Not to KnowBy Harriet Bazley
Page 2 of 46
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Another day, another spaceship... Only it wasn't just another spaceship. Kerril kept her eyes firmly on Vila's bobbing brown tunic ahead of her, concentrating very hard on not being impressed by the sheer scale of the ship. How many more corridors could there be before they reached the bridge, or the control centre, or wherever it was that Vila had said they were going?
She'd heard of Blake's Liberator, of course. As it happened, the Liberator had been one of the subjects of the tall tales they'd been swapping over that gambling game that had cost her all her newly-earned credits and left her desperate enough to sign up with Bayban - a mistake she'd regretted within days.
But she'd written off all the tales of an alien battleship on a crusade across the galaxy as just that - tall tales, like the hoary old legend she'd told when it was her turn, the story of the 'Flying Dutchman' who'd lured the salt-water ships of pre-space-flight Earth to disaster. She'd vaguely assumed that the Liberator was real enough, a one-off raider ship built by some crack-pot designer on a backwater planet and taken over by the rebel Blake, and put down all the rest of it to the exaggerations of dome-bound civilians, planet-crawlers who'd never even seen a ship.
Well, now she was on the Liberator, and it was unnerving. It was all wrong. Spaceships didn't look like this inside. The bulkheads were at the wrong angle - in fact she wasn't sure those were bulkheads at all - the walls of the corridors were slanted, and whatever it was they were made of, it gave the distinct impression of glowing. Alien, that's what it was. And the whole vessel seemed to be every bit as big as that broken-down pursuit ship crewman had claimed. Lost his nerve, they'd said. Babbling nonsense. If she ever got back to that bar, she'd have a tale or two to tell - but then they wouldn't believe her, either. Kerril bit her lip and resolved again not to allow herself to be intimidated.
She could feel the other woman's eyes burning into her back; the young one, the girl. From what Vila had told her, none of them had wanted Kerril on the ship. They'd been polite enough to her down on the planet, when they'd cut a swathe through Bayban's entire force in order to rescue Vila - who'd already rescued himself by that time, thank you very much.
But up on the ship was different, was it? She could feel the hostile eyes between her shoulder-blades... she wished she had her leathers back, now. She felt exposed in the thin cloth of her green chiton. But she'd wanted to show Vila she wasn't quite the scruffy mercenary he'd taken her for. Of course, he'd turned out not to be quite the little squirt she'd taken him for; she grinned, remembering. And steady as a rock when it counted.
So they didn't want her on the ship. Well, it was mutual. She hadn't wanted to be here, either. She'd wanted to be on Homeworld, with Vila - their planet, their own planet, the first place that she could have felt was home since she'd been shipped off-planet at the age of fourteen...
And then Bayban had turned up just at the wrong moment. Vila had grabbed her gun and tried to shove her through the gate to Homeworld, to safety; but she wasn't having any of that. Whatever happened, they were going to face it together... and she knew Bayban, she knew his tactics, and Vila would need her help to deal with him. And after that awful moment when the gate had started to close and she'd known none of them had time to get through - well, she'd got them away, hadn't she? Through the base with Bayban raging after them, and out into the open until they'd lost him.
They'd thought they were safe then. She hadn't told Vila - she didn't know if she could admit even to Vila - just how afraid she'd been, when during that endless wait alone on the surface in the cold and the wind she'd felt that prickling on her spine and turned to see Bayban grinning behind her. She'd betrayed him - she'd gone over to the winning side - and she'd seen in that fraction of a second just how bitterly that crazy power-mad killer hated her guts.
Well, she'd hated his guts, too, for weeks; and she'd emptied her gun into them while he took that fatal moment out to gloat. She'd always known Bayban's ego would kill him in the end. A pity that she'd never get to collect the bounty - but she got considerable satisfaction from the thought that he'd have hated that worst of all.
The empty gun tapped uselessly at her waist as they passed one last intersection and Vila's pace slackened. He glanced back and caught her hand as she came up behind him.
"All right, this is it, Kerril - the flight deck."
He was so obviously caught between pride in the ship and nervousness at the anticipated reaction of the rest of the crew that she couldn't restrain a grin. But her jaw dropped as they reached the end of the corridor and she saw for the first time the sheer size of the open space beyond. It wasn't so much that the Liberator's flight deck was bigger than the pilot's cabin on an orbital shuttle. She'd expected that. It was more that it was almost big enough to hold the entire shuttle...
Nor was the size just for show. At eye-level on the far side of the flight deck was the lower edge of the biggest viewscreen she'd ever seen; every scrap of wall space seemed to be lined with what looked like auto-mated analysis and monitoring controls and displays, while the deck space was split between a network of what had to be linked flight or command consoles and - somewhat incongruously to her eyes - a bank of seating and a low table which seemed to have migrated in from what would have been the mess deck on a Federation vessel. She remembered what Vila had told her and looked around for the golden-red dome of the giant computer Zen. She almost missed it at first, until a new pattern of lights rippled across its surface and she suddenly realised that the 'dome' she'd been looking for occupied an entire wall.
Some of the flight positions were occupied. She became conscious of more eyes on her - two men and a woman, all of whom she half-recognised from that brief encounter down on the planet. The girl was still standing in the entrance to the flight deck, and they were all looking at her, even Vila. She became aware that she was holding Vila's hand, that her mouth was open and that her chiton was uncomfortably grimy...
Vila watched her pull herself together and raise her chin to meet the new challenge. He gave her hand a last squeeze before releasing it, both proud and apprehensive on her behalf. Avon's face was as unreadable as ever. Go easy on her, Avon, he willed at him. Please?
"I gather I'm not welcome." Kerril looked around the flight deck defiantly, determined to get Blake's crew to acknowledge her.
"Let's just say that Avon's reserving judgement for the moment." The closer of the two men, a tall, fresh-faced young man with a cap of springy brown curls, was giving her an appraising look that made Vila, beside her, stiffen indignantly. But the appraisal ended in a swift charming smile that transformed his face and surprised a reluctant grin out of her in return. She began to relax slightly.
"Del Tarrant." Vila was making hasty introductions. Tarrant's name was followed by a glare at its owner which slid off that seamless self-confidence like meteor dust around a force-shield. "Dayna Mellanby." The glowering brown-skinned girl who had met them at the teleport. "Kerr Avon." An older, square-built man, who was watching her from behind a face like a wary mask. "Cally." An intelligent face, too long for beauty, framed by clinging brown ringlets. Vila spoke the brief name with affection, and the woman met Kerril's gaze with a hint of calm welcome in the shadowed eyes.
Vila was still turning. "Oh, and this is Zen," he added, apparently seriously, as a final introduction, waving in the direction of the great dome to her right. The pattern of golden light shifted as he spoke, almost as if in response, and Kerril's eyes narrowed as she shot an incredulous swift glance from Vila to the computer.
"Gun, please, Vila." The girl from the teleport had somehow materialised on the far side of Vila - she moved as swiftly and silently as a stealthed scout-ship, Kerril conceded with reluctant professional respect - and the tone of command was unmistakable.
"What? I'm not wearing a gun, Dayna," Vila protested, turning to stare at her.
"Hers," Dayna hissed at him, hostile dark eyes flickering past him in a glance at Kerril's holster.
"All right, all right -" Vila's eyes rose to Kerril's in naked appeal, and she shrugged - even if the gun hadn't already been empty, she was hardly going to start a fight over giving it up when she was dependent on the goodwill of the Liberator's crew to get her off Keezarn - and unstrapped the weapon while still gazing around the flight deck. Something was puzzling her -
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