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Then There Were Seven

By Louise Watson-Carver
Page 2 of 3

They moved quietly on through the familiar corridors, well-lit by glowing tubes or indirectly by inset panels. Jenna led, with Gan behind her; Vila had to stretch up to keep his hand on Gan's broad back. Cally followed Vila, at his insistence. "I don't want Avon right behind me any more than I want the lady with the gun," he'd explained. "You're a nice girl, Cally, I can trust you." Impatiently, Cally had agreed; of course it is unsettling to have Avon behind you, she thought. That is the appeal. Avon was behind her now, and directly in front of Blake.

"You can't win," Blake said to the woman behind him, keeping his voice soft. "It's only a matter of time. But perhaps we can help each other; you can start by telling me why we aren't going to Malthus Sigma." For a long moment, Taymar didn't answer, but her grip tightened on Blake's shoulder.

"All right," she said finally. "You ought to be glad we're not going to Malthus Sigma; from what I've heard, there's not much chance of you getting a trial there, fair or otherwise. So when I saw you teleporting out, I realised it was a chance for both of us; a chance for a fair trial for you and your crew, and a chance for me to help the woman I admire and respect most."

"Wait a minute," Blake said, stopping abruptly. His hand almost slipped from Avon's shoulder before Avon checked himself. *I have spoken to the others, Blake. We are ready to act on your signal* came Cally's sharp thought as the line came to a halt. Blake folded his arms and hoped the others would wait just a little longer. "Do you mean Servalan? You're doing this to help her?" he asked incredulously.

"Why is that so strange?" Taymar asked, honestly puzzled. "The Federation owes her a great deal, and too many people have conveniently lost sight of that. My aunt helped make the Federation what it is! As Supreme Commander, she's the one struggling to keep the Federation working in accordance with its original high ideals, and it's cost her support in the core worlds... worlds where "tradition" equates with "corruption". Her position's jeopardised; she needs the support the capture of the Liberator will bring her."

Avon turned towards them, letting his hand trail down off Cally's shoulder. "So Servalan's having problems with her not-so-loyal supporters, and you were planning to ride to her rescue and present her with all of us and the Liberator too. How charming." Avon paused to give Taymar and Blake both a cynical half-smile before he went on. "Of course, single-handedly capturing the Liberator and her crew might still not be enough to make the other officers take you seriously... captain." There was no mercy in his smile as he added, "Well now, perhaps you should have your aunt buy you a political position instead."

Taymar whitened. "I was commissioned an officer on my own merits, Avon. Nobody... nobody did me any favours. But I'm trying to do you and your friends and the whole damn Federation a favour, making sure you get back to Earth for a fair trial. So don't ride me!" She leaned around Blake and glanced up the corridor. "How far now?"

"Almost there." He reached up slowly and touched her hand, where it gripped his shoulder. "You wanted to do something heroic, didn't you?" he said gently. "You wanted to redeem the Federation by handing us over for justice, not just for torture and death. You see, I've heard about Malthus Sigma too."

"That's why the Federation needs Servalan, to fulfill its promises and redeem its failures," Taymar said softly. Then she called up the corridor to Jenna, "Move it--and don't stop again." Blake smiled again as she pushed him roughly forward, very much aware of the faint tremor in her hands. Yes, you know how to handle defiance he thought. It's sympathy that you're having trouble with.

As they stepped out onto Liberator's flight deck, Blake had the satisfaction of hearing Taymar gasp. Liberator, with her incredible alien design and capabilities far beyond those of any other modern ship, usually struck people that way the first time. Of course, we're already taking it for granted, Blake thought ruefully. It's home now.

"Stop here," Taymar said softly and Blake felt her shifting behind him, turning to gaze at the banks of mysterious controls, the high-backed chairs standing sentinel at the work stations that sloped sharply up towards the arched ceiling. "It's fantastic," she whispered.

"Yes," Blake agreed. "Still eager to turn it over to your aunt? We do have a vacancy...."

Blake felt Taymar stiffen. In front of Avon, Cally's head turned sharply and Blake saw excited speculation on the Auron woman's long thin face. *Blake, I think she's a sensitive. I feel her indecision now, but the feeling is unfamiliar... she is not of the Auronaur. She is not one of my people.*

"Sit down, all of you. Over on those couches," Taymar ordered, not answering Blake's offer. Blake watched the others move warily forward, Gan imperturbable, Cally tensed for action. Vila glanced anxiously back at the 'lady with the gun' before settling into one of the two couches below the staggered duty stations. He was careful to snuggle in close to Jenna, who ignored him, her eyes fixed on Taymar with anger and contempt. "You said nobody did you any favours, captain, but you're still alive, aren't you?" Jenna said suddenly. "How's your mother? How's the First Minister?"

Taymar's eyes narrowed in pain, and her jaw tightened. She shoved Blake towards the couches, saying, "Sit down," in a strained voice. He walked over with all the confidence he could manage, acutely aware of the weapon at his back. Vila, suddenly just as eager to get away from Jenna as he had earlier been to get close to her, was quick to offer Blake his place.

"I'm just going to go round the other side where the conversation's, er, a bit safer," Vila explained, brushing off Blake's puzzled thanks.

As Blake sat down between Avon and Jenna, Taymar said tightly, "Sandahl Merric's dead, as you well know, Stannis. She was executed after her coup attempt failed. She was a traitor."

"And you owe your life to your aunt. How heartwarming,"Avon said sardonically.

"Sandahl was a traitor," Taymar repeated, her voice still tightly controlled. "My aunt made it possible for me to rebuild my life after she was executed. I owe her everything--but she did not buy me my commission. She--we both believe in promotion by merit."

"Yes, it's easy to be a reformer when you're already at the top," Avon said cynically. "But what have you accomplished? You're the Federation's wonder child, but I wonder; how do you sleep?"

"Better than you, I suspect," Taymar snapped. "My conscience is clear."

"I'm sure it is," said Vila, craning over the back of the seat he was sharing with Cally and Gan. "I can tell you're a nice girl when you're not on the job. And Avon, Jenna, it's not a good idea to upset the lady with the gun when she is on the job, if you get my drift."

"When I want your opinion, Vila, I'll give it to you," Avon said. "In the meantime, sit down and shut up." Muttering about "some people" and "no gratititude", Vila turned and dropped back down into his seat.

Jenna barely glanced at Vila's antics. "I'm sure your conscience is clear," she said to Taymar scornfully . "Just like any loyal little mutoid's. Don't you realise--do you know who ordered Blake and I sent to Malthus Sigma? It was your aunt. It was Servalan."

Taymar shook her head, but her laser, trained on Blake's chest, never wavered. "You're mistaken," she said firmly. "The Supreme Commander wouldn't allow that kind of abuse of justice. There's no way she'd have authorised something like that."

She really doesn't know. Blake turned to face Taymar directly, trying not to feel sympathy for the young captain. He wasn't entirely successful, and it must have shown, because Avon leaned over and murmured in his ear, "Just remember that she has the gun." Blake touched the other man's shoulder in acknowledgment, then turned back to Taymar.

"Captain? So you found out about the Malthus Sigma facility, but the Supreme Commander never has--or she'd have had it dismantled. True?" Blake asked. Taymar frowned a little, but nodded. "So which is it, captain; is your aunt ignorant or does she have use for a private hell?"

"I'll have to tell her--" Taymar began, when a resonant voice cut her off.

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Louise Watson-Carver

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