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Valentine's Day

By Susan Cutter
Page 1 of 4

+The pursuit ships are no longer within sensor range.+

Jenna immediately twisted the flight controls, angling their direction sharply. "Maintain new course at maximum for five minutes and then slow to Standard," she ordered.

+Confirmed.+

She released the controls and flexed her hands. "That was close," she said softly.

"Close?" Vila shuddered. "We almost swapped paint with that ship you brushed past!"

Cally's face was still, but she had her eyes closed. Gan slumped against his back rest.

"The idea was just to get away. You didn't have to play chicken with them!"

"It was the best path out of that position," Jenna snapped. "Would you rather I let them cage us?"

Neither Avon or Blake paid any attention to this exchange. Avon was busy studying his own panel while Blake stared at him.

"Well?" demanded Blake.

Avon let him wait while he fingered a few more controls. Finally he looked up. "Nearly depleted energy banks, burned out power linkages throughout the force wall systems and elsewhere, extensive damage to the surface sensor grids."

"In other words, no serious damage."

"Assuming you equate 'non-lethal' with 'not serious.' You got away with it. Again." One side of his mouth twisted. "I suppose you call that a triumph of leadership."

Blake smiled slightly and turned away. "Zen! Display star chart, section D12."

+Confirmed+

"Better Fed than dead!"

They were all used to Vila's griping, but clearly this time he was genuinely upset, his fear turning into anger. Gan came over from his station and took him gently by the arm. "Never mind, Vila. It's over now."

"We would have been red smears on the walls! Or the whole ship would have blown up and we'd be nothing at all!"

Gan used his grip on Vila's arm to turn him towards the doorway. "But it didn't happen and we're all fine," he said soothingly, and used his greater size to unobtrusively 'lean' Vila into motion. "Let's go get something to drink," he added.

Immediately Vila's resistance to movement died away though he continued to mutter as they walked towards the corridor. "She took ten years off my life, I swear she did."

"Our next target is Centron 23," Blake announced loudly.

Everyone whirled to stare at him.

Blake stabbed his finger onto one of the dots on the stylized chart Zen was displaying. "It's the main transfer point for cistronic components from the manufacturing plants on Amaphil." He turn to the others, a look of anticipation on his face. "That'll put a crimp in their production flow."

Clearly no one else shared his eagerness. Vila's mouth dropped open, Gan looked doubtful, and even Jenna and Cally exchanged glances. Avon gazed at his station's panel as if removing his presence as well as his attention from Blake. "Can't we just take a break," Vila whined. "That was the third supply depot we've blown up in two weeks. They almost caught us this time -- next time they will!"

Jenna nodded, looking sober. "Zen detected those pursuit ships within fifteen minutes of our beam down. The Federation must be concentrating most of their fleet in this sector to have them so close by. Perhaps we should lay low for a bit--"

"No." Blake gave his head one controlled shake. "We can't let up now. They must be really hurting to take that step."

"They aren't the only ones who can be hurt," Vila muttered.

"If we chose a target in a different sector this time it would be safer," Cally suggested.

"Safer, but not as effective. Scattered attacks only wound the Federation, but we're close to crippling their activities in this region. Besides," Blake paused to smile at her, "perhaps the scarcity of Federation ships in all the other regions will inspire *them* to seize their chance." * * *

The room was small, and made smaller by massive cables roping along all surfaces. Avon was lying with his head and shoulders tucked behind a node of electronics that mushroomed from a wall. He squirmed, straining to reach the next wiring junction. "Hand me the probe," he demanded.

Gan hesitated over the array of tools laid out in a neat row in front of him, then set a probe into the hand stuck imperiously out from behind the node. The hand vanished, only to reappear in seconds.

"Not *that* probe! The modulated one, idiot."

Gan managed to control himself yet again. He took the rejected tool and replaced it with another. He did let himself indulge in thinking up things he wouldn't let himself say. _Only an idiot would expect me to read his mind,' maybe? No, better: _Even Cally can't read minds, and you expect me to?_

The door slid open and Blake stepped in. "How goes it?"

"Fine," Gan said.

Avon had stiffened at that cheery hail. "It doesn't 'go' at all," he bit off. "Why else would it need repairs?" He was so tired it actually took him seconds to decide that effort of scrambling to his feet would be better than ceding Blake the positional high ground.

By the time he was upright and able to turn towards the other man, he found him surveying the room with a keenly appraising eye. Blake nodded. "It looks almost fixed, though. Zen! Status report."

+Repairs are proceeding. Primary energy banks are at 17 percent.+

Blake frowned. "Still? It's been almost two days."

"And the sensors are mostly inoperative." Avon smiled savagely. "The Liberator doesn't run by magic, Blake. The autorepair systems require a great deal of energy, component replication even more. Included among the damage you rated 'not serious' were hundreds of faults between the energy accumulation system and the storage banks themselves."

"So until those have been repaired progress will be slow." Blake eyed Avon, noting the reddened eyes, the pallid skin, the weariness he was striving to hide. "That's what you've been working on so hard." His voice softened. "I appreciate it."

Avon grimaced. "There's no need to thank me. It's not for the sake of your glorious revolution, I simply prefer that any ship I'm on not be crippled, and blind to boot." He deliberately turned his back on Blake, walked over to a tray of small assemblies that sat on the deck nearby, and made a show out of carefully selecting several.

"We'll have the job done soon," Gan put in, trying to head off yet another outbreak of verbal warfare.

Blake's eyes swung over to him, a bit startled. "I'm sorry, Gan, I didn't mean to overlook your helping."

Gan smiled. "It's all right, I don't mind."

"That's good, because you are easy to overlook," Avon had returned with his handful of gizmos and was looking him up and down, "except physically." When Gan didn't immediately react Avon gestured. "If you would be so kind as to step out of my way?"

Gan flushed at the sting of rudely over-polite words, but moved to let Avon work his way back behind the node. Blake gave him a sympathetic grimace, and he shrugged in return.

"I'll let you carry on then," Blake said and left.

* * *


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