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A Difference of One

By Kaelar
Page 1 of 1

Tarrant was hovering anxiously near the communicator when Zeeona's call came through. "It's all clear," she reported. "The virus is gone."

The others watched as Tarrant, very obviously relieved, keyed the switch and replied, "Good. We'll be there soon."

"So what do we do now?" Vila asked from where he lounged in his seat.

"It's a sure bet Zukan revealed our location," Soolin warned.

The past few weeks of tension were beginning to show on Avon's face as he spoke. "We'll have to abandon Xenon," he told everyone tiredly.

"What, just up and leave?" exclaimed Vila.

"Unless you prefer to be the welcoming party when the Federation arrives," snapped Avon.

"Just as I was finally getting used to the place," Vila muttered. As Avon glared at him he hastily added, "But I see your point. When do we leave?"

"In two days," Avon replied. "Dayna and Soolin will transfer medical supplies to Scorpio; Vila, you will load the food packs and assist me in taking care of the movable computer equipment. And Tarrant, you and Zeeona will see to the maintenance of Scorpio, if you can manage it without becoming too...distracted by each other."

Tarrant's head snapped up, and his face flushed as he stared at Avon, who was watching him serenely. Tarrant knew Avon was waiting for a response, so he bit back his initial retort and calmed down. "I'm sure we can manage," he replied. "But, if you like, we wouldn't mind having you chaperone us."

Vila was unsuccessful at stifling his laughter. But when both Avon and Tarrant turned to glare at him, he quickly put on his best innocent expression.

"We're coming up on the base," Dayna announced, forestalling whatever punishment the two men might have had in store for the thief.

"Prepare for landing, Slave." Tarrant was all business again. Besides, he was anxious to see Zeeona; to make sure she really was all right. Scorpio flew on toward the hidden base.

* * *

Vila, Dayna, and Soolin ran to the teleport bay as Scorpio lurched wildly. Tarrant tore his attention from the controls long enough to order, "Zeeona! You're going with them! Hurry!"

"I'm not!" she shot back, staring defiantly at him.

Avon operated the teleport and the three figures disappeared. "What are you doing?" Tarrant shouted at him. "Zeeona..."

"We don't have time for arguments," Avon said tersely. He picked up Orac and staggered to the teleport.

"Zeeona, please!" Tarrant pleaded.

"No," she shook her head stubbornly. "I'm staying with you." They both watched as Avon teleported to Gauda Prime. Scorpio bucked wildly as they neared the planet's surface.

"The ground is very close, sir," observed Slave somewhat worriedly.

"I know!" shouted Tarrant.

"Are we going to make it?" Zeeona inquired as she watched Tarrant fight to keep the ship right side up.

"I don't..." Tarrant started to answer, then there was no more time for talk. Scorpio bounced roughly through the forest, and momentarily became airborne again.

Inside the ship, Tarrant and Zeeona were thrown roughly from their seats. Tarrant crashed painfully into a console, wrenching his knee and bruising his face. Zeeona had been flung against the wall and lay unconscious. Tarrant looked dazedly about until he spotted her. He watched in horror as a strut from the ceiling started to cave in above her. Without a further thought he dived across the few feet separating them, covering her body protectively with his own. Then a heavy weight struck him, and he knew nothing.

* * *

Zeeona awoke to darkness, and began to panic when, at first, she couldn't move and had difficulty breathing. Adrenalin surged through her and she managed, after struggling madly, to free herself from the wreckage. She sat and drew deep breaths for a few minutes, then turned to look at the rubble that had entrapped her. She noticed another figure still entombed there.

"Del!" she cried, and started pulling frantically at the heavy beam that pinned him. She managed to move it a few inches, pushing some of the weight off Tarrant's shoulders. Then she grabbed his arms and carefully dragged him to safety.

After making sure he was still alive, she checked his injuries; the worst being on his back, where the beam had hit him. Nothing looked broken, but there could be internal injuries. She stumbled to the rest room facilities and managed to coax some water from the smashed sink, soaking a cloth. She used it to clean Tarrant's bloodied face.

Through a fracture in the hull, she could see night was approaching rapidly; it was getting colder, too. She leaned back against the wall and pulled Tarrant as close to herself as she could, trying to keep him warm. Then the shock of the past few hours caught up to her, and she fell asleep.

The sound of firing woke her suddenly. At first she thought she'd imagined it, then another volley lit up the interior of the ship. The sound had managed to rouse Tarrant slightly, too, because he groaned and started stirring as she tried to move him further back into the dark recesses of the ship. However, blaster fire cut them off.

"Don't move!" a voice suddenly commanded. "Let them think you're dead." A bulky man moved cautiously towards them.

Zeeona didn't find his unkempt appearance reassuring. "Who are you?"

"Quiet!" the man rasped. He paused, then suddenly fired through an opening in the ceiling. The ship that had been shooting at them veered away and moments later they heard it crash.

The man approached them. By now Tarrant was attempting to sit up. As he stepped into the light, Zeeona could see the scar that ran across the man's left eye. He knelt before them and helped Tarrant. "Are you two all right?" he asked.

"I'm fine," answered Zeeona cautiously. "But I'm not sure about...him." For some reason she felt she shouldn't tell the man Del's name. "He may have internal injuries."

"How about it, boy?" the man questioned. "Do you think you're hurt inside?"

"No," Tarrant replied, wincing as he wiggled his shoulders experimentally. "Not inside."

The man laughed and, with Zeeona's help, got the pilot to his feet. "We've got a fine medical center at my base," he offered as they exited the wreckage of Scorpio. "They'll take proper care of you."

"Who was in that ship that was firing on us?" Tarrant wondered.

"Gun runners," their host replied. "They weren't after you, but me."

"Why?" They'd just reached the man's hopper, and Zeeona was curious.

"Let's just say it had something to do with a deal neither of us intended to keep," the man replied cryptically. They entered the hopper and took off.

As they flew over the trees, Tarrant noticed their rapidly changing course and commented, "We'd arrive much sooner if you would fly in a straight line."

"It's an old smugglers' trick," the man explained.

"Did you learn it from an old smuggler?" Tarrant asked.

"No, from a young one, actually. Her name was Jenna."

Tarrant fought not to show a reaction to the familiar name. "What happened to her?" Zeeona asked.

"She tried to run the blockade once too often. Happens to them all eventually. So she hit the self--destruct, and took half a squadron of gunships with her."

"I'm sorry," Zeeona said.

"Don't be. Brace yourselves." The ship headed in for a landing.

As they walked into the base, Tarrant and Zeeona hung back behind the man. "What's wrong?" Zeeona whispered.

"I think that's Blake," Tarrant answered quietly.

Zeeona's eyebrows rose in surprise. "Him?!"

Tarrant had no chance to reply as the man turned to face them. "Through here," he motioned to a doorway.

As they entered, a man in the room stood. "Well now, bounty hunter. That was a short trip, even by your standards," he commented.

"Short..." Blake maneuvered behind Tarrant and grabbed his gun. "But profitable, even by my standards, Deva."

Zeeona gasped as the weapon was flashed in their direction. "Was it something I said?" Tarrant asked resignedly.

"Who are they?" Deva questioned Blake.

"His name is Tarrant; the girl I don't know."

"How did you know his name?" Zeeona asked.

"Your computer mentioned it whilst you were unconscious." Blake turned to Deva. "He has a very high Federation price on his head; he also has several associates with Federation prices, and one of them is particularly valuable."

"And all of them are particularly dead," Tarrant stated flatly.

Blake raised an eyebrow. "In which case that other flyer was merely a coincidence. Now, why don't you two sit down." He motioned with his gun.

The communicator beeped. "Yes?" Deva answered.

"There's a flyer just put down in a silo. It had all the right signals, but it isn't one of ours," reported a woman's voice.

"Let them through," Blake ordered.

Deva passed on the command, then said, "Is that wise?"

"We don't want them damaged, do we?" Blake countered. "Give me one security person. I'll meet them myself."

While Deva called for Arlen, Tarrant glared at Blake. "What on earth happened to you?"

"Oh, most of it wasn't on Earth, Tarrant. Not what happened to me," Blake almost snarled. At that moment Arlen entered the room. As Blake turned to face her, Tarrant sprang into action.

He jumped on Blake, knocking him into Arlen, making it impossible for her to use her weapon. "Run!" he yelled to Zeeona. She dashed from the room, pushing Deva aside.

Arlen managed to dodge around Blake and clubbed Tarrant with her gun, sending him to the floor. "Shall I go after her?" she asked Blake eagerly.

"Of course not," Blake snapped, kneeling by Tarrant. The pilot was still conscious, but his eyes were glazed. "She'll no doubt manage to meet up with Avon and the others soon enough."

"So, she got away," Tarrant croaked triumphantly.

"Yes, we let her," Blake told him. "I think we can trust you two."

"What? Let her? Trust us? What are you talking about?"

"Come on," Blake got the pilot to his feet and practically carried him from the room. "Let's get you to the medical center. I'll explain on the way." As they walked down the hall, Blake said, "You see, it was all an elaborate test. I'm no more a bounty hunter than you are. But I use the routine to gauge possible recruits for my operation here."

"So you are still fighting the Federation."

"Oh, yes," Blake said grimly. They reached the center and Blake helped Tarrant onto a table as the doctor clucked disapprovingly at Tarrant's injuries.

Just then alarms started sounding. "Security personnel to main tracking gallery. Security personnel to main tracking..." The woman's voice was abruptly cut off.

Blake started to leave, and Tarrant attempted to follow. "No, stay here," Blake ordered. "Your friends won't be hurt, I promise." He was gone.

* * *

Zeeona fled down the corridors, expecting to be fired on at any moment. Surprisingly, no one followed her. She quietly entered the main control room and tried to sneak past the woman monitoring the screens, but she was seen.

"Just a minute," the woman blocked Zeeona's way. "Where are you going?"

Zeeona pushed her out of the way and tried to run, but the woman was quick and managed to grab Zeeona's arm. As they struggled, a man ran to aid the woman. He'd just grabbed Zeeona when blaster fire rang out, and he fell to the floor dead.

The woman used the opportunity to alert the base to the rebels' presence. Dayna ran over and restrained her, pulling her away from the console. "I'm glad you made it," Soolin said to Zeeona. "Where's Tarrant?"

"The bounty hunter's got him," Zeeona explained breathlessly.

"Bounty hunter?" Vila asked nervously.

"Tarrant seemed to think it was Blake." Zeeona stopped talking as Blake and Arlen entered the room. "There he is. Is that Blake?"

"That's him," Vila affirmed.

Avon faced the weary figure coming towards him. "Is it true, Blake?"

"She doesn't understand, Avon. I set this up." Blake took a few steps toward his old ally, Arlen following closely.

"Stand still!" Avon snarled, aiming his gun at Blake.

"Avon, I was waiting for you!" Blake tried to explain.

Avon's eyes widened. "Yes!" he hissed. As Blake moved toward him once again, Avon's finger tightened on the trigger...

"Avon, no!" a voice shouted. A figure rushed down to stand by Blake's side.

"Del!" Zeeona sobbed with relief, but wisely stayed where she was.

Tarrant was without his shirt, and a huge ugly bruise was forming on his chest, which was still bloody from the various cuts on it. "Avon, listen to me," Tarrant began quietly. "Zeeona doesn't know the whole story. He's not a bounty hunter."

The gun wavered slightly in Avon's hand. "He's right," Blake said. "You know I wouldn't betray you, Avon."

"Do I?" Avon sneered, but he lowered his weapon. "That's not a very intelligent way to greet old acquaintances, Blake."

Blake sighed deeply as the others relaxed. "Neither is that," he said, gesturing toward Avon's gun.

"Yes, well, it's difficult to tell who you can trust," Avon countered.

"That's right," Arlen said suddenly, jabbing her gun in Blake's back. "Drop your weapons, all of you." Dayna raised hers quickly, aiming at Arlen.

As the young girl fired at Dayna, Tarrant grabbed her arm, sending the shot into the ceiling. He wrenched the gun from her hand and knocked her out with it. He looked at Blake, smiling. "Never let it be said I didn't return a favor," he remarked.

Blake nodded and told Klyn to call for a security team to take care of Arlen. "Thank you for your timely interruption just now. How did you know what was going on?"

"You have her to thank for that," Tarrant pointed at Klyn. "She left communications open. I heard everything that was said. I'm afraid I left your doctor a little confused, though."

Zeeona took his arm. "Then we should go back and apologize to him, and let him finish with you. You don't look well."

"I'm not exactly feeling well, either," Tarrant grimaced.

As they left the room, Zeeona turned to Blake. "I'm sorry about what happened," she said. "I almost got you killed."

"No, the fault was mine," Blake corrected. "Deva warned me my tests could cause trouble one day. And now," he continued as Deva entered the tracking gallery, "I'm sure he's going to tell me again." Blake listened patiently as Deva started in on him. Avon and the others just watched and listened. Avon seemed particularly amused.

"You're going to be all right, aren't you?" Zeeona asked as they walked slowly toward the medical center.

"I don't know," Tarrant began. "The doctor seems competent enough, but..." he paused, enjoying the worried look on Zeeona's face.

"What?" she demanded.

"Well, there's not a single pretty nurse."

Zeeona was silent a moment, then Tarrant started laughing, and she joined him. "You..." she said threateningly. She took his hand. "For some reason, Del Tarrant, I think finding a pretty nurse will be the least of your problems."

"I sincerely hope so," Tarrant smiled. They entered the medical center.

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