon behind -- there had been no time to ask.

"I suppose we're going back, now," he said resignedly. "Not that I'd mind losing Avon, exactly. It's just that he's useful, every now and then."

That earned him a reproachful look from both Dayna and Cally. Tarrant merely pretended not to hear. "Zen," the pilot queried, "any sign of further pursuit?"


"How many ships launched?"

+Five ships launched from planet's surface.+

"And three were already aloft."

+Three ships were in orbit around fourth planetary moon.+

"Does that account for the entire base pursuit ship complement?"

Zen seemed to hesitate at that. Then it droned, +Affirmative. Base complement was seven pursuit ships.+

Even Vila looked perplexed at this contradictory revelation. He knew Zen could be a little thick sometimes, but simple arithmetic had never defeated him before.

Tarrant glanced at them in turn as he continued. "Explain the discrepancy, Zen."

+Information is not available.+

Tarrant winced. "No, of course not. Vila, how many kills did we register?"

"Seven!" the thief replied proudly.

"Well I hate to disillusion you," Dayna said, "but the last time I checked, five and three equalled eight."

Cally frowned. "Confirm seven kills, Zen." +Confirmed.+

"And there are no other ships in the vicinity?" Tarrant inquired.


"Well," Cally said, leaning back in her station-chair, "what exactly are we to make of that?"

"Someone running away, maybe," Tarrant theorized. "Who knows? We'll put Orac on it. Meanwhile, Zen, I want a course back to the base, standard by three. And keep a constant scan for that missing ship."


Vila sat back and folded his arms as the stars on the screen began to rotate starboard. "Avon," he muttered to no one in particular, "I hope you're worth all this."

*      *      *

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