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By Alice C. Aldridge
Page 2 of 6

Jenna stared at Zen's screens, her thoughts nearly as desolate as the bleak scene displayed there. Blake's actions recently, especially their close brush with the Terra Nostra had shaken her confidence, fueling a growing disenchantment with both the man and his cause. She was hardly an idealist. Raised by the pragmatic tenets of the Free Trader's Enclave, she had little patience with Blake's visionary zeal. But the man himself, with his potent charisma and passionate fervor, appealed to her, burning through the icy shell of cynicism she had built around her emotions. Fool that she was, she thought she could seduce him, turning his fervor from politics to romance, then lure him back to her homeworld as the bondmate she needed to claim her inheritance. With Liberator at her command, she was certain they would be eagerly welcomed by the clan she had abandoned years before.

Instead, she found herself sleeping in a cold lonely bed, while Blake remained enamored with his suicidal cause. Staring at Zen's display of icy planet below, Jenna shivered as chill uncertainty gained a foothold in her heart. Her dark brood was interrupted by a static-filled call from the surface.

"Liberator, come in. Liberator, can you hear me? This is Gan."

She activated the comm, "Jenna here. Can you turn up your gain? Your signal's breaking up so I can hardly hear you."

"Same here," his voice was strained. "There's a storm on the way plus my bracelet was shaken up when I was caught on the edge of an avalanche."

"Avalanche?" Jenna jerked upright, "What happened? Where's Blake?"

"I'm not sure. We weren't that far apart when the snow and ice swept over us. After Dickon's men dug me out, I tried to contact him . . . but no luck. I didn't know if our bracelets were damaged . . . or if the approaching storm is to blame. Anyway, the rebels we were supposed to meet are searching for him right now."

Avon retorted sharply, having just entered the flight deck, "You don't expect us to teleport down into the middle of that storm and fetch Blake out of another one of his messes?"

A second voice chimed in on Gan's bracelet, barely audible over the howling wind. "Ash Dickon here. Actually we were hoping you could use your ship's scanners to give us a better idea of where to dig. According to your man here, they were ambushed by a Federation patrol and the exchange of fire triggered the ice slide."

Avon's disapproving expression turned into alarm, "A Federation patrol! Why didn't you alert us sooner? There could be a whole flotilla of pursuit ships lying in wait up here, ready to ambush us!"

"No," Dickon's flat denial cut across Avon's outburst. "Space Command sent in a construction gang just after we blew the relay station, but that was all until Space Commander Travis showed up with a recon patrol in the last twenty-four hours. Which was why I arranged a rendezvous with Blake rather than giving him our coordinates."

"And you didn't see fit to inform him he might be teleporting down into the middle of a possible Federation ambush?" There was a brittle edge to Avon's voice.

"The risk was small," Dickon's reply was equally sharp.

"Except he still managed to get himself buried on this frozen hellhole," Avon bared his teeth in a feral grin. "And you want our help to dig him out."

Cally's soft voice interrupted as she entered the flight deck, "I will teleport down as soon as I get my cold weather gear. Even though I cannot read Blake's thoughts, I may be able to sense his aura . . . if he is still alive." She turned a questioning gaze on Avon and Jenna, "Will either of you be coming with me?"

Jenna glanced over at the helm controls then back to the icy wasteland on the viewscreen. "I'll come . . ."

"Don't be a fool, " Avon hissed. "If that is Travis down there, odds are he has a flotilla of pursuit ships in orbit nearby, just waiting for their chance at Liberator."

Jenna hesitated a moment, recalling their prior encounter with the ruthless Federation officer, who was so obsessed with killing Blake. He exhibited a ruthless savagery and keen animal cunning that had nearly resulted in their deaths on two separate occasions. Much as she hated to admit it, Avon was probably right since Travis seemed equally eager to get his hands on Liberator as on Blake.

"All right, " she nodded reluctantly, "but we can still use Zen's scanners to help find Blake, while Orac monitors communications for any sign of a Federation patrol"

Avon nodded in sour disagreement, getting the necessary details from Dickon and Gan.

Jenna and Cally exchanged glances before the Auron left to don her cold weather gear. Yet even as Jenna busied herself with Liberator's controls convinced she'd made the best decision for everyone's sake, she also knew she'd taken one more irreversible step distancing herself from Blake and his cause.

* * *

Back inside the bare comfort of their shuttle, the surviving members of Travis's patrol shivered and groaned as their numbed extremities began to thaw. While the other troopers sprawled on the deck, Brant rummaged hastily through the weapons locker, giving a grunt of satisfaction when he found a tripod-mounted wide-beam laser.

"Whattya want that for?" one of his comrades demanded. "The rebel scum are still snug in their cozy burrows. I doubt they're going to come charging down on us in this weather."

"No, " Brant nodded grimly, "but this is the only thing that might be able to dig Commander Travis out from under that avalanche."

"Dig him out?" the scan tech retorted in astonishment. "He's on ice permanently this time . . . and good riddance, I say."

Brant glanced half-guiltily at the impassive features of the mutoid who had piloted their ship, before snarling at the outspoken scan tech. "Shut your gob, Randall. He's our superior officer."

"So what?" the resentful trooper shrugged. "He's gone now, buried under a mountain of snow and ice . . . and we're better off without him."

Brant pondered that hopeful thought for a moment before reality reared its ugly head. He questioned the mutoid pilot. "Can you plot a course to take us back to Exeter?"

Her inhuman gaze seemed to look right through him. "On whose authority?"

"Mine, zombie." He tried to summon a hint of the Commander's assured arrogance as he gave his orders. "Section leader Brant, service number gamma 692 708, assuming command in the field after the death of Space Commander Travis."

"The Commander is not dead," she replied emotionlessly. "Laseron weaponry remains intact, transmitting biosign telemetry and a homing signal."

Brant shrugged, turning a resigned look on his dejected troops before half- pleading with the nonhuman pilot, "At least transmit a distress signal. Even if we're able to locate the Commander, odds are it will take more men and equipment than we've got to dig him out,".

After a seemingly eternal hesitation, she nodded and activated the shuttle's comm link.

Turning back to the reluctant squad, Brant grimaced "It looks like our only chance of getting off this iceball is to fetch the Commander . . . or his laser arm, at least . . . back." He addressed the surly scan tech. "Randall, see if you can pick up that telemetry signal the zombie referred to, then give us a readout on its coordinates."

Picking up his discarded, ice-rimed parka, he ordered harshly, "We better get kitted out again before we lose our nerve."

* * *

Blake groaned as consciousness insinuated itself back into his befogged brain. Every inch of his body ached as though he'd been beaten by a Federation Security Squad. He cracked open one eyelid experimentally, surprised to see a dusky blue half-light rather than claustrophobic darkness he'd expected after the avalanche swept over him. After brushing the snow from his face, Blake tenatively explored his chest and his ribs, relieved to find that, though stiff and sore, he was relatively uninjured.But when he tried to flex his legs, they were pinned down, unable to move.. He took a deep shuddering breath. Though he was out of the wind, the bitter cold had settled in his bones. Turning up the thermoswitch on his parka, he relaxed ever so slightly at the answering surge of heat that momentarily banished that chill.

Ignoring the strain on his back and shoulders, he pushed upright, anxious to see why his legs were immobilized. There was a body lying across them - in Federation issue coldgear - unconscious, but still breathing. Frantically, Blake groped for his weapon and once he had it in his grip, leaned over, tentatively pushing the hood back from the comatose figure's face.

Though the face was swollen and covered in blood, Blake spotted the stark black patch and recoiled as he recognized the scarred features of his worst enemy - Travis!

A blind rage boiled up inside him as he recalled the agonized, dying screams of his Freedom Party followers as they were butchered by Travis and his men. Jamming his weapon against Travis's throat, Blake's hand trembled on the firing switch. . . but he couldn't press it. The soldier was unconscious . . . defenseless! If he fired now, he would worse than Travis; killing in cold blood, without even the excuse of duty. He stared into the slack face of his would-be nemesis, trying to feed his rage so he would be able to destroy the rabid killer who hounded him across the galaxy. It wouldn't be murder, he whispered hoarsely to himself, only just retribution for the crimes this monster had committed on Earth and elsewher e.

Yet as he stared at those unconscious features without the Gorgon mask of hatred warping them, he saw the human face beneath. Not just a juggernaut of vengeance, but a man, his age or younger, shaped and molded by the Federation into Servalan's hound and antagonist of the Freedom Party. He'd defeated and humiliated Travis every time their paths crossed. Yet Servalan kept hurling the man against him, time after time, despite repeated failures, until he had to wonder just who she was set on destroying - him or her loyal officer.

He started to ease his legs out from under the limp body, muttering to himself in disgust, "I may be a rebel outlaw, Travis, but I'm not a butcher and I won't kill an unarmed man . . . not even someone who deserves it as much as you do."

As he put his weapon down in order to use both hands to free himself, to his surprise Travis's eye opened, startling Blake with its piercing clarity.

"Then you're a bigger fool than I thought," he snarled, glaring at the weapon just out of his reach. "I'd burn you down without a second thought."

Blake edged cautiously away, all too aware of the soldier's savage speed and strength, then winced at the sharp pain shooting up his left leg as he picked up his weapon and pointed it at Travis. "Maybe so, but unlike you, I have an aversion to killing a helpless foe."

Catching his breath, he gazed around curiously, noticing the ice-glazed walls that curved up over their heads and the still air growing stale with their accumulated exhalations.

"Just lie still, Travis, while I look for a way out of here," he warned, inching cautiously to his feet.

"Save your energy, " the Space Commander coughed weakly. "There isn't one. Can't you tell? We' re trapped in one of the ice caves inside the glacier! We must have dropped through its ceiling just ahead of the avalanche. Now we're buried under tons of snow and ice inside this mountain - like preatomic warrior gods, sealed up for eternity."


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