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By Marian Mendez
Page 3 of 10

"Now I know I don't like him. He thinks the same way Avon does," Vila complained more softly this time.

Avon ignored the pleasantries while he studied the truncated view of the other ship's flight deck. It was military, of course. All the personnel wore uniforms; the captain's in gold and black, the alien's- Vulcan's, Avon corrected himself,- in blue and black and there were a few red-shirted versions. It was far from the all- black Federation motif. This reassured him slightly, but something nagged at him, there was something about the scene that disturbed him.

The Vulcan turned to give his captain the clipboard and Avon's eyes were drawn to a flash of silver on the alien's chest, sparkling against the blue tunic.

"Blake!" Avon said. "Those insignias- change the orientation..."

Blake focused on the captain's uniform and saw what Avon meant. If the arrowhead shape was turned to the right instead of pointing upward it would be very like the Federation symbol. "Captain Kirk," Blake said, "I am grateful for your assistance, but I would like to know exactly who you represent."

Kirk was puzzled. "You are obviously human, yet you have a ship of obviously alien design. I confess to some curiosity, myself. Very well, I'll start the introductions. I am Captain James T. Kirk, commanding officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise of the Federation..."

"Federation!" Vila didn't wait for the captain to finish his statement. Forgetting all the warnings that had been dinned into him, Vila cleared the neutron blasters and fired.

"No,Vila," Gan bellowed. Only Gan was watching Vila at the time, but he was too far away to prevent the panicked thief from firing. An instant later, he saw the effect on the other ship as the blast jolted the flight deck, but it must have possessed a force wall or its equivalent, for there was no apparent damage.

"Idiot!" Avon yelled and abandoned the force wall control, vaulting over the flight deck couch toward the thief. He yanked Vila away from the weaponry panel. "I told you, those crystals won't take it!" He stepped up to the panel, but before he could do anything with it, the console exploded, sending sparks and thick, acrid clouds of smoke into the room.

The automatic fire suppressants still functioned. The blaze died in seconds. Blake coughed, waved the smoke away from his face and assessed the damage. The weaponry panel was twisted slag and most of the other systems, including the viewscreen, had failed. Emergency lighting red- washed the frightened faces of his crew- with one exception. Avon was lying face down on the deck where he'd been flung by the blast. Cally and Gan were already at his side.

Vila was babbling, "I didn't mean to! I just forgot, is all!"

"Shut up, Vila." Blake had no time for hysterics. He didn't even have time to find out if his computer expert, and sometime friend, was still alive. "Zen," he shouted to the dimly flickering wall panel, "come on line, Zen!" to no result.

"Orac," Blake said. He reached Avon's position in two strides. He slammed the activator into place. "Orac, get me in communication with that ship, now!"

Orac complied. Perhaps he had sufficient self-preservation circuitry to realize that Blake would have smashed him into the bulkhead if he didn't respond promptly for once. Or, perhaps Orac was curious about the other ship and its computer system.

For whatever reason, the screen cleared and revealed the Enterprise's flight deck and its captain, who was now furious. Furious, but still in shrewd control of him himself, Blake judged.

"I apologize, Captain Kirk. That was an accident. My crew is not so well disciplined as yours."

"You're lucky that I am disciplined. I was tempted, sorely tempted, to stage a little `accident' of my own."

"I understand, Captain." Blake sighed and ran his hand through his hair. "My ship is dead, Kirk, entirely at your mercy."

"There is no mercy at the hands of the Federation," Cally said fiercely, lifting her head from the still form she cradled in her lap. "Let us die now, Blake, rather than give them Liberator. "

"Hold on, young lady." Kirk raised his hand. "I don't know what you've been told about the Federation, but we aren't pirates. I have a ship of my own, I don't need yours. And she seems to be in bad shape right now. Your life support systems are failing. Let me bring you aboard Enterprise . You have a lot of questions to answer."

"I have been through Federation interrogation before. I prefer to die in the relative comfort of my own ship." Blake was pleased that none of his crew gainsaid his decision, not even Vila, although there was an audible whimper from that area.

"This is ridiculous, Jim." A human officer, dressed in the same blue as the Vulcan, leaned over Kirk's shoulder. "They've got a badly injured man over there and damn little air. We're wasting time."

"Yes." Kirk locked his gaze with Blake. "Captain..."

"I'm no captain. I'm Roj Blake, as you must know."

"You may be famous where you come from, but I've never heard of you. Now, whether you like it or not, I'm going to have you transferred to my ship. My doctor would never forgive me if I let your shipload of... well, McCoy hates waste." Kirk smiled at the blue - tuniced man beside him, received a snort and nod in affirmation. Kirk continued, "Blake, whatever you imagine to the contrary, I have no designs on your ship or crew. No one will be `interrogated' or harmed in any way. If you behave as guests, you will be treated as guests."

Blake hesitated. Kirk seemed sincere, but how could a Federation officer resist the opportunity to capture Blake, his crew and Liberator ? On the other hand, Blake wouldn't have thought a Federation officer could resist the opportunity to destroy them, as Kirk already had done.

"Hurry, Blake!" The blue shirt, Doctor McCoy, Blake assumed, leaned forward. "I can save your man if you let me."

Blake glanced to the side, taking in Avon and the worried circle about him. Gan met Blake's eyes and shook his head slightly. Cally was simply stroking Avon's hair and crooning some soft Auron song. Avon would die first, and then the rest of them and then the Federation would have Liberator anyway. There wasn't even enough power left to rig a self-destruct. McCoy's concern seemed real, Kirk seemed an honorable man. Blake decided to trust his instincts. After all, they really hadn't much to lose.

"All right, send over your shuttle, or dock with Liberator. We'll not resist you." Blake was tired of fighting.

Jenna gave the weapons rack a significant stare. Blake shook his head. "We'll go quietly, Kirk," he said.

"Good." Kirk smiled. "We have better methods than shuttles, Blake." Kirk depressed a button on the armrest of his chair. "Transporter Chief, beam the crew of that ship to the transporter room nearest sickbay."

Blake was shocked to feel a familiar tingle as Liberator's darkened flight deck faded around him, to be replaced by a room decorated in red and pale gray. The rest of his crew had arrived with him. The not-quite-numbed engineer part of his brain noted that each of them had arrived standing, or in Avon's case, lying, on one of the inset circles set in the deck. A thought struck him and he glanced down at his arms. No teleport bracelet. Not on him or on any of the others. This technology didn't belong to the Federation he knew. Could there be two Federations?

The red-shirted man standing behind what must have been the teleport console said, "Please remain where you are, sir," at Blake's step forward. The man was polite, but then, he could afford to be. The stern-faced men on either side of him were capable of handling any unpleasantness with their drawn sidearms.

At least they weren't wearing helmets. Blake had always hated being threatened by faceless opponents. If he could see a man's eyes, he could judge his character. These men did not have the cold, cruel edge of Federation guards. He was sure they'd shoot if he gave them reason, but they wouldn't derive any pleasure from his pain.

He was beginning to think there were two Federations, and this one was not inherently vicious. Nevertheless, waiting put his nerves on edge, and he was relieved when the door opened and Kirk, the Vulcan and the doctor arrived.

McCoy was single-minded. He went past Blake with barely a grunt. His clear blue eyes passed over the rest of Liberator's crew, then dismissed them. He knelt beside Avon. Cally grasped his arm when the doctor took a small instrument out of the black bag slung over his shoulder.

"What are you doing?" she asked.

McCoy said, acidly, "I am trying to save this man's life. Do you mind?"

Cally looked into McCoy's face, then released his arm. "Please, Doctor, I would be grateful if you could help him."

"Fine. Now, how about you and big boy, here," he said, indicating Gan, "moving back and giving me room to work. I have to stabilize him before we can move him to sickbay."

Bemused, Gan backed away, off the teleport platform. He was unaccustomed to the doctor's attitude. His size generally intimidated people, until they became acquainted with him. Listening to McCoy's defiant mutter as he worked over Avon, Gan realized that the doctor had an eternal adversary who made Gan shrink into insignificance. Gan put his hand on Cally's shoulder. "Don't worry, Cally. This doctor is a good man, I can tell."

"More to the point, is he a good doctor?" Vila asked.

"Shut up and get out of my light," McCoy replied. "Where the hell's that stretcher?"
McCoy would do his best for Avon, Blake decided. He turned his attention to Captain Kirk. "There seems to be some confusion, Kirk, but I begin to believe you, that this Federation is not our enemy."

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Marian Mendez

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