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By Kathy Hintze
Page 2 of 8

The silence which had encompassed the Liberator's flight deck since their departure from Danmyon was abruptly shattered.

"Blake," Cally called out from her position, "I'm picking up something. It's a high level priority message being sent from Space Command Headquarters."

Three of her companions turned expectantly toward her; one did not. Avon's attention was focused on locating a minor malfunction in the front deflectors.

"What is it?" Blake asked her.

"Shhhh." Cally concentrated, then her face lit up with surprise and joy. "He's alive! Vila is alive!" she exclaimed and Blake was reminded of his own outburst when he had discovered that Cally had survived Centero.

Gan was clearly delighted. Jenna rose from her place and hurried over to Blake, her face reflecting the joy he felt.

Avon, however, was not so impressed. "What are you going to do, Blake?" His impassive face held none of the rejoicing his companions felt.

"Do?" Blake echoed. "I don't know yet. Cally, what exactly did the message say?"

Her face lost some of its happiness. "They were confirming the base commander's request that Space Commander Travis conduct Vila's interrogation."

At the mention of that name, Blake's expression became grim. "Did the message say when Travis was due to arrive?"

"Blake," Avon warned, "it's a trap. They missed once. So they set up Vila's apparent survival to try again."

"He could be alive, Avon," Gan spoke up. "You don't know he's dead."

"True," Avon admitted. "But even if he is, he has no doubt already told them all he knows."

Blake ignored him. "Zen, course change back to Danmyon. Speed: standard by ten." He turned to Cally.

"Travis is due to arrive in ten hours," Cally reported.

"Zen, how long to Danmyon?" Blake asked.

+At present speed, 7.5 hours.+

"Very well."

Avon stood up and glared at him. "Blake, you're being even more stupid than usual."

"Am I?" He looked at Avon. "What do you suggest I do, Avon? Forget about Vila entirely?"

Ignoring the angry stares of his companions, Avon calmly replied, "Check the story out with the local resistance. If there is any truth to it, they will know or can find out."

"That will take time, Avon," Cally pointed out. "And Vila may not have that."

Avon regarded her with cold eyes. "What happened to your instinct for survival?"

"My 'instinct,' as you call it, tells me that Vila is alive," she told him.

Avon looked at his companions, then turned around, went back to his console, and picked up the micro panel he had been working on.

Blake sighed. "Now that that's all settled, here's what I plan to do."


The door to the cell swished open and three figures wearing Federation uniforms entered. Blood had glued Vila's tunic to his back and he had lapsed into delirium. One of the three walked to his side and knelt down. A hand touched his face, and Vila opened his feverish eyes.

/Vila, it is I, Cally./

Vila looked at her weakly. /Blake, he is badly hurt,/ she telepathed. /We must get him out of here and back to the ship./

Blake nodded silently and handed her a teleport bracelet which she snapped onto Vila's wrist. Gan brought his wrist communicator up to speak when an alarm went off and the cell door slammed shut. Gas began pouring into the room.

"Avon, now," Gan shouted.

The teleport field caught them even as the gas took effect. Avon's eyes widened in alarm when they materialized on board. Just before Cally lost consciousness, she saw Avon slam his hand down on the intercom and shout, "Jenna, take us out now!"


"Breathe deeply, Blake."

Was he imagining things or did Avon sound worried? Blake opened his eyes to find out. Avon's face was as calm and impassive as ever, but there had been something in his eyes. Something like concern, which had disappeared the instant after Blake had opened his own.

Cally and Gan were also coming round. Cally got slowly to her feet and moved to Vila's side to examine him. "We have to get him to the medical unit and remove the knife."

Her words somehow got through to the semi-conscious thief. "No," Vila said hoarsely. "No. Don't touch it. Get...Jenna, please."

Blake, Gan, and Cally exchanged wondering looks. "Vila, we must take it out," Cally told him gently.

But Vila's voice, though shaky, was insistent. "Please, Cally. Get Jenna."

And Blake nodded to Avon who walked over and activated the intercom. "Jenna, Blake needs you at the teleport."

A few seconds later, the pilot arrived. "Zen says we got away clean. No pursuit ships." Jenna looked questioningly at Blake.

"What did you want?"

"Not me," Blake told her. "Vila. He wanted you."


"Perhaps your bedside manner is better than Cally's," Avon commented sarcastically.

She ignored him and moved over to where Vila lay. Her eyes took in the knife and widened in alarm. Softly, she said, "Vila, it's Jenna. What is it you want?"

The thief's eyes opened and he squinted up at her, trying to focus. "Jenna, the knife," he gasped. "Saluccian blade."

Her reaction was similar to what Vila's had been when he had found out. "Saluccian!"

The word was echoed by her companions, but its meaning was unknown to them. "What does that mean?" Blake demanded.

Jenna stood up and faced him. "First things first. Vila must be taken as carefully as possible and without jarring the blade to the medical unit. Gan, we'll need the portable litter."

"Jenna, will you please tell me what's going on?" Blake asked in a very worried tone.

"I, too, wish to know," Cally said.

"I'll explain later," Jenna muttered. Then Gan arrived. "We must lift him carefully. Do not jar the knife. Understand?" She glanced at Avon who was still at the teleport console. "We could do it better if you helped." Avon reluctantly got to his feet and came over.

Gan laid the litter next to Vila and Jenna gave out her orders. Gan would take Vila's shoulders; Blake, his legs. Avon and Cally would have to support Vila's midsection, keeping Vila as rigid as possible when he was moved.

"And what will you be doing?" Avon inquired acidly.

"Making sure that blade doesn't move," she snapped back and her companions took their places. "Remember, Avon, Cally, the minute Blake and Gan lift," Jenna reminded, "get your arms under him. Don't let him sag." Avon's eyes flashed, but he nodded acknowledgement as did Cally.

When she was sure, she gave the word. It took only an instant to move him, but Vila screamed in agony and a fresh red blotch began spreading out from the wound.

"Quickly now," Jenna told them and Blake and Gan picked up the litter and carried it to the medical unit. Cally followed a step behind.


Once Vila was transferred to one of the med couches, Jenna delicately cut his tunic and began peeling the blood-soaked fabric from his back, piece by piece. Blake and Gan stood back out of the way, watching Cally connect the med computer's sensor links and set up a plasma transfusion. While they waited for the med computer to complete its check, she set up the respirator.

+Patient has suffered extreme blood loss, shock, and severe trauma,+ advised the med computer using Zen's voice.

"We already know that," Gan muttered worriedly. Blake looked at him and silently agreed. Vila was partially conscious and every time he whimpered, Gan clenched his fists. Cally checked the readout by the computer and turned toward the drug cabinet for an anesthetic.

"Jenna, what's this about 'Saluccian'?" Blake queried.

The pilot explained as she worked. "The Saluccians are the elite force of the Federation, Blake. Specialized training, specialized skills, everything. In many ways, they are the Federation's private army of assassins."

"Why haven't I heard of them before?"

"Blake, what good would a secret army be if people knew about it?"

"Not very much," he conceded. "But you knew about their existence. Vila did, too. How?"

"I can't speak for Vila, but as for me, I first heard about them when I was with the Amorites."

She paused as a piece of fabric got hung up on some dried blood and gently worked it free. "Did you know, Blake, that each member of the Saluccia receives a special weapon when he graduates?"

"That?" he asked, pointing to the knife.

"Yes." She'd finished cleaning the blood from Vila's back.

"Anything I can do to help?" Blake asked.

"Pray," Jenna answered. "Just pray."

"I'm going to remove the knife now." Jenna's voice was steady and reassuring, despite the turmoil going on inside her.

"Right. Everyone ready?" Jenna eyed her companions who nodded back nervously. Her own hands were shaking and she took a moment to still them. Calm, she told herself, one slip and Vila is dead. Calm down, damn you.

There was a small button on the hilt of the knife. It had to be depressed before the blade could be removed. Jenna studied the handle, trying to find it. The weapon had been used frequently, progression through the ranks being attained by the number of kills attributed to its owner, and the button would have become worn almost flat to the base relief.

Jenna frowned and withdrew from Vila's side. A few moments later, she returned with a piece of magnification crystal taken from a drawer across the room. Carefully, she scanned the hilt, looking for the button. It had to be somewhere. Ah, she sighed, there it is.

Jenna took a deep breath and let it out. Then she took another, gripped the hilt, depressed the button, and pulled the knife from Vila's back.

Jenna's face shone triumphantly as she held up the blade. It was bloodstained, yes, but looked no different from any other knife. Blake cocked a curious eye at her and Jenna pressed the button.

From either side of the tip of the blade small, razor-sharp barbs emerged, fanning out in an arc surrounding the point. Minute shreds of skin and tissue clung to them.

"My God," Blake exclaimed. "No wonder Vila didn't want us to pull it out."

"It would have killed him for sure," Gan murmured, staring down at his friend and shuddering.

Cally made no comment. She was occupied with trying to stem the flow of blood.

"Will he be all right?" Blake asked.

Cally smiled. "The tissue was torn up and he has lost a lot of blood, but yes, Blake, I think Vila will be all right."


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