Frozen in Hell

By Julia Stamford

Blake shivered, and pulled his jacket tighter around him. "All right, Avon, say it and get it over with," he said wearily.

Avon looked back at him, face blandly innocent save for the trace of malice in his eyes. "Say what? Cally is the mind-reader, not me."

"No, you're just our resident Cassandra. So go on, say 'I told you so', or I'll start wondering if you're sickening for something."

Another remote colony begging for help: a small mining colony on an uninhabitable planet, its life support dependent on the technology that its products bought. Only the Federation hadn't wanted to pay the agreed price and resorted to force.

Liberator had picked up the distress call, but by the time they'd arrived, there'd been no signal for some hours and yet another furious row on the flight deck. Blake had eventually bullied his electronics genius into accompanying him to the underground colony, on the grounds that the silence probably only meant that the communications systems were damaged and would benefit from Avon's skilful attention.

An underground colony, because using the original mine workings for dwelling space was cheaper and safer than using domes. Far enough underground that Blake and a grumbling Avon had been able to teleport into the top level, but then had to make their way on foot to the lower living quarters. Which was where they'd been when Vila's frantic voice had informed them that three pursuit ships had just appeared.

The malice in Avon's eyes grew more noticeable. "All right, I told you so. I told you it was a trap, I told you only an idiot would go so deep that the rock would prevent us from teleporting out. Only that makes me an even bigger idiot for letting you persuade me. Now can we get on with the business of trying to survive until Liberator can return for us? If it returns."

"What do you mean, if it returns? Do you really think that they wouldn't come back for us?"

Now the acid had reached Avon's voice. "Oh, I'm sure that they will come back for you, their revered leader. If they can." He elaborated, "With two of the crew missing, how effective will Liberator be in a fight?"

Blake noted what Avon had not quite said. "Do you really think they'd abandon you? After all this time together?"

"Perhaps not. Although Jenna sometimes thinks we've spent too much time together already." A dry chuckle, and then, "I remind her too much of the things she doesn't like in herself." The harsh amusement in his expression strongly suggested that Avon meant it quite literally. His face returned to its normal mask as he continued, "Let us hope that it is just a random patrol, and not Travis. Travis is too persistent to abandon the chase. It could be a long and very cold wait if they have to shake him off."

Blake nodded in agreement, then returned to inspecting the control systems. The emergency lighting was dim but serviceable, allowing him to read the life support readouts. "At least there's plenty of air. That won't be a problem."

"With just the two of us, the loss of power to the circulation system won't matter." Avon walked over to join him at the console, scanned it briefly, then pointed at a temperature gauge. "That is our real problem."

"Almost down to freezing. I knew it felt cold, but I wouldn't have expected to be that bad already." Blake shivered again. Knowing that it was partly his mind telling him that he should feel cold at that temperature didn't make him feel any better.

Avon shrugged. "This is an ice world. It isn't habitable without full life support."

"And the power's been off long enough for the base to lose heat. I suppose that with full backup systems they thought they only needed enough insulation to give them a few hours leeway." Blake sighed.

"No, they wouldn't have expected to lose both backups as well. Not that it matters for them any more." Avon's soft voice was expressionless, but still somehow managed to convey disgust. He paused, then went on in a more normal tone, "A pity we didn't wear the thermal suits. I doubt the batteries would have lasted until Liberator's likely return time, but at least we would have been more comfortable while they did."

"All right, you don't have to keep saying 'I told you so'. Once is enough," Blake grumbled. "I didn't expect to find all three power systems smashed beyond our ability to repair them."

"Neither did I, or I might have insisted on going back to the ship immediately."

"Well, you didn't, so we'd better set about making ourselves as comfortable as possible while we wait," Blake said briskly. "Suggestions?"

Continued in Frobidden Star Two...

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Last updated on 19th of December 1997.