Anathema IV - Alone and SilentBy S.L. Koss
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anathema (-nēth"-m) n., 4. One that is greatly reviled, loathed, or shunned.
[Late Latin, an accursed thing, --
Scorpio sped through the coldness of space heading toward the only home its crew knew at present, the base on Xenon. Hole in its side and low on fuel, their speed was not optimal but it was the best they could do. After the usual complaints and accusations, the crew was at present silent. Avon quite liked it that way. He sat at his console contemplating the main screen which currently showed nothing but void, a perfect inner reflection. He had not bothered to argue that the reason for their impact with the asteroid was the fault of the old and unreliable systems of the ship, they would not listen if he did. They preferred to blame him when things went wrong, never give him credit when they went right, but they were bound to blame him for failures. He found it did not bother him nearly as much as it used to. There had been a time when he would have argued with Blake until they were both blue in the face over the slightest provocation. Blake was gone, Liberator was gone and he could not find it in himself to care whose fault anything was, the plague that was anathema was bound to catch up with him. He had named the program which wrested millions of credits from the Cartel system with a purpose, never expecting it to be the theme of his life.
A shudder rocked the less than smooth flight of the ship prompting the Slave computer to speak up apologetically. /Master, there is an unknown spacial disturbance just ahead of Scorpio disrupting flight stability. And there is a ship on direct approach!/
"Identify the ship." Tarrant ordered.
/Unknown configuration, it is heading directly at us and an adequate profile of the ship cannot be obtained to identify it. I am sorry./
"Never mind, put it up, Slave." Avon ordered, bored.
Everyone looked at the screen as an image appeared. The Liberator's crew recognized immediately the three pod configuration, though Soolin watched perplexed and a little frightened by the apparent size of the thing.
Avon reached over lazily to switch on communications, saying calmly. "Starfire, what is your business in this sector?"
The response which came was unexpected and curt, but Avon complied nonetheless. "Freighter, power down and hold position."
As the engines powered down and the ship came to a stop, Soolin turned to Avon in shock. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" She asked harshly. "What is that thing?"
Avon smiled eerily, folding his arms across his chest nonplused. "That is my son's ship." He said calmly.
"You're what?" Soolin asked, pulling her gun cautiously, as two figures congealed on the flight deck behind Avon and Tarrant.
"What the hell do you call this?" The Star Commander asked, sweeping the deck with the rifle he held, bringing to rest in Soolin's direction. "Put it down, woman or I shall take it from your body." He said authoritatively.
Soolin held her ground. She had never seen Felinians, though she had heard of the cat-like race. She backed up infantismally as Kai approached her. He carried no weapons, though knives were strapped to either wrist and golden hilts were evident in the both his knee high black boots. The cloak he wore over the unadorned black tunic was black, lined in white and black tiger fur, it reached below his waist to mid-thigh. He was taller than Soolin, though not nearly as tall as his companion. Straight black hair was cut neatly as his neckline. Black-lined triangular ears topped his head, their graceful angle matching the angle of his upturned eyebrows. He looked distinctly familiar and distinctly alien at once. As he raised a hand palm toward Soolin, his dark eyes caught her as the ironic smile reminded her unwittingly of Avon. He reached the other hand toward the gun in her now shaking hand. *Give it to me, lovely thing. I shall let no one harm you.* He sent effortlessly.
Soolin gasped at the voice in her mind as Kai curled a hand around her wrist, gently pulling the gun from it. He smiled, looking her up and down appreciatively. "It's called a planet hopper, Lord Commander." He said lightly. "In its present condition, that may be stretching it a bit." He added ironically.
Without putting his rifle down, Star Commander Giareth walked silently around to the side of Avon's console, resting a foot passively against it and bringing the rifle to bear on Avon. "Taken up trading now, thief? Does terrorism and theft no longer pay? When the Altas said you had flown your ship through a VanGellen cloud, I thought they must be mistaken. There are only four in the entire galaxy. I'm sure your computer was competent enough to advise you to avoid it."
Tarrant bit off a bitter reply, the subject was best closed and, whether due to the loss of the ship, or Cally's death, Avon had not been the same since.
Gesturing around him and disregarding the rest of the Star Commander's comment, Avon said flatly. "It generally operates sufficiently."
"Is that what you call it?" Giareth scoffed. "Barely perhaps. It is certainly not something I would attempt to orbit an asteroid in." He looked side long at Kai, growling. "Leave the woman, Majesty."
"Let go of me!" Soolin protested as Kai kept a firm grip on her wrist. She strained uselessly against him. Though light in frame, he held her easily, his smile changing from sardonic to appreciative.
"I like this one, Commander. She has fire. All the ones you have introduced me to were terrified of me." Kai answered, slipping an arm around Soolin's waist easily pulling her closer.
Giareth sighed heavily. "You have laterally hundreds of suitable Felinian, well-bred women of child-bearing age to choose from. I find it difficult to believe none of them is pleasing. Besides, once they get older and have had several children, they do not look so enticing anymore. Just what good is a woman if she is not terrified of you? You would have considerable trouble getting the proper respect from that one and you are not allowed to have a human!"
"She's a bit old for you, isn't she Kai?" Vila inquired sourly. "Besides, I don't think she goes for cats."
Kai growled instantly, though he tried to give humans leeway as they tended to say whatever was in their mind without thinking, he disliked immensely being called a cat, something Vila knew very well. He produced a rifle from under his cloak, pointing it at Vila who stared at the aggressive 10-year-old with wide eyes.
"Why must you invite death, thief?" Kai growled menacingly as Soolin, released, sat back down in a huff, picking her gun up from the floor and holstering it reluctantly.
"What did you up to, Kai?" Avon asked, ignoring with effort the Star Commander who towered over him quite purposefully as he sat. "I did not think you used the jump engines in Federation space."
"I don't." Kai replied easily with another warning growl at Vila. "There's no Federation presence in the entire sector, besides, I would not mind particularly getting into a fight with them, it's not as though they have anything that could challenge Starfire. I wanted to see if the reports the Alta's passed along about the destruction of the Liberator were true." He looked around disdainfully. "I take they are. Besides, the girls wanted me to give you a present." *Mother is worried about your stress level.* He added silently.
With a passive look at Giareth who enjoyed greatly his position and still held the rifle steadily, Avon said stonily. "She knows better than to analyze me."
"Apparently not." Kai said, strolling over to Avon's console confidently. He turned with hiss at Giareth. "Stand down, Commander."
Giareth considered him momentarily, a fleeting moment of challenge passing quickly as he saluted obediently, stepping back, keeping a vantage on the assembled crew. Kai stood curiously examining the control panel in front of Avon, turning to him imperiously. "Is this the best you could do?"
"It is what was at hand." Avon grated.
Kai shrugged and took his bracelet off, placing it on the console he depressed one of the buttons on it. Beneath the bracelet appeared a box, four red roses tied to the top of it. Kai reached for his bracelet and snapped it back on. He studied his father for a brief moment, noting the lines of stress the last several months had added to his face. *The next time things get too rough, call to me. I heard it when Cally died, but you made it impossible to send properly.* The dramatic swiftness with which Avon's eyes turned to stone told Kai the request would go unheeded, though he would not mention that to his mother or sisters.
"More confections?" Avon asked idly.
Kai smiled placidly. "I think they want you to develop a sweet tooth. It keeps them busy anyway and gives them an excuse to perfect their recipes." Kai took one of the roses, examining it thoughtfully. He watched Avon for a brief moment. "How many fuel crystals do you need?" He asked quietly.
"We have enough to get us back to base so long as we keep the speed down. It is clear we shall have to find other fuel sources." Avon said briskly.
Kai looked intently at Avon, calculating the route indicated. "And spend months in this crate?" He asked incredulously. It was certainly not something the crew were not used to, however. He turned to Giareth, challenging him to question. "Go across and see what we can spare in the way of fuel crystals, Commander."
Leaning against the bulkhead behind Kai, Giareth had a good vantage and clear line of fire. He looked at Kai and then at Soolin who sat glaring openly at him. He shrugged casually. "Commander Tarsia can bring them over." As he raised his bracelet to speak, a shower of sparks from the equipment behind him was all that gave an indication of the knife Kai had thrown far too quickly for anyone to see.
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