Shop Forum More Submit  Join Login
About Deviant Core Member HimoffUnited Kingdom Recent Activity
Deviant for 8 Years
7 Month Core Membership
Statistics 28 Deviations 31 Comments 2,543 Pageviews

Newest Deviations

Mature content
Blake's 7: Liberators - Chapters 4 and 5 :iconhimoff:Himoff 0 0
Mature content
Blake's 7: Liberators - Chapters 2 and 3 :iconhimoff:Himoff 1 0
Literature
Blake's 7: Liberators - Chapter 1
The second part of the Blake's 7: Survivors series

A galaxy in chaos... A rebellion reborn... A legend returns. This is the Fourth Century of the Second Calendar - A new 7, with enemies old and new to face...
Link to my Blake's 7 fanfiction folder
Prologue
The human race, just after the intergalactic wars of the late third century of the Second Calendar... Depleted, worn out, exhausted by the toll taken by the long struggle for their very existence. A new age had begun, for good or ill.
Yet, in the aftermath of the second war, there was optimism. The oppressive regime of the Terran Federation was gone, its military might destroyed - old notions of democracy, fairness and equality cautiously reemerged, as new political structures g
:iconHimoff:Himoff
:iconhimoff:Himoff 1 0
Mature content
Blake's 7: Survivors - Chapter 17 and Epilogue :iconhimoff:Himoff 1 0
Literature
Blake's 7: Survivors - Chapter 16
In orbit of Earth's moon, the UniS flagship Leviathan was a hive of activity inside and out, undergoing emergency repairs. The gaping wound left by Revenant's cruel impact still threatened the vessel's basic stability, and time was of the essence if it was to be saved.
"No...! What will happen is this - You will listen to me, a full Admiral, and you will learn how the chain of command works... If an Admiral demands priority, an Admiral receives priority...! I do not wish to know about such details, it is your job to facilitate what I need! And what I need, and I cannot quite believe I have to go through this again, is dropships! Assault craft! Marines! Heavy artillery! And I need them now!"
Admiral Zanso switched the comm-link off in a foul mood and collapsed back in to his chair in Leviathan's flag officer day-cabin - His again, now President Scarn had vacated it at last. He rubbed a hand over his eyes, and sighed as a beep announced the arrival of another visitor -
:iconHimoff:Himoff
:iconhimoff:Himoff 1 0
Literature
Ninja Turtles: What Casey Did Next (Part 2)
A 90s movies story

Previously: What Casey Did Next (Part 1)



Link to Tales of the 90s Movie Ninja Turtles Folder




Chapter 3: Benny/Benjy


New York - 1 week after the (20th century) events of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III...

Light flooded in as the shutter was pulled up and hitched to the ceiling of the storage unit, and Casey waited a moment for his eyes to adjust before stepping in. "OK..." he said. "What've we got here...?"
"Yeah..." said April, moving forward to
:iconHimoff:Himoff
:iconhimoff:Himoff 2 0
Mature content
Blake's 7: Survivors - Chapter 15 :iconhimoff:Himoff 1 0
Mature content
Blake's 7: Survivors - Chapters 12-14 :iconhimoff:Himoff 1 0
Literature
Ninja Turtles: What Casey Did Next (Part 1)
A 90s movies story

Previously: Wise Guys

Link to Tales of the 90s Movie Ninja Turtles Folder

Have you ever wondered why Casey Jones wasn't in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze? Not really? Well, let's find out anyway...

Masterless the Ronin may be, but duty to his host, however temporary, is paramount. Even at the cost of his life...
- Saying attributed to Miyamoto Musashi - *


Chapter 1: What Casey Did Next
"Where is it..?!"
Agent Green was new to the department. He also wasn't
:iconHimoff:Himoff
:iconhimoff:Himoff 4 0
Literature
Ninja Turtles: Wise Guys
A 90s movies story, set between movies II and III

Previously: A Matter of Life and Strife
Link to Tales of the 90s Movie Ninja Turtles Folder



The Foot Clan had been away for a while, looked like for good... Then, just before the weekend of the rat invasion* - and boy, we all know where we were that weekend... Unless, like a lot of people, you can't remember it so good...
Uh... Yeah... Strange... Go figure...
Where was I... Oh yeah... So the word went out, among those of us who needed to know, and a few others beside... The Foot were back. That was too bad, but for New York's org
:iconHimoff:Himoff
:iconhimoff:Himoff 3 0
Literature
Blake's 7: Survivors - Chapters 10 and 11
Chapter 10


(Relevant extract follows from the annals of the August Siblinghood of Morphenniel; Data adjunct 486 - Experiments in Lawlessness: The Late Federation and the Frontier Planets)

...
...When writing these briefings, it is still even now possible to be struck with sheer incredulity at social policies once genuinely advanced as if, not exactly beneficial, then at least expedient - The Federation's interference in the affairs of the Old Earth agricultural colony of Gauda Prime stretches credulity more than most.
It should not be necessary to explain the result of the complete suspension of the rule of law in any isolated community - particularly not one with inhabitants long inured to toil, not to fighting - or the kind of people likely to descend on such a place in great numbers - from all across the galaxy. Suffice it to say th
:iconHimoff:Himoff
:iconhimoff:Himoff 0 0
Literature
Blake's 7: Survivors - Chapter 9
Former deep space freighter "Flame", 4.5 weeks after the fall of Pelios
As was often the case, Mara and Caul exchanged no words as they changed shift on their vessel's flight-deck - Mara assumed that if anything had happened that was important enough to be shared but not important enough to summon her, he would let her know.
In any case, as she took up her place at the controls of Flame - she was not exactly sure why she had settled on that name for their new home - she already had a lot to think about. As Caul well knew.
At least, she assumed he knew. They hadn't really talked about it.
"How's he doing...?" Caul broke the silence.
"No different..." Mara replied as she checked the automatic logs. "Go and see him. I think he's still awake."
"All right..." Caul turned back just before exiting. "I'm sure..." She never found out exactly what he was sure of, as he never finished the sentence.
"You have to look after him..."
She had given that no
:iconHimoff:Himoff
:iconhimoff:Himoff 0 0
Mature content
Blake's 7: Survivors - Chapter 8 :iconhimoff:Himoff 0 0
Mature content
Blake's 7: Survivors - Chapter 7 :iconhimoff:Himoff 0 0
Mature content
Blake's 7: Survivors - Chapter 6 :iconhimoff:Himoff 0 0
Literature
Ninja Turtles: A Matter of Life and Strife
A 90s Movies story, set between movies II and III
Previously: Day of the Rat (Part 7)
Link to Tales of the 90s Movie Ninja Turtles Folder


"MEEE-EEEHHH-EEEHHH-EEEERRRYYY CHRISTMAS!"
The rasping voice blared across the main floor of the darkened department store, making the gang of men with stockings stretched across their faces flinch as one. "Will you just shut that damn thing off...?!"
"Hey, I'm trying. The off switch doesn't work."
"Give it here..." Feeling ridiculous, the leader snatched the toy from his fellow criminal's hands. Giving up on getting the off switch to co-operate, he finally pulled out the batteries and threw them to the floor in a fit of pique.
:iconHimoff:Himoff
:iconhimoff:Himoff 0 2

Favourites

I won you a battle by NeilChe I won you a battle :iconneilche:NeilChe 2 1 Project Avalon by NeilChe Project Avalon :iconneilche:NeilChe 2 0 Facing The Shredder by eternalview Facing The Shredder :iconeternalview:eternalview 11 0 Scaled Down NECA 1990 TMNT by SpiritOfTheWolf87 Scaled Down NECA 1990 TMNT :iconspiritofthewolf87:SpiritOfTheWolf87 4 0 Elite Battle Tardis In The Thick of It by Lemiken7 Elite Battle Tardis In The Thick of It :iconlemiken7:Lemiken7 267 34 The ORIGINAL by kory83 The ORIGINAL :iconkory83:kory83 10 12 Oops! by Doodlz18 Oops! :icondoodlz18:Doodlz18 25 9 TMNT-Official TMNT Fanfic Author Stamp by FlashyFashionFraud TMNT-Official TMNT Fanfic Author Stamp :iconflashyfashionfraud:FlashyFashionFraud 40 62 TMNT 1991 Movie Donnie by Jay523 TMNT 1991 Movie Donnie :iconjay523:Jay523 12 3 Teenage mutant ninja turtles 3 poster by theaven Teenage mutant ninja turtles 3 poster :icontheaven:theaven 14 0 tmnt donnie scan by the3ninjakids tmnt donnie scan :iconthe3ninjakids:the3ninjakids 8 6 April movie 1990 by lullabystars April movie 1990 :iconlullabystars:lullabystars 6 0 Raph and April 1993 by lullabystars Raph and April 1993 :iconlullabystars:lullabystars 11 1 April and Donnie in feudal Japan by lullabystars April and Donnie in feudal Japan :iconlullabystars:lullabystars 7 0 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - 1990 by Bryanosaurus777 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - 1990 :iconbryanosaurus777:Bryanosaurus777 16 4 Movie Leo by MondoJay by tmntart Movie Leo by MondoJay :icontmntart:tmntart 14 2

Groups

Activity


Mature Content

This content is intended for mature audiences.


or, enter your birth date.*


Month

Day

Year*
Please enter a valid date format (mm-dd-yyyy)
Please confirm you have reviewed DeviantArt's Terms of Service below.
* We do not retain your date-of-birth information.

Link to Chapters 2 and 3


Link to my Blake's 7 fanfiction folder




Chapter 4

Liberator sped through space, its velocity in real terms many times faster than light - Standard by Six in the parlance of its builders, the System. An estimated 12.5 hours remained till its destination was reached.

Within, its six human - or in one case, humanoid - inhabitants. One manned the flight-deck, as at least one of them did at all times. One slept. One found herself so preoccupied by the prospect of what might await them at their destination that sleep remained elusive. Four of them, at this precise moment, were alone.

Two were not.

When the ship's interior had been configured to accommodate this crew, their quarters had been arranged along the same habitation deck, and undeniably that was a convenient layout. One possible development had not been foreseen, however, and it had fallen to two of the crew to establish for themselves a discreet hideaway elsewhere, to pursue an agenda of their own in comfort and - most of all - secrecy.

"I'm going down there, when we get to this planet," she said quietly.

"You're on the landing party?" he replied. He too spoke very quietly. Lying as they were, limbs entwined, his mouth very close to her ear, there was no particular need for volume.

"It could be dangerous, couldn't it?" she pondered, turning her face toward his, and moved her hand up to rest on his pale, sparsely-haired chest.

"All of it is dangerous," he said. "We chose to risk it. I wonder, if I suggested I go too..."

She smiled faintly. "No, best not. Your place is on the flight-deck, you're far more use there."

"Suppose so."

"And let's not make anyone suspicious."

"Why...?" he asked. "We're not actually doing anything wrong."

"I know," she said. "I know... It's just, I like this, whatever it is we have here, the way it is right now. I don't want... Oh, I don't know how to say this... Please don't think that I'm-"

"-Embarrassed?"

She smiled again. "I'm embarrassed it took so long to get to... this."

"Was it all right?" He said it casually, but his nervousness was clear enough. There was a long - very long, for him - moment of silence.

"Am I the first...?" Juni asked, and Caul nodded. "I'd never have known," she said, gently mocking, and leaned over to kiss him. "So, back on... What was it, Pelios...? Never?"

"They tried to pair me once. Arranged a time and a meeting place. It didn't work out."

"What happened? Didn't you like her?" When Caul glanced over at her, something in his eyes made Juni think again. "Him...?"

"She didn't like me," said Caul. "I... didn't feel anything at all. Then I just never got the summons again. I don't think they were pleased with either of us."

"I'm sorry about that," she murmured, running a slender finger along the line of his collar bone and back again.

"Why?"

"I did think, maybe you and Blake... Mara, you called her then. Something Rissa said once, or was it Darvin...?"

"No," said Caul. "I loved her... I still do, but not like that."

"How did she feel about that?"

"Once she realised, we... had a talk. And after that, it was very different."

"I see," said Juni, even though she didn't.


14 hours later...

Rissa watched from cover, completely still in a way only years of training and practice could instill. The ragged column was a good forty-five or fifty metres away, advancing - from her point of view - from left to right. Her augmented eyesight, one of the benefits of her artificial silver eyes, could pick out the individuals easily, and with a little adjustment could give her a good view of the two prisoners at the heart of the column.

Blake and Juni were being taken back to wherever these things - were they people? Rissa wasn't sure - had come from, guarded on all sides by the spear-carrying, mud-encased creatures that had attacked them shortly after they teleported down. Rissa's hand briefly went to her teleport bracelet on her wrist, as if to reassure herself it was still there. Then the bag with the spares... Yes, still secure.

Erupting into motion, she moved swiftly, abandoning stealth to a necessary degree. Scrambling first up the gravelly slope and then back down the other side, she still took care not to be seen. This route would take her ahead of the column, and hopefully afford her a preview of their destination... Better to be prepared.

I hope you know what you're doing, Blake...

Yes. There it was... Nestled in the valley below, either side of the dismal trickle of water flowing - if its motion could be called that - down from the hills, the primitive settlement was bleak. A wind-blown, dusty collection of crude mud - Hey, what else in this place? - buildings on timber frames. Where did the wood come from...? Rissa peered curiously around, but didn't see any sign of a single tree.

That's where the patrol was returning, with their prisoners - her friends. Hey...! They really were that now, even Juni... Who would've thought that, three months ago?


"These are humans..." observed Juni. "Well, sort of. Underneath all that caked mud."

"Yeah," said Blake. "I wasn't sure either, at first."

"Protection against the radiation? Would that really work?"

"I doubt they have any idea why they're wearing the mud, it's just what they do. Certainly makes them look a little unnerving, anyway." Their captors squinted against the weak sunlight of their desolate world, eyes practically invisible. Every inch of exposed skin was encased in a thick covering of dried mud.

"I never did believe it was possible..." Juni pondered. "You know, human colonies gone wrong... I mean, to this extent!"

"Oh, it's possible, all right... There's quite a few of them scattered around. Fewer now, of course, thanks to the war..."

"Quite the expert."

"My tutor, back on Pelios... He was the expert." Blake paused and took a breath. "Alek... this was kind of his pet subject, and once he got started... Civilisation is fragile, and this sort of thing has happened on many planets colonised by Earth in the First Calendar. Cephlon, Goth, Xenon... I could go on."

"What it is to have an education..." said Juni, but with a faint smile."Rissa certainly got out of there in a hurry," she went on, a little resentfully. "I thought she was the warrior."

"She is," Blake replied. "That's why I told her to get out of there." Responding to Juni's querying glance, she added, "Well, aren't you glad she's out there right now?"

"Yes, I suppose so."

"Rissa can obey orders, and that's the bit I wasn't sure about till then." Blake looked doubtful of her own words. "Everything's under control."

Juni flexed against the crude rope binding her hands in front of her, and shot a resentful look back as one of the mud primitives prodded her with a spear - apparently she had moved out of line. "Glad to hear it."


"This place is everything we thought it would be, and less," said Rissa through the comms on the Liberator's flight-deck. "Darvin, can we cut this one short? I'm sick of this place already. It's such a- You know what, I'm going there...! It reminds me of home, that's how bad it is... I went there."

"Yep," said Darvin, standing at the pilot's station. "You went there."

"And you know I wouldn't do that lightly."

"Keep in touch, Rissa... Continue to keep an eye on things, and if the slightest thing goes wrong, or you find anything down there... Oh, you know what to do. Darvin out." He looked over at Caul, and raised an eyebrow. "It's going fine," he said, though who he was trying to reassure wasn't necessarily all that clear. "It is."

Caul examined the readouts on his station one more time - Zen would alert him at the slightest hint of another ship, but he trusted his own instincts more. "I don't know whether to hope they find what they're looking for," he said, "or hope they find nothing."

"I think I'd rather have a wasted journey too," said Darvin grimly.


Proxima II

Proxima Centauri rose over the horizon and gradually filled the deep shadows of the Kapital, and in the first hour of the morning a huge bank of water vapor formed over the vast cityscape before slowly dissipating. This, probably the most dense concentration of human life still in existence, slowly returned to life for another day, little knowing that the remaining days of this civilization were at this moment very much numbered.

"Tev Kopper...?"

"Who wants to know?"

One of the two nondescript-looking young men nodded briefly to the other, and they each grabbed one of the large bald man's arms and quickly wrestled him into submission before dragging him into the empty storehouse, then onward into the narrow space between two rows of storage shelving. Startled and thoroughly bewildered, the man was quickly abandoned by his two assailants, although he was only alone for a moment before someone else came in to replace them.

Walar loomed over him menacingly, or tried to - Inconveniently, Kopper wasn't that much less tall than he was. "What's this all about?" the affronted Kopper demanded, the bushy mustache that almost entirely hid his mouth moving in time with his words. "Ohhhh... Is this about-? Look, don't worry, the transfer is done, it'll just take a while for it to appear on your- It's not about that, is it...?"

Walar shook his head slowly. "I need to talk to you."

"So talk," Kopper responded truculently.

"How closely are you supervised?"

"Supervised?" Kopper bristled. "I'm the one who does the supervising, mate! I'm in charge of this whole place... Oh, where's he going now...?" Kopper waited impatiently as Walar disappeared back the way he had arrived. "Gimme strength..."


Walar looked out onto the goods supply yard with a soldier's eye. This was the quietest time of the day - that was no accident - but even so there were a lot of people around, loading and unloading the large containers that arrived and departed on the powered conveyors, emitting only a low hum in the process. A pity. Walar wished for a little more noise, to make doubly sure his conversation went unnoticed. A brief glance at the two men standing guard for him, and he returned to the interrogation.

"Caught short, were you...?" inquired Kopper. "I know how you feel, my waterworks are playing up something awful these days. Still, comes to us all. Would've thought you were a bit young for that, though."

Walar peered at the rotund depot manager curiously - Kopper could have been anywhere between forty and sixty, it was impossible to tell. "Where is she?"

"Pardon?"

"Where-? I haven't got time for this..." Walar slammed Kopper against the side of the shelving, with a lot more difficulty than he was expecting, but apparently only succeeded in amusing him further. "Just where did you send her?"

"Right," said Kopper. "I get it. I know who you're looking for. Red Ridinghood, I call 'er. And let me just say, I don't think you're doing her any favours coming here... Or yourself, for that matter."

"I'm not interested in your opinion, just tell me. I need to get her out of there. She shouldn't even be there in the first place."

"'Was a bit concerned, m'self. But ultimately, I figured, it's her decision. Sound mind and body, and all that. And our girl's pretty sound in both, let's face it."

"Seems like a military decision to me..." Walar's reply was scathing. "And... Oh, let's see, which of us does that best cover...?"

"Not so clear cut, mate. Andromedan wars veteran, right here... Both lots." Kopper's mustache, which up to now had been more or less level, was now turned down at the sides, indicating his severe displeasure. "And I've had ties with the guv'noress's organisation for... oh, a good ten years now." The mustache straightened again. "What 'bout you?"

Walar found himself cowed into silence, but not for long. "Things... Things have changed. I've had intelligence-"

"-Not to worry. It doesn't show."

"She's in danger, all right?! I have to get her out of there!"

"Calm down, mate," said Kopper. "Calm down. Anyone would think... Ohhhh, right." He chuckled to himself, face creasing into a smile . "Dear oh dear... Oh, mate..."

"What?"

"You're serious, aren't you...?" Kopper's turned away for a moment. "I thought you knew 'er. Ooh, I reckon our girl's been playing you something rotten, mate. Y'know... Let me know if she does ever come clean, I wanna see your face."

"Just what do you mean by that?"

"Never you mind, sunshine..." Kopper leaned forward till their faces were very close together. "Just... never you mind." They stared at each other for a few moments, and Kopper looked like something had just occurred to him. "Tell you what, though... While we're standing here like this..."

"What...?" Walar demanded eagerly.

"Give's a kiss." Kopper chuckled as Walar angrily shoved him away. "Oh, lighten up, mate...!"

"Red Ridinghood is the... guv'noress's daughter...!" said Walar, stumbling over Kopper's odd turns of phrase. "Does that make a difference to you?!"

Kopper blinked. "Get outta town."

"I wish I could...! Are you going to help me or aren't you?"

Kopper sighed. "I'm gonna end up regretting this. If I get this wrong, she'll kill me. But that'll mean she's safe, so... still a win. Just... Don't you dare let me down, all right?!"


"Are you certain this is safe...?" Grant demanded to know, first and foremost. "Absolutely certain...?"

"It hasn't been up to now..." Avral's voice through the comms was totally clear, probably because geographically she wasn't at all far away. "But rank brings privileges."

"All right." Grant rubbed his eyes, more tired than he would admit. He reached for the half-full glass in front of him, and his hand hovered over it for a moment. "You know what you're doing by now," he said, and his hand moved away from the glass again.

"Can I have that in writing?"

He smiled. "Nothing in writing. First rule."

"Wasn't that the second rule? After "do as you're told"?"

He squinted. "Might have been. I think I've forgotten. But I'm pretty sure I remember the third rule..." Always assume you're being monitored.

"Point taken." There was a pause. "This is going quite well."

"Really?"

"Oh yes, I'm doing quite well indeed. This was absolutely worth doing. There's actually someone else here already, with the same interests as me. Has been for some time."

"Would I know them...?"

"Not sure yet... But I'll let you know."

"I'll look forward to catching up with you, then. Any word on when that might be?"

"Not yet."

"Well, don't be a stranger."

"Never that. Unless you're planning to replace me..." The transmission was more than clear enough for him to detect the hint of reproach. Some wounds never heal...

"No..." he said, with a faint shudder. "There will only ever be one of you."

"I... I'm afraid I'll have to go now, father..." she said, clearly not alone now. "Duty calls."

"See you soon," Grant managed to respond before the transmission cut off, and hoped it was true.


"We thought something wasn't right straight away..." said the security officer in a low-pitched drawl. "Then a routine check flagged him up... Didn't take long, even. He's one of that lot, can you believe it? A known terrorist, and he just casually strolls in with a cleaner's pass - which absolutely checks out, by the way - that's a bit worrying... Then he doesn't even do any cleaning, he just starts to wander and snoop around the restricted areas like he wants to be caught."

"Right... Well done."

"Do you want to handle the interrogation...? It's your sector."

Avral looked up, trying not to appear distracted. The professional mask obscured the turmoil inside. Even as she pretended to consider the officer's question, she took another brief glance at the still on screen. Walar's face was set - defiant, determined. Doomed. "Stand by on that," she said. "Got a lot on today, and I might not have time."

"Seriously...?" the officer inquired, a little incredulous. "How often does this sort of thing happen?" He looked alarmed for a moment, and his own mask descended. "Um, sorry sir. Spoke out of turn, there."

Avral considered him for a moment. "I commend your enthusiasm, so I think we can overlook a little minor insubordination. This once."

"The prisoner will be waiting for you," the officer said, offering a salute as Avral walked away - her uniform was just like his, but with a brightly coloured flash on the right sleeve of her black tunic. "All right if we soften him up a little?"

"Absolutely," said Avral.


"They might have untied our hands," said Juni irritably, walking in a tight circle around the limited confines of the hut in which she and Blake were imprisoned. Outside the single entrance, there were guards. Lots of guards.

Blake was sat on the rough earth floor, leaning back against the wall with her eyes closed. "That would have been kind of them, yes..." she said. "The trick is to keep your expectations low, when it comes to hospitality on planets like this."

"Thanks for the tip," said Juni, smiling graciously with her teeth only slightly gritted. She slumped against the wall and slid down it to sit next to her companion. "Blake...?"

"What?" Blake opened her eyes and turned to give Juni her full attention.

"Never mind," said Juni, apparently preoccupied.

"All right..." Blake smiled. "Well, if it comes back to you..."

"What was Pelios like?"

That was unexpected, and Blake appraised Juni for a moment before replying. "In what way? I mean, it's a big question. It's where I spent my entire life, from infancy up to... less than a year ago."

"Did the authorities ever... pair you with anyone?"

"You've been talking to Caul."

Juni did her best not to read anything accusatory in that, and took the statement at face value. "Yes..." She shrugged. "Well, we shared a few shifts on the flight-deck, and then there was that time I needed his help with that-"

"-Juni, it's allowed." Remembering the initial question, Blake quickly added, "No. No, they never did, for whatever reason. Maybe they didn't want me breeding with any of their people. I was an alien in that place, and never knew it."

"So you've never...?"

Blake laughed quietly, and gave her an I didn't say that look. "Caul was classified a Bee very early on, I think. But I spent a lot of my time at ground level, among the Cees and the other unclassified citizens, so I got away with quite a lot that would have been impossible on the upper levels. I should point out, though, that breeding, as such, wasn't something I ever gave much thought to." She paused for a moment, considering. "Why now...? I mean, I don't mind you asking at all, and I'll tell you whatever you want to know. But what brought this on?"

"Nothing. We just... don't often get a chance to talk, that's all."

"Well, I'm glad we are," said Blake, before casting a look around their prison. "Whatever the circumstances. And... while we are... I have to ask, what is it with you and Faal?"

Juni laughed. "I fell into your trap...!"

"No trap," said Blake amiably. "Just conversation. But you really don't have to-"

"-I'm a copy of his... dead girlfriend," said Juni, suddenly and frankly. "The girlfriend he wasn't supposed to have, and maybe didn't want any more anyway. I'm not actually Juni, I'm a clone." She splayed her fingers out in front of her as if to say Finally, I told someone, the gesture inconveniently impeded by the rope around her wrists. "A copy, and not even a particularly good one. My memories have these... gaps. And then there's the nightmares... I see terrible things, but only kind of remember a fraction of it when I wake up... I think I'm remembering the crash that killed her."

Having let all that out in a rush, Juni took a breath and made herself calm down. "I'm not me." She smiled, grinned even, but her eyes just looked very scared. "I'm... I don't really know what I am."

Blake shifted position and touched her arm. "I thought for a while I might be the daughter of a clone. I wish I was. But apparently it's not possible."

Juni's eyes darted briefly to the side to look at her, but otherwise remained fixed straight ahead. "I only exist right now because Servalan couldn't let go."

"Because she loved you."

"She loved Juni."

"You're the only Juni I know," said Blake, a little quicker and louder than she had meant to, as several of the mud primitives entered the hut abruptly and dragged them to their feet. "Back to work...!" she said breezily.


As they were escorted to the largest of the dwellings in the mud primitive's village, Blake and Juni were afforded an altogether better view of the place than when they had arrived, and what they saw did not please them. In an open space, tables were set up for a form of simple manufactory, and lots of the mud primitives - women and children, mostly - were stuffing a peculiar crumbly material - not mud, for a change - from sacks into metal capsules a few inches across. The capsules were smooth, coloured a deep blue and clearly the product of a technology far beyond the people handling them.

Blake and Juni glanced at each other. "We need a sample of that," Blake said under her breath.

"Why bother?" asked Juni. "I think we know what we're going to find."

"We need to be sure." Blake was downcast, but still clinging onto some remnant of hope. "I've never wanted to be wrong about anything quite so much as this."

"Low expectations, Blake..." said Juni cheerfully. "That's the trick." Blake gave her a rueful look, but Juni had one more thing to add. "Heroes are just villains you don't know much about yet."

"Shall we...?" Blake asked, as the mud primitive guards prodded them with their spears, bidding them enter the largest dwelling.

"Oh, I'm not sure I feel like it right now," said Juni. "Perhaps another day." As a spear was prodded into her back, she rounded on the carrier of said spear. "I didn't mean it, all right?! I'm going!"


"I really don't like the look of this," said Rissa to herself as her friends were led out of her sight, and it was an understatement of her actual feelings. Carefully, staying under cover, she ran in a crouching position along the perimeter of the mud primitive's village. Like Blake and Juni, she saw the crude manufactory and the non-native technology, and her heart sank. All right, she hadn't bought into the mythology the way Blake or some of the others had, but it was still a disappointment. She wondered if it would be possible to sneak a sample right now...

Probably not. She stayed very still as a patrol of the spear carriers moved by, and then eventually resumed her tour of the perimeter. Seeing another unusually large gathering of the primitives, she found a position to watch them unobtrusively. When she realised what they were doing, a jolt of adrenaline shot through her and her heart pounded.

Oh, what the hell... The teleport bracelet was quickly raised, and she was speaking into it in a low voice. "Darvin..." she said. "You'd better not be no the toilet right now... Answer the-"

"What...? What?"

"Darvin, I don't know what's happening to them right now, because it's an indoor event, but I'm fairly sure I know what's next on their itinerary, because I'm looking at it..." She looked up again, and saw the preparations going on in the centre of the village. A complicated wooden framework was being assembled, strong and sturdy, hanging over a pit, broad but fairly shallow, in which dried sticks and what looked like it might be straw were being dumped. Again she wondered where these materials were coming from...

Pots of what appeared to be more of the ever-present mud were bubbling away at the sides, and large quantities of rope were being piled up. Rissa did not like the look of this at all. "Darvin...!" she hissed into her bracelet. "The good news is, our friends are likely to be fed very soon... The bad news is who they're going to be fed to...!"

"Stand by..." said Darvin, distracted.

Rissa couldn't quite believe that. "You stand by," she said, and cut off the communication. "I'm off the leash!"


"Continue to monitor," said Darvin to Caul, voice as stern as his face. At times like these, it was actually possible to imagine him as the Federation officer he had been. "Faal, deep scan, while they're still settling... What kind of ship is that?"

Faal held up a hand for a moment, before finally offering his verdict. "Planet hopper," he said. "With external cargo hold. No match for Liberator."

"Nothing else?"

"Nothing yet," said Caul. "Darvin-"

"I know...!" Darvin went back to the comms. "Rissa... Rissa, respond please...! Rissa!" As the other two looked on, increasingly alarmed, he took his finger off the switch and threw up his arms in his frustration before slamming them down onto the pilot's console.


"You wanted to see me...?" Avral's voice held all the slight disbelief that could be expected in the situation, but little of the alarm she actually felt, as she was escorted into the First Lady's office by her personal guards.

"Ah... Yes, my dear..." said Lady Shilena, turning her chair around, and throwing a brief glance toward Dr Guld standing nearby. "I did, I did... I think... we have something to discuss, you and I..."




Chapter 5

Planetoid TNDM-1939

"I don't know what I expected when they shoved us in here," mused Juni quietly. "But I know I didn't expect to be bored."

"No," Blake agreed. The two of them were kept waiting at the side of the large interior space, in the shadow of an overhanging upper floor supported by wooden posts, while on the other side, as well as the ever present mud primitives, two visitors sat at a crude trestle table playing a board game.

Blake, back when she had been called Mara, had seen a variant of the game on Pelios, even played it, and understood it was available in various forms throughout the galaxy. And that was not the least of the clues that told them the two men were not from here - their clothes did that. Of simple, smart cut and subdued hues, but nonetheless of expensive materials, the clothes of wealthy men, barely touched by the dirt and dust of this environment.

One of the two men glanced over. "Shall we?" he said in a bored tone. "I think they've been kept stewing long enough."

"Stewing," said the other one, and laughed. "Why not? I think our friends here prefer a roast, mind you..."

"Yes," the first one said, smiling at the observation. "It will take a little time for the others to get here, so let's amuse ourselves in the meantime."

"Do let's."

"Names!" the first man, short and stout, greying hair slicked back, suddenly barked at Blake and Juni. His companion, taller and lean, around the same age, sat back in his seat and watched with interest.

"Names?" pondered Blake, and glanced at her companion. "Do we have those?"

"No," said Juni. "Never had any need for one. What about you?"

"-Let me be clear..." the first man said. "We are certainly curious why and how you came to be here, but that curiosity will not keep you alive, or safe, with any reliability. If we indicate to our friends..." - he indicated the mud primitives - "that we are finished with our questioning, you will be taken swiftly from here to suffer a particularly excruciating and lingering death. Now, with that in mind, even though I do not have to, I shall introduce myself. I am Mister Rist. This is Mister Lim. We are traders, and for one reason and another, we don't like spies. Now, what are your names, and why are you here?"

"Was that supposed to scare us?" Blake demanded.

"Yes," said Mr Rist.

"Oh, yes," said Mr Lim.

"Very well, then," said Blake casually. "My name is Blake, and this is Juni, one of my followers. Our mission is broadly to... help people, I suppose, and our particular reason for being here is to investigate the source of a particularly nasty psychoactive chemical being used to subdue and enslave several unaligned planets currently resisting attempts to make them join Unified Systems... We've seen this material extracted and capsuled in refining pods just outside, so obviously we haven't had a wasted journey. Was that enough information, or do you want more?"

It took a while for the two men to form a response, such was their astonishment, but when it came it was almost explosive. Their laughter lasted for quite some time, throughout which Blake and Juni stood calmly, waiting. At last, recovering, Mr Rist struggled to speak.

"Oh..." he said. "Thank you... I haven't laughed like that..." He turned to Mr Lim. "When was the last time? No...?" He turned back to his prisoners. "Sincerely, thank you. That was a lot to take in, though, and you didn't even let us react to My name is Blake before starting on the rest. So, timing slightly off, but your material is top notch. Indeed, very good."

"All true," said Blake. "Every word. Now, Mister Rist and Mister Lim, who do you work for?" They laughed again, long and hard, and Blake and Juni exchanged glances. "You're only making it more difficult for yourselves," said Blake, provoking more laughter.

Slowly recovering, Rist beckoned one of the mud primitives over with a bundle, which he unwrapped carefully on the table - Blake and Juni's confiscated possessions, including their guns and teleport bracelets. "Now," he said. "What are these?"

"So you run the business, to give them deniability, is that it?" asked Blake. "But exactly who are they?"

"I know what my colleague Mr Lim thinks," said Rist. "He's a bit of a history buff is Mr Lim, and he has a notion of what these objects might be, but I want to hear it from you..." As Lim nodded, Rist held up one of the bracelets. "Oddly enough, what you've said so far rather concurs with Mr Lim's theory." He looked again at Lim, who shrugged.

"Can I ask a question?" said Juni.

"Oh," Rist said to Lim. "This one makes me somewhat sorry we're not still in the people business, Mr Lim... She really is quite special, is she not...?" Lim nodded again.

"I'm still here." Juni tried to let the full extent of her annoyance show. "What I want to know is, if this is being done in partnership with or on behalf of Scarn, why isn't the work being done in some high-end facility? Rather than... well, in this place."

"What about that one?" Lim indicated Blake, like Rist ignoring Juni's question.

"Not so pretty, obviously, but I think she has a certain something..." Rist mused, meeting Blake's ominous gaze with wry amusement. "There is a real strength of character in that face, isn't there? Not as conventionally attractive as the other one, but back in our day we could have made a pretty penny on both of these two."

"Well, the bottom fell out of the people market," said Lim. "We were right to get out when we did." The two of them laughed throatily at their private joke.

"I think that the right buyer might even have given us more for this one... This Blake," said Rist. "A real pity they probably have to die, and in such a manner too..." He spoke to her at last. "Blake what...? Or rather, What Blake?"

"I'm not anything Blake," she replied. "I'm just Blake. It's the only name I need."

"It is the modern way, Rist," said Mr Lim, and his partner grunted in response.

"Listen to me," said Rist, all trace of humour in his voice gone. "You're not the first to try to interfere with our business on this planet, and all the others have died out there, died screaming, roasted on our friends' fire or else caked in mud and baked alive. Not a good end, either way. You understand me? Your chances of avoiding that fate are very, very slim, but not quite non-existent. Not yet. Just tell me who sent you, and give me something I can use against them, and we can talk. If not..." He raised his hand, and at the gesture the mud primitive guards stirred on the edges of the dwelling and moved in around them, still hanging back a little.

"Blake..." Darvin's voice crackled from the teleport bracelet in Rist's hand, and he almost dropped it. "Blake, if you can hear me, get ready for trouble..." Before he had finished, the whole place was shook by an explosion outside, dust and fragments of the building shaken loose and cascading down on them. Much commotion was heard outside, the mud primitives audibly scrambling to meet whatever threat faced them.

Blake and Juni looked at each other, and smiled secretively. "Rissa," they said together.


Proxima II

Avral was standing in front of a screen showing the feed from Walar's detention cell, just staring, when the summons came. Her mind went around and around the problem, getting nowhere. Looking at the set features of the man she... had come to find reasonably personable, she was surprised at how little anger she felt. At him, at least. She did not feel for him, did not and could not feel, what he apparently did for her, but he was her friend - of sorts - and certainly her comrade, and in combat she would unhesitatingly trust him with her life.

This was combat, she realised. Walar had made a mistake. Had she never made one of those...? Even before the messenger, in her robe of Mekatir blue, came to deliver the message, Avral had made up her mind what she was going to do.

"Thank you," she said, deceptively calm. "I will attend the First Lady immediately." Her stomach was in knots as the young woman glided away from the security section back to Lady Shilena's wing of the palace. Had she been discovered? How could that have happened...? Walar hadn't even been interrogated yet, and even then she was confident enough it would take a great deal to make him betray her.

This would be her first face to face encounter with Shilena Mekatir, but she knew of the fierce intelligence hidden behind the old woman's apparent mildness. It could be something entirely innocuous, a meet and greet with the youngest and fastest-rising security officer in her service... or it could be a trap. Or anything in between.

Taking a breath that rattled slightly in a throat constricted by tension, Avral went to find out. As an apparent afterthought, in a gesture that could easily be missed by an inattentive viewing of the footage later, she quickly cancelled the electronic locks securing Walar's cell.

It would be some time before that act was traced back to her, and she would deal with that when the time came. Finally, once more, she felt less than guilt than she did anger at Walar for forcing her to abandon this mission just as it might be getting somewhere...

As if prompted by that, her personal comm-unit beeped for her attention, and she glanced at it. When she saw the ID - or lack of it - she moved out of sight to quickly skim the accompanying message, coming in as text.

Always text. A little early to fully trust each other.

THEY'RE MOVING, it read. INTELLIGENCE HAS BEEN RECEIVED AND THEY MIGHT BE ON TO ONE OF US. I JUST DON'T KNOW WHICH ONE.

Who was this? Avral had yet to find that out, and found herself wondering if Del Grant knew of this other agent, whoever it was... Did they work for him? Or for... her? Or for someone else entirely? Would Del really keep her in the dark like that, when her life might depend on that knowledge?

Perhaps that was it. His protectiveness might be the very thing making him keep this from her. I'm not your daughter, Del Grant, whatever you might wish, or I might-

Accordingly, having given her enough time to read it, the message vanished from her unit and deleted all traces of its presence. Avral leaned against the wall of the corridor for a moment, mind racing, till a party of administration staff passed by and she went on her way again briskly before they could register anything unusual about her presence there.

Distantly, elsewhere in the complex, alarm sirens could be heard. A prisoner was escaping on the detention level.


"I think... we have something to discuss, you and I..." said Lady Shilena, as Avral stood before her, keenly aware of the First Lady's own elite guards standing near the door. Her chances of overcoming them, if it came to that...? Less than zero. "Thank you for coming so promptly."

"My lady." Avral's response was straightforward and noncommittal. "I have just received word. The insurrectionist captured last night has escaped somehow. I must-"

"-That's in hand," said Dr Guld calmly. "No need to concern yourself with that for now, it will be dealt with."

"I am sorry, I'm very good with faces but terrible with names..." said Lady Shilena, dragging Avral's attention back reluctantly.

"Dela, my lady. Security lieutenant."

"Ah, yes. As I say, I never forget a face, and I feel sure I have seen yours..."

"I have had the honour of attending you on three of your public engagements, my lady."

"Yes, of course, but I meant... Oh, never mind me, I don't know quite what I mean... When you have lived as long as I have, you know, you will find this peculiar sensation more and more, the finding of familiarity where it is least expected." Avral, with no idea where this was headed, but decidedly on edge, did not even think of interrupting - Security lieutenant Dela would never interrupt First Lady Shilena.

"I'm afraid I have begun to experience it already," said Dr Lenta Guld, standing unobtrusively, and till now silently, off to the side. "But then, that may be a consequence of my responsibilities rather than..."

"Advanced age...?" suggested Lady Shilena. "You may say it. I have few illusions, at this stage."

"What I meant to say is, I too see the same old faces cropping up again and again," said Dr Guld. "But then, true enemies of the state do tend to be somewhat persistent." She stared at Avral levelly, her expression giving nothing away.

"If I may ask, and forgive me if I am being is in any way inappropriate," said Avral, "How may I serve my Lady?"

"She is very lovely to look at, isn't she?" said Lady Shilena, talking to Dr Guld. "Oh, I know, you'd much rather be recognised for your professional abilities, my dear, and believe me, you have been, but allow me to admire for a moment, please... And remember... Yes, remember..."

Avral tensed, every instinct screaming at her, and tried to position herself where she could at least see the guards in her peripheral vision, so she would have a little warning if they moved to seize her... Stupid...! Grant had been right, Walar had been right, even Tev Kopper had been right when he had gently tried to suggest this was a bad idea... But then she hadn't foreseen that someone, let alone the First Lady herself, might recognise her merely for her supposed resemblance to her mother...

Had Shilena even met Avalon...? It didn't matter, it would be easy enough to find out what she looked like. Again, Avral cursed her own stupidity, and braced herself for the consequences.

"I also," Lady Shilena continued, "I was beautiful, in my day. I know that is difficult for you to believe, but then that was somewhat long ago... Beautiful enough to make a certain young nobleman take leave of his senses and determine to marry me, against all custom, against the objections of his people and mine, against... Well, against everything except his own will... and mine. Oh, it wasn't President Scarn, he has always been consistently... himself, young and old. No, I speak of another young man, a quite beautiful young man... He was the son of the ambassador from... Oh, where was it...?" She pretended to struggle to remember. "Ah yes, Thearon... It was Thearon. The son of the ambassador from... Thearon."

Avral's heart missed a beat, as she finally knew without doubt this was not the harmless meandering of a wandered mind, but a calculated, insidious attack. She was half-Thearonian, the man she spoke of could only have been her father, and the old woman knew it. She glanced over at Dr Guld, but the First Lady's advisor just seemed a little bored, if politely so.

"Think of it, eh, girl...? Almost ten years my junior, he was, and I recently widowed... But, for one reason or another, it was not to be. Too many objections, and we both lost heart. My suitor ended up marrying very differently in the end, to someone a little more than ten years his junior. Particularly galling for me, that, in a manner I'm sure you cannot imagine as yet, but one day you might..."

"Lady..." Avral began, with no idea what she meant to say after that. She could hear her own heartbeat, but still tried to give no outward sign of her anxiety.

"He was, by that time, a leader among his people. She was a leader of the resistance, moving from planet to planet inciting revolt against Federation rule. A political match, it was, to secure an alliance it was hoped would at last topple the Federation... Of course, they only had to wait a little longer, and the Andromedans would turn up again and begin doing that job for them... Ha!"

"Were they happy?" asked Dr Guld, and locked eyes with Avral. They held each others' gaze as Lady Shilena replied.

"Who can say? I know very little of what transpired between my beautiful young man - not so young, by that time - and... the future Chairperson Avalon, save that they did produce a child... A girl. Something my barren husband, our illustrious President, was never able to beget on me or anyone else, despite his prodigious efforts, which is why one of his dreadful cousins will be his successor when the time comes."

"It seems to me," said Avral, her eyes shifting to lock with those of the First Lady, "that a marriage founded in political expediency need not necessarily be an unhappy one. Not entirely."

"So they say," Lady Shilena acknowledged, her eyes bleak. "He died," she said abruptly. "Lost in the war, with more than half the human race... So did the child along with him, although... There have always been rumours to the contrary... How like Avalon it would be to protect her daughter by such subterfuge."

"It sounds like she was a very caring person, always more concerned for others than herself..." Avral said that quietly, looking at neither of them now. "Perhaps too much so." She turned to look at Lady Shilena as she spoke again.

"His face has faded in my memory, but his eyes... I will never forget those eyes... I never thought to see them again." Till now hung in the air unspoken.


Wouldn't it be gorgeous if this thing had explosive rounds...? That was all Rissa said - or rather, thought - as she fired her Liberator-issue hand gun indiscriminately around the settlement. She was as surprised as any of the mud primitives when a shot actually set off an explosion that demolished one of the buildings in fiery ruin. Was that all she had to do...? Think, and it would obey? That thought was exciting for a weapons enthusiast like her, for the moment or two it took to realise the building had probably been used to store unstable chemicals.

Ah well. Still a good gun. Leaving cover, she strode down the main street, letting them all see her, the weak sunlight flashing off of her silver eyes and inspiring superstitious awe in the mud-caked inhabitants. "Bow before your god...!" Rissa yelled delightedly, laughing manically. "No, forget bowing... Kneel before your god! Yeah, kneel! That's right! Kneel! Till I think of something else for you to do..."

Oddly, some of them actually obeyed, but soon a party of spear-carrying warriors arrived, and they were not for bowing or kneeling. Several of them came at her, and Rissa was careful to stay well out of their range while firing shot after shot at their heels and just past their heads... No killing, Blake had said. Unless it proves absolutely necessary. Well, that didn't need to entirely spoil her fun, did it...?

She sprinted from place to place, firing off shots every time she stopped, slightly out of breath now, but enjoying herself enormously. Off the leash, she had said, and that was exactly how she felt. When she heard the voice, apparently speaking to her directly, she searched for the source with a feral quality to her movements.

"You there...!" the voice called. "You might wish to rethink this approach! We have your friends, and we have weapons like yours also! We're not all primitives here!"

"You may have weapons!" Rissa answered, before moving to new cover. "But do you have the skills to use them properly...? I have!"


"She really has," Blake confided to Mr Rist, before one of the primitives grabbed her and shoved her onward, Juni right behind them. Hurriedly, the primitives brought their prisoners to the large wooden framework over the shallow pit, and prepared to secure them both. Juni looked up at it, askance, and over to Blake with a look that said What now?

"I've had enough of this," said Rist, ill-tempered now, and turned to the primitives. "Do as you will with these two." He turned to Mr Lim. "Let us deal with this one, my friend. Been a while, has it not?"

"It has indeed, Mr Rist," his partner replied. "It has indeed."

As they moved away, Blake and Juni struggled against the primitives as they began linking more rope to that around their wrists, and bringing over crude ladders. Blake savagely elbowed one of them in the face, but the force of the blow was limited and the primitive quickly recovered and resumed his work. "Blake!" Juni yelled, alarmed, as she was shoved against one of the ladders and more of the primitives began securing her to it. Others were lighting the fire in the pit. "Are you sure you've got this right?!"


"I don't like this," said Darvin, slamming his artificial hand down on the pilot's station and startling Caul. "Well, I never did, but now I really don't like it." He started to climb down. "I'm going down there."

"No." Darvin and Caul both looked over at Faal, and as ever searched for expression in the long solemn face.

"Faal?"

"I will go."

"You're sure?"

"I said, I will go." With that, Faal turned and went to obtain a gun.

"If you're sure..." Darvin said, probably unnecessarily.


"Come to us, my dear," crooned Rist, advancing with surprising grace for a man of his build. He glanced over at Lim, and signaled him to move round in the opposite direction and trap their opponent between them. Nodding, Lim disappeared from view. "Let's get this over with quickly...!"

"No, thanks," called Rissa, startling Rist, who expected the voice to come from a little further away. "That weapon of yours, that's illegal isn't it? Causes death by internal displacement!"

Rist laughed, recovering quickly from his discomposure and adjusting his plan. "That entirely depends," he said. "On where you are, and who you know!"

"Yeah!" Rissa replied. "Well, just so you know, I'm going to kill you with it. My own weapon is just too kind, so I'll just use it to disable you."

"Funny, my dear!" yelled Rist, taken aback and a little disturbed. "Very amusing!"

"So I've been told!" replied Rissa, again from a different location, one rather closer to him than expected. Her shot was precisely fired, and took Rist's legs out from under him, making him cry out with pain.

"My legs!" he yelled. "My legs! You-"

Moving in swiftly, Rissa kicked him in the face and confiscated his gun, examining it with interest. "Nice..." she said admiringly. "I mean, horrible... but nice."

"Stop right there..." Rissa turned her head slowly to see Lim creeping up behind her, and smiled faintly at him. He kept the gun trained on her, his expression grave. Lim wasn't planning to play any kind of game, and would shoot without hesitation if she moved. His eyes flicked over for a moment as smoke began to rise on the other side of the settlement. "That's your friends..." he told her. "We'll start to hear the screams any moment now... What do you think of that?"

Rissa smiled again, and moved swiftly. Lim fired.


Mature Content

This content is intended for mature audiences.


or, enter your birth date.*


Month

Day

Year*
Please enter a valid date format (mm-dd-yyyy)
Please confirm you have reviewed DeviantArt's Terms of Service below.
* We do not retain your date-of-birth information.

The second part of the Blake's 7: Survivors series


Link to Chapter 1


Link to my Blake's 7 fanfiction folder



Chapter 2


The planet Atlay - year 295 of the Second Calendar

One ship each. No weapons brought to the surface. All parties had adhered to these two simple rules, or if they hadn't they all managed to get away with it without being caught. And so the conference could proceed.

Atlay was one of only a few planets which offered the facilities, had actually survived the war and were accessible and relatively safe, and in the end it was the only location that all parties could agree on as a meeting place. The basic agreements that had notionally founded the Unified Systems Alliance were long since ratified by all, but there were still a lot of clauses to be settled in detail.

Avalon was there. So too was President Scarn of the Proxima system, and a hundred other rulers, mainly former Federation officers. Having seized power in whatever system they had found themselves at the end of the war, they were all basically the last man standing, the one who had managed to kill or drive off all his rivals. Even she had been invited by open communiqué, just on the off chance that the notorious war criminal, the one most associated with the worst excesses of the late Federation, could be tempted out and captured by such a base appeal to her vanity. It did not work, surprising no one. Sleer did not come.

All attended many meetings, some important, some very trivial, but the most important meeting that took place on Atlay in the course of the three-day summit, the one with the greatest long-term repercussions, happened in secret.


"Let's make this quick." Erno Scarn shifted his bulk through the narrow doorway and eyed the small mess room with faint distaste, brushing a chair down with his great slab of a hand before settling on it.

"Yes, before we're missed..." Sol Brintun peered out into the corridor before closing the door.

"Whatever," said Scarn. "I just don't want to be here any longer than necessary."

"The Federation is finished," said Brintun resolutely, and paused to collect his thoughts.

"That's what you wanted to tell me?" Scarn raised an eyebrow. "That I could have told you years ago."

"I mean... anyone who thinks they can just rebuild along the same lines, continue as if nothing had happened, is deluding himself. A drastically new approach is needed."

"Oh yes?"

"Yes, President Scarn. And I..."

"Go on."

"I hold the key to a weapon that may just swing the tide of history decisively in your favour. Not today, but in the years and decades to come. I suspect you and you alone have the vision to take the steps necessary."

"A vision your current masters lack?"

"Yes," Brintun replied without hesitation.

"I alone, you say?"

Brintun smirked, and looked away for a moment. "With the right advisors."

"And what's wrong with my advisors?"

"For your current needs, nothing. They have served you well enough. But they're not me."

Scarn chuckled. "And if I take this leap, to believing I need you... What then?"

"We-"

"-I mean, I could just have you killed. Have you considered that?"

"You won't."

Scarn let that go. "What about our illustrious Chairperson? Why haven't you offered her your services?"

"Need you ask?"

"I am asking." The smile still played over Scarn's cherubic face, but the eyes were cold.

"Avalon plays well, for now," said Brintun. "There will come a day, perhaps very soon, where she is no longer needed."

"Finally..."

"What?"

"A matter on which we are in total agreement. Perhaps you are worth taking on, after all..."


The Presidential launch, en route to Storm Mountain - year 301 of the Second Calendar

"She's my wife." Scarn's face was impassive, and many would have stopped right there, perceiving the danger signals, but Brintun just moved around the President's imposing command chair to press the matter. "What would you have me do?" Scarn demanded.

"She is your wife," Brintun acknowledged. "And also a traitor."

"And a Mekatir," said Scarn. "A Mekatir! Lest we forget, a lineage far older and prouder - so much prouder! - than my own."

"This is the fourth century, now," said Brintun quickly, having clearly anticipated that and rehearsed his response. "Power, in its purest sense, is what matters. Not bloodlines."

"Tell that to the other houses."

"The other houses do not listen to me. And why would they? But they have to listen to you..."

"And I listen to you... Why do I do that, remind me...? Where is that army you promised?"

"You have an army... and you will have the even greater one promised, in time. But an army is not necessary for what has to be done today."

"You want me to kill my wife."

"I want you to do what you must, and have given my advice. Only you can decide."


Proxima II - year 308 of the Second Calendar

"What is the nature of his ailment...?" Lady Shilena had inquired, almost certainly indifferent to the subject's well-being but perhaps concerned that he might expire before reaching his audience with her.

"Myocardial infarction..." Doctor Guld had replied. "Almost unheard of in this day and age. The doctors had to consult their databases before venturing on treatment. I understand it was a very... traumatic experience, and has left him somewhat weakened."

"Good."

Sol Brintun made a conscious effort to keep his pace slow and steady as he advanced along the hallway of the Presidential palace, remembering the doctors' advice, ignoring the stony faces on all sides and the almost tangible waves of hatred emanating from the assembled courtiers. That, he was used to. Being summoned, however, by anyone but President Scarn himself, was something he had not been accustomed to for many years.

He had failed. He would not admit that, dare not admit that, to anyone else, but he could and did admit it to himself. Tomorrow, he would fix that, he would find solutions to the mess they were in, and he had absolute confidence that would be possible. He had always achieved anything he had set his mind to, despite the massive obstacles placed in his path by his low birth, his poor health, and a thousand other factors that would have halted a lesser man.

That was tomorrow. Today, his goal was to survive, and he would, he had no doubt that would be possible as well. He was a man of destiny, and whatever the difficulty he faced it would be overcome. The doors were opened, and he shambled forward to face his latest obstacle.

Shilena Mekatir, First Lady of the Proxima system and of Unified Systems, was waiting to be overcome. By his wits, by his words... By the forces of destiny. Their eyes locked, and Brintun's narrowed behind the thick lenses. He moved closer, cautious but resolute - It would be necessary to pick his words with care now...

"Lady Shilena-" he began.

"You recognise me, then?"

He frowned, thrown off guard. "Of course-"

"-Good." A slight nod from the First Lady brought several shots fired from behind Brintun - back arched and face contorted, he dropped to the floor like a sack of meal. Lady Shilena's eyes remained on him, watching his body twitch for several seconds, a very faint smile on her face.

"I wanted him to know it was me," she explained calmly. Business done, she clapped her hands in front of her. "Clear that away, please, someone..." she said casually, moving past the prone body on the ground, long skirts brushing over Sol Brintun's outstretched clenched fingers.

A bitter chapter of her life was over. Now, a new one could properly begin.


The Liberator, deep space

"Hurry up, hurry up, hurry up, hurry up..." Rissa murmured, silver eyes fixed on the monitor built into her station. "Hurry up!" This accelerated learning wasn't nearly accelerated enough for her taste.

"I'm not sure that's conducive..." said Blake, standing off to the side and periodically seeking reports from Zen while the others each occupied one of the five stations. "I think you're supposed to relax."

"I am relaxed..." said Rissa, smiling. "This is how I relax, haven't you noticed that yet?"

"INFORMATION..." said Zen. "PROJECTILES HAVE ALTERED TRAJECTORY AND ARE ON COURSE TO INTERCEPT LIBERATOR IN SEVEN MINUTES."

"Intercept..." said Juni. "Why doesn't it just say hit?"

"Zen...!" said Darvin. "Transfer my station to manual."

"PILOT TRAINING IS INCOMPLETE."

"I think we're all going to be pretty incomplete in a few minutes, if we leave this to you... No offence, big guy."

"Are you sure...?" asked Blake. "You think you're ready?"

"Please..." said Darvin. "Do I look like someone who ever reads the instructions?"

Blake shook her head, and waved an arm toward him in a helpless gesture. "Well... On all our heads be it!"


The missiles hurtled onward, slowly gaining despite Liberator's attempts to shake them off. Zen's evasive maneuvers were thorough and, unfortunately, entirely predictable by the missiles' automatic guidance systems even before the remote operators in the closing Pursuit Ships were taken into account. The range narrowed as they closed on their target.


"IMPACT IN FOUR-POINT-SEVEN-FIVE MINUTES," said Zen. "PILOT STATION SWITCHED TO MANUAL CONTROL." Blake wasn't sure if the computer's disapproving tone was only in her imagination - she shot an anxious look at Darvin, fierce in his concentration, leaning forward to plug his artificial hand into the waiting port.

"Darvin..." said Caul. "Do you want me to fire a few shots from the rear blasters? Try to break them up a bit?"

"Knock yourself out, my friend."

"Clearing neutron blasters for firing... Firing now!"


Caul's salvo of shots from Liberator's neutron blasters blazed their way across the space between the ship and the oncoming missiles, and though they failed to hit their target, they succeeded in forcing the missiles off course and in making their remote operators waste precious seconds correcting their trajectory... Time for Darvin to prepare.

Liberator swung round in a tight arc, straining the entire structure of the ship, and hurtled back and through the missile barrage, missing several of them narrowly, and into a collision course with the squadron of Pursuit Ships not far behind.

The crews of the Pursuit ships took precious time to realise their danger, and they did so too late. As Darvin pulled Liberator out of its death-dive onto the enemy ships, the missiles impacted on the very ships that had fired them. Liberator emerged from the expanding cloud of debris, its electronic force wall becoming visible with each impact of the wreckage, gleaming and resplendent in the fiery glow.


Suddenly, survival seemed like a real possibility. There was a kind of restrained glee on the flight-deck, and general congratulations heading in Darvin's direction, but none of it interrupted his concentration for a moment. "Not over yet!" he cautioned.

"Did we get them all?" Blake demanded.

"Don't know yet," said Juni, studying the readings. "Wait... One survivor!"

"And what will they expect us to do now...?" Blake demanded, and they all thought about that quickly.

"Retreat," said Faal. "We have barely escaped with our lives, it would be logical to retreat."

"They'll regroup and come after us," said Darvin. "Standard procedure in my day. I mean, we might be fast enough in this ship to make retreat a viable alternative, possibly."

"We're not retreating," said Blake, resolute. "Darvin, you have the deck. Caul, Rissa - with me."


The retreating Pursuit Ship found itself pursued, and under Darvin's increasingly deft handling, Liberator got very close and then matched its adversary's speed precisely. "Ready!" Darvin called over the comms. "Don't know how long we can maintain this, so best do whatever you're going to do!"


If being pursued was a surprise, that was nothing compared to the shock the crew of the Pursuit Ship received when two of the enemy crew appeared among them in a momentary blaze of white light. Rissa shot them down, one by one, with ruthless efficiency, while Blake hurried to the cramped flight-deck and, after a little more killing, a job she detached her emotions from entirely, she worked quickly, hunting through the instrument panels furiously. Trying to avoid the sightless eyes of the two men she had just killed. They would have killed you... It was necessary... Get on with it...!

"Blake...!" came Darvin's voice from her teleport bracelet. "Nowish would be a good time to come back, if you want to come back that is...!"

"Get us back," cried Blake, bringing her bracelet up close to her mouth. "Now!"


The UniS warship Xerxes rumbled onward, crew on high alert, expecting at any moment to receive news of victory, or for its sensors to register the flare from the destruction of the enemy ship. The longer they went without incident, the more tense the situation became.

"Xerxes to Pursuit Ship squadron... Xerxes to squadron... Respond, please... Respond, please..."

"Sir... Picking something up... It's..."

"Pursuit Ships? The enemy? Speak up, man!"

"Um, negative, sir... That is, not Pursuit Ships. Just one returning, sir - it seems to have suffered some damage."

"Xerxes to Pursuit Ship, Xerxes to Pursuit ship, report situation... Report situation..."

"Comms must be down, sir... Receiving signals... Old code, sir... Indicating their comms system... Yes, it's down... Short range radio is functioning..."

"It won't work at this range... Let it come in closer..."

"Sir, I..."

"What is it?"

"Sir! Destroy it, sir! No, too late! We have to-!" The Pursuit Ship's engines overloaded, and the explosion devastated Xerxes, almost ripping it in half. Within seconds, a chain reaction of further explosions completely engulfed the UniS warship.


If Liberator's crew had expected to feel any kind of triumph at their victory, complete though it was, they were to be disappointed. In fact, they just quietly completed the learning programs and ran their stations through a diagnostic process, before all responding with quiet relief to Blake's softly-spoken suggestion, "Let's get some rest."

Caul volunteered to stand the first watch, and, after offering to do it herself, Blake accepted his insistence. When both Juni and Rissa volunteered to stay too, it momentarily looked like conflict might flare up, but Darvin defused the situation with a few quiet words.

Blake left the flight-deck on her first day in command of the Liberator with a lot to think about.


In one of the districts of the Kapital known colloquially as Downtown, in the shadows between the massive monolithic Extractors, lived a significant proportion of Proxima II's population, and therefore of the Proxima system as a whole. And therefore, it followed, and this was a sobering enough thought for those to whom it occurred, a significantly large proportion of the entire human race.

Best not to think about that, on the whole.

It was an ideal place to get lost, or more precisely to hide oneself. For criminals, both minor and major, for the disgraced, the dispossessed and the disinherited, as well as flat out enemies of the state. One of those enemies made her way by the darkest and most fetid of alleys, snaking her way through puddles of the condensation that ran down the walls of the buildings on either side, to a watering hole that could charitably be described as... quite dangerous.

Nodding to a couple of familiar faces on the way in, the young woman kept to the edges of the dank interior till she found a suitable booth, one that was quiet enough for her purpose. Then she waited.

It wasn't very long before he arrived, and the young woman, straight-backed and contained, calm and disciplined, was very aware of her surroundings the whole time. None would sneak up on her - it had been tried, and the attacker had always come to grief. She may not look very threatening, this slender, pale-skinned girl who if anything looked a little younger than her twenty years, but she was well-known enough not to be trifled with.

"Why now...?" he said abruptly, before slumping down into the bench seat opposite and hunching forward. The man was in his sixties, and did not particularly look younger than that - his craggy face was one that had been lived in. He ran a hand over his sparse, cropped grey hair and scratched his stubbly chin. "We weren't supposed to meet for another-"

"-Why wasn't I informed we had lost our contact in the palace?" Avral leaned forward a little, lowering her hood, and the muted lighting shone on her fine dark-brown shoulder-length hair, and were reflected as bright dots in brown eyes currently stern with contained anger. The sleeves of her dark-red leather tunic emerged from the folds of the traveling cloak as she tapped her slender fingers on the damp tabletop.

"I only just found out myself," said Del Grant, and signaled for a drink. She shook her head slightly to decline one for herself, and he sighed. "You'll draw less attention if you behave like everyone else in here. It's bad enough you don't look like anyone likely to frequent this place."

"Like you do?" It wasn't entirely an angry retort - there was genuine concern for him there too, and a sort of rueful affection. "You need to look after yourself, Del."

"Why?" One word, spoken plainly, but she knew the pain behind it.

"For the cause?" That was said with a cynical smile. "Like it or not, Del, and let's be honest, I know you don't, I'm a senior operative now." Ignoring his quiet chuckle at the word senior, Avral continued. "I'm not happy about your attempts to sideline me. I understand why, which is the only reason-"

"-Do you? Understand why? Or do you only think you do?" They looked at each other across the booth for a long moment.

"I need to find out as soon as you do, if not before..." she said, calm again. "It's not for the sake of my ego, it's not to somehow get one up on you, it's because others depend on me too." She looked away, and then back. "Also, I recruited her. I need to find out what happened."

"As a senior operative, why don't you make your own periodic reports?" asked Grant with the air of a man who already knew the answer.

"Walar, he's... Walar is better at them, and if she wants to talk to me directly then she knows where I am."

"And what does Walar think of that?"

"Who cares?"

"You should!" Aware his voice had carried a little, Grant made himself speak more quietly. "Think about it." Another long stare-out, before she relented.

"I'm going in," she said straightforwardly and sat back, ready for his objections. "I'm sorry to do this to you, I really am... but if I ask her, you know what she'll say."

"She'll say yes." His response was so low it was almost a whisper.

"She'll always say yes... You could try to overrule her, of course, but how do you think that would play...? The great Avalon overruled... What would Walar think of that...?"

He looked at her without speaking, and his gaze was, she thought, more sad than angry. She had expected anger, but this she had dreaded. "You need to see something," he said at last.


"I'm not sure what you'll make of this..." said Grant, leading Avral across the murky main floor of the establishment. "I'm not even sure what I make of it." They stopped, and he indicated one of the three-dimensional holographic displays broadcasting the news media to mostly indifferent patrons. "Wait, it'll come around again shortly."

"What are we-?"

"-Just wait."

"That's one of the independent vid services..."

"Yes."

"Is this the one that claims the world is going to end in four and a bit years?"

"Possibly... Here it is." To Avral's astonishment, the muted report was accompanied by a few seconds of video footage - on a loop - that purported to show the identity of the infamous insurgent space vessel responsible for the recent attacks on UniS ships in the vicinity of Earth. Her mouth fell open at the sight of the vessel, eyes wide, and she turned to Grant. "Careful," he warned, and she contained her excitement for the benefit of those who might be watching.

"It's him," she said, voice breaking a little. "He's back! I always-"

"-That's the best case scenario," said Grant, unable to quite stop the faintest of smiles appearing on his habitually grim face. "Don't get too excited, though. If Blake is alive, he'll be a little creaky these days. Like me."

"I hope he's just like you, Del," Avral said playfully, gripping his arm. He scowled at first, but soon relented. He hadn't seen Avral respond like this to anything, not for many a year, and just that was enough right now. Looking at Liberator as it flashed up again and again, he couldn't quite rid himself of that peculiar sensation. He had felt it before, fleetingly. Certainly on Albian, nearly thirty years before, but seldom since. What was it, that sensation...?

Oh, yes. Hope.


"So, you really think he's not dead...?"

In the Liberator's refectory, a long low-ceilinged room lined with gleaming white tables and bench seats, Darvin was sitting alone, picking at a square tray with various edible substances deposited in differently-shaped indents by one of the dispensers - alone till Blake came to join him. They were the only two present for now.

"You want me to show you how to get some of this..." Darvin hesitated. "Food?"

"Not hungry."

"Get hungry, Blake. You're going to need food, like all of us. You're human."

Her expression was half frown, half-smile. "Of course I'm human."

"Sorry... Just trying something out," he said, and sampled a mouthful of purple mush, finding it surprisingly pleasant. "It's just... back in the old days, I mean right back, important people, great leaders and all that, they would sometimes have people whose job it was to whisper in their ear, when they thought they needed it, You're just a man..."

"I'm not a man," said Blake lightly. "But I see your point."

"I don't really know what my point was..." said Darvin, looking down at his tray, considering what to try next. "Don't mind me. I don't know where I am any more."

"You seem to know where you are on that flight-deck," said Blake, and paused. "Will you do that for me, Stev?"

"Do what?"

"Remind me, when I need it."

He continued eating, and it was a little while before he next spoke. "Yes, I'm pretty sure he's not dead," he replied to her original question.

"Avon?"

"That's who you meant, wasn't it...? But I don't think we'll ever know for sure either. I think he and Servalan are far away right now. They've gone... I don't know, somewhere... Avon's been planning what happened there on Earth for years... Oh, I don't doubt some stuff went wrong and he had to make adjustments, but we were all his pawns from start to finish."

"And we still are."

"Only if you want to be."

"What do you mean?"

He pushed the tray away, and looked at her levelly. "We had good reason to go after those UniS ships today. They were a direct threat to us, probably. But now..."

"Now...?"

"They're not pursuing us right now... I see that as a hint. And an opportunity."

"I hadn't thought about it that way. Not yet." She sat back, without breaking their eye contact. "Did Avon assume we would pick up where they left off, all those years ago...? I suppose I was assuming it too."

"Or... We could just turn this ship, the most powerful ship in existence right now, turn it around and head out there, and find something better for ourselves..."

"Leave...? Leave them all?"

"Leave."

"But... the others. The human race, what's left of us... How can we leave them with Scarn? And... with the Children of Light?! Had you forgotten them...? I can't. I never will!"

"That's a very complicated life right there," said Darvin. "I like a simple life, myself." He stood up. "There's a lot of sights out there, Blake. Still. Even now. A lot of places to go, and this is the ship to take us to them. We've got ourselves a good bunch of people here... a good crew... once we've sorted out a few kinks." He smiled. "I think you really should start thinking about it." With that, he left.

Alone now in the refectory, she did think about it.


Chapter 3


"Hello, Orac." Blake thought it best to start simply, not quite sure how to handle this most awkward of AIs. Before long, it became clear that would not necessarily help.

"What is it now?"

"Now...?" she puzzled. "I've never called you before."

"I was addressing you as a species. Kindly state your intent."

The crew of the Liberator were gathered on the flight-deck, Caul and Darvin at their stations while the others sat in a semi-circle on the forward couches. The small device Avon had entrusted to Blake, or Mara as she had been then, was plugged into a convenient port and Orac's reedy, fastidious voice relayed through the same address system that produced Zen's rather more reverberating tones.

"To annoy you!" said Rissa, leaning forward and then collapsing back onto the cushioned back of her couch, giggling. She was enjoying this, a fact that may have had something to do with the nearly-empty cup of blue liquid in one hand.

"In that, you have succeeded admirably. Might I suggest, given your track record, it may be unwise to become accustomed to the sensations associated with success."

Rissa's response was one of delight. "Did it just insult me...? I can't tell...! Oh, that's brilliant! My turn... Ohhh... Your mother was a-"

"-Orac..." Blake interrupted. "Thank you for responding."

"Your platitude suggests it was a matter of choice. I am programmed to respond when called. If not, do you imagine a being as advanced as I would deign to spend my valuable time at the beck and call of such as you? Get to the point of your summons."

"Orac," began Darvin, throwing a May I? look at Blake. "You've basically told us what we wanted to know, so thank you... There was one thing I was wondering, though... Did Avon leave any message with you...? For us..."

"There is one file in my memory, marked for your attention... It is a placeholder only, no data archived."

"That's a lot of use," breathed Juni.

"Orac," said Blake. "What is the name of this file?"

"Project Avalon."


"So..." Darvin considered. "You wanted a direction. This may not be it, but it's... something." He and Blake sat next to each other on the floor of one of the Liberator's corridors, leaning back supported by the hexagonal bulkhead.

"Enough to make you want to stay?"

"Who said anything about going...? I'm staying with you guys."

"Oh..." said Blake. "Good. Why the change?"

"Oh, no change. I'm planning to persuade you all to my point-of-view... I've got form with that, you know. I'm a very persuasive guy."

"You're a natural leader."

He waved his hand at her dismissively. "I'm just older than the rest of you."

"And wiser?"

"Not that old."

"So," she continued. "You're planning to persuade the crew to join you and see the universe... Does that include me?"

"Of course. Don't you want to be persuaded?"

"Perhaps," she said ruefully.

"Then my work is half done."

"Avalon," said Blake abruptly.

"What about her?"

"What do you know about her?"

"What everyone knows... I even met her once or twice... Well, met... I was in the same room. I doubt the high and mighty Avalon would even have noticed the likes of me. You see, things got really bad in the war... I might have mentioned that once or twice..."

"Once or twice."

"It got so bad that the Federation issued a pardon for Avalon, and for any former enemy who would be willing to join them and help... Not only that, it got so bad that not only did they mean it, but Avalon believed them. In she came."

"Did you like her?"

Darvin hesitated. "Wasn't expecting that question. Um... I didn't not like her... She was beautiful... Kind of strange, not what I expected at all, quite, I don't know, fragile-looking, like a strong gust of wind might knock her over..."

"Go on."

"Well, she was a mature woman when I saw her, but when she won her first battles, she was just a girl... Really, I mean... Men older than I am now, hardened, experienced soldiers, would follow this little girl into combat... There's something there, something special. Unique, possibly."

Blake saw the angst in Darvin's expression. "What's wrong?"

"I can forget it most of the time, you've seen me... Forget I was ever part of that. But... I was. That girl, she was special, and what she was doing was right... And I..."

"I understand..."

"I was on the opposite side. The wrong side."

"Yes."

"I can hear you thinking. You're saying It's not too late, aren't you?"

"Was it that loud?"

"Yeah, not too late. Fair enough. But the thing is, I saw the bodies. Avalon won victories all right, against us, against the Andromedans, but it didn't last. It can never last. And it always has a price. In the end, the bodies. While she goes on to the next battle."

"I see. You don't want to be among them."

"I don't want you to be among them. Or Rissa. Or Caul. Or Juni or Faal, for that matter. You people are all I have, and you know what...? I don't want to see any of you among Avalon's noble dead. Or Blake's. Or Avon's. Is that so wrong...?"

"No, it isn't wrong."

"Have I persuaded you?" Their heads turned to look at each other, but Blake offered no reply.


Proxima II

"It's time! Switch it on!"

"Switch what on?!"

"You know what!"

"That rubbish again...?! Go f-"

"On!"

"So...What's this we've been hearing about...?" Caster Baroon's long, androgynous features filled the holographic space in the centre of the club, light spilling into the darkest corners and a little even partially illuminating Del Grant where he sat in the shadows. "No, not that little old end of the world again... That can keep, my people, that can keep... Well, isn't the world always ending...? Or is that just my permanent hangover...?"

There was something neutral about Caster Baroon's voice, in that no two people tended to agree on whether it was the voice of a man or a woman, just as the face, from the limited view afforded, could lend itself to either interpretation. "I've got something so much better for you," Baroon crooned seductively, rhythmically. "So, while the authorities waste their time some more trying to trace the location of yours truly... let me tell you what's been happening... Well, lots of things all told, but the biggie, the whopping biggie... Oh, sorry, got distracted there... is that those naughty old rebels have got themselves a new friendy wend... Whose name is B-B-B-

-Ooh, is that the time already...? Bye, my people, love and kisses... More next time..." Ensconced in his booth, the faint ghost of a smile animated Del Grant's stony features for just the briefest moment. He took another drink.


"Shuttle launch in four minutes... mark."

The announcement, made in calm, measured tones, emanated from the speakers of the A/V unit in Lady Shilena's office just as Doctor Lenta Guld hurried in. "You're just in time..." said the First Lady, perched casually on a chair. "Just... Try to be more punctual," she admonished, looking round as her advisor joined her. Only someone who knew her as well as Dr Guld would perceived the wry humour and know not to be too troubled.

"What's this...?" She peered at the screen, where two black-clad figures picked up the pace of their task - securing a manacled prisoner to a thin metal vertical beam placed incongruously in a long tunnel. "Is that... one of the shuttle launch tubes...? Sorry, I mean, one of the extraction tubes under the launch bays..."

"Yes, indeed." Lady Shilena's eyes were fixed on the screen, fascinated.

Dr Guld folded her arms, shifting her weight more to one side than the other. She was not an engineer, but she understood the basic principles of what would soon happen in that tunnel. In just under seven minutes, the exhaust of the shuttle's launch would travel along there so that its noxious constituents could be harmlessly contained by one of the Kapital's massive Extractors. The unfortunate prisoner, chained to the beam, would be incinerated, though not, Guld suspected, all that quickly.

"An execution... Remarkable."

"Remarkable? Why?"

"Because we don't have the death penalty."

"Not officially, no..." said Lady Shilena. "What do you make of it?"

Dr Guld thought for a moment. "Cruel and unusual," she said.

"You know, I don't think I've ever heard my husband summed up quite so aptly before."

"A bad death," Dr Guld mused as the prisoner, a terrified young woman whose wiry frame was lost in her too-large prison fatigues, was left to her fate, writhing against the chain tightly circling her waist three or four times. "What's the point, if not as an example? I mean, if this isn't to be disseminated publicly..."

"I'm sure he'd love to, but as you pointed out, technically this isn't exactly legal... Even President Scarn cannot be seen to be above the law... Not yet."

"I know her, don't I...? I've seen her face somewhere."

"Wondered how long it would take. Yes, she was one of the staff here, apparently."

"Of course..."

I wonder if he knows I have a tap on the video feed..." At her advisor's questioning look, Lady Shilena chuckled. "That's the phrase the nice young man who set it up for me used." She shifted position in her chair. "The security sweeps prior to my arrival caught her with some rather unusual communications equipment... It didn't take too much persuasion to extract a confession."


The two secret executioners, bulky in their heavy black uniforms made of a coarse synthetic fibre, heads covered by cowl-like hoods that left only their grim, anonymous faces visible, hurriedly made their escape from the tunnel, their feet crunching on a floor coated like the rest of the tunnel with carbonised residue. Leaving via a large, heavy round hatch, they locked it securely behind them, no panic in their hurry, merely calm efficiency - they had done this before, and expected to again.

The clang as the hatch was sealed echoed loudly along the tunnel. The prisoner closed her eyes, trying to control her ragged breathing, before abandoning that and giving into her panic - the manacles rattled against the metal beam as she made a futile effort to topple it, rubbing her wrists agonisingly raw...


Dr Guld smiled. "Avalon?"

"By all accounts, that name was not specifically mentioned... But..."

"It didn't need to be... Will that woman never give up? What will it take?"

"Killing her, I expect. It has been tried, you know. Successfully, it was believed, but the problem is, she just won't stay dead."

"Even if they do die, no one will believe it... as with Roj Blake."

"Oh, Blake..." mused Lady Shilena. "Fine man, that. If only he had been a little more... pragmatic. A pity."

"They'll wonder why their reports have suddenly stopped, won't they...?" Though she usually prided herself on being imperturbable, Dr Guld involuntarily flinched as a flare of light made the screen white out. The link did not have sound, but she could imagine the screams for herself only too well.

"Yes, my dear," said Lady Shilena. "They will. And then, we shall see the response."


"How soon...?" demanded Avral, speaking quietly into the hand-held comm-device. She waited impatiently, settling, or at least trying to settle, into a more comfortable position. Crouching on the ruined stairway of one of Downtown's many dilapidated - or in the case of this one, abandoned - tenement buildings, she did her best to stay hidden from any possible observers.

To the average citizen, this building was insignificant, and she wanted it to remain that way.

"There may be a way..." the laconic reply crackled. "How are you at bed-making?"

"How are you at not wasting my time?" Avral shot back. "Can you get me in there or can't you?"

"Maybe... It's going to be a bit tricky. Leave it with me."

"I did leave it with you, I seem to remember. Where has that gotten us?"

"You know why you're so irritable...? It's your suppressed desire for my body."

Despite herself, Avral smiled, thoroughly disarmed. "That would explain so much, wouldn't it...? All right, I'll let you get on with it. Just don't take too long, please... This is very important."

"Righto... Out."

"Out." Switching the device off, Avral stood and, after making sure there were no hidden observers, climbed the stairwell to the top.


It was not the only abandoned building in Downtown - or even in this specific district - to be unofficially occupied, but it was almost certainly the only one to have a mobile paramilitary headquarters on the top floor, crammed with stores and makeshift living quarters. Over it all, the musty smell of too many people living in a confined space with not entirely adequate facilities. Acknowledging several hurried greetings as she went, Avral made her way to her own tiny quarters.

A few minutes later, a tall man somewhere around thirty, sturdy and stolid with sturdily and stolidly handsome features, took the same route through the HQ. "Where is she...?" he demanded. "Have you-?" Before he could finish the question, a casual nod directed Walar where he wanted to go.

Discarding the transparent plastic knee-length coat he wore outside - to protect his light cotton and linen clothing from the excess moisture in the atmosphere, and to blend in with the many Proximans who did the same - he went there in such a hurry that, to his horror when he realised it, he forgot the basic etiquette essential to make this sort of living arrangement tenable.

"Sorry..." he said, as soon as he had lifted the curtain aside, just too late to stop himself ducking under it. "Sorry, sorry, sorry..." He ended up hunched awkwardly in the narrow doorway. "Sorry," he said one more time.

"Why?" asked Avral. "What's wrong?" Her boots were discarded on the floor, the cloak hanging on a peg jutting from the flimsy partition wall, and as she spoke, she continued to remove her dark-red leather breeches before laying them on the bed with the matching tunic. That done, unconcerned, she stood facing him in her underwear.

Walar looked off to the side as he spoke. "I'm... I just heard. Look, I'll just let you finish, all right... I'll come back." Absently, he scratched his head - the waxy concoction used to sculpt his hair into a short fin, the style of the average middle-class Proximan male, was making his scalp itch, especially under stress.

"No, tell me now," she said impatiently. "What is it?"

"You just... You can't do it. Go yourself, I mean. You're too important." Walar's rehearsed speech fell apart before he even opened his mouth, so off-balance was he.

"Oh... I see. I think you mean my mother is too important, don't you?"

He paused. "That's not what I mean," he said, sounding wounded.

"Why don't you try contacting her? Maybe she'll put a stop to my foolish behavior." That was said with a slight edge.

"There's no point," he said. "I know she doesn't like to show favoritism, and that's good, that's admirable, but sometimes... Sometimes, it's like she doesn't care."

Avral's expression changed to one of amusement at that, like someone enjoying a private joke not possible to share. "Yes... Sometimes, it does seem a little like that."

"I- We just don't want to lose you. Without you, we-"

"-I'd like to finish getting changed now, please."

"Wha- Yes, of course..." He turned to go.

"Walar..." Avral said gently, stopping him on his way. "It's just me, almost, but not actually, naked. We're soldiers. Yes, you should knock, but it's really not that big a thing."

If she heard his murmured reply as he left, she never acknowledged it. "Why can't it be?"


"Make this quick, all right... Oh. You're not Walar."

"No," Del Grant acknowledged, face illuminated by the glow of the small holoscreen in front of him in the dingy, sparsely-furnished office.

"Why the subterfuge?"

"That's what it takes to get you to take my call in person, without wasting too much of my time. Is this secure?"

"All our communications are securely encrypted, Grant," said the dark-haired woman at the other end of the long-range call, her features relatively indistinct due to the image compression. "I think what you mean is, am I alone...? And the answer is, no, I'm not." He heard a slightly distorted laugh off to the side, that of another woman. "I'm never alone."

Grant was having to force himself to look at her, as if it was a painful experience. "If it's just your attendant, then that's... acceptable."

"Acceptable...?" crackled the unseen attendant's voice. "Oh... Thank you, Del Grant...! I knew he liked me really."

He remained focused. "You are aware that your daughter has volunteered herself for a dangerous mission at the very heart of enemy territory."

"Is that a statement of fact, or a question?" inquired Avalon. "I'm confused."

"So is she," Grant muttered to himself, looking away for a moment. "That's the problem."

"If it's a question, the answer is yes, I do know. Walar has already expressed his reservations. Aaaawww, isn't he sweet? Shall you tell him, or shall-"

"-If you ask to speak with her, she can't refuse."

"Brave, isn't she...? I don't have anything I want to talk to her about." Avalon looked away from the screen for a moment. "And the reverse is certainly true. Avral doesn't want to talk to me. She never did. I can't say I blame her."

"I just..." He was struggling more and more with enduring this. "You know what I mean."

"You're the one in charge," she said, with a slightly bitter tone. "Order her to send someone else."

"I seem to remember an agreement we had," he breathed.

"I don't see how I can help," she concluded abruptly. "And I don't see how this comes under the terms of our agreement. Is that all?"

Grant took a few seconds before he responded. "I think it probably is," he said heavily.


The Liberator, deep space

"Avon wants us to find Avalon," said Blake, turning to face the others assembled on the flight-deck. There it was. They all looked around each other, and mostly the reaction was the same. Bemusement. "Join up with her, if that turns out to be the best route. Or certainly form a joint strategy to tackle UniS."

"Wants us to...?" queried Rissa. "Don't you mean, wanted?"

"She means wants..." said Darvin, perched on the end of one of the couches. "Avon is still with us... at least in spirit."

"Spirit...?" Rissa laughed. "You mean he's a ghost?"

"Not quite."

"Can we just get to what you do mean...?" Juni demanded shortly, leaning forward across her duty station.

"Well, what I mean," said Blake, "We've reached a point where a decision has to be made... We have something here. Perhaps something quite enviable. A highly advanced ship, capable of self-repair and more or less self-sufficient. Advanced medical facilities, weapons, high-value trinkets that can easily be converted into any currency we want... We have the means to-"

"-Be rich." That was Darvin. "All of us, many times over. Individually, we can be rich, and more to the point, safe. When you're rich, no one can touch you. You all know that..." He paused. "But together, and with this ship... You know what we have...?" He looked around them all. "Power."

"Power...?" scoffed Rissa. "Darvin... What are you becoming?"

"Older," he said without hesitation. "And a little slower than I used to be. I know you can't imagine that, not quite yet, but one day if you're lucky, you'll get there too. I don't necessarily want to be safe, not yet, but I don't want to die in a pointless, endless war that might already be lost to all intents and purposes. I want to be free."

"Beat that," Blake breathed quietly, and then spoke to them all. "I'm glad you mentioned the word free. We are free already. But how many out there aren't...? Don't they deserve to enjoy something like the freedom we have?"

"What do you want, Darvin?" asked Caul calmly, picking up on an earlier point.

"I... I want to go out there and explore. See if there's something better out there. Help people, or help beings generally, yeah... All for that. Adventure, excitement, yeah... Well up for that, before I really do get old. But I think staying in our own neighbourhood, just going over the same old insoluble problems, again and again... I think it can only end one way..."

He looked at Blake. "Gauda Prime..." he said quietly.


1 hour later

"Fancy meeting you here..." Darvin came to sit down heavily in the same spot in the corridor next to Blake. This was getting to be a habit. "We need a private office for you, I think. One with comfy seats."

"How do you feel?"

He thought for a moment. "Free... Is that strange? Now the decision's been made... I do feel free. You disappointed?"

"A little." She looked over at him. "The ship is yours."

He met her gaze, and let the silence continue for a few seconds. "And the mission is yours. Till it's over."

Blake smiled faintly. "Then that's yours too. And hopefully we'll all be able to join you."

"Faal was the one who surprised me, actually..." mused Darvin wryly. "I thought I had him. I took his complete silence as agreement. But then, I'm like that." He frowned a little. "You mean that? You'll come with me, when this is all done?"

"Try and stop me." Blake drew her knees up against her chin and held them there, face half-hidden. "I'm going to bring down UniS, somehow, I don't know how... and then the Children of Light too. But when it's over, someone else is going to have to rebuild something worthwhile. Roj Blake might have been able to do that, but that's not me. Best I disappear, I think."

"Into legend?"

"Let's not get ahead of ourselves," came her muffled reply, her eyes smiling at him.


The shift on the flight-deck changed, Rissa and Faal taking over from Juni and Caul, and Juni left without a word. She and Rissa exchanged a brief glance - no snipes, no mockery, no grudges. Their truce was holding. More tired than she expected to be, Juni ran a hand through waves of red-gold hair as she climbed the steps leading to the rest of the ship.

Leading to her quarters. Of course. Where else would she be going?

She waited just off one of the main corridors, heart thumping. Not quite sure why she was here, or exactly what she was going to do, but feeling alive for the first time in... Well, as it turned out, this might be the first time she had felt alive ever.

Having closed her eyes and breathed slowly and steadily for several minutes, she opened them again and looked up at the faint sound of footsteps getting closer. "Caul..." she said quietly.

It was just loud enough, and he came off the main corridor to join her, curious and wary - She could not blame him. "Which one are you again...? I've forgotten." She remembered saying that, and cringed slightly.

"Juni..." he said, still wary. "Are you all right?" A look of genuine concern. "Can I help?"

She approached slowly and deliberately, giving him lots of chances to object if he was of a mind to, making her intentions sufficiently clear even for him. He was a little taller, just a little, but with her heels they were the same height. She put her arms around his neck and drew him in close, and held on to him tightly. A few seconds later, his arms closed around her too, holding a little less tight. Then nothing for a very long time, just standing there holding on.

Soft hair against his cheek, Caul gradually relaxed, though his mind was obviously working furiously. Eventually, hesitantly, he brought up one hand and smoothed down rogue strands of her hair gently until the movement settled into a motion that was regular and soothing, for both of them.

They said nothing.


...

97 days later

...


Liberator settled into orbit around the green planetoid and made the tiny adjustments necessary to maintain geostationary orbit for the foreseeable future, before powering down its engines. The place was without a name, at least formally, known merely as TNDM-1939, and surface readings were automatically collated.


"INFORMATION..." said Zen. "SURFACE TEMPERATURES AND OXYGEN LEVELS ARE LOW, BUT WELL WITHIN TOLERABLE PARAMETERS. RADIATION LEVELS ARE ACCEPTABLE FOR SHORT TERM EXPOSURE."

"Thank you, Zen," said Darvin from the pilot's station, looking up. His tightly-curled black hair had grown out into a bit of a mane, and the ever-present stubble was a neat salt-and-pepper beard. He looked over at Caul. "They'll be all right."

Caul nodded, pretending to be unconcerned. He looked more or less exactly as he had since they boarded the ship, though in common with all of them, perhaps, his choice of clothes was becoming more flamboyant thanks to the choices offered by the wardrobe room.

"Of course we'll be all right..." crackled a familiar voice from the speakers. "Why wouldn't we be all right?" Darvin and Caul looked up to see Faal walk slowly down the stairs and over to join them, and Darvin leaned over to speak into a discreetly-mounted microphone.

"I think you mean Down and safe, don't you?" he said. "Can we have at least the pretense of a little discipline, here?"


"Sorry, yes... Of Course. Down and safe... captain. Sir My lord, my liege, my... everything..." Three pairs of feet were creating prints in the dust of planetoid TNDM-1939, carefully working their way down the gravelly slope into the main valley below the ridge they had arrived on. "Seriously, though," Rissa continued. "If we can't make this fun, what's the point?"

"Any chance we could put a grownup in charge of communications?" came Darvin's reply through her teleport bracelet.

Blake held down the switch on her own bracelet - she, too, had let her hair grow, hers into a slightly curly mop that obscured the tiny port high on her temple. "Down and safe, Darvin," she enunciated carefully. "Satisfied?" She looked over at Rissa and Juni with a faint smile. All three wore padded jackets over their choice from the wardrobe room, and even so they shivered against the cold. "Let's just find what we came here for and get back in the warm. How does that sound?"

"Like the best idea I've heard... Well, that's it really. The best idea I've ever heard," said Juni. "No wonder you're our leader."

"It's only because I wasn't interested in standing," said Rissa. "You want to hear my platform, just for the sake of it?"

"Actually..." said Blake, peering ahead of them and looking a little alarmed. "You wanted fun, Rissa... Well, does this count?"

"That's an interesting definition of fun," said Juni. "Teleport back up?"

"I don't think they've seen us."

"Not yet..."

"Darvin..." said Blake, holding up the bracelet to her mouth again. "I think this just got a little more fun."


Proxima II

"Things they don't want you to know, number fifty-three thousand, nine-hundred and sixty-five..." mocked Caster Baroon. "The big B, that curly-headed scourge of the Man, is back... and he's bad! He might be a little long in the tooth, but word is Blakey Boy has a new crew of bright young things doing his leg work, and... You know what, this time it might just work out..."

"Have you heard from her at all...?" Walar's question, hissed across the booth, was urgent, and he was getting somewhat rattled as it became clear that Del Grant was apparently more interested in listening to that silly rogue news channel. "I said, have you heard from her? Does she report to you? I've asked her mother, again and again, but she says to ask you."

Grant tore himself away, just for a moment. "If so, I couldn't talk about it," he said. "You know that." He was pleased to note that, compromised as his feelings might be, even Walar was too much of a professional to utter Avalon's name in a public place.

"I... I know... It's just-" Walar made himself calm down. "I don't want anything to happen to her. I've heard things... Horrible things." He took a breath. "I want to go in after her."

That got Grant's attention, and he stared at Walar fiercely. "That's not happening." There was a long pause. "You hear me?"

"I hear," Walar finally conceded, his choice of words precise. He too found himself listening to Caster Baroon, and frowned. "This thing's a front, you know... 'Word is that UniS are behind it themselves."

"Perhaps," said Grant distantly.

"Latest developments will be shared as they occur..." said Caster Baroon dramatically in a forced deep voice, mocking the severe tones of the mainstream channels. "And don't any of you out there dare to look anywhere else... I, and I alone, will keep you informed about this momentous event... The return of the Blake Seven."


The second part of the Blake's 7: Survivors series


A galaxy in chaos... A rebellion reborn... A legend returns. This is the Fourth Century of the Second Calendar - A new 7, with enemies old and new to face...



Prologue


The human race, just after the intergalactic wars of the late third century of the Second Calendar... Depleted, worn out, exhausted by the toll taken by the long struggle for their very existence. A new age had begun, for good or ill.

Yet, in the aftermath of the second war, there was optimism. The oppressive regime of the Terran Federation was gone, its military might destroyed - old notions of democracy, fairness and equality cautiously reemerged, as new political structures gradually took shape. Hope reigned... but it was not to last.

If there could be said to be a single day on which that hope died, it was this one.


The planet Karstus, year 299 of the Second Calendar - 18 years after the death of Roj Blake on Gauda Prime and 6 after the climax of the second war against the Andromedans...

The spacecraft touched down in haste, ignoring all safety protocols, and having disembarked its small party of passengers and allowed them to reach a safe distance it lifted off to return to orbit. The arrivals hurried across the vast rocky plain as best they could with their burden, tiny against the wilderness.

The surface was largely barren, with barely enough vegetation around the equator to furnish an atmosphere breathable for humans - at a push. Hostile, but in a generally far more hostile galaxy it had often proved a valuable resource for human spacefarers. Even the electromagnetic emissions of its star, which interfered with technological devices, could be overcome with proper shielding. Karstus was, for those accustomed to its challenges, an oasis in the vast desert of space, and never more so than now.

It had been a long time since cold, arid Karstus had oceans, but a relic of that very different phase of its existence offered the new arrivals the refuge they sought. They trudged toward the dark opening in the rocks, one of the blowholes leading to the ancient sea-cave system below.

Safety, at last.


"What happened...?" he demanded, clambering with difficulty through the dark cavern and down the treacherous steps. When he got no answer, he seized a convenient sleeve and refused to let go. "What happened?" he demanded again more insistently.

"You should not have left your post," said the arrival, a young, sharp-featured man, coldly, glancing at the offending hand.

"This is my post." The owner of the hand, a stocky man in his fifties with careworn features and the bearing of a soldier, did not look away, except to glance over at the limp body being carried on a makeshift litter. "My post is wherever she says it is."

"And I foolishly thought it was your job to protect her...!" the younger man hissed petulantly.

"I agree," the older one said matter-of-factly. "No one blames me more than I do. I should have insisted on coming"-

-"Stop it, both of you..."

The voice was heard first, then a slender arm emerged from the bundle on the litter and a pale, smooth-skinned hand settled on the closer of the two men, the younger one. The drawn face which looked up at them was that of a still-youthful woman in her forties, slight of build, strands of dark hair plastered to her forehead with sweat - her eyes were clouded with fever and pain medication, but the voice was perfectly lucid. "Dannen, you're a lawyer. Leave judgment on military matters to those whose... province it is, and perhaps they'll... allow you the same courtesy." A faint smile played over her lips, and the situation was quietly disarmed.

The younger man pulled away and continued down the steps, and the older one crouched down to talk to her. "I'm sorry..." he said quietly. "But once you're settled, we must speak." His manner was formal and business-like, but his voice betrayed him, as did his eyes - Just how badly was she hurt...?

"Of course. Make it soon." The outstretched hand touched his briefly, as if for reassurance, as her litter was borne away. The older man watched her go, face schooled by long habit to display very little.


He stepped into the private chamber, carved from rock long ago by the forgotten inhabitants of this world, ducking his head as he passed through the low doorway and immediately almost colliding with one of her attendants rushing out on an errand, sparing him not a glance. Never was he allowed to forget entirely that most of them had been with her a long time, some were devotees of more than twenty years standing, and all of them were inherently more trustworthy than the mercenary who had only joined them when the war was almost over.

Still... It was what she thought of him that actually mattered.

The patient was installed in a camp bed raised up on a plinth, propped up by cushions and swathed with layers of coverings. She smiled weakly and beckoned him closer, seeming a little better but still clearly racked with pain. "How are you...?" he asked, arriving at her bedside. "Or is that classified?"

"They wouldn't tell you anything?"

"No. I'm not even sure they'll tell you," he replied. "Do they...?"

"They've kept me informed," she said, voice neutral, almost cheerful. "I'm inclined to think surviving an assassination attempt is probably a good sign."

"Almost always, in my experience," he said, and they shared a grim smile.

"I wanted to"- she began, breaking off when someone ran across the chamber and buried their head among her coverings - Taken by surprise, she laughed, and he was the only one who saw the pain that registered on her face. "Avral..." she said, hugging the child close. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry... I know... You should have been the first. Only..."

"That's all right..." The girl looked up - she was eleven, and such was their resemblance few could fail to deduce that they were mother and daughter. "I understand. Your work is important."

"Yes," her mother replied. "But not more than you are." Her eyes were suddenly intense. "You believe me...?" she asked, seeming genuinely desperate for reassurance on that point.

"Of course." Avral smiled, and her mother hugged her again and kissed her forehead through the thick fringe of dark hair - the girl's brow was cool and dry against her own hot, clammy skin. "Perhaps..." Avral ventured in a whisper, "Blake will return..."

"Where have you heard that...?" Her mother's tone was a little sharper than intended, such was her surprise.

"It's something people say."

"If you know who Blake was, you must also know that's impossible." That was said gently.

"They say he's not dead... and that he'll come back when we most need him." Both the adults present shared a look that said If only... "If he did, wouldn't that be a good thing?"

"Perhaps... I think we will only really know that if it were to happen. And I don't think it will happen today, and so..."

"We go on,"Avral whispered.

"Always."


"It's a good thing you still had this place to come to..." he said a few minutes later, after the girl had been ushered away. "Almost like you knew you might need it again someday."

If she had heard what he had said, she effectively brushed it aside and beckoned him closer - He leaned in, and with great effort she raised herself up to speak directly into his ear. She continued for some time, and at one point he closed his eyes and breathed in and out slowly - Finally, sinking back into the cushions, she awaited his response.

"So that's it then..." he said in a clipped voice, jaw set determinedly, eyes fixed on a point just past her and not quite able to look at her directly. "You're convinced there's no other course."

"Aren't you?"

"How do you...?" He stumbled over his words. "How...?"

"Because I have to." She took his hand and squeezed it with all the strength she could muster. "Because there's no other way now. Scarn has to be fought. You know that."

"Yes. But does it have to be you...? Haven't you earned the right to... let someone else...?" He shook his head, as if angry at his own weakness, and stood back a little. "Whatever you want me to do... I am yours." Now he had said that, he seemed eager to escape, to get away as far and as fast as possible.

"Make the arrangements," said Avalon decisively. Nodding, Del Grant turned to go.



Interstitial

...

(Relevant extracts follow from the annals of the August Siblinghood of Morphenniel; Data adjunct 593A - The Federation Falls: From the Ashes... An Albatross)

...

The 3rd century of the 2nd calendar

...

99th year

The key year in the formation of Unified Systems (UniS) on its final model. The agreement in the previous year to form a small centralized military corp had been passed with some reservation - not least from Avalon, former insurrectionist and now-Chairperson of the Provisional Council - as an effective counter-measure against the outbreak of space piracy and in response to a series of atrocities committed by political extremist groups. Many of the pirates and terrorists, of course, were demobilized troops from the Andromedan war, abandoned to fend for themselves, and warnings of the danger they represented had largely gone unheeded.

Commercial and traditionalist interests, represented most visibly - and opportunistically - by Erno Scarn, President For Life of the ten planets of the Proxima system, demanded far greater investment in a centralized military structure. Probably the true breaking point of the original vision for UniS came when an attempt to assassinate Avalon, very nearly successful, led to her withdrawal from public life for almost 6 solar months. Rumours of her death circulated widely.

By the time Avalon returned - notably more hard-line in her approach, more akin to the guerilla leader she had been in her youth - it was too late. The Proximan dominated Council closed ranks against her, and her attempted coup to oust Scarn was unsuccessful, forcing her to retreat. The new 4th century was to begin, some thought, with the return of the Federation in all but name...

But the reality was to be far worse...

...

(Extracts concluded. Exiting backdoor... Deleting data retrieval signets... Deleted)




Chapter 1


...

The year 308 of the Second Calendar

...


DSV-A1 - The 2nd Liberator - 6,000,000 spacials from Earth and increasing...

Blake stepped onto the flight deck of the Liberator, her boots making barely a sound on the dark shiny surface. The floor felt ever so slightly yielding, spongy, and not at all slippery despite looking highly-polished. She ran her hands over the nearest of the control stations, and it came away clean - there were no dust particles in the air. Everything about this place was new. Reborn.

Waiting.

She turned to the others, to reassure them, only to catch something in the periphery of her vision, something that made her heart hammer in her chest. Before she even glanced directly at the source of her alarm, she focused on her companions, alarmed to see that Darvin had already followed her onto the flight-deck - "Back!" she wanted to shout, but no sound would come out, and she whirled round to face... it.

The lights. She had hoped never to see them again. Whatever it was, this thing she had theorised to be some kind of security system for the ship, had been activated again. She had feared the others might have to experience this, but not to come face to face with it herself once again. "What do you want...?" she yelled silently. "What now?"

The lights remained in her peripheral vision, and it was impossible to bring them into focus. Just as before. Blake forced herself to remain calm, turning to the others to reassure them... and they were gone.

She was alone.


Darvin stepped down, and almost lost his balance - his artificial legs occasionally let him down in their response time, and almost always picked the most inconvenient moments to play up. Cursing quietly, he got his bearings again... to find Mara - no, Blake, she was Blake now - gone. He whirled round - clumsily - to check the others were all right... and they were gone too.

What?!

How could they all be gone...? Well, a teleport obviously. Right? He forced himself to think it through. This ship might be big, but it wasn't infinite, and if they were still on board he would find them. For now, he would explore.

With a little difficulty he climbed the steps running along the side of the banks of control stations, and allowed himself a tour, casting a critical eye over the layout of the controls. The Federation had never quite managed to get its hands on the original Liberator - not till it was far too late - and so the chance to inspect a similar ship was actually quite exciting. If he was honest with himself - not that he would ever advocate such a radical approach - he would happily grasp at anything, any distraction, to avoid thinking about... any of it. His losses. Servalan. Revenant. His friends, lost in the war. His-

No.

Don't go there.

"Quite right..." she said. "Don't think about me. That's the last thing you need right now..." She smiled. "Oh! Too late, Stev."

He did not look up, but he could see the shape just at the side of his vision. She wasn't real. Couldn't be real. Darvin refused to look.

He looked.

She was just like the last time, that last day, before... Did she leave, or did he...? In a way, he supposed, they both did. No, this was fine, he could handle this... Just about. One thing he wouldn't do, whatever happened, the one thing he had no intention of doing-

"Tarna..." he breathed.

-Talking to her. It. Whatever it was. That was what he had no intention of doing. "Tarna...?" he said again, this time as a question.

"Stev..." she replied, another smile threatening to break out.

"I'm not going to ask how you can be here."

"Good."

"How...?" He lost his cool. "How...?! Just... how?!"

"Don't shout," she admonished calmly with an infuriating half-smile.

"Don't-!" He rubbed a hand, his one real hand, over his brow, but didn't look away, as if afraid she wouldn't still be there if he did. "Just don't, all right...?"

"Tell you what to do...? As if I could!"

"Why are you here?"

"A much better question..." Tarna started to climb up toward him, lifting her long skirt to do so, and his apprehensive eyes followed her progress. This thing, whatever it was, it was exactly like her. The sheen of her olive-skin, the hair elaborately braided and cast over one shoulder, the graceful economy of her movement, the look of calm amusement in her eyes... The insufferable look of calm amusement... Rather, he realised, with a terrible ache at the pit of his stomach, this was the girl she had been when he last saw her. While he... He wasn't an old man, by any means, but he wasn't a young one any more either.

Darvin noticed he had stopped breathing, and made an effort to start again.

"We're all here, you know..." she said, reaching out a hand for him to help her up the last step - not because she needed help, but just to make him touch her. To prove she was there, or...? He moved back. Looking a little disappointed, she stepped up to join him and they stood either side of the highest level of the bank of consoles with the duty stations separating them.

"Who's here...?"

"All of us. The ones who didn't make it. The majority. The non-survivors." A calculating look had entered her eyes that chilled him. "You can still be with us, you know. Just take my hand. Wouldn't it be easier...?"

"Probably." The smile he gave her was the one perfectly crafted - tried and tested, even - to create distance between himself and an opponent as he gauged their weaknesses.

"What do you have left to prove, Stev? You did everything you could... Well, almost everything. But, who knows, maybe we could even make it work this time... We could try."

"Could we?" Darvin let himself look away, and when he looked back she was still there. He obviously wasn't going to be allowed an easy way out.

"What is there, Stev...? I can feel it, you know. Your despair. I'm the only one who can. The only one who ever really knew you, I expect."

"That must be why you left."

"I left? Well, yes, but then, you left me a hundred times, and I only left you once." She smiled again. "But who's counting, eh...?"

"You're all right..." He slapped the high back of the chair in front of him. "I'm good here."

"What's left of you!" she snapped. "Come with me, Stev, while's still some of the original you left!" She looked over his body. "Just how much is left, anyway...?"

"I don't miss you," he said abruptly. "At least, not the way I did." He gave a weak smile, and avoided looking directly at her. "Sorry. And, uh, thanks for making it a little easier, right there." He started to climb down. "Oh, and... Goodbye, Tarna."

"Suppose I'd better just go, then," she said, just a voice now and sounding much further away than the top of the steps.

"Suppose," he replied.


"I've done this," said Blake. "I've been through all this." She turned to address the whole of the empty flight-deck. "I passed your little test... Didn't I? What is this, stage two? When exactly does it end? Are you just playing with me now...? Is that it?" There was no response, but the lights remained hovering on the edge of her vision. "Where are the others...? No, wait, are they here? That's it, isn't it? We're all here, but somehow... on different planes, so we can't see or hear each other...? Yes. Are they all going through what I did?"

The lights shifted and started to resolve in front of her. Menacingly. "I passed...!" she yelled. "What else do you want of me?"

Mara passed. The voice was felt rather than heard. Mara, it said again. Not Blake.

"So that's it..." she said quietly. "It's still me. I just changed my name."

Not just a name.

"No..." she conceded. "It isn't, is it...? When Darvin called me Blake, back on Earth, without even meaning to, it felt... right somehow. Like he'd just shown me, shown me how to... be me."

Where is Mara now?

"Mara served her purpose..." It wasn't even her real name, anyway... whatever that might have been. "Blake is needed. So, till that changes, I'll be Blake." She closed her eyes. "Was that enough?"


"Was what enough?" asked Darvin, and Blake opened her eyes again to find the others clustered around her in the area in front of the bank of consoles. The horseshoe-shaped seating area looked very inviting, but she wasn't going to be the first.

Instead, Rissa was the first, throwing herself down on one of the couches. "Oh, I need this!" she cried.

"What happened to the warrior ascetic, trained and honed like a razor's edge?" Darvin gently mocked.

"She met a very silly man who showed her there was a lot more to life than chanting and never having sex."

"I don't remember that," said Darvin, looking slightly askance.

"Well, you strongly implied there was more," said Rissa. "I had to find out the details for myself."

"With you now."

Seeing Caul standing apart, looking uncertain what to make of any of this, Blake went to join him. "All right?"

"I... Yes." He glanced at her briefly. "What's not to like about this?"

"Itching to take it all apart?" she asked mischievously. "And put it back together again, of course."

"Was it that obvious?"

"Only to me."

"Mara... I mean, Blake..."

"What is it?"

"No, it's... Never mind. It can wait."

She touched his arm. "It's all very different, isn't it?"

"One way of putting it."

"When you're ready." She moved over to join Darvin, who was leaning against one of the consoles and seemed a little shaken.

"M-" He corrected himself. "Blake. Here we are then, eh...?"

"Here we are."

"Where else would we be...?" mused Juni. Not so long ago, that would have come out as a snipe, a retort, but she just sounded dazed. Behind her, Faal's large-pupiled eyes flicked over to regard her with what looked like remorse, for those who might have managed to catch his momentary change of expression. The aloof mask of the Clone Master descended again right away.

Juni had lost more, had her life changed more, than any of them, if the change was to be measured materially. From the luxury and power of Galaxy City, to fighting a war, to this, in the space of a day. Little wonder she looked so lost. Even if she had sometimes displayed a certain lack of empathy herself - and was that so surprising, being Servalan's adopted daughter in all but name? - the others could find it in themselves to feel just a little sorry for her.

"I saw things..." said Rissa, to none of them in particular. Or perhaps to all of them. "Things I... wish I could unsee. Right here, in the last few minutes. Or hours, or days, or however long that was." She looked around. "Anyone else?" Darvin looked over at Blake, and they both saw the answer to that in each others' faces. He visibly steeled himself, and moved to stand in front of Rissa.

"I saw my wife." No prevarication, he just said it, and saw tears well around Rissa's artificial silver eyes. She stood and clasped his hands.

"Darvin... I'm so sorry." It was so perfectly and so precisely the right thing to say to him at that moment that he actually laughed, choking a little, and made her laugh as well. She felt the need to be as forthright as her mentor, and blurted out, "I saw... them. All of them. They were"-

-"You don't have to," he said, tightening his grip on her hands. She smiled almost shyly, and nodded, and Darvin turned to Blake. "I think it's safe to say we all experienced some sort of test, right?"

"And we passed, it seems, otherwise... I don't know if we would still be here." Blake glanced around the others, settling on Caul. "Did you...?" Distracted by his examination of one of the consoles, Caul looked up as if surprised by the question.

"Uh... No, I don't think so. I was just here, alone. The rest of you were gone, and then you were back. Nothing else." He became aware of Juni's scrutiny above that of the others, as her mouth moved without producing any sounds for a few moments.

"Same here," she said, and looked reticent as the others all turned to her. "Nothing," she said, almost bitterly, and looked back at Caul. "I was alone too." He smiled faintly, and she held the look.

"Well, I saw more than enough for all of us," announced Rissa, springing up from the couch and crossing to join Caul, leaning in close to him and glancing dismissively at Juni. Blake and Darvin exchanged a glance that said let's not ask.

"Did you see anything, Faal?" Blake inquired of the tallest member of the group. Faal regarded her calmly for a few moments before answering.

"Yes," he said. Just when she thought that was the entire answer, he continued. "I will need time, to consider it, then... I will need to speak with you, Blake."

"Well," she replied, "I think we can dispense with appointments, given that there's only six of us..."

"INFORMATION..." the ship's computer - Zen - interrupted. "LIBERATOR CREW IN PLACE. SHIP'S SYSTEMS ENTERING FINAL STAGE OF CALIBRATION FOR OPTIMAL PERFORMANCE. SPEED IS STANDARD BY SIX. HEADING IS PROVISIONAL."

"Make that seven?" suggested Darvin.


Deep space, between the solar system and Proxima Centauri

"All ships report."

The squadron of Unified Systems ships - several science vessels, three warships and, on the fringes, multiple pursuit ships buzzing to and fro, kept their stations on the far edge of the solar system, a state of nervous anticipation animating the crews in their various tasks. All were aware, now more than ever, there must be no mistakes. As bad as the consequences would usually be, today it was more vital than ever before.

"Reports acknowledged. Incoming pulse in two minutes... Mark."

Preparations were complete. They were ready to attempt, for the first time, to disrupt the beam carrying the powerful electro-magnetic pulse at the speed of light toward Proxima Centauri. Their home. The stakes could scarcely be higher.

The warships kept their distance, while the specially modified science vessels closed in on each other - the squadron rearranged itself balletically in the inky blackness. "Check positions, people... This has to be precise. Not even a"-

-"Commodore - Incoming!"

The beam and its deadly pulse was invisible, but the beam emitted by the science vessels in an attempt to counteract it was not - The electronic pulse was blinding, had anyone been unwise enough to look at it directly, and it fizzled silently as it travelled through the void. "Emitters at full power!" came the report, the voice over the comm channel urgent, breaking a little in the excitement and stress of the situation.

The beams met at a safe distance from the emitting vessels, and combined to form a far more powerful one and be launched on a new trajectory - In moments it encountered the beam launched from Earth... and had no effect.

"Report!"

"Readings coming in, Commodore...! It's... It's... Ineffective, sir. The counter-measures have proved... I have to report failure, sir. We've failed..."

"Pulse still incoming!"

"Get out of there!"

"Too late, Commodore... It's all right, we knew... knew this would happen. Though we hoped... I hoped..."

"Evasive, for"-

There was no time for the science vessels to obey, and all were in the path of Avon's magnified electromagnetic pulse. All were shut down instantly, and one, in the act of firing up its engines to at least attempt escape, exploded and took all the others with it in a chain-reaction. The warships altered their positions and intensified their electronic shielding to minimise the chances of being damaged by the debris, and silence fell on the comm channels for several minutes.

"That was... only the first attempt... Remember that. The pulse is still more than four years away from Proxima. We have four years."

"Warship Xerxes to flagship. Scouts reporting in... Reporting... sighting of enemy vessel... Trajectory being extrapolated. There's a chance we could intercept if we go now... Permission"-

-"Permission granted..." What was there to lose now? "Good hunting, Xerxes."


"I saw it..." said Juni, leaning on the console in front of her, abandoning her attempts to learn its purpose for now in favour of talking to Faal, positioned one row in front just above the base level of the flight-deck. "Or rather... I felt it. How does that work?"

"What, precisely?" Faal responded while still busy with his console, apparently able to divide his attention.

"What...? I mean, as I stepped onto this ship I was instantly aware of what happened down there... on Earth! It took a while to make sense of it, but now... Servalan... and Avon, they were both in that dome when UniS... When they bombarded it. They're dead, aren't they...? I mean, I know it happened, somehow."

"Yes."

"Is that all you have to say?"

"I suspect the ship's computer has some form of data cloud which uploads pertinent information to the crew as required, so long as verbal or visual communication would not be more efficient."

"I downloaded the information."

"Yes."

"Information..." Juni impersonated Zen's calm, impersonal tones. "The most important person in your life... She's dead. Gone. Just like that. Information ends. Report over!" The note of bitterness entered her voice as she spoke, and when she was finished she started exploring the console's interface once more.

"Impressive..." commented Caul, looking up from his console at the top of the stairs a level above Juni - only the three of them were present, and he was apparently oblivious to the undercurrents in the conversation as it had developed. "That might be very useful indeed if we have to fight this ship."

"So..." said Juni, and if she had heard Caul speak she gave no indication of it. "A telepathic interface. Is it something akin to the techniques you use when you want to produce an adult clone? Ideal for fast dissemination of information... Education... Indoctrination, even."

"I..." Faal was taken a little aback for a moment, but the calm veneer soon reasserted itself. "My people have used similar techniques in the past, it is true. Responding to the specific requirements of a commission."

"What about me?" Juni asked, almost casually. In her heard, she heard Rissa's inevitable scathing response - That's basically what we hear every time you speak, Juni - but Rissa wasn't here at this moment. I've internalised her, Juni realised, and sighed wearily.

If Rissa had been here, or any of the others for that matter, Faal might have found that a convenient distraction, but as things were he found himself in a very uncomfortable position. "You?"

She sighed again. "Never mind." Her eyes, however, remained trained intently on the back of his head for some time.


"Honestly..." Darvin mused. "I'm not so sure."

"You don't think they're dead...?" asked Blake incredulously. "You saw what I did, didn't you?" They, along with Rissa, alert with her gun before her but still listening to their conversation, were advancing down one of the Liberator's hexagonal corridors.

"Yes," said Darvin. "I saw what this Zen thing saw. What I was meant to. I mean, you met Avon, right... You talked to him. Well, take it from one who knew him a little longer, we all saw exactly what he wanted us to see."

"I hope you're right."

"We might well never hear of either of them again, but take it from me, Avon had no intention of sacrificing himself... Not his style at all. And he went to a lot of trouble to make sure Servalan was with him at the crucial moment, so..."

"He told me she murdered my mother," Blake said casually.

"Oh...!" Rissa commented, turning to her for a moment. "Actually, that does sound like her, doesn't it, Darvin?"

"She did a lot of terrible things in her time..." said Darvin. "But then, so did I."

"There were... circumstances." Blake glanced between them. "In her place, I might have done the same. I don't know."

Rissa leading, they walked into the teleport bay - now complete and made of the same pristine materials as the rest of the ship, and apparently ready for use. The sound perpetually in the background - advanced alien technology ticking over, or some kind of air-conditioning system? - was louder here. Darvin investigated the storage bank built into the far wall, full of teleport bracelets.

"Nice..." he said. "This ship might be compatible with Revenant's bracelets, but I suspect these are somewhat better..." He turned to Rissa. "Be nice to teleport without having to replenish all your salts afterwards, eh...?"

"I think you're in love again," Rissa replied with a faint smile. "How long before you even forget Revenant's name?"

"Who?" Darvin asked as he examined one of the bracelets, fitting it on his wrist before taking it off again, although his expression was sad as he looked over at her almost apologetically.


Sol, the star that had given birth to the human race that now straddled half the galaxy, dwindled into a tiny point and finally vanished from view as the new Liberator hurtled through the void. Earth was left behind, a shattered remnant of what it had once been. There would be no need ever to return.


"There...!" said Rissa, depositing the pile of brightly-coloured, shiny or glittery objects onto the back of the curved bank of couches for the others to take a look. "Don't say I never get you anything! Juni, look... Shiny things!" Juni had been the first to pick up one of the items, but she put it down again at that, scowling at Rissa resentfully.

"A whole room full of them," Blake informed them. "If you'd ever wondered how Blake... Roj Blake, that is, financed his campaigns... Well..."

"A wonder Avon didn't kill him a lot sooner," said Rissa.

"And one with machines to run off spare clothing to your exact specifications..." said Darvin. "And lots already produced in our exact sizes for all environments imaginable... Stored food and the means to make more, medical supplies and a surgical unit"-

-"They must have been produced after we came on board, but while the ship was still configuring its interior spaces," reasoned Caul.

"It all seems a little too good to be true, doesn't it?" said Juni, facing away from them.

"You're wondering what the price is," said Blake, and Juni turned to look at her appraisingly.

"There's always a price. Servalan taught me that." The look between them was held for a few moments. "Or, at least, she taught someone." That left Blake a little confused, but she left it there for now.

"Anyway..." said Darvin. "How went your investigations? It's been a long afternoon foraging out there, I hope you at least have dinner ready."

"Food rations and supplements are available throughout the ship, from dispensing units," Faal responded.

"Good to know, good to know," said Darvin. "Caul?"

"Well..." Caul was not at all comfortable addressing them all, and cleared his throat before continuing. "As you... The computer can of course control the ship for us, and will respond to instructions, but obviously there are advantages to being able to switch to manual control..."

"Can we?" asked Blake.

"Yes. And I discovered, at each console there's an accelerated learning programme, so each of us can learn a particular station in some detail, or even all of them, in case..." He did not spell out the possible drawbacks of strict demarcation, and instead moved over to the central position halfway up the bank of stations, before beckoning Darvin to climb up to join him.

"How is that possible?"

"Uh..." Caul became a little hesitant. "Telepathic interface."

"Should've known, really... Want a volunteer, I'm your man"- Darvin began, before seeing what was being pointed out to him, and looking concerned. "They really do cover all eventualities, don't they?" He ran his hand over the port that had appeared in the console, just in the right position for a pilot, specifically him, to plug in a prosthetic interface. "Shame I left my spare hand on Revenant when she went," he said.

Before he had even finished speaking, Caul produced an object from the compartment beneath the console, and held it out for him to take. "Like this?"

"Very like that, but this one lacks the makeshift charm of the old one." Darvin turned to Blake and the others. "Too good to be true?"

"Let's hope not," said Blake.


Proxima II

Some, even after all this time, thought it witty to observe that the Kapital complex on the second of the ten worlds of the Proxima system made Proxima II top-heavy - Certainly, as depicted on the banners of the ancient house of Mekatir, with its suggestion that the Kapital was visible from high orbit - even though it wasn't quite that large, that was how it appeared.

The banners of Mekatir were very much in evidence in and around the vast spaceport that evening, as the light of Proxima Centauri dipped below the horizon and in the moments before Proxima II's artificial sun lit up to take its place in the sky. Anyone looking out at the endless cityscape would have had their view distorted by the residual heat haze, but then few were looking out - not when such a rare event was taking place before them.

Proxima II's most famous daughter was coming home, at long last.

Doctor Lenta Guld took her place among the welcoming party at the foot of the long ramp of the landing vehicle, as soon as it was fully extended, and waited. The array of tired old faces, all men, sweated in the heat of the evening, jowly and resentful, but Guld kept her face neutral - if anything showed at all, it was her pent-up excitement. She was very much looking forward to what was about to happen.

The new arrival was going to shake things up - if nothing else, all could agree on that.

The Lady Shilena Mekatir Scarn swept down the ramp, preceded and followed by both her husband's elite guards and her own, the difference in their dress body-armour subtle apart from their contrasting helmet crests. Though more than seventy years old, probably a little closer to eighty, the First Lady's pace was quick, her movement fluid. Doctor Guld met her gaze unflinchingly, where the panoply of fusty old men avoided it, and was rewarded by a brief nod as the First Lady passed by.

It was not long before Guld was approached by one of the First Lady's attendants, neatly attired in her robe of distinctive Mekatir blue, and told to attend the Lady Shilena presently.


"I will not waste your time, or mine, with platitudes," Lady Shilena called with little apparent effort, projecting her voice so that all in the cramped reception hall could hear. "Suffice it to say that at least some of the rumours you have no doubt heard are true..." Her icy gaze swept over them all without settling on any courtier in particular. "Yes, President Scarn has seen fit to release the old bag...!" Some ventured a faint laugh at that before lapsing into uncomfortable silence. "No, he will not be attending in person... He will be remaining at Storm Mountain for the foreseeable future, where... other matters demand his attention, and is leaving matters here in the Kapital in my hands."

She raised the hands in question. "These hands..." she said. "Make no mistake, my lords... and others... I have returned. And now I am home at last, I will not be leaving again. That, I promise you!"


"What did you think...?" Lady Shilena's question was casual, the washing of her hands before partaking of the waiting refreshments occupying most of her attention, but when she turned to her guest it was clear some kind of answer was expected.

Doctor Guld, alone with the First Lady in her private rooms apart from a couple of the ever-present sentries, smiled unguardedly. "Just what was needed."

A curt nod was the response, and a brief grunt. "Good." Lady Shilena took an ornate chair and motioned her guest to do the same. "Nice to see you again, Lenta, very much so... I shall need you, and others like you, in the coming days... Oh, I know, there are no others like you...!" A brief cackle. "No sign of Carnell, I suppose?"

"Disappeared again."

"To be expected... A pity about the Admiral..." Guld kept her face carefully neutral, unsure of the First Lady's mood at this point. "A loss, a great loss. An honourable man." She shifted position in her chair, and that was clearly that - the only mention of the late Admiral Zanso that would be allowed. "And... he is returning here, yes...?" A curl of the lip accompanied that question.

"Yes. He has sent multiple requests to see President Scarn in person, but I have made the instructions clear - He is to be brought here. To you."

"Requests... You mean he has commanded it."

"Indeed, but that is not in his power any more."

"I shall see him as soon as he arrives... Arrange it."

"I will."

"Seven years confined, because of that filthy little toad," said Lady Shilena bitterly. "Make no mistake... My husband was easily led in those days... This has been long-awaited, my dear... So long." Doctor Guld almost pitied the object of the First Lady's ire - almost. "And now..."

"Yes?"

"Information has been difficult to come by, of late... You must tell me everything you know... about the new Liberator." The hawk-like face with its distinctive curved Mekatir nose broke out in a smile, and cold blue eyes fixed on her advisor keenly. "If I am to do what my dear husband has charged me with, I must have all the relevant data... I must know everything... if our insurgents are to be hunted down and destroyed."


The Liberator, deep space

"What was it you wanted to see me about, Faal?" asked Blake discreetly, as the others departed to the newly-discovered areas of the ship to refresh themselves, and the tall Clone Master lingered behind.

"Is it your intention to prosecute war against Unified Systems?" he said straightforwardly, with no preamble.

"Well... Now, that's a question..."

"Yes."

She sat down, and beckoned for him to do likewise, but he ended up just moving closer and standing just beyond the edge of the bank of couches. "I haven't quite decided what I'm going to do yet, Faal. What do you think?"

"I... may have information that will alter your decision."

"Oh?"

"You are aware I have been living for many years in the belief that the rest of my people were destroyed along with our homeworld during the Andromedan war..."

"I had gathered that," said Blake.

"I no longer believe it to be true."

She took a moment to respond. "I see... Was it something you saw during our... entry to the ship...? I'm not sure everything this ship shows you is quite literally true, Faal, I think it shows you things that... make you vulnerable, to see how you'll react"-

-"No, the information I have is, I believe, reliable. Unified Systems went to some lengths during our escape from Galaxy City to secure me"-

-"Well, that's no surprise, surely... Just think of the possible"-

-"I cannot manufacture troops for them. Capturing me would not avail them in that sense, even if I was willing to do so."

"I understand. So why do you think they wanted you?"

"To accomplish that goal would require a full cloning facility to have survived the destruction of my world. Something that, to my knowledge, did not occur. Although, if I were truly the only survivor, it would not matter as the genetic imprint of two Clone Masters would be required to initiate production."

"You are unable to produce clones, then?"

"I am now. I used the last of the... necessary resources some time ago, and now even small-scale production is no longer possible." His tone did not invite questions on the details of that, though Blake was beginning to make some deductions given Juni's barbed comments earlier.

"You believe more of your people survived."

"Just one, I would speculate, or my presence would not be so urgently needed. Also, a cloning facility transplanted from our homeworld before the end."

"Let's not allow them to get their grubby hands on you, then..." said Blake, standing up and moving over to him. "Thank you for telling me."

"You are our leader, Blake," he replied. "It would be very wrong to withhold information of this nature from you."

"Have you told Juni...?"

Faal looked very hesitant to venture a reply to that, but in the end he was spared as a shrill alarm briefly sounded. As they rushed to the bank of stations, Zen's voice cut through the noise. "INFORMATION..." it boomed. "LIBERATOR IN CLOSE PROXIMITY TO NUMEROUS SMALL OBJECTS ADVANCING AT HIGH SPEED..."

"We need the others," Blake said urgently. Faal leaned over and activated a switch, and she shot him a grateful look. "Get back to the flight-deck," she called into the intercom. "Hurry, we've got trouble."

"OBJECTS ARE EXPLOSIVE PROJECTILES FIRED FROM SPACECRAFT NOW ENTERING DETECTOR RANGE..." said Zen calmly. "DISTANCE CLOSING."


Dart-like, the oncoming ships hurtled through space, and soon enough the Liberator's advanced detectors would reveal them for what they were - Unified Systems Gamma-class Pursuit Ships.

On an attack run, and closing in on their target.


Blake and Faal had now been joined on the flight-deck by the others, who hurriedly assumed the duty stations that seemed natural for them all. "Just how accelerated is that accelerated learning, Caul?" Darvin asked, hurriedly fitting the new appendage to his artificial arm.

"Initiating now..." said Caul. "You'll see an icon appear on the main screen in front of you... Look at it it, and don't look away."

"How's that meant to work?" Juni demanded.

"Telepathic interface...?" said Caul, his tone impatient, becoming a little flustered as the urgency of the situation took hold.

"So now we're letting this ship into our heads!"

"I rather think we already have," said Blake calmly as she followed Caul's instructions. "Zen - Take all normal evasive measures and stand by to go to manual control!"

"CONFIRMED."

"Will those missiles be effective?" Rissa wondered.

"Those ships were developed specifically to combat this one, or rather its predecessor," said Darvin, even as he stared at the monitor in front of him. "So... Yes, there's a very strong possibility!"

"Oh, bum," said Rissa.


Last-minute navigational adjustments were made remotely, and the barrage of missiles raced their way through the dark toward the Liberator...


Link to Chapters 2 and 3

Basically, what the title says.

Mature Content

This content is intended for mature audiences.


or, enter your birth date.*


Month

Day

Year*
Please enter a valid date format (mm-dd-yyyy)
Please confirm you have reviewed DeviantArt's Terms of Service below.
* We do not retain your date-of-birth information.

Chapter 17

"All right then..."

Now he was actually here, Darvin eyed the waiting hatch, the one that would grant them access to the dome where he had been born and - more or less - raised, with a little trepidation - He turned to Kever and Haryl, standing just behind him.

"Dain... Are you sure you want to go in here with us...?"

"I'm sure I don't want to go anywhere near this place..." said Kever, grim-faced. "But if something here presents a threat to my people, I have a duty..."

"I think... It's just, I really think you'd be better getting your people far away from here, at least for now..."

"What exactly do you think is going to happen...?"

"I really don't know - But I'd feel a lot better knowing you were all at a safe distance when it all kicks off..."

"But naturally you're going..."

"Yeah..." said Darvin. "I never was the brightest... All my teachers said so."

"So did my teacher..." Haryl remarked, and he and Darvin eyed each other assessingly. "But he was wrong about most things."

"One thing, possibly..." Darvin conceded, moving over to stand next to him. "Feel like organising an exodus...?"

"What's that...?"

"Feel like doing the right thing for the first time in your life...?"

"Go with them...?" Haryl demanded, incredulous.

"They'd benefit from a military man right now... And you're"-

-"A man the military doesn't want."

"It's not much of a military, Nic..." said Darvin.

"No," Haryl conceded.

"So we're agreed then?"

"Rendezvous...?"

"To be confirmed."

Haryl saluted, with more than a trace of irony. "Sir!"

"At ease..." Darvin spoke more quietly. "Basically, we've all got a reason to go in there, and you don't... Add to that, UniS would kill you just for being an embarrassment to them, and with these people I really think you could be useful..."

"I know," Haryl acknowledged. "I know."

As Kever and his people stood back and Haryl joined them, Darvin led Rissa, Caul, Juni and Faal - and the reluctant Brintun, unsure of his status in this group - into the dome, weapons at the ready.


"Here you are at last..." said Travis, walking slowly around Servalan like an animal stalking its prey, heavy military boots squeaking on the floor, the durable black uniform creaking as he moved. His slicked back hair was grey, but he remained muscular and only a little heavier than when she had seen him last on the planet Goth. "Do you know how long I've been waiting for this meeting, Supreme Commander...?" - Once again, his tone lent her former title a mocking quality - "But all the time I knew, it was inevitable... The universe that wouldn't let me die, why would it deny me my revenge...?" He pointed the gun at her and smiled, his remaining eye cold. "You always had a way with words, Servalan... Any final ones...?"

"What kind of gun is that?"

Her question was far from expected, and Travis frowned. "I'm sorry...?"

"What kind of gun...? Where did it come from? How did you get here? Precisely how many years have you been waiting? What is the ambient temperature? Just how gullible would I have to be to believe that the creature standing before me is really Travis?"

"All right..." His lip curled slightly. "Perhaps I did underestimate you..."

"That you do at your peril, fool! Do you think I have survived all this time by accident? Or worse, by luck?! Think again!"

"Yes..." he said, amused. "I"-

-"Be silent!" she screamed. "I want to hear one thing from you, and one thing only... And that is the location of your master... Where is he? Where is Avon?!"

"He's not my master..." said Travis. "We are equal partners in a common enterprise."

"I'm sure that is exactly what he wants you to believe..." said Servalan, perfectly calm now. "Oh, and you really don't like it when someone else asks the questions, do you...? Inquisitor-general... Yes, I concede that you and Avon have proven adept at hiding yourself from me for all these years, but I'm afraid not everything has eluded me... I know just who and what you are..."

"I doubt that."

"The last of the Andromedan invaders... But perhaps not for much longer..."

"And yet it is I who hold the gun..."

"Which you haven't used."

"Fair point..." said Travis casually. "I have underestimated you, I see that now..." He stepped back a little away from her, and gave a faint, sad smile - "Goodbye... Supreme Commander..."

As she watched, his entire form shimmered and pulsated - and reformed itself - before taking on another human shape... A very familiar one, and somehow even though she understood as much as any human could what this creature was, Servalan's breath caught for a moment.

"Servalan..." said Avon. A simple greeting, and he waited for a response.

"You are not who I've come to see..." she said finally.

"No..." he said ruefully. "No, I'm not... But I think, in some way, you are the one I was seeking... I didn't know till now..."

"What are you talking about?"

"Just that... I need to tell you that it's over... The war. No one won... We all lost."

She frowned, searching for some way to respond. "Is this a surrender?"

"An acknowledgment. Our two species are no longer at war. What's left of them... I think one of the few things we have in common is, ultimately, a need for some kind of closure..." He moved forward a little. "It's over, Servalan. Now we can all find peace... For the time we have left."

Her expression hardened. "You find peace..." she breathed. "I came here to find Avon..." As she walked around him and stalked away, she called back, "The real Avon!"

The Inquisitor-general, still wearing Avon's form, considered her words and finally said "If there is such a thing."


"The last time I met Avon..." Brintun mused, "He said he'd kill me if we met again..."

"Let's hurry up and find him, then..." said Rissa - "Now we know there's no down side."

"The last time I met Avon..." said Darvin, "He said Well done... I was so happy." He shrugged, and looked briefly at his feet before adding, "Sorry... Man crush..."

"What had you done?" asked Caul.

"Shot someone who was about to kill him..." Darvin answered. "Yes, it's all my fault, basically, all this."

"Up ahead..." Orac interrupted, again speaking through Darvin's bracelet. "I believe even you might be able to find your way from here..."

"Thanks..." said Darvin. "How can we ever thank you?"

"By never requiring my services again..." Orac replied. "Although I am sure that will transpire to be a forlorn hope..."


"I still don't understand..." Mara was still trying to pin Avon down on his intentions. "What do you hope to gain...? You think you can just threaten them and they'll go away and leave you alone...? With this weapon hanging over them...?"

"Precisely..." he said, monitoring a few of the display monitors. "Come in...!" he said abruptly, just before the main doors opened and allowed Darvin and his party to enter. "Always room for more... Welcome to you all... Try not to touch anything..."

"Avon..." Darvin greeted him with studied nonchalance. He approached Mara. "You all right?"

"Never better..." she replied, a little annoyed at being interrupted when she was close to getting answers from Avon, but still happy to see them. She greeted Caul with a brief hug, and after only a moment's hesitation accepted Rissa's enthusiastic hug as well - She gave Juni and Faal a wan smile of awkwardness.

Avon's cold gaze was fixed on Brintun. "Hello again."

"Avon"-

-"Why are you here...?"

"Why, to talk to you on behalf of Unified Systems... It's past time we"-

-"Where is she...?" Juni demanded. "Where is Servalan? What have you done with her?"

"You've grown," said Avon with only a fleeting glance at her before fixing on Faal. "So, not entirely extinct."

"Not entirely," said Faal.

"I'm afraid..." said Darvin - Avon looked down at the gun he was holding, and indeed pointing at him, "I'm going to have to insist you answer her question."

"Insist..."

"Yeah... Sorry."

Avon grinned. "Think nothing of it..." He turned to Juni, and said, "You're right... It's past time for the grownups to talk, but in the meantime I thought... Since the children are getting impatient - That's you, in case you misinterpreted what I was saying..." - His gesture encompassed all of them - "It would be more efficient to deal with you first."

"Deal with us...?" queried Darvin. "What does that mean, exactly?"

"Oh, don't worry... If I had wanted to kill you, I could easily have let the Andromedans do it on any one of a number of occasions... As for the rest of you... Why go to so much trouble to bring you here, if I had merely wanted to..." - He looked around them calculatingly - "I haven't seen a group like this in one place since..." He paused for so long they started to wonder if there was something wrong. "Before..." he said at last.

Juni walked up and stood very close to him. "And just how do you plan to deal with Servalan...? She is your other grownup, I take it?"

"I don't know if you remember..." said Avon, "She brought you with her to my prison cell, a couple of times... I thought I had lost my capacity to be surprised..."

"I remember she told me not to trust you, and that's advice I've never forgotten."

He grinned again. "Probably wise."

"Avon..." cut in Brintun, visibly annoyed at having been sidelined. "This is all... quite unimportant. Your business is with Unified Systems, it cannot fail to be, and I am its representative..."

"Incorrect."

"What?"

"I sent a message to UniS... Direct to Scarn. A short time ago. Detailing my requirements. So far, the payment has not been made, so..."

"So...?" Brintun eyed the cobbled-together control room Avon had created out of the dome's auxiliary operations centre. "You'll destroy everything we've created... All the good we could do for the entire human race... what's left of it... For what? Because we wouldn't fund your retirement in luxury...?! I offered you everything! And you refused it!"

"You're assuming..." said Avon, "that I wanted the money."

Brintun began to understand, but it was Mara's reaction Avon was watching as she came forward to stand in front of him. "You... wanted them to ignore you..." she reasoned. "You want to fire the weapon."

He spoke low enough so only she could hear. "I want to make it up to him..." he said. "I owe him."

"If they think for a moment that you're actually going to do it... They'll attack this place. They'll kill us all."

"Not you..." he said a little louder. "The System ship is returning to close orbit... Very shortly, it will come back into teleport range and take you on board."

"You don't owe Blake your life..." said Mara. "Come with us."

"It needs to be your ship..." he replied. "Never go back."

"You're not actually going to fire... Are you?"

"Excuse me..." said Darvin. "But did you say that ship is going to take Blake on board...? What do the rest of us do?"

"Have no fear... Just keep your bracelets from your old ship fastened... They are compatible..."

"I'm not leaving without Servalan," said Juni, unfastening the bracelet from her wrist and throwing it on the floor.

"Why don't you go ahead and stamp on it?" Rissa mocked, rolling her eyes for Caul's benefit - He just looked like he would rather be absolutely anywhere else. Unnoticed, Brintun had backed over to one of the other exits and now, with one last look back, he ducked out and hurried away.

With his elegant economy of movement, Faal picked up the bracelet and moved over to Juni. "Don't try to..." She got angry as he attempted to put it back on her wrist, and snatched her arm away. He persisted and finally, reluctantly, she let him fasten it.

"I am going," he said quietly. "I'll go alone if I must, but... Do not make me choose."

"I... wouldn't make you choose," she replied, staring up at him, her other hand wrapping around the bracelet - Oblivious, as was everyone else, to Rissa miming along with her on the other side of the room.

"Thank you..." said Faal. Seeing she was still uncertain, he added, "I think this is where she wants to be. Where she has wanted to be all along."

Rissa was the first to notice that Brintun was gone, and she silently cursed her own carelessness. "He's gone! That shit!"

"Let him," said Avon casually.

Mara frowned. "All part of the plan?"

"He's not important."

"How long do we have before this ship comes for us...?" Darvin asked.

"Possibly too long," Avon replied. "UniS will be coming for us too, sooner rather than later."

"Well, then..." said Darvin, "What you need is, perhaps, a small guerilla unit, with a little bit of combat training between them, who could hold the advance force off for a while."

"I was hoping you could suggest someone...!" Avon replied, grinning.


"Open this door!" Servalan commanded, no longer caring that her emotions were getting the better of her. "Open it!" She looked around for another camera. "Avon?!" As the Inquisitor-general in Avon's form entered the junction behind her, she looked at it for a moment before she was satisfied that it wasn't actually him. "What do you want?"

"Answers..." it shrugged. "I've always wanted answers, nothing more or less... I was engineered, bred, to seek answers to every question in the universe, from the most fundamental aspects of existence to the smallest details... And nothing else has ever had the same effect on me as... human emotion."

She turned to face him - or rather it. "Why should that concern me?"

The transformation process began again, and the form of the Inquisitor-general became that of a slender-built young woman in a lilac dress of diaphanous cloth and leather, red-gold hair long and immaculately-dressed, smooth skin milky. For a few moments, Servalan did not respond.

"Do you mock me...?" she breathed. "First Travis, then Avon. Now..."

"Not at all..." said Juni. "I was just curious to see how you would respond, that's all."

Servalan's jaw tightened, and she turned back to the door. Taking a small device out of a concealed pocket, she pressed it against the cool metal surface near where she judged the locking mechanism to be, and it emanated a low hum. "Did you think a locked door would defeat me?" she said quietly. "I'll get through a dozen, a hundred... A thousand if that's what it takes to get to you."

"Why don't you want to talk to me...?" Juni inquired.

"Because you're not her," Servalan replied.

"A curious reason..." it mused. "You are after all quite prepared to pretend the other Juni is real... Why not this one...?"

"Because you are nothing but my memories of who she was... Inside, you are empty... Nothing."

"I believe my point stands... I mean, you're a survivor, you're surrounded by survivors... Juni, by definition, is not a survivor... She died in that shuttle crash. She is dead. Why keep her, when you can discard everyone else so easily...?"

Letting the device continue its work, Servalan turned to her. "The others, I could tolerate after a fashion. But this..."

"Got a little too close, did I...? Too close to the real Servalan..."

"I made myself vulnerable to her... The closest thing I've ever had to... family."

"When I died..." Juni began.

"I never grieved..." said Servalan. "I didn't know how. I still don't. It was simply a problem to be solved, and a problem always has a solution."

"I see that now..." said Juni. "Thank you." As Servalan watched, the Inquisitor-general metamorphosed again, gaining in height and bulk until a familiar form took shape. Juni's delicate features and silky skin became a harder, more rugged face disfigured by a scar.

"Blake..." Servalan breathed, a chill traveling up her spine.

"A long time..." The deep voice of the man who had been both the bane of her existence and the foundation of her once-valued career. When had been the last time she had heard that voice...? Close to thirty years ago...

"Yes."

"See you again perhaps, before the end."

"The end?"

"My questions..." he said. "They're all answered... I think I finally understand..." His face creased into a smile of satisfaction and he left, hefting the gun in his hand - A sense of purpose in his stride. Where to, she would not even attempt to guess. Servalan turned back to the door, waiting for the lock to be disengaged, ignoring the tears that had welled in her eyes.


Admiral Zanso, from the bridge of his new flagship - much smaller than Leviathan - watched on the multiple screens as the attack on the dome commenced. "All stations, report readiness...!" he commanded.

"Sir... Ground attack in place... Breach gun being assembled..."

"How long?"

"Estimate a few minutes, sir."


"They're coming..." said Avon, turning from the monitors. "Time is not on our side..." He beckoned Mara over to him and placed a small device in her hand. "Take this."

"What is it?"

"Orac..." he replied. "When he's finished here, we'll be parting ways... He won't be able to refuse your summons if you plug that into any compatible device... And it can be made compatible with practically any computer."

"You're giving us Orac?"

"I just said so."

"Wait a minute here..." Darvin protested. "Sorry if I'm jumping on some kind of wagon here, but I'm not going anywhere without Or-" He corrected himself. "Without Servalan." He looked over at Juni, looking slightly askance at their rare moment of solidarity.

"The ship won't take her." said Avon. When Darvin stared at him questioningly, he added, "Hard wired. That goes for Brintun too."

"Its choice...? Or yours?"

"I'll look after her..." said Avon. That got him another questioning look from Darvin, but Avon ignored that and turned to Mara. "Learn from his mistakes..." he said, and paused. "Learn from mine."

"You're really not coming with us...?"

"I'm needed here. Besides, seven of you are all that's required."

She smiled faintly. "If you count both the computers, it's eight."

"Then only count one of them."

Her faint smile became a broad one for a moment, before vanishing. "I don't know what to say..."

"Then say nothing. Just go." Avon turned away and got back to final calibration of his makeshift weapon. With a glance at the others, Mara led the way up the stairs and out of the operations room - Darvin climbed quickly after her, and blocked the exit.

"You're assuming my cooperation, then?"

Mara spoke quietly. "I... hoped." Glancing again at the others, she added, "I don't think this will be possible without you." When he just stared at her, she added, "Back there... I don't know if you even noticed, but... You called me Blake."

Darvin looked at her for a long moment and finally shook his head slowly. She continued to lead the way, her back to him - Leaving it up to him whether to follow her or not.

When it came to it, the moment of perhaps the most important decision of his entire life, he followed.


The explosive impact of the breaching gun boomed across the bleak landscape, loud even through the ear protectors of the UniS artillery unit - Inside the dome, even at the far side of the massive complex it created a noticeable tremor.

The first UniS troops advanced through the smoke, masks set to filter the noxious air - It was mere minutes till they encountered their first potential hostile, and they very nearly shot him till it became apparent he was who he claimed to be.

"Right...!" Brintun asserted, trying to calm himself after so nearly being killed by his own side - "This operation is now under my command...! Take me to the officer in charge!"


As the sound of the massive explosion and breach of the dome's exterior reached them, Mara and Darvin glanced at each other, and then at their makeshift defensive position near the operations room. It'll hold, they both lied with their eyes.


Avon looked up from his work as an alert sounded - He had an incoming comms call. Frowning, he leaned over and accepted it, mildly surprised by the face that appeared on the screen.

"Tarrant..." he acknowledged. "Why this face?"

The Inquisitor-general used the appropriated face of Del Tarrant to smile ruefully. "I think... Basically, I think so that you won't miss me too much... This is it, Avon."

"Here we are. Finally."

"Good luck."

"And to you..." Avon leaned in to terminate the call. "Goodbye, Tarrant."


DSV-A1 descended into low orbit, and as it did so it became visible to the UniS flagship's scanners. Once that was reported to him, Admiral Zanso became incensed, a fanatical gleam taking hold of his eyes, and he leaned over the scanner table, pounding his fist onto its scratched surface.

"Destroy that ship!" he cried. Before anything could be done, the ship shook violently and the artificial gravity fluctuated alarmingly - The bridge crew were too busy finding their feet to report to their Admiral immediately.

"What happened?!" he screamed.

"Sir... Some kind of suppressing fire... Low impact but wide spread... Scanners offline... We'll have them up momentarily..."

"Not good enough!"

DSV-A1 continued on its descent, unconcerned by the chaos left in its wake. Closing in on its rendezvous point.


"Now..." Mara said to Caul, gripping his shoulders. "At the first sign of UniS troops, you get behind the rest of us and stay under cover... All right?"

Caul's glance flicked over to Darvin and Rissa for the briefest moment. "I'll fight. If the rest of you are fighting, so am I."

"Fighting, that's right. Maybe dying too!"

"Then I'll die as well. The last thing I want is to be the only survivor."

"Makes sense..." said Rissa, busy looking over her own weapon and those of the others, checking for faults. You stay out of this, said Mara's expression, but she didn't say it aloud - Seeing Caul's determined look, she left it at that.

Darvin took her aside. "Very wise..." he said.

"I have leadership potential, do I? Fortunate, since that seems to be my preordained role - Whether I like it or not."

"That's exactly the sort of thing no one needs to hear their leader say..." Darvin clasped her shoulder and smiled. "That lesson was for free."

They barely got into position behind their makeshift barricade before the first UniS assault troops arrived, and very quickly the corridor junction was filled with deadly munitions being fired back and forth, the air alive and buzzing with the lethal projectiles. Caul noted that Rissa rarely fired, choosing her targets very carefully, and he followed that pattern. When he killed one of the attackers, he was filled with elation, and in his heightened state he managed to forget that he had just snuffed out a human life.

"How long can we keep this up?" Mara managed to gasp vaguely in Darvin's direction.

"Not long enough, probably. But"-

-Whatever he had been about to say was lost in the sudden noise as a hole was blown through the wall to the side of them, and another detachment of UniS soldiers poured through it - Scattered and disoriented, and without cover against this flanking attack, they were all suddenly very vulnerable... The fight was over almost before it had begun.

Caul shot with precision into the smoky gap in the wall, and managed to down one of the attackers and temporarily block the others behind him - He had gained them a little time, but it was unlikely to be enough...

"It was good while it lasted...!" Mara thought she heard someone say - With her ears ringing, it could have been any of them. She was intensely aware of one particular gun barrel pointed directly at her, and could do nothing but wait for the flash...

Then it was different - Changed, somehow... The UniS troops were scattering, retreating, shot down one by one... Rolling clear, she looked up the other corridor... and saw why...

Roj Blake - or at least the Inquisitor-general wearing his shape - strode confidently toward them, unconcerned by the fire directed at him and shooting down one UniS trooper after another. Smiling gleefully, laughing even... The UniS troops, whether or not they knew who this man was, what he had been, what he represented, fell back with something approaching superstitious terror.

Mara and Darvin looked at each other, awestruck, questioning - Before either of them could speak, they and the others were encased in a bright white outline and vanished with a crackle of energy. Baffled, the attackers milled around in disarray, and yet more of them were picked off by Blake's devastating intervention.

Finally, several UniS-issue weapons found their mark and Blake was hit - He continued firing even then, but eventually the combined damage from the impacts was too much and he sank down. A few more shots, all of them missed, and the gun fell from his suddenly limp hand. He was kicked to the ground and lay immobile, still smiling.

As the emboldened UniS troopers surrounded him and fired more projectiles into his motionless form, his face continued to wear the beatific smile - Only when his shape reverted, to their astonishment, to its grotesque Andromedan form did the smile vanish with the rest of his human identity.

In time, those details would be rendered unimportant. All that would be remembered was that on this day, in this fight, Roj Blake had died for his cause. A hero for all time.


"Attention!" interrupted Orac. "Unified Systems personnel now cutting through secured access points and about to interrupt flow of power to the weapon..."

"How long?" Avon asked calmly.

"Estimate four minutes to access, indeterminate time to interruption of power, dependent on level of competence of said personnel..."

"Thank you, Orac..." Avon moved to another console. "If main power was interrupted, how long would the batteries hold?"

"I cannot guarantee that they would hold at all."

"All right..." Avon moved a hand over his face, resting his tired eyes for a moment. "You've done enough, Orac. Time for you to transfer away from here. Delete all signets as you go. Leave no trace behind."

"Acknowledged..."

There was quite a long pause before the operation began, and Avon frowned. "Why the delay, Orac?"

"Goodbye, Avon."

The computer's voice entirely maintained its haughty air, but the words and the sentiment expressed were still, frankly, astonishing and Avon could not possibly keep the surprise from showing itself. "Really?"

"You are unquestionably the least tiresome of humans... Comparatively speaking, of course." With that, Orac's core software departed from the dome's servers, and on one of the monitors Avon watched as all traces of his presence were deleted.

"Of course..." he murmured, amused - Alone now, he added quietly to himself, "Goodbye, Orac."

"Avon..." a voice crackled from the same speakers - not that of Orac, but that of Sol Brintun. "Avon, can you hear me...?"

"I hear you."

"Listen very carefully, Avon, because we don't have much time. I have just received orders to evacuate this place... An enormous strike is about to be launched against you... Now, you know the weapons this place was designed to withstand have long been superseded... We can crack this dome like an egg shell, you know that's true..."

"Not arguing with you, Brintun..."

"We both know you're not actually going to fire, so... Why die for nothing...? Come with me, and we can talk rationally... You have so much left to give... And there are such rewards we can grant you... You can live the rest of your life in luxury, in exchange for simply making your knowledge and experience available... In time, who knows...? You could rise high in our administration, once you have shown President Scarn that he can trust you... Avon, what do you say?"

"To Scarn? Much the same thing I said last time we met."

"Well, I don't know what that was..."

"I know..." Smiling, Avon leaned close to the most convenient microphone on one of the consoles. "It's for A-grades only... Lieutenant. Goodbye."

"Avon...! You're not going to fire...! We both know that...! Av"-

Slamming his hand down, Avon cut off the communication, and his hand moved to another control... Hovered over it for a few seconds, waiting... Could he not bring himself to do this after all? Such was his focus, he did not see the door to his left open and close silently, or the dark-red clad figure who entered and stood taking in the situation...

His hand slammed down again.


Giving up trying to restore his comm-link with the operations room, Brintun turned as several UniS soldiers and technicians approached down the corridor at a run. "Well...?" he demanded. "Did you get through?"

"Partially..." one man gasped. "But we ran out of time... The alert came through... We have to evacuate at once!"

"What does partially mean?!"

"We cut through some of the cables... There was no time to consult the charts... It could have been anything..."

"All right..." Brintun said, exasperated and suddenly very weary. "Let's just get out of here..."


"AVON!" Servalan screamed.

He looked up slowly, not allowing any emotion, be it surprise or whatever else, to register on his face. His gaze locked with hers for several seconds, then he looked down at the panel. ACTIVATED. BEAM ENGAGED.

He frowned at the new message that appeared. POWER SYSTEMS FAILURE - SUBSPATIAL CARRIER NOT INITIATED - BEAM PROCEEDING AT 300,000 KILOMETRES PER SECOND APPROX.

He looked up at her again, and she stared back with barely contained fury. As he watched, and as she took in exactly what was happening, her expression changed to something else. A melding of lots of conflicting emotions, with her rage of a moment ago contained beneath.

She moved closer, as he moved away from the console and maintained his distance. Servalan took a look at the readouts, and watched as the information was updated... ENEMY SHIPS CONVERGING - INTERSECTION WITH BEAM IN 1.5 MINUTES.

Her look said What have you done?

He smiled, just as he had on Gauda Prime... As UniS missiles locked on target and launched toward the surface.


"Sir..." said the captain of Zanso's new flagship - The Admiral's head snapped round to look at him, his jaw clenched. Heart hammering against his ribs, blood pulsing in his ears. "The weapon has been activated..."

Ready for this eventuality, and prepared, Zanso did not even hesitate. "Put us in its path...!" he commanded. "Now!"

The flagship, till its recent temporary adoption by the Admiral just one of UniS's many heavy cruisers, was placed in the path of the beam launched by the dome's main transmitter - A beam carrying an amplified electromagnetic pulse designed to shut down and destroy the electrical systems of an entire solar system. Thus, every system on board immediately failed and lost power, the electronics permanently destroyed, and the ship was left drifting helplessly in space.

Fortunately for those on board, the captain had transmitted a general distress call in the seconds before intersection with Avon's beam, so the chances of survival for its stranded crew were reasonable, even promising - The beam, meanwhile, invisible to the naked eye, continued on its path, its signal strength weakened so infinitesimally that it would barely register as an effect at all.

In just over 4 years, the beam would arrive at the Proxima system, with devastating results. Zanso had failed.


Servalan and Avon stood facing each other in silence. Why? said her expression.

Why not? said his.

The missiles struck the dome in several places, and apart from the impact damage itself, for a couple of seconds nothing happened. Then an incandescent white light engulfed the entire structure and the landscape for miles around, vaporising and sterilising the area and leaving no life, and no possibility of life, for centuries to come.

This time, there were no survivors.


Haryl was on the last ship to leave, and thus saw the bright flash and heard the explosions sound across the landscape as UniS destroyed the dome. He and Kever looked at each other warily, and up at the other transports ascending to space - They all looked worryingly fragile. Hopefully, UniS would be too busy elsewhere to take any notice of them.

"I never said thanks..." said Kever awkwardly. "Without you, I think"-

-"No..." Haryl interrupted. "He was right... He was right all the time, damn him." He smiled faintly. "This was the place to be."


DSV-A1 passed out of the Solar System and into interstellar space and soon left the few remaining pursuers far behind, unmarked, showing no signs of having been damaged by its brief conflict with the UniS ships.

The hexagonal corridors of the ship were deserted. That was unsurprising, but as they passed from aft to bow of the alien vessel - at least, they assumed that was the direction they were going in - Mara, Darvin, Caul, Rissa, Juni and Faal remained jumpy. A bad idea in the extreme to assume they were home and dry - A bad idea, whatever Avon had said, to assume they were home in any sense of the word.

"INFORMATION...!" came the disembodied voice. Not a voice like the assessment machines on Pelios, detached and mechanical, but a voice with almost human-sounding inflections, resonant and clear. "DEEP SPACE VEHICLE NEARING COMPLETION OF INTERNAL CONFIGURATION PROCEDURE... CAUTION SHOULD BE OBSERVED UNTIL PROCESS IS FULLY COMPLETE..."

"What is that...?" Darvin demanded.

"Computer..." Mara called, stepping forward and looking up. Then her expression changed, as though she had come to a decision. "Zen... Who am I...?"

"BLAKE IS RECOGNISED," replied Zen. The others looked at her askance.

"And these others...?"

"PROCESSING CREW INVENTORY..." How did it manage to make that simple statement sound ominous...?

Rissa turned to Caul. "Looks like we're nobody." - "Don't worry..." he replied. "You'll get used to it." The two others remained silent - Faal withdrawn and aloof, apparently taking each new development in his stride, Juni hollow-eyed, watchful, all too aware her world had come crashing down around her and not yet ready to start picking up the pieces.

"Computer..." said Darvin, moving over to join Mara. "I am Stev Darvin... Um... My voice pattern is to be stored and recognised."

"Sorry..." said Mara. "But I really don't think it's as simple as that." She thought of her strange experience on this ship back at Galaxy City - A test, as she thought at the time...? Some kind of initiation...? A security measure...?

"More hoops to jump through...?" he asked nervously, and looked down at his artificial leg. "Could be tricky." She considered him for a moment - Soon, she knew, the loss of Revenant, of Galaxy City, of Servalan, would hit him. She reached out and touched his sleeve. A moment of assurance for both of them - Neither was totally alone.


4.25 solar years.

As Brintun sat down in his private chamber on the UniS warship to begin his scheduled communication with President Scarn, the figure ran dully through his head, again and again. 4.25 solar years.

The countdown to the end had begun. The end of everything.

It was his fault. He would argue against that conclusion most strenuously, of course he would - He had to, his life depended on it - but he knew the truth. It was his fault.

4.25 solar years. One small mercy. Since the subspatial carrier wave that would have carried the beam instantly to its target failed to engage, that was the time it would take the pulse to reach Proxima Centauri and the ten inhabited planets around it. Some of them more than merely inhabited - heavily populated in fact. The centre of Proximan civilisation - through both luck and judgment left mostly unscathed by the Intergalactic wars, and now the nucleus of the expanding Unified Systems empire - Now doomed. In 4.25 solar years.

Evacuation would take place, of course. The government and the wealthiest citizens, and as many useful others as could be managed - but billions of people and the massive infrastructure that supported them could not be transplanted, even temporarily. It would be a disaster on a massive scale, devastation undreamt of even in the depths of the last war - Every powered device in the path of the pulse would be rendered permanently inoperable, and the cost in resources of the evacuation would be incalculable, let alone the prospect of somehow restoring their infrastructure from nothing. The setback to UniS and its military ambitions would be ruinous, the course of history changed.

His fault.

"I have received Doctor Guld's report..." the President began, and Brintun felt hollow inside, but strangely calm as though nothing really mattered any more. "So, we needn't start from the beginning, Sol. We can just proceed to your role in events."

"Yes, of course..." Brintun replied. "I'm sure Doctor Guld's account is sufficient to establish the most basic facts"-

-"I'm glad that's out of the way, then," said Scarn. "One thing she didn't clarify - Zanso?"

Brintun took a breath, and sweat gushed down his face. "Admiral Zanso... oversaw the successful evacuation of the flagship, then he... He retired to his quarters and... He shot himself... I have to report that the Admiral is dead."

"I'm so glad, Sol, that you had the courage not to take that way out..." Scarn commented, and Brintun found himself unsure if he was being mocked or not. "It would have been quick and easy, no doubt. Not your style, not at all."

"No." Brintun felt wretched, and numb, experiencing a strange sensation like he had climbed outside his own body and was perched precariously on the edge of the chair next to himself, clinging on with his fingernails to avoid falling off. He experienced a heart palpitation, prompting a new surge of sweat to be released through his pores. No longer caring if the President saw it or not, he wiped his sodden scalp and face with a cloth. "I will... begin coordinating efforts to find a way of blocking or neutralising this beam at once... After all, we have over four years"-

-"Already being done, Sol. All in hand. Some very interesting ideas have been put forward already, and I'm sure we'll try them all if necessary."

Brintun felt his last hope slipping away, and his face twitched as sharp pain shot through his chest and down his arms, leaving behind a dull ache. "And... my role...?"

President Scarn considered his former Chief Advisor for a moment. "Come home, Sol. By the time you arrive, I'm sure a few things will have been decided. Just come home." The screen went dark.

"Yes..." Brintun gasped. "I..." He felt consciousness slipping away, and as his sweat-soaked body slid from the chair, leaving it damp, he scrabbled frantically for the comms switch... "I... Emergency...!" he gasped. "Medical assistance... Come... quickly...!" He slumped to the floor and blacked out.


Finally, guided by some innate, inexplicable sense of the ship's geography, they came to a short corridor leading into a large open area. Peering cautiously into the dimly-lit chamber ahead, Mara and Darvin were the first to see it opening out before them as the illumination was brought up to their comfort level... Their attention was drawn immediately to the huge bank of control panels arranged on three levels, with five separate seated stations. Everything was gleaming black and chrome, the floor shiny and unmarked by the touch of any foot.

Theirs would be the first.

Mara and Darvin looked at each other, the others holding back. Each had a questioning look - Finally, Darvin shrugged and made the smallest gesture with his artificial arm. You first...

Cautiously, Mara moved forward and advanced to the end of the corridor... and Blake stepped onto the flight-deck of the Liberator.



Epilogue

Galaxy City

It was difficult to hear anything over the noise of the landing craft, as the Children of Light busied themselves making Galaxy City their new base. Even so, Miko did his best to greet Tylner as he strode down the embarkation ramp and walked with a briskness that belied his apparent frailty toward the main concourse.

"You will find everything ready, I trust... I hope..." Miko's confidence in handling the assault evaporated when faced with the forbidding countenance of his superior, and he found himself stammering.

"I trust and hope, yes..." said Tylner. "As should we all..." His one eye gleamed with an inner light - "In this place we will consolidate our forces... Then... The final phase... When we face the light, it will not be alone... But in the company of the entire human race."

Miko felt a radiant sense of well-being wash over him, and he intoned delightedly, "Only from his hand... comes death..."


Somewhere else...

When Servalan came to, it was dark. Without considering whether or not it was wise to, she spoke the first word that came to mind.

"Avon..."

"Servalan."

He was there, close by, though even now her vision was not clearing - Wherever this was, light was not merely dim but entirely absent. "I can't see."

"That's because the lights are out."

"Also, I can't move."

"You will." His voice sounded almost rueful, certainly conflicted.

"I thought we were both dead." There was a pause, and Servalan was practically deafened by the utter absence of sound in the mini-eternity before Avon's answer finally came.

"Unthinkable." Just as he said that, she experienced a flash of memory, and recent events started to come back into focus...


"Here..." said Avon earnestly. "Take this... We have seconds!" Servalan looked at the bracelet thrust into her hand, like that from the Liberator, Scorpio or even Revenant but of a somewhat unfamiliar design - but only for a moment. Her survival instinct was strong, even now, and she obeyed his urgent request...


"Where are we?"

"Not as simple a question as you might believe..."

"Well... I might have known you would have a means of escape."

"That's possible." This time he sounded like she had just made an interesting point he hadn't considered before.

"Well...?"

"Well, what?"

"What now...?"

"First, define what you mean by now..." he pondered.

"I knew I should have killed you when I had the chance..."

"Think positively, Servalan... I'm sure there will be many more chances..."

"Do you really...?"

"Of course..." Servalan couldn't see Avon at all, but knew nonetheless he was looking directly at her - She pictured that smile. "Some of us are clearly meant to live forever."





Next time...



"I was expecting Avalon..."

"And I was expecting an old man with a scarred face."

Neither the young woman's attention nor her gun-arm wavered for so much as a moment, and Blake moved forward slowly, hesitantly. "Well, I'm doing my best..." she said, trying to disarm the situation - "Give me time..."

The Liberator is back. Blake is back - sort of - and battle is joined against the forces of President Scarn. All too soon, however, the new team is scattered and tested to the limit - Only with the help of veteran fighter Del Grant and legendary resistance leader Avalon, Scarn's most implacable opponent, can they possibly hope to survive. As events lead toward a deadly confrontation, Blake must face the hardest lesson of all - A leader is always alone.

Storm Mountain awaits...



Blake's 7: Liberators


2019


Link to Chapter 1


In orbit of Earth's moon, the UniS flagship Leviathan was a hive of activity inside and out, undergoing emergency repairs. The gaping wound left by Revenant's cruel impact still threatened the vessel's basic stability, and time was of the essence if it was to be saved.

"No...! What will happen is this - You will listen to me, a full Admiral, and you will learn how the chain of command works... If an Admiral demands priority, an Admiral receives priority...! I do not wish to know about such details, it is your job to facilitate what I need! And what I need, and I cannot quite believe I have to go through this again, is dropships! Assault craft! Marines! Heavy artillery! And I need them now!"

Admiral Zanso switched the comm-link off in a foul mood and collapsed back in to his chair in Leviathan's flag officer day-cabin - His again, now President Scarn had vacated it at last. He rubbed a hand over his eyes, and sighed as a beep announced the arrival of another visitor - The doors opened and a very attractive dark skinned woman in her late forties hurried in, electronic pad in hand.

"What do you want?" Zanso was impatient, but his voice was not inherently disrespectful - Doctor Lenta Guld was not to be trifled with, not only because of her considerable professional abilities but because of just who her friends were. "How's the First Lady...?" Zanso inquired. "I haven't"-

-"Well, the last time I saw her... and still no doubt quite taken with you..." Guld said with a faint smile. "But that's not what I've come to talk to you about."

"Unless you've come to talk to me about expediting my requests to Proxima Five, Doctor, I"-

-"Time for the latest intelligence updates - Oh don't look like that, take your medicine like a good boy...!" Guld plugged her pad into the receptacle on Zanso's desk and said "Screen...!"

The holographic display engaged, and an image hung in the air before them - a young dark-skinned man in the uniform of the old Federation - "Yes, I know - Stev Darvin..." said Zanso wearily. "He's older than that, now."

"That's to be expected" said Guld wryly. "And where Darvin is, who else do you think we might find...?"

"No...!" Zanso was already sitting up with some interest before the next image appeared, replacing young fresh-faced Darvin - The cold gaze of the black-gowned, crop-haired, infamous Commissioner Sleer, soon replaced by another image, this one of a young, white-gowned prodigy, the youngest Supreme Commander the Federation Space Service ever had - One and the same person. "Servalan!" said Zanso. Now she had his attention.

"And to complicate things, it seems Darvin and Servalan are now holding the President's chief advisor hostage."

"Does it really complicate anything...?" asked Zanso.

Guld just smiled. "You ever heard of dominoes, Admiral...?" she mused. Without waiting for an answer, she changed the image again. "Kerr Avon."

Zanso looked back and forth between her and the image. "She's found him." It was not a question.

Guld nodded. "It is believed so. Down there on the Earth. And we have a nasty feeling we know where too... Unfortunately, our predecessors in the Federation were somewhat careless during the evacuation of Earth, and left some very useful things behind... Certainly useful for a man like Avon."

"Then the situation is even more urgent that I feared..." said Zanso. "A swift and devastating assault is what's required, and soon!"

"There's one more thing... and you're not going to like it..."

"You are joking, I assume..."

"It's something Carnell warned us about some time ago"-

-"Don't mention that name." The image changed to that of a young dark-haired woman, a spy image taken as she emerged from a doorway on some backwater world, and Zanso stopped - "Who is this...?"

"Her name, apparently, is Blake... Yes, you heard correctly... Now you see." More information scrolled down the screen, and Zanso skim-read it. "The appearance of this young woman... then that of the Liberator-type ship and the battle at Galaxy City..." Guld continued. "It all looks disturbingly like the reemergence of a political movement we all thought was long buried in the past... And the last time it was active..." She didn't need to go into any more detail.

"I wasn't here at the time of the Blake affair..." said Zanso briskly. "My squadron was putting down the Achilian rebellion for years, then the Andromedan wars... I heard it was bad."

"They were very successful for a while... The last thing we need"-

-"Yes..." said Zanso. "Well, I promise you... In a couple of days it won't matter... They'll all be dead."


"You know..." said Avon, looking at the scorched area of wall behind him, fizzing and crackling, "The electrical wiring is built into the walls here... You could have done some damage."

"I just wanted to see how you would react..." said Mara, detached.

"And what did you find out?"

"I'm not sure."

"Then it was a pretty pointless exercise." He strode across and took the gun from her, with only a moment of hesitation before she released it. "Mine, I think... Forgive me, but when your life depends on such a thing you become a little proprietorial about it."

"And careless... Or is that just old age...? Blake-killer..."

Avon's reaction, though tinged with amusement, was mainly rueful. "Well... If that's what I am, then anyone making a habit of calling themselves Blake should think very carefully before coming here."

"That name opens doors" Mara said breezily. "Was that a threat?"

"And closes many others, you'll find."

"Was Blake's clone my father?"

He seemed surprised at the question, and uncomfortable with the whole subject. "Why are you asking me?"

"You were there."

"And so was Servalan."

"She doesn't know."

"She told you that...?" he pondered, amused.

Mara started to ask again, more insistently. "Is"-

-"I'm not an expert on clones... But, if you really want a reasonably informed opinion, I would say probably not."

"All right..." she said, brow wrinkling a little. "I don't know what I expected"-

-"Coser!" he said abruptly, relentless, in a toneless voice. "Yes..." he said, peering at her face. "I think almost certainly."

Mara didn't trust herself to reply for a good few seconds. "Not Coser... Please, not him."

"Why not...? Can't say I took to him, particularly, in our brief acquaintance, but the man's faults were not genetic." He started to walk toward the exit.

"Shut up..." she said quietly. "Why can't you just...?" She became calm again in an instant. "Perhaps you should have kept that to yourself after all... Or perhaps I shouldn't have asked."

He turned back. "After you came all this way..." he mused. "You don't want to kill me, you don't want me to speak... What do you want of me...?"

She took a breath. "I don't know any more."

"Well, when you've made up your mind, come and find me... Till then, I have work to do, and I'm a little behind." He started again to move toward the door.

"Can"- she started, and stopped. "Can I... help?"

He turned back to her again, and after a moment he grinned broadly.


Seeing that Brintun was walking just ahead of her, Rissa leaned forward to talk to him. "Hi... Just to let you know, if you need any assistance at any point, I'll be right behind you... All right...?" Brintun did not reply, and she gently squeezed the nerve between his neck and shoulder. "Right behind you." She smiled and fell back to walk alongside Darvin.

"Very subtle" he said.

"Oh, thanks, boss...!" They walked in silence for a few minutes - trudged, actually, Rissa thought - through the narrow muddy valley, toward the massive power readings the teleporter had aimed them at. Brintun and Haryl were out in front - where they could see them, and the first to trigger an ambush, or the place of honour as far as they were told - they were behind with Caul and Servalan brought up the rear with Juni and Faal. "Boss boss boss boss..." she murmured, barely audibly, bored with the silence.

"You're holding up all right, then..." Darvin observed.

"Been through worse."

He smiled faintly. "I know you have..." he mused. "I know."

"I haven't..." said Caul. "Is it strange, though, that I'm kind of enjoying this?"

"No..." assured Rissa with a smile.

"Yes" assured Darvin, grim-faced.

Rissa gave Caul a look that said Don't mind him, and took his arm as they walked - She turned again to speak to Darvin. "Boss?"

"Yes?"

"They must have..."

"Yes, they must. Explains why we aren't being pursued."

"But you'll miss the ship more than the Mutoids, won't you?"

"Of course I will. I don't feel especially good about that fact, but it is nonetheless true."

"Captain..." called Servalan quietly from behind them. With a little difficulty, Darvin fell back to walk alongside her. "I'm sorry about your ship..." she said. "I hope soon I'll be in a position to provide you a better one."

"Your ship, I think."

"We both know better than that."

"What do you expect to find here, exactly...? Fifteen years is a long time... Avon will be quite an old man by now."

"Indeed..." said Servalan dryly. "He and I are more or less the same age."

"Sorry... But I mean... People change."

"Not us."

He looked a little askance at her. "Really...?" he said. "I mean, really...?" Servalan frowned, not immediately grasping what he meant by the question, but when she realised she looked angry. "I'm sorry..." he said, looking at the landscape ahead. "Not my place."

"I"- Servalan began, but the sentence ended there.

"As I said... Not my place." Darvin aligned himself with Caul and Rissa once more, and Servalan by default ended up walking alongside Juni and Faal - She ignored Juni's look of concern entirely.

Up front, Haryl gestured for them to stop, automatically using a signal once taught him by Darvin himself, and Darvin's old reflexes kicked in. Halting their procession, he hurried to join Haryl. "What's up?"

"A vehicle, I think... Came down somewhere over there..." He indicated ahead and off to their left.

"You're sure?"

"Well no, as it happens, but I thought it best to share."

Darvin smiled. "Sorry... How'd you want to proceed?"

Haryl looked at him askance. "How do I?"-

-"You're the serving officer, aren't you...?"

"For now."

"All right, everyone..." Darvin called, just loud enough to be heard. "Just stopping for a short rest..." To Haryl - "Reconnaissance...?"

"Me...?"

"I think I can trust you."

"Do you, now...? Interesting."


"What do you think...?" Avon asked, as Mara finished her brief tour of the dome's auxiliary operations room - During his time here, Avon seemed to have stripped, re-calibrated and reassembled practically every piece of equipment, and though she tried to look unconcerned she was frantically trying to work out exactly what his purpose in doing so might have been.

She shrugged. "Of what...?"

"Don't be disingenuous."

"If I had any idea what you were doing, maybe then I could venture an opinion."

"Or modest."

"All right then..." She once again ran an eye over the complex array Avon had constructed - Walking along the main bank of consoles she skim-read the readouts. Finally, she looked up at him.

"You've set up some kind of communications network..." she suggested. "But... you have Orac. So..."

"So..."

"So it's more than that..."

"Or less."

"One signal, massively boosted... Are you trying to communicate with the Andromedan galaxy...?"

He smiled. "That's good. Lateral thinking - that's very good. But no. That's not it."

"A weapon... Some kind of sonic weapon..."

"Not sonic." He turned and climbed the set of stairs going back up to the exit.

"An electronic pulse!" she cried. That stopped him instantly, and he turned on the stairs to face her. He smiled again, mouth closed.

"Go on."

"A hell of a defence... Except you could only use it once. Once an attacker knows about it, they go into fixed orbit on the other side of the planet and send in dropships... Even drop a nuclear device on you more powerful than this place was built to withstand..."

"It can only be used once anyway... It will burn out all the circuitry. I don't have anything here capable of sustaining the pulse for more than a couple of minutes."

"Why then...?"

"That will be enough... Ten seconds will be enough."

"Once a terrorist...?"

"And you call yourself Blake..."

"I'm starting to reconsider that."

"Then you need to make up your mind, once and for all! This is not a game!" His sudden fury thoroughly took her aback, and she just stared up at him. He continued, fury only slightly abated - "Well, I'm starting to reconsider too... Maybe you're not the one I need after all... Only, it's far too late. There is no one else."

"And just what do you need me for...?!"

"To do what he did."

"I don't know what that means" she told him, meeting his gaze unflinchingly.

"Yes, you do." He turned away.


"We're wasting time" said Servalan calmly. "Worse than that, we're vulnerable."

"Inherently..." Darvin turned to her briefly, and raised both eyebrows. "Trust me. You know you employ me for a reason."

"You there...!" The voice, out of nowhere, made them all snap to alertness and raise their weapons. Darvin and Rissa exchanged glances. Both knew how short of ammunition they were.

"Hi...!" said Darvin. "Come on out!"

Haryl came first, shame-faced and humiliated once again, led at gunpoint by several rough-looking men and women with rugged and practical clothing, patched-up multiple times. Darvin had little difficulty picking out the leader - a hard-faced but unassuming-looking man a few years older than Darvin himself. The others clearly deferred to him.

"Stev Darvin."

"Dain Kever."

"Hi, Dain."

Kever seemed a little amused, and replied "Stev". A sense of humour... If he had a sense of humour, he wouldn't be beyond reason... Darvin noted with interest the curious-looking adolescent boy at Kever's elbow, his presence an apparent source of irritation.

"Your son?"

"Adran Kever..." said the boy.

"Hi, Adran."

"Hi...?" The word itself seemed strange to the boy.

"Well, this is a situation..." mused Darvin.

"Yes" said Kever after a moment.

"Scavengers...?"

"Colonists" Kever corrected him.

"Sorry."

Kever - slowly so as not to alarm any uneasy trigger fingers - made a gesture that encompassed their surroundings. "No one else using it, is there?"

"Not at the moment" said Servalan. Kever took a good look at her, and Darvin thought he detected a faint frown.

"You're in charge...?" he asked Darvin, seeming to question that for the first time.

With only the slightest pause, Darvin replied. "Yes. Senior officer present."

"But not UniS..."

"No..." Darvin answered with a grin, then waved a hand toward Haryl. "Well, he is... Sort of."

"I am a Unified Systems officer," said Haryl officiously, "And what you are doing is"-

-"A misunderstanding..." said Darvin. "A completely understandable one." He glared a warning at Haryl, but noticed Kever's gaze had shifted to Faal, standing almost hidden behind the others as much as his height would allow.

"And what's that...?" said Kever.

"You've never seen a non-human?"

"Only ones disguised as humans..." Kever replied, a haunted look briefly in his eye that Darvin recognised all too well.

"To clarify..." said Faal, "My DNA is actually ninety-nine point nine s"- Juni's brief squeeze of his arm stopped him there.

"Why are you here, Stev?" Kever asked casually, and his glance went briefly back to Servalan.

"Visiting someone. An old friend we haven't seen for a while." Darvin thought it best not to actually lie.

"In there...?" Kever's head bobbed back a little and to the left, and he didn't fail to notice the reaction that rippled through Darvin's group - So, they didn't know exactly where the dome was... "Where's your ship?" he asked.

"Destroyed" said Darvin, and he could feel the disapproval like waves of radiation emitting from the others onto his back.

"Crashed...? You don't look too badly off, considering."

"We evacuated in enough time..." said Darvin. "Listen, Dain - I understand your caution, but maybe it's time to relax a little."

After a few moments, Kever cautiously nodded, and both groups lowered their guns slowly and in precise synchronisation. He indicated the path ahead and the slope upwards to the right, and Darvin took that as an invitation - The two of them climbed up, both noting the slight difficulty the other had in doing so, and for the first time Darvin saw it.

The dome.

"Wow..." he breathed. "Never seen it from the outside."

"You've been in there...?"

"I was born in there."

"You'll know how to get in safely, then..." Kever pondered.

"Alas, no..." Darvin said. "We didn't tend to go in and out, except by shuttle... And then only with authorisation... Um, I'm making it sound kind of horrible, aren't I... What can I say, it was home." He looked at Kever steadily. "No, sorry, one thing I don't know how to do is get past the defence systems... You're not catching me on the up right now."

"Then it is fortunate that I can" said Servalan, standing just behind them.

"That is fortunate..." said Darvin thoughtfully.

"It is..." mused Kever. "What did you say your name was again...?"

"I didn't." Servalan stepped back down onto the path. "Now, shall we get on with this...? It will be night soon." Darvin and Kever exchanged dubious glances.


"What's the target?" Mara inquired casually, like it was of little importance.

"Why don't you work it out?"

"Because I'm tired of being tested."

Avon smiled faintly. "That's understandable."

"UniS?"

"Accurate, but not specific. Try harder."

"Don't push it, old man..."

"Don't disappoint me so much, young woman... "

"Somewhere in the Proxima system, presumably..."

"Accurate, but too specific!"

"The Proxima system..." She looked at him, then at the array of cobbled-together equipment, then back to him, disbelieving the evidence of her own eyes and her own wits... "You'll disrupt their communications..."

"I will end their communications...! And everything else that relies on any kind of electrical charge! Plunge an entire civilisation back to the level humankind enjoyed before the First Calendar..."

"You would actually do that...?"

"Destroy the new Federation before it has a chance to grind the entire galaxy under its heel...?" Avon broke their eye contact. "No."

She breathed out. "Why do all this, then...?"

"You will...!"

"What...?"

"Or at least, you might..." He moved closer. "This is far beyond what Blake ever achieved. Even the destruction of Star One didn't do as much damage to the Federation as this would do to Unified Systems... Think on it!"

"I have...! I don't have anything against the millions of people"-

-"Billions, I believe..."

"People who would suffer because of this. My quarrel is with their masters... If I even have a quarrel with them! Perhaps it's inevitable, the endless cycle of oppression and revolution... Maybe it's pointless to just keep turning that wheel over and over and over again...!" She paused, disturbed by his hooded stare. "Why are you looking at me like that?"

"You're not Blake..." he said slowly.

"It seems not."

"You might be someone I can work with."

"Or kill?"

"Why would I kill you?" His response was guarded.

"Why did you kill Blake?" she shot back immediately.

He paused for some time before his answer finally came. "By mistake..." he said. "A terrible, terrible mistake... He made mistakes too. He kept some things from me he shouldn't have. And I was... different then. Not as able to see things clearly. Not as..." He just stopped there.

"You regret it..." Mara did not quite phrase that as a question, but it seemed to invite an answer nonetheless.

"Of course I do," he admitted quietly.


"Careful..." warned Kever as they advanced cautiously up the slope towards one of the dome's entrances. "This is about as far as we can safely go."

"Yeah...?" Darvin queried. This was all still a little strange to him - Inside there was the world he grew up in, and it had been his whole world till he had been picked out for the Academy. Just outside had been this wasteland, and he had never given it a thought.

Kever pointed. "See that stain over there on the ground?" Darvin and the others just behind them followed his finger, and indeed it was just possible to see the remains of something, some kind of faint residue...

"What's that?"

"Friend of mine," said Kever, and volunteered no further detail. He beckoned Servalan to the front. "Now, let's see if you're quite as impressive as they all seem to think you are."

Servalan met his eye calmly, with perhaps the faintest hint of disdain for questioning her. "Certainly" she said, and started walking towards the entrance.

"Are you sure about this...?" called Darvin. He got no answer. Juni started to follow, but Faal gripped her arm and waited till she realised the folly of what she intended. She wriggled out of his grasp and shot him a look that said Don't worry.

Now she was facing away from all of them, and seen by no one, Servalan's expression had changed somewhat. Her breathing was shallow but rapid, and she felt like she had a lead weight lodged somewhere behind her ribs. Any moment now, this could be it... She could die.

A glance up - Yes, there it was, well-concealed if you didn't know where to look... Are you watching...? Are you...? You had better be. I wonder if you can resist the temptation to kill me... I doubt I've ever given you a better chance.


"Intruders at north entrance C-Alpha..." Orac's disembodied voice called across the main lab, managing to strongly imply that the task of warning them was well beneath him but he was doing it anyway. "I say again, intruders."

Avon moved to a terminal and sat to view the security feeds. It took a few seconds to narrow it down to the correct one - Then, from Mara's point-of-view, unable to see what he could, he abruptly sat back and exhaled sharply. He was back under tight control in under a second, but she saw his shocked reaction.

"What is it?"

"Nothing vital..." Although she couldn't see him, Avon locked his gaze with that of Servalan for the first time in over fifteen years. "So..." he said quietly, "It has come to this."

Unwilling to be fobbed off with his response, Mara moved round to where she could see the screen, and her response, after a moment of thought, was - "Could you kill her from here?"

"Yes."

"Will you?" Her face was expressionless, as if she was asking casually what hour of the day it was. His, when he turned to face her, was unreadable.


Servalan actually gasped with the released tension when the entrance hatch released and started to slide open ahead of her, and tears actually welled in her eyes... She was very glad no one could see her. Well... She glanced again at the hidden camera. You can. But how long since we had any secrets from each other, you and I...?

Without hesitating, without even thinking, she stepped forward and made her way through the hatch, disappearing into the relative gloom beyond. The others watched, too far away to intervene, as it swung shut behind her.

Darvin thought furiously as the others reacted with varying degrees of disbelief and even dismay. What course of action he might have come up with was to remain obscure, however, as the decision was taken out of his hands.

"You there..." said the fussy elderly man's voice from the bracelet he still wore on his wrist. "I said, you there..."

Darvin held the bracelet up to his mouth slowly, as if giving himself just a couple more seconds to think. At last, he spoke. "Orac, I presume..." he said calmly, unwilling to concede any disadvantage to this supercilious AI.

"I should never presume, if I were you..." said Orac. "But you are nonetheless correct in this instance. Even the most imprecise instrument can randomly happen upon pertinent data."

"What do you want?" Darvin said abruptly.

"You are to proceed to north entrance D-Sigma with some expedition, there to await further instructions."

"Is this an invitation...?" Darvin inquired. "How come we don't get to go in the same entrance as Servalan?"

"Now you are simply wasting time..." said Orac irritably. "What precise nuance of the word expedition eluded your comprehension...?"

Once again, somehow, they all managed to confer quite adequately without speaking - Every one of them had a look that said What's the choice...?


"Was that wise?" asked Mara.

Avon stood up slowly, looking like it had cost him a lot of effort. "Probably not," he said at last. "Sometimes, you have little choice."

"Well..." She smiled faintly. "I didn't kill her when I had the chance either."

"She murdered your mother." That came from nowhere, stated as a matter of simple fact - It was almost like, being unable to kill Servalan himself, Avon was hoping she would do it for him.

"I suspected that."

"And?"

Mara rubbed her eyes, suddenly realising just how tired she was. "I never knew her." Meeting his impassive gaze, she felt the need to explain further. "Everything was so different back then... I mean, revenge for this, revenge for that... Where does any of it end...? I just... can't go to that place. I thought I could, but I can't."

"But I can..." The unseen observer, listening in on their conversation, chose that moment to quietly slip away. There was work to do, and questions to be answered.


Zanso had received something around half of the reinforcements he had requested from the Admiralty on Proxima V, and now at last, at long last, his force was mobilising for the assault on Earth. He would be the one to finally end the Blake insurrection, and end the threat posed by Avon, by Servalan, by her lackey Darvin and by this young woman calling herself Blake - That above all seemed to have everyone else rattled, but Zanso looked forward to the endgame.

If, in the course of events, the odious Brintun should accidentally come to harm, that would be unfortunate. He believed it somewhat likely.

Thus Doctor Guld's latest interruption was even less welcome than her previous one. Much as he respected her abilities, a visit from Lenta Guld never boded well.

"A communication from the President..." she began, holding out her pad. Something she never did... Just how sensitive was this communication?

"From Proxima II?" he asked as he took the pad, squinting a little - "From Storm Mountain..." she replied, an eyebrow raised as if to preempt his mild surprise.

"Is he taking this entirely seriously...?" Zanso pondered.

"He takes it very seriously" said Doctor Guld quietly. "Very seriously... Admiral, those are your orders of engagement. For your eyes only." At the moment she said that, the pad read Zanso's retina scan and the relevant file opened and allowed him to read the communiqué...

Reading it, and becoming progressively more ashen-faced, Zanso finally handed the pad back to Guld and allowed her to skim it. They both looked at each other for a long moment.

"This changes things..." she said.

"If he fires that weapon..."

"He can't..." she said firmly.

"And if he does...?"

"Then, Admiral..." said Doctor Guld firmly. "You place your ship in its path and hope to be hit. Because if you fail, I would not recommend at all that you survive..."


Servalan advanced along the corridor as if she belonged there - Indeed, there had been a time when she did. Apparently without a care in the world, she looked for some sign of where to go - "The least you could do is come to meet me..." she said aloud. "Afraid to face me again, is that it...?"

Feet scuffed slightly on the ground as an unseen observer turned and moved away. Servalan, just a little alarmed, no more than that, listened carefully. "Is that you...?" she called.

After quite some time, a voice replied - but not that of Avon. "That depends, Supreme Commander... Who was it you were expecting...?" Spinning around trying to identify the voice's source, Servalan tried to control her panic and not show the slightest hint of being rattled.

"Where are you...?"

"That's a very good question..." said the voice, almost sing-song - A mature male voice, still with a hint of the slums he had grown up in before his exceptional talents had been identified by the Space Service recruitment specialists. "And the answer is... Supreme Commander... I've been in hell... I'm going back there soon..."

"Show yourself...!"

"But when I do, this time I won't be going alone..."

"You think I'm afraid of you...?" Servalan demanded, a brittle edge to her voice. Of course you are, he thought. That's why I'm here...

"Here I am... Supreme Commander. You did ask me to show myself..." She turned to face him, knowing despite all reason what she would see and steeling herself for the reality of it. For a long moment she said nothing.

"Why aren't you dead?" she asked quietly.

"Oh... I am," said Travis.

A 90s movies story


Previously: What Casey Did Next (Part 1)




Chapter 3: Benny/Benjy


New York - 1 week after the (20th century) events of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III...

Light flooded in as the shutter was pulled up and hitched to the ceiling of the storage unit, and Casey waited a moment for his eyes to adjust before stepping in. "OK..." he said. "What've we got here...?"

"Yeah..." said April, moving forward to join him. "Well, you know I've been kinda waiting for the right time, and it looks like time finally caught up with me..."

"You got my bike outta pawn..." he said slowly. "Thanks."

"You're very welcome."

"And totaled it," he added, lifting up the tarp to glance at the wreckage beneath. "You know, I'm real glad you left this as a surprise..."

"Yeah..." said April. "Wait, no...! I actually didn't. When I was riding it, it didn't get so much as a scratch."

"Yeah... What's his name again...? Todd...? I gotta look this guy up." The Turtles had filled him in, a little confusingly maybe, on the adventures they'd had in his absence... The return of the Shredder, the ooze, the pre-fight doughnuts, Turtle Rap, the Rat King, Whiskers, their friends Keno and Todd... but they'd left a couple of details hazy... Like the fate of his Honda motorcycle.

"He's just a kid, Casey... And he did save the city.* With your bike! So, in a way, you get a little bit of the credit too...! Listen, I'll, uh... make it up to you, OK...?"

"Actually..." he mused. "We all gotta go sometime, and I kinda like the idea of my bike buying it saving the world... Yeah, it's OK. It really is OK."

"Well, uh, that really is a great attitude, Casey... I'm impressed." April sidled over and nudged him with her whole weight, and he grinned.

"Thanks..." he replied. "Does this mean I'm finally a grownup...?"

"You're not going to let me forget that, are you...? Well, put it this way... Am I still a different person...?" She rested her chin on his shoulder and stared up at him playfully. Laughing, he draped his arm around her, and did his best to forget he had ever felt any uneasiness. So what if she used to be different somehow...? He wasn't sure he could even remember any different anyway, and the more time passed, the more he was almost starting to think he'd imagined it...

"No..." he said. "You're just you... Same as you've always been."

"Better believe it."


7 months earlier...

"N-particles..." said Agent Brown, saying it slowly and letting them take it in. "N-particles are the key... Ever since detection became less haphazard, our job became just a little easier. Once we detect a heavy concentration, we simply lock an area down and proceed to flush out the... intruders using tried and trusted methods that I don't believe I have to spell out to any of you..."

"Sir...?"

He was surprised to be interrupted, and raised his eyebrows, glancing briefly at Agent Green where he sat near the door, as if wondering what he made of the question. Magnanimously, he turned to the eager student and allowed the question. "What is it?"

"Sir," said a very, very clean-cut man around thirty. "I understand that this is heavily classified. But what I don't understand is how none of us have heard even the vaguest rumor up to now... I mean, if this is really going on..."

"You doubt it...?"

"Well, uh, no sir... I just"-

-"You know what the President himself would say if you were to make the mistake of asking him what he thought of these incursions, son...?"

"Well, sir, I imagine he would be cautious in venturing"-

-"He would say, What incursions? and if I couldn't quickly convince him he didn't need to worry himself about it, we would need a new President real quick..." said Brown, eliciting a few gasps throughout the room. Was he serious...? His stony features soon assured them on that point - He was always serious.

"Sir...?" said another of the chiseled, immaculately-suited listeners - Almost certainly another FBI agent, like the majority of the Section's recruits, and an A plus among A pluses - Only the very best were considered. Why then, thought Brown, did they still need to be told things they should get without his hand-holding...? "About this first dimensional anomaly, sir..."

"Details!" erupted Brown. "Details like that, you will find in your official briefing notes. Study them. Study them well, for you will not be taking them off these premises. Do we understand each other...?!"


"That went well," said Green as they hurried down a long corridor.

"It went OK," said Brown.

"Relax, OK... Those guys are the best of the best... We'll soon have them up to our level, and finally you'll have the numbers you've said all along we need."

"Relax?" That was said scornfully.

"Yes, absolutely. With respect, I feel you worry too much."

"You know what really worries me?" Brown stopped and faced his second-in-command. "What if something happened to me? Are you ready, Green...?" As Green thought about his answer, Brown cut him short. "No, don't hurry to answer that."

He walked on.


"OK..." Casey pondered. "Was everybody else always crazy, and I just never noticed before the last few days...?" He quickened his pace a little to catch up with Shadow, who had gone a little ahead. Their footsteps echoed in the wide hallway with its molded plastic floor covering. "Just... When you said you had something to show me, with all the other stuff that's been going on, I kinda assumed it'd, you know, have something to do with that stuff... Huh...?"

"Right," said Shadow.

"I mean, a library...?" He looked askance.

"Don't worry, you won't catch anything..." she replied. "Though, now I think about it, you might just crumble into dust or something."

"Hey, I've read books..."

"Which ones...?"

"Uh... Most of 'em, I guess. I dunno. I forget. Uh..." He clicked his fingers. "No, it's gone again."

"You don't fool me, Casey."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"I said too much."

"Well, that makes a change. Know what I mean?"

"All right..." She stopped. "This you can't be that different, that's all I'm saying."

"Well, uh, thanks..." he said, rubbing his nose. "That pretty much clears everything up."


"So what are we looking for...?" he asked, more confused than ever, as Shadow rooted around the shelves of the kid's section of the smalltown public library. She seemed to find what she was looking for, and handed the slim volume over to him.

"Right, yeah... Thanks. What am I supposed to do with this?" He looked around, and caught a couple of people giving them slightly questioning glances. Even Shadow was a little old to be here, in the normal scheme of things.

"Read the cover."

"Yeah, I read it. Thought it was a little slow, but I kinda enjoyed it."

"What does it say?" she asked patiently.

"Benny the Elephant."

"And what should it say?"

"Help me out here... What's the right answer?"

"You said it yourself. Benjy the Elephant. You weren't wrong."

"Are you sure...? 'Cause, uh, it really looks like I was."

She produced another book from the small bag she was carrying, the bag that hadn't left her person since their flight from the trailer. Another book...? No, the same book. Except...

"What does that say?"

"Benjy the Elephant," he replied, resigned. "Guess this, uh, Margery Fellman was a little indecisive, huh?"

"Yeah, that's right..." she replied. "There was a while there she just couldn't make up her mind. And right then a whole new set of universes sprang up, some where she named her elephant Benny and some where it was Benjy instead. You're starting to understand now."

"So what's so important about this book?"

"Nothing. At least, nothing as far as we know. But for some reason that decision was a key nexus point in the multiverse"-

-"Multiverse, huh?" Casey smirked.

"Multiverse, yeah... and if your life depended on knowing all about this stuff, you'd be talking multiverses and nexus points like there was no tomorrow as well... Casey Jones, I have news for you..."

"What?"

"Your life does depend on it, and... There might not be a tomorrow."


Casey was still grappling with the enormity of it all, and the sheer strangeness, as they walked back to the parking lot. Frankly, he didn't think Shadow was being all that helpful. Multiverses...? Nexus points...? Huh...?

And it all had something to do with him...? How come all this stuff had been happening to him and he was the last one to find out about it? Wasn't that just typical of his life? "So..." he said. "There's just one thing I don't understand."

"OK..." Shadow replied. "Wait... Really...? One thing?"

"You're saying I've been to all these universes, without knowing it. Right?"

"No, not all of 'em. That would be impossible. But you're definitely not in the universe this you was born in. You're kinda... one of those people who's... unstuck. Adrift, if you see what I mean. It's like, most people are anchored in one reality, and just a small handful kinda drift through the gaps. Most of the time they don't notice. Nobody notices, because the reality they shift to isn't that different. Just, say... A farmer in Brazil sleeps in that morning instead of getting up early, or something like that. But sometimes... The differences are a little more obvious, and you notice stuff."

"Like April." He thought about that. "So my April is back in another universe, wondering where I got to... I hope. Why is she so different here?"

Shadow shrugged. "Maybe she has a different mother, maybe both parents are the same but something else happened differently, I dunno... but she still ends up pretty much the same person, except in appearance." Remembering what else he had said, she added "Oh, yeah... Most likely you got replaced by another Casey, more or less the same, and life went on as normal. Well, as normal as it gets for you. Maybe he looks a little different, and it's her who's feeling weird about it."

"Great. Thanks for that. I'm replaced, huh...? Can I get back there?"

"I don't see how."

"You got here, knowing that's what you were doing. You and your mom... Right?"

"That was different. Plus, we weren't making for this reality specifically... We were just... trying to get anywhere. To escape what was coming."

"And what exactly is that?"

On their way across the parking bay, they stopped. She was about to answer his question, trying to find the words, when her head snapped round. They were in danger, and she had been so caught up in their conversation she had just blundered into it...!

"You know..." said Brown, hefting the n-particle detector as several of his agents fanned out around them, guns leveled, "We catch more of them outside libraries than anywhere else... Why do you think that is?"


"You know what...?" pondered Casey once the two of them had been cuffed and secured in the back of a car. "I've been thinking about it, and the more I think the more I'm starting to wonder... Maybe it was Benny the Elephant..."



Chapter 4: Invaders From Dimension X!

No one knew for a long time where they came from... They just seemed to erupt into existence out of nowhere, their armies of mechanical men and vast armadas of unimaginably destructive weaponry coming down upon world after world like the vengeance of the gods... Cruel gods. No one knew what they were, or what they wanted - at first.

When at last some information started to filter through, many wished it had stayed that way. Ignorance was bliss.


The universe next door...

"Here... We'll be safe here..." her mother gasped, putting down the heavy pack and resting the shotgun on the ground, rubbing her bruised shoulder. Much good as the shotgun wasn't, it was still reassuring.

"Why... Why are we safe here...?" Shadow mumbled. "What's so different about this place?"

"What's different is it's old... Thirty years or so, so they said... It was built before the rips started happening, and nobody has been down here..."

"So we're spoiling it for everybody else, huh...?" Shadow peered at a metal plate fixed to the concrete wall with lettering on it - "ACME...? Is that a real thing...? I thought that was just Wile E Coyote-" She looked round. "Mom?"

"Back then, everybody was afraid of the bomb..." her mother said, shining the flashlight down the corridor. "They didn't know there was even worse around the corner..."

"So why are we here...?"

"Supplies... And somewhere I might be able to power this thing up for another try..."

"So we're really doing this, huh...? Going to another universe..."

"We have to try. There's no hope left here, maybe there's some somewhere else. Maybe... this time they won't follow..."

Shadow eyed the bulky hand-held device. "They built that thing, huh...? So why should we trust it?"

"It's keyed into the next universe to ours... The shortest distance... Oh, I don't know, that's just what they told me..."

"There's already some of the resistance over there, huh...? So, the fight continues..."

"Not for us. We're not soldiers. We'll just hide and hope they don't find us. Hope someone else finds a way to... I don't know. Stop them. Somehow."

"Mom... I think, before this is over, all of us might have to become soldiers."


They had evolved somewhere else, somewhere incredibly different... Somewhere with vast toxic oceans full of vicious predators. They were small and fragile, but they were smart. Smarter than anything else. Smart enough to take themselves beyond the influence of evolution and make themselves masters of any environment they wished - If their spindly bodies wouldn't survive even mild fluctuations of temperature or pressure, and if the gases that gave life to most other creatures were hostile to them, they would case themselves in stronger durable bodies of metal. They would arm themselves with weapons that would make them feared light years, galaxies, whole universes beyond the backwater world that spawned them...

The Utroms were coming.


This universe... depending where you're from...

"Before we get there..." Green mused. "Trust me, you want to tell me everything you know."

"That's what you think, pal..." said Casey. "I'm telling it all to Colonel Sanders, Ronald McDonald and Mister Rogers, and nobody else... Well, maybe Oprah, 'cause, why wouldn't you...?"

They were in the spacious back of a department car, racing back to headquarters, and Green was running out of time trying to make these people see reason. He looked over at the girl - Shadow, or whatever her real name was - she had stayed quiet throughout the journey, and he sensed it was her he really had to get through to. The man was definitely more intelligent than he wanted them to see, but really - There was only so much time...

"You let him speak for you...?" The girl shrugged. Green looked back at Casey. "We'll be checking your identity. By the time we get back, we'll have figured out who you are..."

"Well, don't let those overdue library books make you judge me too harshly, huh...? There's lots of sides to me."

"That I can believe... And it's funny you should mention libraries... On the mind, perhaps...?"

"Ask Benjy, pal..." Casey looked at Shadow - "Benny...?" She shrugged again. He turned abruptly back to Green. "Who was that other guy... Your boss man..."

"Agent Brown."

"Yeah... I wanna talk to him."

"Why?"

"He had a kind face."

"You really don't wanna talk to him."

"Hey pal, one thing I figured long since, don't talk to the Indian when you can talk to the Chief direct. It saves a lotta time."

"He went ahead. Honestly, you don't want to be interrogated by him if it can possibly be avoided. Tell me all you know, and..."

"Did he interrogate my mother...?" asked Shadow quietly, without looking at him.

"Yes," said Green, after only a brief pause.

"And Gabe..." said Casey. "What about Gabe?"

"Yes... He was interrogated and released shortly after."

"Released...?" said Casey incredulously, and Shadow briefly looked up. "Wanna try that one again, pal?"

"True, I swear... By the time Brown was finished, he was considered harmless, and perfectly safe to release."

"That's not Gabe..." Casey mused.

Green looked at him steadily. "It is now."


The small convoy of department cars was specifically designed not to draw attention to itself, and conducted its journeys in absolute need-to-know secrecy - Still, the attackers knew when and where to intercept it. On a quiet, lonely road they hit, and hit hard.

The explosion shook the car and nearly drove it off the road. "What was that...?!" cried Casey, doing his best to shield Shadow even though she didn't really want to be shielded and would much sooner get a look out the windows.

"Stay there...!" yelled Green.

"You're kiddin', right...? We're cuffed."

Reluctantly, Green released them - He didn't want them to be trapped if the car caught fire. "Stay there...!" he yelled again. "I'm not going far, and I won't be gone long...!"

Casey and Shadow exchanged glances. "Sure thing..." said Casey, and they both smiled.


Green couldn't believe what he was seeing. Within a couple of minutes, several of his people lay dead, falling not to conventional gunfire but to the bright flashes of some kind of plasma energy weapon, something as far as he knew well beyond the technology of the world circa nineteen-ninety- "Aaaaaaahhhhh...!"

The explosion threw him sideways, and he heard a sickening crack - A moment later, the pain hit. Collar bone - had to be. Getting up as best he could, he drew his gun - in the wrong hand, but with his training that only made him slightly less effective - and tried to find a target.

He found a target... and his jaw dropped.

The machines advanced. Man-shaped mechanical devices - androids - man-shaped, yes, but too spindly around the middle to be suits of body-armor. They fired at anything that moved, and they were totally resistant to bullets, so Green dropped.

Then he remembered - the prisoners. They must be secured at all costs. He crawled back in the direction of the car... And was just in time to see his two prisoners dart across the road and disappear into the trees.

His attention was caught by something else - one of his own people, dead near him on the ground. Incredulously, Green inspected what he thought he had seen around the man's wound, and uncovered the gaping hole full not of blood but with sparking electronic circuitry...

Mind reeling, Green succumbed and lay on the ground, blacked out.


"OK, girl wonder, I don't mind admitting, I'm all out of ideas right now...!" Casey gasped.

"That's OK... No shame in that, you've been doing great... Fortunately, I got plenty more..."

"You have, huh...?"

"Yep."

"So what's our destination?"

"For now, right round in a big circle and when all that has calmed down a little... Before they have the chance to swoop in and close it all off... In we go and use these..." - She held up the ignition keys of the car they had been held in - "To get ourselves out of here... Then we ditch the car a few miles from here, and then I hope you'll have figured something else out..."

"Well... I got my car... Bit of a wreck right now, but it'll get us somewhere to lie low for a while..."

"Lie low...?" Her head turned and she thought carefully - "I think I got somewhere we can do that."


"That'll do."

"Well, uh, thanks..." Casey looked up from his work burying his car among the foliage. "This car and me, we've been through a lot and all, but I never thought I'd have to bury her..."

"Oh, quit your whining..." Shadow said that with a smile.

"Yes, ma'am... You're, uh, planning to lie low in the woods, is that it... I mean, I got camping experience, but even so..."

"No, we're not camping. I got something much, much better."

"OK."

"And then... I dunno, I go find Gabe."

"We go find Gabe. And your mother."

"She's dead."

He looked at her for a long moment as they walked. "You're sure...?"

"Sure."

"Sorry."

"Yeah." She picked up their pace. "It's this way."


Shadow led them round the grounds of a big old mansion, and they saw some signs of it being inhabited, maybe by a couple of servants keeping the home fires lit and nothing more - Casey had been skeptical, and certainly hadn't been expecting to be led through the secret entrance and down all the stairs and then down the long tunnel into... This.

"So this place just shuts itself up in the event of nuclear kerblam..." mused Casey. "Closes itself up for how long...?"

"Depends how long its programmed for..." replied Shadow as they cautiously explored the shelter. "The computer is pretty old now, and I'm not sure how often it gets maintained... So, just be careful, don't touch anything in here till we've had a chance to find out everything."

"Hey, I'm Mister Don't Touch, OK...? 'Hell, they got supplies... Good for a while, I'd say. Months, years even... Who'd you say this place belongs to...?"

"I didn't." She shrugged. "Some rich asshole"-

-"Swear jar... We need a swear jar for you, young lady."

"Does it matter who it belongs to...?" She peered at a dial on the control console, and read out "Six months, huh...? Automatic shutdown for six months minimum - No opening it till the automatic lock releases at the end of those six months... No override... Seriously, don't touch anything."

"Hey, it's me, OK..." Casey got his jacket snagged on something, and pulled to free it. - "Shutdown procedure initiated..." droned the toneless prerecorded voice from a speaker on the wall. "Shutdown imminent... Containment procedures are in progress..."

They looked at each other, eyes widening, both realizing at the same pace what had just happened. "Go - Now!" They both raced down the corridor for the exit as fast as they could, Shadow in the lead, and as they approached and the wheel-shaped door ponderously rolled closed Casey virtually threw the girl ahead of him... She made it through with inches to spare...

He didn't.

They stood there, either side of the sealed door, out of breath. They looked at each other through the transparent panel at his eye height - She had to stand on tiptoes.

"What now...?" she said, speaking loudly but voice muffled and faint through the thick quadruple-glazed panel.

"How, uh, how long did it say this thing would seal itself for...?" Casey asked, although his memory was actually pretty good - He just wanted to put off dealing with this for a few moments.

Six months. Six months.

Six months.

"Six months..." she mouthed silently.

"Six months," he said aloud.

Six months.

"Six months..." her voice crackled, startlingly loud - "Huh...?!" Casey started. "Wh-a?"

She pointed to where he could speak into the intercom, and once he was set, ironically, the two of them had little to say. "Uh... See you in six months...?" he asked. "I figure I should walk parole..."

"Yeah..." she said, still dazed.

"Actually..." he said, thinking furiously - "Don't be here in six months. I'll come find you... Uh, go to New York, OK... Find April O'Neil... Trust me, she won't be difficult to find. She's pretty famous..." He quickly made her memorize April's address. "Now, you got that, huh...?"

She smiled. "I should... You know, get going..."

"Right. See you in six months and a little bit, OK...?"

"Maybe tomorrow, I'll wanna settle down..." sang Shadow, and smiled.

"Just keep movin' on, huh...?" Good to know The Littlest Hobo wasn't unique to his universe - whichever one that was.

"I'm not good at goodbyes..." she said.

"Me neither."

She hung up, and was gone. Casey took a while to hang up the intercom, and turned away to inspect his new home.


Shadow looked at the device in her hands with very mixed feelings. "Kaput..." she said finally, and having made the decision she kicked it into the dense undergrowth. "'Bye, you stupid piece of... Ah!" She waved her hand dismissively, and turned away, following the sounds of traffic faint in the distance - "They gotta have hitchhiking in this universe too, right...? Bright lights, here I come..."


Green walked into the department briefing room with his arm supported by a sling and in a state of nervous exhaustion, but still somehow he rallied enough for the confrontation he was expecting to face. Brown was there, of course, looking infuriatingly calm and unflappable, along with another man in military uniform - a full United States General, no less.

"Sir, I"-

-"This is General Bydek."

Green gave Bydek a brief nod, before continuing. "Sir, I wish to report, although I suspect you already know, that our department has been infiltrated"-

-"Let me see him..." a voice said. "Let me see him properly..." It was a peculiar voice, gravelly and hoarse, and the strangest thing about it was that it was coming from underneath General Bydek's uniform jacket...! As Green watched incredulously, Bydek unbuttoned the jacket and the shirt underneath to bare his torso - Green automatically looked away, though his glance kept darting back and forth.

"Sir, I... These are very peculiar events, sir... I don't wish to see, uh..." He looked.

It looked back.

Inside Bydek's torso - his apparently hollow, artificial torso - a creature inhabited a sac full of murky liquid. Pink - no, more mauve, actually - in color, it was mostly a face with a tiny vestigial body. Bydek just stood calmly holding his shirt open to allow the creature a proper view of the room, clearly unconcerned by the inhabitant where his internal organs ought to be - Green took a good look at Bydek for the first time, and registered the very infrequent rate at which he blinked. Some sort of device, rather than a man...? Who had the technology...?

"Will he host...?" the creature rasped, addressing Brown.

"I don't think so..." Brown replied. "Not for some time yet." - Green looked back and forth between the two of them, like they were crazy people... Well, crazy at least - "We're not who you think we are..." Brown began.

"You had us kill people..." Green accused. "Actual people people. And all the time, you're..." He looked up at Brown, eyes widening. "You as well... Right...?"

"Right..." said a muffled rasping voice from beneath Brown's suit.

"That was unfortunate but necessary..." said Brown. "We had to protect ourselves." He paused. "I am quite human, I assure you... At least my consciousness is... I would be dead by now - lung cancer - if it wasn't for them... They made me an offer I just couldn't refuse. Not with so much left to learn, and accomplish..."

"But those things that attacked our party... That was you...!"

"Not us... The advance guard of a very nasty individual... Hitler, Genghis Khan, Napoleon... Nothing on this guy, trust me."

"Trust you... Good one, sir..." Green had his gun drawn, but Brown did not draw his. "You were in a position of trust. You had my trust. You blew it."

"He is coming after us..." Brown said. "And he is coming for you... All of you. He will stop at nothing to take what he wants from this place..."

"OK... I'll bite... Who is coming...? And what does he want...?"

"Actually," Brown digressed, "He is a hermaphrodite, but to answer your question... He wants the Keystone, and his name is Krang."


After one more attempt to get out by brute force, really just for the hell of it more than anything else, Casey emerged from the storage room and his stocktaking of the shelter in a slightly more upbeat frame of mind. At least now he was sure he wasn't going to starve... The least said about the water recycling, however, the better. Ah well, water was water.

Six months...? He sat down, and put his head in his hands. Then he looked up at nothing in particular. Six months...?

Six months...?

Six months... Well, it was just a little less now...

"OK..." he pondered. "Let's, uh, make the best of this... What kind of entertainment did this guy have...? Oooh, home cinema... Old school."


New York - a little over 6 months later...

"So..." April started, linking her arm with Casey's as they walked away from the now-locked storage unit and back out onto the streets of New York, "You're definitely not mad at me for messing up your motorcycle...?"

"No, not really," he replied.

"'Cause, you know, I'm a little cut up about it too... I- I really got to like that bike...!" After a brief pause, April raised one of her feet off the ground. "And I bought leather pants specially..." she added, slapping her thigh, mischievous smile infectious. "Not cheap."

"Wasn't the bike totaled, like, six months ago or something...?"

"Yeah..." she replied flippantly. "'Think I might be having trouble letting go."

"You'd be making it kinda difficult to stay mad..." said Casey. "If, you know, I was mad at you, which I ain't."

They walked contentedly for a while, before April started again on a different tack. "And you're not mad at me for... anything else...?"

"Like what?"

"Calling you Whit...? I promise I won't do it again."

"Nah."

"Or... the other thing."

"What other thing?"

"Shadow...? I swear to you, Casey, if I had known, I would have tried harder.** I would have made her stay. I'd-"

"-How'd you know I was thinking about her...? Nah, I don't blame you for that. I know you did all you could. I'll find her... We'll find her. Somehow."

"Or there's... the other, other thing."

"Now you really got me."

"I dunno... It's just, for a while now, the way you've looked at me... It's been like I'm a stranger or something."

"Yeah... Sorry about that."

"I mean, we're friends aren't we...?" April inquired, tightening her grip a little on his arm and looking up at him. "No grudges, no weirdness...?"

"No... I mean, yeah... 'course we are..." said Casey. "It's... There was a weird thing going on, but it's my problem... Y'know what, I think it's gonna be just fine."

"Just fine, huh...?" She seemed unconvinced.

"Just fine," he repeated confidently. "You had breakfast yet?"

"Casey, it's almost noon."

He looked nonplussed. "That's not too early for breakfast."


"You should be able to see them any minute now..." the woman said slowly, adjusting the focus of her very sophisticated spyglass on the two figures - April O'Neil and Casey Jones - walking away into the distance. "Yeah... He's tall, she's not... Both brown-hair, his is long, he's denim jacket over white T-shirt, faded jeans, she's yellow plastic rain jacket and tight black leather pants. Very pretty, both of 'em - You won't miss 'em... In fact, you better not miss 'em."

"Is the tightness of her leather pants important?" a voice crackled, perhaps wondering if there was another very similar looking couple in sight who could create confusion.

"I noticed," the woman said sniffily. Straightening up, now both her subjects were too far away to see her, she ran a hand through her unruly reddish-brown hair before stifling an exhausted yawn. She had pale grey eyes and was about April's age - Almost exactly April's age, in fact. Over her loose check shirt and cargo shorts, she wore the same yellow plastic rain jacket.

"What's so important about these two...?"

The voice issued from the communications device on the ledge in front of her, and the woman picked it up to reply. "If you really needed to know..." said April O'Neil - Another, different, April O'Neil, "You already would... Just don't lose them."


* Day of the Rat (Part 5)
** A Matter of Life and Strife


Coming Soon: Night of the Rat


Mature Content

This content is intended for mature audiences.


or, enter your birth date.*


Month

Day

Year*
Please enter a valid date format (mm-dd-yyyy)
Please confirm you have reviewed DeviantArt's Terms of Service below.
* We do not retain your date-of-birth information.

Earth

Teleport engaged...

Mara felt herself dissolve into her component atoms and reassemble in another location, this time finding it a lot less disorienting and distressing. Almost pleasant, in fact. Which was more than could be said for the sight that greeted her on arrival.

She clutched the bracelet fastened around her wrist, her only link to the ship above and the - almost - safety it represented. Here it was - Earth. The cradle of the human race.

The landscape was all greys and browns, smirry with the light rain that was to start soaking through her clothes after the first couple of minutes. Low hills, their tops hidden in banks of mist, surrounded the more or less flat area she was standing on - squelching on, as she discovered when she started to move. Mara turned.

There it was.

The dome rose several hundred feet above her in a relatively gentle incline. From the very slight outward curve of the outer shell, its circumference must be... Big. Very big. If Caul were here...

Caul. She had left him behind. Why...? Oh yes, of course, something about him being safer back at Galaxy City than with her - Just as the place had erupted into a war zone. Well, he would be safer with Darvin and Rissa than with her... That, she was fairly sure of.

Fairly. After all, who was actually safe...?

If Caul were here, he could probably tell her very quickly the volume of the dome, but that kind of detail wasn't exactly what she needed at this moment. Mara really needed to know just what - and who - was to be found inside. And just how much of a danger they might be to her.

She felt inside the carrying pouch the ship had insisted she take, and once again eyed its contents - several bracelets like the one on her wrist - and shrugged it into a more secure position over her shoulder. It had insisted she take this, and then refused to teleport her gun along with her - And she had thought it would obey her. So much for that.

The hatch opened in front of her. Without really knowing why, in fact not even sure she had voluntarily started moving, she was climbing the short flight of steps and stepping through the circular port into the dome.

Into the place where it had all started.


Galaxy City

The Children of Light, or at least those members included in Miko's advance party, found themselves very busy in the first few hours after their swift conquest of Galaxy City - Their biggest task was to confine the large number of prisoners they had taken. Some would undoubtedly join them willingly, some would join once they had seen the truth of their situation. Some would not, and they would have to be disposed of the usual way.

That could be left to his subordinates, and Miko himself focused on the small area above the hub not yet taken by his people. Any attempt to get through the automatic security devices would be extremely costly, and the computers controlling them had so far proved resistant to their attempts to deactivate them, so it appeared that the small number of UniS troops concentrated around their leader in that section might have to be dealt with rather more cautiously.

He opened a comm link to he Administrator's quarters, and waited for it to be accepted on the other end.


"We have blocked all outgoing and incoming signals to your location..." said Miko through the comms. "You are surrounded and outnumbered."

"Outnumbered, yes..." replied Brintun coolly. "But I have trained soldiers, and you have a rabble of fanatics. You may have made short work of private security here, but do not imagine"-

-"It is clear to me you have always resented us..." Miko interrupted. "But I wouldn't have thought that would blind you to the simple facts of the situation. My people are no rabble, Mister Brintun. The men and women I brought with me are seasoned warriors, and they have a cause worth fighting for."

"Worth dying for?"

"Worth living for, certainly. Worth dying for...? If you had troubled to find out a little more about us, you would know that we recognise far less of a distinction between those two states than you do."

"Listen to me" said Servalan, bustling forward, tired of listening to this exchange. "This is Madame Orella, Administrator of Galaxy City..."

"We know who you are."

"Then you know you are dealing with a legitimately appointed"-

-"We know who you are..." he said again, seemingly impatient at her inability to grasp the point. "Servalan." Miko gave a grim smile as he showed his hand.

She paused, but not for long. "Then you really do know who you are dealing with."

"An animal trapped, its hiding place exposed, puffing itself up and attempting to trade on past... glories..." Miko replied. "Your day is over, Servalan. A new age dawns - Ours. Make way as best you can, or be destroyed. That was your warning."

There was real anger in her eyes now. "If you believe that then you have nothing to fear. You know where we are... Come and get us."

"We know about your automatic security system. Measures are being taken. And, quite frankly, we have time. You have very little. You have been beaten, Servalan. Accept that."

"Do please go on believing that..." she said, voice deep and smooth. "By all means."

Seeing this was getting out of hand, Brintun took over. "What is it that you actually want?"

Miko barely hesitated before replying. "What do we want...? What do you have...? You yourselves. Your bodies, your goods... Your very souls, willingly given."

"That may be difficult."

"I understand that. I too was reluctant. But I finally realised the truth."

"And what is the truth?"

"Surrender, and discover it for yourself."

"That's not going to happen." Brintun took a breath."We are besieged here, yes. But you are besieged too. An entire flotilla of UniS warships surrounds this place, and reinforcements are coming."

"Yes, that is true. But Galaxy city will hold out for some considerable time before being seriously threatened. The resources needed to maintain a blockade strong enough to starve us out, this far from your bases, would be considerable."

Brintun's mouth became a thin line as he became ever more tense. "Out of interest, was all this what you agreed with President Scarn?" he inquired, thinking he detected a faint chuckle on the other end, though Miko's features gave no hint of amusement.

"Not exactly."

"Then you have broken faith..." said Brintun. "And it is unwise to deal dishonestly with Unified Systems. Unwise, and dangerous. We are the future."

"In a sense that's true..." said Miko. "The infrastructure you have established will be very useful to us one day." Brintun and Servalan exchanged glances. This was getting them nowhere. She mimed a cutting motion across her throat, and he leaned forward and deactivated the comm link.

"Well..." he said. "We seem to have reached an impasse."

"Not at all" said Servalan. "We have found out a great deal. Now it's time to go."

"You can just abandon this so easily...?" He encompassed her suite of rooms with a gesture.

"Did I say so...?" she replied. "Let us just hope they look after it all for me while I am away... Or they will suffer even more greatly when I return."


The UniS shuttle fell away, released from Revenant's grip to spin out of control among the debris of DSV-A1's attack, the hapless pilot still on board and trying to rig a makeshift distress signal. The former Federation frigate then found one of the largest pieces of destroyed asteroid and, under computer control, stuck with it so close that its signal would merge on the UniS flotilla's scopes and give Darvin time to consider his next move.

Their plan was shot to hell, that was for sure. It wasn't that they had underestimated their security force so much as overestimate them - It still seemed incredible that they would side with a regime as notoriously unreliable as Scarn's over a proven stateswoman like Orella, especially as half the personnel did actually know, or at least suspect, who she really was.

"So..." he said, turning in his chair to address the others on the flight-deck. "What now?" He nodded to the beleaguered new arrivals - Juni and Faal - as they stepped onto the flight-deck escorted by the mutoid Two. Faal's ornate collar had been torn away and Juni's dress had been similarly torn and stained in the course of their ordeal - She accepted as Two offered her a black uniform jacket like that worn by Darvin, slightly too big for her, and she put it on.

"Isn't that our line, Captain...?" said Rissa next to him, not bothering to look up from her station.

"No, I'm throwing this open. I want to hear what you all think."

"What about Orella?" Rissa replied, going through the motions.

"What about her?" said Darvin, eyes cold.

"Please tell me you're not serious." Juni had been standing with her arms folded, aloof, but now stepped forward to confront him - Back to her, Rissa chuckled.

"Of course he isn't." She swung her chair around. "You really don't know this man at all, do you...? Maybe if you'd got your head out of your arse at any point in the last five years and bothered to notice anyone but your"- Her eyes moved briefly to Faal, standing there silently, detached. -"You know what, let's not."

"No..." said Juni. "Let's."

"I thought that accident of yours had knocked some sense into you for a while there, but no, still the same old Juni..." Rissa slipped into a lisping insipid voice - "Oh Faal, I'm a spoilt little shit and I'm so confused, notice me Faal, please notice me..."

"Shut up" said Darvin before the enraged Juni could respond, voice as cold as his eyes. "Both of you." He glanced at Nic Haryl. "What are you looking at?"

"My old teacher" said Haryl. "The man who taught me everything I don't know."

Darvin smiled at that with genuine warmth and, leaning over the console to Rissa's station, flicked a switch. "Madame Orella..." he said into the mic. "Prepare to come aboard." He grinned again at the shocked response from the others.


"And this tunnel isn't on the blueprints for this place...?" Brintun demanded, uneasy in the narrow confines of the dimly-lit passage.

"Nor is it detectable by scanners, in the unlikely event that they bring those up before we reach our destination..." replied Servalan from the middle of their column. "I find your constant need for reassurance somewhat tiresome."

"How much further...?"

"Not far now."


The landing platform ascended through the rocky shell of the planetoid with a smoothness that belied its sheer scale, this time unencumbered by any of the spaceships that routinely used it for landing and take-off. Brintun and Servalan's UniS escort trained their weapons in all directions, feeling very exposed standing in the middle of the featureless metal plain.

As soon as they could, they hustled their charges to the edge of the massive steel platform and down onto the surface. Servalan accepted their assistance in clambering down off the platform as a matter of course, while Brintun did so without such aid in ill temper, having thought he had left all such indignities behind him long ago.

As they walked, Servalan found herself glad of her sturdy footwear, remembering all the same, with a melancholy feeling, the days when she thought nothing of navigating more hostile environments than this in high heels. Those days were gone.

How much longer...? The thought came again. How much longer could she keep getting away with it...? As ever, it was quickly dismissed.

"I hope very much, for all our sake's, that this is not the full extent of your plan..." said Brintun, feet and joints already aching.

"Of course it isn't" Servalan replied. "We just need to put some distance between us and the entrance, that's all."

"Oh, good." He looked a little askance at her as she briefly put a hand to her ear and seemed to listen to something he couldn't hear.

"Yes, captain..." said Servalan quietly. "Stand by..." She stepped away from the others, and added, a little quieter. "Oh, and widen the beam a little. I'm bringing a guest." She turned to Brintun. "How attached are you to these others...?"

He was nonplussed by that, but moved over to join her feeling more hopeful than he had all day. "What do you mean?"

"Would you leave them, if the choice was that or dying here yourself?"

"I am the President's personal envoy..." he began, but she cut him off with a gesture.

"That's what I thought... Now come here and take my arm..." Servalan managed to disguise her mild revulsion as Brintun hurried to obey. His men, sensing something wrong, shot curious glances at them even as their rearguard came hurrying up.

"Sir... I think somebody's coming after us... yes, they definitely are pursuing... Sir...?!"

A few military personnel - a small loss, Brintun reasoned. Scarn's cronies - no loss at all, and their own fault for coming here at all. They could be left behind, all right... "You're not wearing a bracelet..." he said quietly. "Nor am I. How...?"

"Aquicite crystals sewn into the hem of my dress" murmured Servalan. "And a transponder built into my necklace. Didn't I tell you...? I am never without an escape route."


"Three, did you get that...?" Darvin's voice crackled over the intercom, and the mutoid replied without glancing up "Acknowledged, sir."

With a final manipulation of the controls, two swirling forms shimmered into being in the teleport bay, coalesced and recognisably became Brintun and Servalan. Brintun staggered forward, shocked and nauseated by the transfer from the planetoid's surface, and stopped short as Three pointed a gun at him dispassionately.

His eyes darted to Servalan as if for reassurance, but his companion in the teleport beam found herself distracted as Juni and Faal hurried into the bay.

Servalan and Juni stared at each other for a moment till the younger woman rushed forward and enveloped the older in a hug. "Darling girl..." Servalan said quietly.

Juni stepped back, apparently embarrassed by her action. "I'm sorry" she said. "I... thought you were..."

"I think I very nearly was..." said Servalan, and turned to Brintun. "Well... Welcome to Revenant, Mister Brintun. A relic of the Federation, perhaps, but none the less effective for that."

"Like us?" he said warily, unsure what his status now was.

She smiled. "Precisely."


The UniS flotilla, minus their flagship and scattered by the exploding asteroid, had finally reformed and returned to the planetoid in attack formation, alert and ready for combat. If preventing Revenant's departure was one of their goals, they failed - The frigate slipped away quietly and anonymously as a piece of floating debris, activating the engines again after the initial burst only when well out of range of their scopes.

Darvin stood and greeted Servalan as she walked onto the flight-deck, and backed up a little as he saw Brintun. President Scarn's advisor, for his part, looked at Haryl reproachfully for a long moment before turning to Darvin - Haryl looked at him with barely disguised contempt.

"Captain..." said Servalan with an expression that acknowledged just how much had happened since their last meeting - His gaze seemed to chime with that.

"Madame."

"There's very little time, so I suggest we just proceed."

"Couldn't agree more. But proceed with what exactly?"

"The only thing left..." she replied. "Our secret weapon."

Yes, he thought. Our biggest gun, but a gun that's just as likely to kill you as your enemy. What he actually said was "Avon?"

"Avon." She breathed out. "At last."


Earth

Mara's footsteps echoed along the empty corridors of the former Earth Administration dome - The only sound, apart from from her own breathing which, in her heightened state, sounded ridiculously and excessively loud. Only dim wall-mounted emergency lights still functioned in these areas and they cast long shadows, so every time she turned at a junction she caught a glimpse of something moving in her peripheral vision - Several times she got a start that way, and her nerves were before very long severely strung out.

"I'm here...!" she called. What the hell.

No reply. No sign of life.

At the next turning, she caught the usual movement and this time there was no surge of adrenaline and quickening of her heart, till a moment later when she registered the figure darting out of sight at the end of the long corridor - She had not imagined it, there really was someone else here...!

She sprinted rapidly, silently, toward where she had seen the figure, trying to catch them unawares... Getting near, she threw herself around the corner and stood ready to face whatever awaited... She was rewarded merely with another glimpse as an automatic door closed twenty or so feet away, closed between her and...

No.

It couldn't be.

She ran again, till she reached the closed featureless door, and banged her fists on it. "Open it...!" she demanded. "I saw you... I... only want to talk to you. Please..."

It had been a little more than a glimpse this time, but she couldn't quite reconcile what she had seen. The large man with his mane of curly hair... No. It really couldn't be. Pull yourself together.

The voice crackled through from some communications device she couldn't see. "Oh, hurry up..." said the fussy professorial voice she had heard back at Galaxy City. "You're keeping us waiting."

"Who is that...?"

"I'll make it easier for you... Follow the yellow markings on the floor..."

"There aren't any mark"- Yes, there were, somehow, even though there hadn't been a moment earlier. It wasn't a lighting effect, it was... "Are you hacking my chip...?" she asked, outraged - It was altering her perceptions, interfering with her brain. "How are you doing that...?"

"With great ease" it replied testily. "Now, come. He's waiting for you."


"We're off to see the wizard..." Rissa muttered under her breath with the slightest hint of a tune. Caul looked up from his station - they were on watch on Revenant's flight-deck, alone - Unless you counted the mutoid Two, which Rissa at least didn't.

He smiled. "I know that..." he said. "I didn't think anyone else..."

"I love libraries..." said Rissa. "The one in Galaxy City had pretty much all the audio visual material that survived from the First Calendar... Sometimes, whenever I could, I'd spend whole days there..."

"Me too... On Pelios, that is." Their thoughts both followed similar paths - Two of the greatest stores of knowledge in existence, both now held by the Children of Light. Were they called that because they were engaged in snuffing out the last true lights in the galaxy...? - "What do you think we'll find?" he mused.

"Maybe he'll give Darvin his arm and legs back... Maybe he'll give Servalan a heart... and Juni will get... whatever Juni wants. Something shiny, probably. What about you...?"

"What about you...?" Caul asked, almost at the same moment Rissa said it.

"Eyes...? That's what you were thinking, right...? New eyes?" She smiled gently. "I like my eyes the way they are, Caul."

"So what do you want?"

"Just... to live another day and have some fun in the meantime..." Her mood darkened. "Anyway... Avon's no wizard. He's just a man, a man who has turned out to be very difficult to kill..." Her eyes narrowed. "I could kill him, if I was of a mind to. You just watch..."

"Have you met him?"

"No. Darvin has. And Servalan certainly has - Let's not wander into that swamp... No, I'm kind of hoping all our dealings with Avon are at a distance."

"Why?"

"Really...? Think about it. All the people who stood with Avon over the years... What do they all have in common...?"

Caul's precise and analytical brain swiftly went through the list... Roj Blake, Jenna Stannis, Vila Restal, Cally, Olag Gan, Dayna- but an exasperated Rissa interrupted. -"They're all dead, Caul. All of them."

As if some kind of spell was broken, the rest of their watch passed in awkward silence.


Mara walked through the last set of doors into the main laboratory, and spun around to see them close behind her - Studying the large space and its panoply of clutter warily, she investigated it section by section as if expecting to find someone hiding from her.

"I don't hide..." he said, his voice at once gravelly and tonally odd - She looked up. "Well, I suppose that's not really true, is it...?" mused Avon. "I do hide... Very successfully."

"Till now."

He walked down from the overlooking platform to the main level and stood facing her - "As you say..." He smiled charmingly.

"Avon" she acknowledged. If facing Servalan had seemed strange to her, this was a whole new level.

"Blake" he acknowledged in return.

"Am I?"

He walked over to one of his work benches, ignoring her question and choosing to take another tack entirely. "Did you have a good journey?"

"I had an interesting journey... The interior of that ship was in the process of forming around me."

"Yes..." he mused. "Years of planning, and in the end it's always a bit of a rush to hit the deadline."

"All part of the plan, is it?"

"More or less."

"Feel like sharing it?"

"That wasn't on my list of tasks for today, no." He pointed at her. "You... have disrupted my plan somewhat... But don't worry, it'll soon be back on track."

"I'm so glad."

He looked at her for a few moments, growing amused. "I can't promise you will be, not entirely... But some of us, we don't get a choice... Our role is very much picked for us."

"Oh, I'm like you, am I...?" Mara's voice was cool, her manner detached - Anyone else would be wary of the danger signals by now, but he seemed indifferent. He walked over to stand nearer her.

"I didn't think we would actually meet like this..." he said slowly. "It might make it all a little more difficult. But, frankly, I've been in worse situations... I think you might have too... Yes, you're the right one, I'm more sure of that now..." He turned away.

"The right one for what...?" she demanded.

He swung round to face her again, this time with a bench separating them. "In some ways, it might even be better if you don't achieve too much... Your mere presence might be enough to swing the balance... The name is all it might take."

"The balance... What are you talking about...?"

A shrill alarm sounded, and Avon wandered over to a monitor. Viewing the readout, he manipulated the controls and a display appeared in the air above them - A spaceship in orbit, large and powerful, beautiful in its strange alien way...

"That's the ship that brought me here..." Mara reasoned. "That's... the Liberator!"

"Not quite..." said Avon, looking steadily at her. "The Liberator was destroyed twenty-eight years ago. But there's no reason for anyone else to know that."

"What do you want of me...?" she asked, exasperated.

"No time for that now..." he said. "Your ship is up there, and it's not alone." He adjusted a control, and the view shifted to show another vast spaceship approaching - The UniS flagship, Leviathan!

"It'll be destroyed!" Mara exclaimed.

"We'll see."


On Leviathan’s bridge, Admiral Zanso leaned across the operations table and peered up at the screens intently. “How long till we’re in range...?”

“Our range, sir...? Or theirs?”

“Ours...”

“Fifteen seconds...”

DSV-A1 did not wait - It fired pre-emptively at a proven aggressor and started to withdraw to a higher orbit, with Leviathan in hot pursuit. Both ships crossed the terminator into night on the planet spread below them. Willingly or not, manned or not, they were now engaged in battle.

Under attack... Deescalation of hostilities is first priority... Fallback position calculating... Combat procedures being affirmed... Readiness confirmed.

“Pursue...!” Zanso’s heightened adrenaline made him yell. “Don’t let it get away...!

“Sir, I suggest”-

“Pursue!”


The zone between the two ships was briefly alive as lethal ordnance pounded spectacularly against DSV-A1’s force wall, the electronic barrier becoming visible with every impact.

Force wall damage report... Disruption of integrity reaching nine percent... eleven percent... thirteen percent... Warning, force wall reaching excessive demand on power levels... Estimate less than point-five solar hours before power banks are exhausted at current rate of demand... Confirmed.

The Liberator’s sister ship answered with another dazzling beam of focused energy that momentarily blinded any who saw it with the naked eye and disrupted systems throughout Leviathan - It sliced across the hull and opened several compartments to space. Still the barrage of ordnance continued, and Leviathan stayed on its pursuit course.

"Maintain assault..." commanded Zanso. "It’s weakening!"


The atmosphere on the flight-deck of Revenant was tense as it neared its destination. Darvin had plotted a course that would keep their approach secret until the very last moment, and the now nine-strong crew - if Servalan, Haryl and Brintun were counted - were ready to move into action instantly. Avon would have no opportunity to disappear again.

Thus they arrived in Earth orbit without warning, and as the flight-deck was filled with dazzling light and the instruments disrupted by a blast from DSV-A1, one of Leviathan's missiles struck them side-on, buffeting and disorienting them all. "Speak to me, Rissa!" shouted Darvin.

"Got nothing to say!"

"Caul!"

"We've been hit!"

"No shit...! Damage report!"

"Bad!"


The missile struck Revenant amidships and shattered the ship's backbone, buckling the hull plates - Air escaped into space through numerous small hull breaches and the ship careered off course - How could it all have gone so wrong, so quickly...? Darvin already knew what he would find, even as Revenant's systems rebooted one by one and the damage reports started coming in. As Rissa got them back roughly on course and away from the two huge vessels fighting it out, he studied the reports and then, despite the urgency of their situation, he studied them again.

He owed her that. Revenant was his ship. His home. He had fought on it, and nearly died on it. But no more. He thought seriously, just for a moment, of not doing what every professional instinct now told him to do. Bite back the command, don't do it. Just stay... Stay forever.

"Abandon ship" he said in a monotone, just loud enough to be heard. 


They all rushed into the teleport bay and onto the pad, and Three took her place at the controls. Darvin hovered next to the calm Mutoid, eyes darting feverishly back and forth between the controls and the pad.

"Now..." he said. "You're sure you've got this. It's a maximum ten second delay... You don't have to be the one, Three... I could make it in that time..." Three glanced briefly at him, and merely replied. "Teleport ready, Captain. Please proceed."

He looked at her for a moment, and for the first time in many years his hand formed into the old Space Service salute, once second nature. "See you down there..." He rushed to join the others on the pad.

"Teleporting" said Three, and with the usual surge of static and shimmering light Darvin, Servalan, Brintun, Haryl, Rissa, Caul, Juni and Faal disappeared and were transmitted to the surface of the Earth. Only Two remained - None had seen her quietly deactivate her bracelet at the last moment.

The Two Mutoids made brief eye contact, before both heading toward the flight-deck with calm precision.


"We have identified that interference, sir... Teleport beam!"

"Trace it... Landing parties to the shuttle bays..." barked Admiral Zanso - "Capture them alive."

"Sir - Admiral! Their ship...!"

Revenant maneuvered around Leviathan like a terrier tackling an elephant, taking substantial hits the whole way, and suddenly plunged inward and past their defensive batteries, hurtling toward its final destination. Zanso paled as he realised... The shuttle bays.

It was too late.


On Revenant's flight-deck, in the final seconds before impact, Two and Three sat at the bank of control stations, two chairs separating them as they strived to control all five duty stations simultaneously. In those final seconds, they both realised they had no more to do - every task necessary to accomplishing their goal had been performed.

They were free.

They locked expressionless eyes, and seemed to reach the same conclusion. Both arrived at the same simple need. Stretching across the intervening stations, their hands clasped together and held on tightly.

Impact.


Revenant exploded, the destructive wave radiating outwards and buckling the adjacent section of Leviathan's hull. Numerous personnel were blown out into space as several of the shuttle bays decompressed, and hull breaches opened across the whole section. Damage control parties, soon accounting for most of the crew, rushed into action to contain the damage and save the ship. Landing shuttles was now out of the question. Pursuing DSV-A1 was out of the question. Everything was out of the question except survival.

Leviathan was out of the fight, and Revenant was gone. The last Federation warship was gone.

DSV-A1 performed a circuitous and distant orbit of the Earth before slowly returning to its original position.


Darvin sat in the mud. The others, huddled together in the cold wind and the rain, all watched him. He stared straight ahead, not moving, and several of them wondered if they should approach and talk to him, pull him to his feet, remonstrate with him, hug him, sit down there with him...

Unexpectedly, perhaps, it was Caul who moved forward. Eyes narrowed against the driving rain, he stood over Darvin till he was ready to start talking.

"Tell me..." Darvin began instead. "Tell me I got it wrong. Just tell me. Anything but the silence."

"You got... some things wrong..." said Caul hesitantly. "And a lot of things right."

"Like...?" Darvin let the water run down his face, eyes hollow, looking ten years older than before. And feeling much older still. That itch at the base of his spine was back - The itch where nothing was supposed to itch any more.

"She's waiting..." Caul subtly indicated behind them, where Servalan did indeed wait impassively. "She waits for no one. But she waits for you." He swallowed. "You must be special, eh...?"

Darvin grunted. "Suppose so." He looked up at Caul for the first time. "We all are, you know... We're survivors... We survived. Most didn't."

"Let's, uh, go on surviving."

"Do we have to?"

"I think so."

"You really are a pain in the arse, Caul."

"Thanks."

"Now help the robot man up. He's stuck in the mud and starting to rust."


"Did they make it out...?"

"Who?"

"Caul and the others... Please tell me they weren't on that ship when it did that."

"All right..." Avon said, affecting bemusement. "They weren't on that ship when it did that."

"Don't mock me" said Mara dangerously.

"Not bad for a ship without a crew..." mused Avon once he had located DSV-A1 and satisfied himself it was undamaged. He turned to Mara. "Just imagine what it could do with the full seven."

"Seven?" Mara asked, curious. Unnoticed - or had it been? - she had seized his gun from the bench and was holding it trained on him, hands steady. "Why seven?"

"A full complement" he said, apparently oblivious to the gun pointed at him. "If you count the onboard computer. Or, sometimes, if you don't... It is something of a grey area..." He walked over to a bench, and she moved to cover him with the gun. "Tea...?" he asked.

"What's tea?"

"You come from a jungle planet, and you don't know what tea is... Interesting."

"The gun isn't bothering you at all, is it?" Mara demanded, rattled.

"Not in the slightest."

"You're not concerned it might kill you?"

"Define concerned."

Abruptly, Mara fired the gun - and smiled.

Mature Content

This content is intended for mature audiences.


or, enter your birth date.*


Month

Day

Year*
Please enter a valid date format (mm-dd-yyyy)
Please confirm you have reviewed DeviantArt's Terms of Service below.
* We do not retain your date-of-birth information.

Chapter 12

"So why did you do it...?"

Finding himself interrupted again, Avon turned to his companion - Blake, he had called him, whether out of a desire to mock, or simply because it felt right, he wasn't sure - Perhaps if he took a few moments to engage with him he would be left alone to complete his work. Time was pressing, after all.

"What?"

The Inquisitor-general wore the form of Roj Blake again - It seemed to be more and more at home in it. At first Avon had found its mimicking of his old colleague disconcerting - in fact, he still did - but increasingly he found it more and more natural to see Blake as its native form. After all... No one else was using it any more.

"Why did you kill him...? Every time I ask, you avoid the question... I'm starting to think you might not even know."

"Why did you kill your own species?" Avon countered.

"I suppose... because it had outlived its usefulness... Because... I couldn't allow them to complete the destruction of yours... Because I needed answers that their existence prevented me pursuing... Because they deserved it, frankly." The Blake simulacrum did not blink. "Not something you would have done?"

It was dark outside the dome, and thus artificial night-time inside, but Avon had risen very early from his snatched few hours of sleep, for one last shift. One last one, before... Whatever might follow. He would do his best, certainly, when he had to. Whether that would be enough was another matter.

"Did you get your answers?"

"Most of them" said Blake. "One remains particularly elusive." He paused for a few moments before asking again. "Why did you kill him?"

"Sometimes you can overthink things..." Avon mused. "Sometimes you spend so long wrestling with a question that the more thought you apply, the further away the answer seems to get..." He met Blake's gaze unflinchingly. "And sometimes the answer is so simple it can only ever come as a disappointment."

"He betrayed you... Or, at least, you thought he did."

"Briefly... There was a lot to take in."

"So you're saying it was an accident..."

"Or a mistake."

"Which is it?"

"Can't it be both?"

"Only if you want to leave the matter deliberately vague... What are you trying to avoid telling me, Avon...?"

"Who says I'm trying to avoid anything?"

"I do."

Avon's lip curled on one side, the only sign of his amusement. "And you should know..."

"Quite" Blake conceded, head turning to one side.

"Well..." Avon considered "I think I now understand why you wear that shape so much."

"And why is that?" Blake moved over to a nearby chair and sat, the habit of grunting with the hypothetical strain on his old man's joints by now thoroughly ingrained.

"You think it's the only way you'll ever get the answer to that one final question..." Avon replied. "You think guilt will make me answer it."

"What makes you think it's final...?" Blake pondered. "And also, what would you know about guilt...?" A faint smile played around his features.

"You'd be surprised." That was not the expected answer, and Blake's expression changed as he sensed a change in the tone of their conversation.

"Try me."

"I have work to do."

"And you'll do it" said Blake, refusing to be sidetracked. "But first... Tell me."

"You seem to think we have ample time."

"Not ample, no... But we have enough."

"Blind faith...?"

"Or maybe I just know something you don't, Avon."

"And that is?"

"That some things are just meant to be. And some things aren't meant to die. At least, not completely." He looked around the lab, seeing in his mind beyond its confines, imagining the labyrinthine complex of workplaces, meeting-places, forums, marketplaces... Law-courts... "You were here before, weren't you...? So was he."

"Why ask a question to which you already know the answer?" Avon paused. "That's not why we came here, of course."

"No, I know. But it is nonetheless fitting. Isn't it...? I think it is."

"A place for beginnings..." said Avon. "And, it follows, endings too."

"Or both together" suggested Blake in a subdued voice.

"I really do need to finish this" said Avon, indicating the dismantled equipment on the bench in front of him. Blake's head bobbed slightly as he snorted his amusement.

"One day..." he mused "You'll be the death of me... Again."

"Let's not let it come to that."

"Let's not."

The rest of the night passed quietly, and both of them knew the peace would not last. Events were moving, and actions on the other side of the galaxy were about to develop in ways that would bring danger to their door. This was one last, brief, respite, at the end of which they had to be ready. The calm before the storm that dawn would bring.

The storm was coming.


If any birds had survived to fly in the skies above them, even such an enormous structure as the dome would have appeared tiny. At the altitudes some of the avian species that had once been native to these skies could have soared, the dome would have been a tiny detail in the bleak patchwork landscape spread out below them. They could have traversed the distance across the wastelands - the distance Avon on his supply-runs took more than a day to cover - in minutes, and inspected the ever-growing encampments of the scavengers in mere seconds.

The ones capable of climbing higher than that could have seen far more - The vast wilderness, the slowly recovering forests emerging from the slagheaps of an ancient industrial society - The scattered remnants of huge cities, long abandoned... The curve of the planet itself.

Higher than that was beyond the province of the birds that had once existed - None of them could have climbed above the abundance of oxygen into the thinner layers of atmosphere bordering on space itself, or seen the blue-green world in all its glory. None had evolved that capability. To do that, it had taken a far more advanced species sprung from similarly humble beginnings on the surface below. A species that had outgrown this place and discarded it long ago. The handful left clinging to it had been hurriedly evacuated - Not long ago in the vast scheme of things.

The dominant species on this world had flown away and become citizens of the galaxy, but this world from which they had sprung was not forgotten. Not completely. Some had returned, in small numbers, and more were coming.

To Earth.



Chapter 13


The first shot of the war.

A burst of neutronic energy along an amplified carrier wave was streamed from the tip of one of DSV-A1's forward-facing prongs toward the Unified Systems flotilla at the speed of light. Momentarily blinding and too fast for the human eye to follow, it took something less than a second to reach its target.

An eternity.

The burst took so long to reach its target that the ship's central computer had leisure to adjust its trajectory slightly, in anticipation of the urgent course alterations to come. It had time to check on the progress of the internal architectural configuration now taking place within the vessel, albeit now on low power mode. It had time to confer with its subordinate battle, damage control and life systems computers to make sure all of them were operating at maximum efficiency.

All this time the burst crawled toward its target at 299,792,458 metres per second - as expressed by the humans' own models of measurement - with infinitesimally minor fluctuations actuated by the gravitational influence of the nearby planetoid and its surrounding asteroids. The first shot of the war. The new war.

More than half an eternity had still to elapse, so as an afterthought the ship's central computer checked on the condition of its single passenger.


This room had no doors. Yet.

Mara's fleeting moment of panic subsided as the qualifying yet came to mind, and she forced herself to remain calm and let the environment continue to form around her. For the first time it occurred to her to wonder what she was breathing, and she consciously drew in some air. Fresh, clear of contaminants, free even of the staleness of the filtered air in the Habitat on Pelios. Naturally it was free of the airborne contaminants of the jungle. Sterile, cool, high in oxygen. Invigorating.

If they wanted her dead, she would be. That was clear enough. She could have been teleported whole into space, or had her atoms scattered across the void. She had a future, however short. And that was all she needed for now.

Then it happened. Something, some system of this environment, kicked in. Triggered by her presence, or triggered accidentally...? Unclear, but triggered it was. Time itself seemed to slow, and lights appeared on the periphery of her vision, making her lose what remained of her bearings. In time the lights came into view, floating just ahead of her but remaining tantalisingly out of reach - She should know, she tried very hard to reach them, but they remained reticent to let her.

For now.


Pelios - Years earlier...

"I need to talk to you" said Alek.

The girl waited for him to continue, unblinking. Offputtingly so, and he often wondered if she knew just how unsettling that ability was. "Go on" she replied.

No, Mara, you know, he decided. You know. Of course you know... "I need to talk to you."

"You said that."

"They wanted me to talk to you."

"You're talking to me."

"Yes..."

"We talk all the time."

"Indeed..." he said, distracted. "And that's the problem."

"Problem...?"

"They think I've been spending too much time... They think I allocate more time than I should to your education..."

"I don't see that as a problem."

"Nor do I."

"But they do."

"Yes."

"When you say they... You mean her."

"She and they usually agree. You might as well view them as the same thing. It saves time."

"Good advice..." she said. "Thanks."

"What else am I here for...?" The question hung there.

"So... they want you to spend less time with me..."

"In a way... Actually, they want me to spend... Well, no time with you."

"I see."

"Do you?"

"It had to happen eventually..." From that point, she avoided meeting his eye directly. "That's the rules. I mean, no one else has had this kind of tutorial supervision, have they...?"

"You were special."

"How?"

"What's that...?"

"How am I special?"

"A question for another time."

"What other time will there be?" She looked directly at him again, eyes glistening slightly, and now he found he couldn't look at her.


"Yes, I remember..." she told the lights. "I remember... Of course I do... What's this meant to achieve... Eh...? Am I supposed to be all vulnerable now...? Now you've discovered my weakness...? Wrong!"

The lights moved closer, so close she could finally touch them. So, in her certainty that she wasn't supposed to, she did.


Pelios - Never

"YOU REALLY THINK YOU CAN FOLLOW HIM?" the faintly-distorted voice inquired of her in its clinical tones. No, not here... Why was she back here...? The tiny enclosed, gleaming-white space furnished with nothing but a bench... Why here...?

"Follow who...?" she demanded.

"YOU REALLY THINK YOU CAN BE HIM?"

"Be who...?" Mara peered at the warped reflections in the highly polished featureless walls - Her. She was the only one here. No... Who was that standing behind her...? Looking over her shoulder...? Always there...

She turned, quickly, and spun around again to face the wall once more. No one there - she was alone, but...

There he was, again. The tall man, looming over her expectantly. She couldn't see his face, but she could make out the broad frame and his mane of curly hair... What did he want...? What did he expect...?

"I don't expect anything...!" she screamed at the disembodied voice. "I don't want to be... anything...!"

"THEY WAIT" it said. "THEY WAIT. AND THEY DREAM."

"What's that got to do with me...? And who are they...?"

"THEY ARE IMPRISONED. TORTURED. CHAINED. STARVED. WORKED TILL THEY BLEED. WORKED TILL THEY DIE. AND STILL THEY DREAM."

"Dream... Dream of what...?"

"YOU."

She peered once again at the reflection on the wall, and this time the tall man was not there. There was only her. Wearing his clothes - The loose shirt with puffy sleeves, the hard-wearing leather waistcoat, the sturdy belt around her waist with the gun attached on the end of a power cable. Even her hair, grown out once again like it used to be, allowed to form a wild crown of loose curls around her face.

Mara...

"I'm not a dream..." she said slowly. "I'm..."

Mara...

"Blake..." she said. "My name is Blake."


Having long since tried the patience of DSV-A1's central computer, the energy burst finally reached its destination. It streamed toward the UniS flotilla, overloading their scanners and blinding their scopes... and passed through the gap between the ships before impacting on its intended target.

The first shot of this war killed no one.


"Do I pass...?" Mara yelled. "Do I...?" She spun around. "Do I get a door now...? Even a small one...? I'm not that big, I could fit..." She stepped forward. "Ship...? Give me a door... Now!"

Then everything changed.



Chapter 14


Mining Station Three had been founded in year 276 of the Second Calendar. Construction was completed just in time for the station to be abandoned with the first two in 279 - when the first Andromedan War caused the Federation to claw back resources from all non-essential operations, to devote to the fight for survival. Reactivated in 282, it served as a base for private operators to mine the lucrative asteroids of the TNCB-5213 system.

It was on Mining Station Three that a visionary mind, a mind belonging to a man whose name was swiftly forgotten when credit was seized by the better-connected, realised this was the perfect location for what eventually became Galaxy City.

All through the Federation's late period, and even through the years of crisis - as the people of the galaxy fought for their very existence against the Andromedans - construction continued, and Mining Station Three was a hub of activity - mining and processing, coordinating the vast effort involved in the construction of an artificial planetoid. Men, women and aliens alike toiled, laughed, cried - and died, at times, for the work was dangerous - and Station Three was mute witness to it all.

It was disintegrated instantly as DSV-A1's blast of energy hit it, along with the entire asteroid it was situated on. Fortunately, Station Three had been retired some time before, and no one was on the asteroid - Nonetheless, the fragments that spun away in all directions posed no little hazard to the UniS flotilla in close orbit of the planetoid, and made course correction a matter of urgency.

Of all the ships present, none were in quite so much danger as the tiny shuttle making its way from the surface to the UniS flagship.


Both Juni and Faal were securely strapped in to their flight-seats, so the tumultuous movement of the shuttle, though it may have left them severely disoriented, failed to do them any injury. The same could not be said for their guards. The flight from Galaxy City to the flagship was routine, and none of them had anticipated this kind of trouble, let alone finding themselves bombarded by space debris. The closest either of them came to getting hurt was when one of the guards slammed into the wall close to Juni with a sickening crunch, and slid down it slowly as inertia held him in place.

"We have to get out...!" she yelled to Faal. He rattled the locked clasp on the front of his straps in response. "There has to be a way!" she insisted, irritably pushing hair away from her face and struggling with her own clasp.

"Safer as we are...!" he cried.

"For how long...?!"

The shuttle was struck a glancing blow by another fragment of the destroyed asteroid, and entered another episode of truly sickening buffeting - Though she was trying her best to overcome her nausea, Juni watched eagerly as the body of one of the guards slid along the deck towards them - Desperately, she hooked one leg around the body and tried to hold it in place against the bottom of the seat. After a moment, she pushed the body so it sat nearer Faal.

He looked at her, curiously calm. "Can you reach...?" she yelled. "Faal...! Can you...? Try to get his gun!"

Almost reluctantly, Faal stretched over, straining against the straps, arms extended, and just when it seemed he could not possibly reach any further, his body elongated further and he managed to secure the guard's gun. At Juni's insistent urging, he gave it to her, and she immediately started adjusting it.

"What are you doing?!"

"Need the stun setting, if it has one... Yes... That should work..." She glanced at the gun nervously, before turning it around to face herself and holding it against the central clasp securing her straps. "No, don't say anything...! I know this is a stupid thing to do, but it's the only option...!" Finally, she fired the gun directly into the clasp, and with a fizzing sound the locking mechanism deactivated and the clasp opened.

She was free.


To say that the pilot was busy would be putting it mildly, but at long last he was starting to regain control of the shuttle - the impacts themselves had in fact served to propel the vehicle away from the epicentre of the danger zone - Now, at last, he could stop to consider. He let out a breath, not realising he had been holding it in till now.

That was when he noticed the gun at the side of his head.

"You..." said Juni, "are going to do exactly what I tell you..."


Nic Haryl woke with a start, heart thumping, as his face slid off the cradle formed by his hand and slammed onto the table - Groggy, head aching and hand now in blood-deprived agony, he looked around the dimly-lit detention area of Revenant, his predicament slowly coming back to him with the inevitable sinking sensation accompanying it.

His life was over. No, worse. His career was over.

He realised he was not alone, and turned to see a silhouetted figure in the doorway. Expecting to see Darvin or one of the young women he apparently crewed his ship with, he felt suddenly very cold at the revelation of who this actually was.

The Mutoid moved into the light, and stared at him silently for what seemed like several minutes but was actually only that many seconds.

"What do you want...?" he demanded. It was meant to sound defiant, even imposing, but came out in a kind of croaky squeak. "What do you want?" he asked again.

No reply.

"I'm supposed to be afraid, is that it...? Well, forget it... Darvin...? Forget it! Your pathetic techniques won't work on me...! Do you hear me, Darvin?!"

The Mutoid replied. "Come" was all it said.


"What the hell is this...?" Haryl was still questioning the Mutoid as it practically dragged him along the service corridor, vice-like grip on his arm. "What are you trying to pull?"

The mutoid stopped, and if he didn't know better he would genuinely have thought it was confused by his question. "I am... pulling you..." it said expressionlessly. "Our destination is the flight-deck of this vessel. Your cooperation is required."

"Is this something to do with the turbulence...? I know Darvin is undisciplined, but I seem to remember he was at least a capable pilot."

"The ship is in danger. You are in danger. Is this motivation sufficient?"

He wanted to laugh. He wanted to so much. So he did laugh, and was sure the Mutoid arched a single eyebrow slightly in response. "You're saying... you need my help... Mine...?"

"Yes."

"Well... How can I refuse...? Lead on..."


"All this could be yours" said Brintun,

"All this is mine" Servalan replied.

Brintun led Madame Orella - No, Servalan now, again and always - through the main hub of Galaxy City. The civilian population had been locked away in designated safe areas, for their own protection of course, and an eerie silence prevailed despite the number of armed men and women present.

He offered a rare smile, watery and off-putting. "You are certainly unique" he mused.

"How I wish I could say the same for you."

He stopped, heels squealing on the smooth floor as he turned to face her. "Has it occurred to you-?"

"-If it has occurred to you, probably."

"...That it might really best serve your interests for us to work together...? That our interests are not incompatible."

"You think not?"

"What you have built here is enormously impressive, and we have no intention of taking it away from you. You must understand that what we cannot have is a potential harbour for our enemies just as we expand our interests"-

-"And I am no longer one of those enemies, I take it."

"You never were. President Scarn was among those who voted against your arraignment."

"And used his considerable influence to make sure others followed suit- Oh... No, he didn't go quite that far, did he...?"

"Avalon was powerful, then. She dominated the provisional council. That has not been the case for many years." He tried another tack. "As a politician, you are without peer in our times... We recognise that. We want you on our side. We can make you more powerful than you ever were merely as President of the Federation." He moved a little closer. "Join us, Servalan." She noticed absently the droplets of sweat falling from his face onto the floor at his feet, and even onto his highly-polished boots. "Join us" he said again.


Darvin, Rissa and Caul found themselves being led along somewhat circuitous routes by their captors - Darvin and Rissa at least recognised that, and exchanged glances - Something was up, all right. Ramm's guards had been doing a lot of urgent, quiet talking into their comms, and getting more and more rattled.

They heard gunfire in the distance, and Darvin's ears perked up. "Hello hello..." he mused. Rissa smiled faintly.

"Hello hello..." Caul replied quietly, not sure what he was doing but trusting Darvin.

"I thought the fight was over..." said Rissa. "Sounds like they're having trouble." She tensed as two of the guards closed in on them, guns leveled.

"Come with us..." they demanded.

"I thought that's what we were already doing..." said Darvin. "Make your mind up, lads. Pick a route and stick with it..." he leaned closer to one of them. "Tell you what... One time offer only... I'll lead the way, and nobody, but nobody, needs to know you got yourselves lost in your own city... Can't say fairer than that, can I...?"

"Step back..." the guard said in a low voice.

"Certainly" said Darvin, seizing his gun and knocking him out with it before firing off one shot and tossing the gun to Rissa. She fired several more shots, and at the end of the salvo the few guards left standing were running for cover. A couple of them climbed over the edge of the gantries and dropped to the floor below, probably injuring themselves in the process.

"You should have taken the offer..." Caul informed the remaining guards as they surrendered, making Rissa laugh, though her gun-arm stayed steady as a rock.

Darvin had no time for that, however. "What's happening out there?" he asked them, stony-faced. They looked at each other sheepishly.

"There's fighting..." one of them said. "Not UniS, they're under attack too, same as us. We're getting conflicting reports... It's like... there's someone else here... Someone we weren't expecting..."

"All right, Darvin, we need to move..." said Rissa, calm and professional. "Shall I kill these traitors...? Please say yes."

"Leave them to this mysterious enemy" said Darvin. "Caul, you look like you want to say something. You got an opinion, I want to hear it - I promise you it won't be taken lightly."

"Just a feeling..." Caul said. "Something about this... It's familiar..."

Darvin nodded grimly, but realised they had been standing there too long. "Let's talk and walk" he said, and led the way. Rissa walked backwards behind them, keeping the guards covered till they were out of sight.


Juni stared at the forward viewer of the shuttle flight-deck, trying for the sake of the pilot to look more certain than she actually was. What to do...? Go back to Galaxy City...? Not while it was in lock-down.

"Now..." she said decisively. "Power down. Everything but life-support. Make us seem like just another piece of debris." She watched as the fragments drifted past. "I doubt we'll be noticed among all this." Holding the captured gun against the pilot's head, she added "Just that, nothing else. Then stay quiet... You understand...?"

Content with the brief terrified nod received in reply, she returned to the passenger section, and stopped short - Faal turned to her hurriedly, almost guiltily, dropping the body of one of the guards. The man was clearly dead. "What happened?"

Faal stood up and moved over to her. "I sometimes forget how fragile you are."

"Me?"

"Humans." He rubbed at his hands as if trying to remove some stain only he could see. "I needed to know."

"What?"

"Why they wanted us."

"Wanted you, you mean... It isn't exactly the biggest mystery why UniS would want the last Clone Master in their custody."

"Last...?" he pondered. "I wonder."

Juni's eyes widened. "What did you find out...?" He did not reply, but the intense look in his eyes was like nothing she had seen there before.

He turned away, and she stood awkwardly for a few seconds longer. "I... need to get back to the cockpit" she finally said, and if Faal heard her he gave no sign of it.


"Yeah, I noticed the white-robed guys..." said Darvin, thinking on what Caul had told him even as he unwrapped the bundle Rissa had just handed to him. She kicked the hidden compartment closed and accepted the object Darvin handed her before putting it on her wrist. Soon, all three wore Revenant's teleport bracelets, and Darvin re-wrapped the spares. "It's definitely the same ones who took over your planet...?"

"Not likely to forget them" said Caul. "It's them all right. Here, I'll take that..." He took the bundle from Darvin so both he and Rissa were free to use their guns.

Rissa looked at the bracelet on her wrist. "We're still here, Darvin" she said dubiously. "Really glad this plan of yours depends so much on the Mutoids. Just wanted to tell you that."

"Plan is overstating it a bit" said Darvin. "But Revenant wasn't in the bay, so just give them a chance... They'll come through."


The three of them were reforming in Revenant's teleport bay before Darvin had entirely finished that sentence, and they found themselves feeling disoriented and not a little nauseous. But there was no time for that, so they stepped down off the dais in a hurry. "Three...!" Darvin greeted their crewmate exuberantly. "Thank you, and what kept you...? Not necessarily in that order."

"Delays were unavoidable" said Three impassively. "Nonetheless, if it serves you... My apologies."

"No apologies, Three... You did good." The four of them strode quickly along the main service corridor to the flight-deck and through the doors, hesitant and noisy in their opening as ever. Darvin and the others stopped short for a second at the sight that met their eyes when they stepped through.

"Captain on the deck...!" said Haryl, turning in his seat. "Captain Darvin, sir, the ship is yours." There was only a slight hint of mockery. "I stand relieved."

Darvin moved forward, declining to offer Haryl a reply. He spoke to the two Mutoids instead. "Why's he here?"

"There was an unforeseen obstacle to reaching orbit" said Three. "An additional crewmember was required... My apologies."

"Initiative, girls...?" considered Darvin as he took up the main flight position. "I'm impressed. I really am. There's hope for you yet."

"So what happens to me...?" Haryl asked. "Back to detention...?"

"Actually, no..." said Darvin, half-concentrating on fixing the navigational interface in place of his hand. "We can't spare anyone to guard you... So, here you stay."

"Well..."

"But make no mistake... We're at war now, and... Put it this way. Give me the smallest reason, and now I wouldn't hesitate to kill you. Not for a moment. Clear...?"

Haryl's face looked resigned. "You're welcome" he said wryly.


Mara stepped through the doorway even before it had quite fully formed, and did not see it solidifying behind her, forming into a hexagonal portal in a wall composed of smooth black metal lined with strips of silver paneling. She was already focused on the small chamber ahead... An alcove with a comfortable-looking bed designed for a human, a table, chairs, storage spaces built into the walls - Everything needed for her immediate comfort. Except her freedom.

There was no other door, and behind her only the chaotic neutral space of the forming interior of the ship. "Well..." she said. "This is an improvement. Thank you."

"Confirmed" the disembodied voice answered, as the room trembled slightly. Had something impacted on the hull...?

"What was that...?" she demanded.

"Greater specificity is required."

"Are we in combat?" There was no reply, and she found herself speaking to the ceiling as she had in the testing centre back on Pelios. "Test..." she pondered. "Was that a test back there? Was I being examined...?" She spun around. "I've been wondering where your crew is, but... Am I your crew...? Answer me...! Am I...? Computer... Who am I?"

"Blake is recognised."

She closed her eyes and breathed out slowly. "Are you programmed to obey me?"

"Blake is recognised." Had she imagined that, or did the dispassionate voice really have a slight reticent, resigned quality to it now?

"Is Avon recognised?" She got no answer to that, but pressed on. "Is Orac?" She paused for a moment, and came to a decision. "Take me to them."

"This course of action is not advised."

"Are you programmed to obey me or not...? Blake is recognised, you said. I am Blake."

"Confirmed."

"Blake requires Avon... Take me to him. Now."

Conflicting orders... Analysing... Reconciliation possible... Recalculating... New parameters accepted... Designated crewmember assembly delayed. Processing data... Confirmed.


One moment the alien was on their scopes, and looming large on the monitors of Leviathan's bridge - The next, it was gone. Scanner operators hurriedly reviewed their footage to ascertain exactly how and when it had disappeared.

"What...?!" Admiral Zanso exploded. "Pursue! Pursue...!" For good measure he bellowed "Pursue!"

"Sir..." said the First Lieutenant. "The other ships of the squadron are experiencing difficulties disengaging. Estimate an hour to be fully clear of the debris field."

"It doesn't matter..." said Zanso, a gleam in his eye. A rushing in his ears and a tingling throughout his body that he had not experienced in years. Certain, for the first time in so long that he was, at that moment, exactly where he belonged. "That ship, wherever it is going, is ours... At all costs, we do not lose it. Pursue!"


(Relevant extracts follow from the annals of the August Siblinghood of Morphenniel; Data adjunct 777X - Key undocumented events: Extrapolation of available data by use of quantum algorithms)

...

The 3rd century of the 2nd calendar

...

95th year

(Probable meeting of representatives of Erno Scarn, President For Life of the Ten Planets of the Proxima system, with the fugitive Kerr Avon. Balance of probability places this account within acceptable margin of reality - Presented, for ease of data absorption, in prose style)

"You're late."

"You were early. I am essential to this meeting; without me, it has no purpose; you, I dare speculate, are of relatively little importance in the broader scheme of things; therefore, you were early."

The other man, one of President Scarn's private security force, stood back, cowed somewhat despite himself even as Avon submitted to a cursory patting down. He found a weapon, but Avon blocked him before he could remove it. "We said no weapons."

"And I assumed you weren't serious."

"I'm not letting you in there with that."

"Then farewell." Avon turned to exit back the way he came along the gloomy tunnel.

"Wait...! Honestly, you have to leave the weapon behind."

"No."

"But... why not...?" It was standard procedure... Didn't he know that...?

"Because I might want to use it."

"What's happening...?" the voice crackled from his comm-set.

"He's here... He won't cooperate."

"You surprise me."


"There you are at last." Brintun had made himself as comfortable as was possible in the control room of the old blast shelter, and tried to appear unconcerned. The copious sweating, made all the more obvious by the harsh emergency lighting, did not assist him in that aim.

"Here I am, yes indeed..." Avon said casually, and when Brintun waved him to one chair, he brought a different one forward and sat down. "What guarantee do I have I'll be getting out of here...?"

"The same guarantee I have. Our mutual goodwill... Oh, very well then, our mutual interests."

"I very nearly didn't bother coming here, you know. Not exactly a promising start."

"I understand. A proper relationship has to start somewhere, however, and at some point we had to meet face to face."

"Have you brought it...?"

"It...? I'd have thought him... And I wouldn't have thought myself prone to anthropomorphise. Orac is quite a toy... but alas a quite unresponsive one..."

"Not a toy."

"...But perhaps a little bulky and impractical for the field, from what I'm told. Naturally we will want access... Part of the price."

"Part of it?"

"For what you ask...? Not just a new identity... You see, you're not just a dead man, Avon, you're perhaps the most famous dead man among a whole species that has just become significantly more dead than it was before... That is quite a feat."

"I'd say... second most famous, wouldn't you...? I've always tried to stay in the background... relatively speaking."

"And, naturally enough, you don't just want a new identity, but significant remuneration for all your... efforts over the years."

"Naturally. I call it compensation. You think I planned my life this way...? Well, it's not over yet, and I plan to spend the rest of it very comfortably indeed."

"And who could blame you?"

Avon's head turned a little to the side. "You'd be surprised."

"I do wish we could find some quick and easy way toward mutual trust, you know... It would make this whole thing so much easier..."

"I'm sure."

"Always awkward... That's why it's usually best not to bother." Brintun raised his hand and signaled, and another man emerged from the alcove where he had been hiding. He carried his burden, a large object shrouded in a cloth, over to a table and put it down before withdrawing. Avon looked unconcerned, as if all this had nothing to do with him, but his hand never strayed far from the concealed weapon.

"And I never got you anything" he mused.

Brintun's glasses caught the light, making him more inscrutable than ever. He wandered over and removed the cloth, coughing at the resulting dust. "Well well... Hello, Orac..."

Orac was revealed, the little transparent box silent and dark, scuffed and battered from years of misadventure. Such a basically unimpressive device, but for Brintun it seemed to have an uncanny presence in the room. Not so much the object, but the possibilities it represented... Old it might be, but its capabilities were still unsurpassed. He who held Orac held the balance of power... and now he held Orac.

"Activate it."

"Are you sure you want me to do that?"

"Whatever you had planned, I advise you to forget it..." Brintun said calmly, as his man pointed a gun at Avon. The other one from the tunnel came in to join him, his gun also ready. "However you planned this, you must trust me when I say, it's going to go somewhat differently... Oh, don't worry, that comfortable life that means so much to you... That needn't be impossible, even now... President Scarn rewards those who serve him."

"I never was one for servitude."

"Then you shall have to be more flexible." The guard carefully extracted Avon's gun from its holster and took it away, keeping his own weapon trained. "Now" Brintun continued. "The key."

"What key?"

"Don't try my patience."

"Oh, you mean this key..." said Avon with a broad grin, pulling out Orac's activation device. "You should have said." Still grinning, he dropped it on the ground and stamped on it. Under Brintun's astonished gaze, the grin vanished, and the eyes became cold.

Brintun took no chances at that point. "Kill him!"

A shot rang out... and the guard with whom Avon had argued in the tunnel toppled over, dead. Brintun whirled round to stare questioningly at the other man - What...?

Wait a moment... That wasn't what he had looked like earlier...

The other guard, tall and thin with a shock of curly hair starting to go grey, grinned rather more warmly than Avon had, and kept Brintun covered. "Good evening..." he said. "I advise you not to move..."

"You know I don't like that face" said Avon, stepping forward to make sure Brintun wasn't carrying any weapons of his own.

"Why do you think I wear it so much?" teased his companion.

"Make sure there are no more of them... Tarrant."

"Your wish is my command, Avon... Hang on, I think I might have slipped somewhat out of character there..."

The Inquisitor-general had extrapolated a graceful ageing process for Del Tarrant, and the grin was still boyish - until, all of a sudden, it vanished. "My first kill... With my own hands, that is... I thought I would feel... something..." He glanced at Brintun. "But it was easy. No problem at all." He turned and walked away.

Brintun just waited. This reversal had taken him totally aback, but he was still alive and that was somewhat promising. He glanced down at Orac's key. "Fake, I suppose."

"Real."

"Then why...?"

"Real, but superfluous. Orac has moved on." He indicated the transparent box, which as if in response to his gesture, lit up and started ticking over. "That is, as you quite correctly say, impractical. So much better to be in the ether..."

"Your use of such peculiarly primitive terminology..." fussed Orac, "...is hardly descriptive, but if the object is to render an enormously complex process simple enough for a particularly feeble organic brain to comprehend, it may indeed be sufficient."

"Put even more simply..." said Avon, "Orac has been away for a while. But now he is back, and he will be watching. On my behalf."

"If more pressing tasks will allow..." Orac added.

"You won't be able to see him", continued Avon, "but he will always be there. Watching. And if I don't like anything he sees, I will be coming for you. Do you understand...?"

"I think I do, now..."

"Well, make sure it becomes just as clear to Scarn. You may keep the box, as a souvenir... Don't bother looking for me. If you do, I'll know. You look like you want to ask a question - What is it?"

"Your associate said that was his first kill. So what happened to the man he replaced?"

"I killed that one" Avon replied. "And it wasn't my first."

"I see."

"And..." said Avon, "I didn't feel anything either."

...

(Extracts concluded. Exiting backdoor... Deleting data retrieval signets... Deleted)


Galaxy City

"So, you have it now..." said Brintun, laying a moist hand on the box that used to permanently house Orac. He turned to Servalan, who was obtaining a drink on the other side of the suite. "If we'd known it would end up in your hands, we'd have placed some kind of homing device on it. And found you sooner..."

"Not much sooner... Orac wasn't easy to come by. And impossible to activate - Now I understand why... He left it with you...?"

"As a mark of contempt, presumably. We wanted Orac, so he gave it to us... In a manner of speaking."

"You've seen him more recently than I have..." she mused. "That I did not expect. I'm almost jealous..."

Brintun frowned. "Why?"

"Never mind." She wandered around the room. "All this time... All the effort it has taken to build this place, to build the alliances necessary to maintain it... To build the trust... To build loyalty... The most difficult part... All of it for nothing, without him..."

"What do you mean...?"

"I mean, he is necessary to me."

"You've been looking for him...?"

She nodded. "With some limited progress... I put my very best people on it. Then recently, something of a breakthrough..." She turned to him. "I have spent fifteen years searching for Avon..."

"So have we..."

She looked at him with an intense look in her eyes. "And now we've found him..."

"We...?

She nodded again, after only a slight hesitation. "We."

He breathed out. "Well, of course, that only changes things up to"- He stopped as she activated a viewscreen and punched up a set of coordinates.

"The operations centre finished triangulating Orac's signal just before I lost touch with them..." she said. "Your handiwork, I assume. That last broadcast was the missing piece of the puzzle, it seems. Almost like it was timed deliberately, wouldn't you say...?" She smiled faintly. "An invitation, perhaps."

"Avon" Brintun breathed. He peered at the coordinates, and snorted his amusement. "That, I never expected. I wonder if he has been there all along, right in our"-

-"He gave you very good advice, you know... not to look for him. He will kill you if you make him. Never doubt it."

"And you...?"

"Kill me...?" She smiled in a way he found curiously difficult to interpret. "I wonder... It has always been an enticing possibility..."


The operations centre of Galaxy City was as silent as the hub, but even more unbearably tense. The operations staff manning the banks of consoles found themselves huddled around their monitor screens, more focused than ever, trying to pretend everything was normal. Terrified of making the wrong move. Trying not to look at the bodies on the floor.

The bodies of Ramm's security men, plus a couple of UniS troopers. The first to seize control of ops today, but not the last.

The staff made even more of an effort not to look at the white-robed figures standing over them, bladed weapons unsheathed and some still stained with blood. Miko leaned forward, the loose sleeves of his bloodied robe brushing against the main console. "Can you reach the Unified Systems flagship on this...?" he demanded. Receiving a terrified nod, he looked pleased. "Show me."


The takeover was not quite bloodless, but it was quick. Ramm's security, and even the rather better trained UniS personnel, were taken entirely by surprise when the threat emerged in the last place they would ever have expected it.

The civilians.

Only one in a hundred, probably - Considerably less perhaps, but the element of surprise was theirs. Months of infiltrating Galaxy City paid off very quickly as, without warning, the sleeper agents threw off their assumed personas and turned in efficient and deadly fashion to the task they had been assigned.

At first they were unarmed - Surprise, plus their proficiency in unarmed combat, gave them enough time to seize weapons - In no time at all, the upper hand belonged to them. Before much longer, so did the safe areas. After that, the hub.

Just like Pelios, just like so many places across the inhabited galaxy, Galaxy City fell to the Children of Light.


On its approach to Galaxy City, DSV-A1 had been cautious - slow, silent and, till the very last moment, unnoticed... Now was very different. Suddenly it was there, occupying space that had been empty immediately before, shining resplendent in the reflected light of the star known as Sol.

Force wall activated, scanners in operation... Local threats nil... Scanning approach vectors... Scanning... Vigilance to be maintained... The alien ship, with its one passenger, settled into synchronous orbit.

Above Earth.


"She's coming..." said Vila, or rather the Inquisitor-general in the shape of Vila. "Better make myself scarce."

"What are you so afraid of?" inquired Avon, as they both watched the image of DSV-A1 in orbit high above.

"Do I have to narrow it down?" replied Vila, and moved away into the shadows. Avon smiled.

"So, there you are..." he said to himself. "Here we are, again..." He switched the image off, and was plunged into darkness for a few seconds before the lab's main lighting kicked back in. "Well, Blake... One last try...?"

A 90s movies story


Previously: Wise Guys



Have you ever wondered why Casey Jones wasn't in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze? Not really? Well, let's find out anyway...



Masterless the Ronin may be, but duty to his host, however temporary, is paramount. Even at the cost of his life...

- Saying attributed to Miyamoto Musashi - *





Chapter 1: What Casey Did Next


"Where is it..?!"

Agent Green was new to the department. He also wasn't really called Green, but that came with the territory. Change of name, change of pace, change of everything.

"Where is it..?!" The voice was just that little bit more insistent.

Agent Brown had been with the department a long time. So he conducted the interrogation while Agent Green watched. The woman didn't look very tough, in fact she looked perfectly ordinary, apart maybe from her bright green eyes, but her ability to stand up to Agent Brown was highly unusual.

"Where is it..?!"

Agent Green didn't even know what this was all about. That was how classified it was. He knew one thing, however. This wouldn't last much longer. He didn't really know how he felt about that. He supposed he would find out soon. Certainly, his psych evaluation said he was ready, or he wouldn't be here.

"We will find them." Agent Brown's voice was ice-cold. The woman looked back at him steadily.

"Be careful what you wish for," she said.

"Leave the room," Agent Brown muttered. Agent Green realized with a start that he meant him, and hurriedly obeyed.

Outside in the corridor, he closed the door behind him. The room was heavily sound-proofed, but even through the thick walls and reinforced door he heard the single gunshot.


Casey Jones was far from home, wherever home was these days. He was a Brooklyn boy, but that no longer felt like home. Lately, he had been spending a lot of time in Manhattan, of all places, but you know what; that didn't feel much like home either. The place that had come closest of late was a run down old dump out in the middle of nowhere - It wasn't the place that counted so much. It was the people.

The people, and the talking animals... Yeah, life had taken a strange turn.

He straightened up unsteadily on his bar stool and squinted at the name of the place where it was written in conveniently big letters on the wall. Goat Head Bar. OK. Right now, this was home, and that fact gave him a warm fuzzy glow inside. Admittedly that could just as easily be the beer, but so what?

He looked over at the man sitting next to him. "So where was I?"

The man was about forty-five or fifty and had a face that looked like it was carved from granite, but the overall effect was kind and trustworthy. Faded check shirt and jeans, couple of days' stubble. He nursed a bottle of beer that clearly wasn't his first of the evening, and turned to face Casey with eyes that didn't really focus too well. He paused a long time, to give the question all the thought it needed.

"The garbage truck," he said at last. "You'd just crushed Darth Vader in the back of a garbage truck."

"No, man, it wasn't actually Darth Vader..." Casey berated him. "I just said the guy kinda reminded me of Darth. OK..? You with me..?"

The man gave him permission to continue with a slight wave of his hand.

"OK... Uh... The guys moved out of their old place, you know, they kinda had to, 'cause all the bad guys weren't exactly accounted for. The boss man was gone, definitely gone, I mean, no way anybody was surviving that, right..? But they still had lots of enemies, and some of them knew where they lived. Bummer, right..? So they shacked up with April while they looked for a new pad. She'd just got this new place, thanks to some serious hardballing with her boss... You remember, her old place got burnt down...

Man, stay awake..! Stay with me, man... We're gonna get through this..."


It was the day after April's birthday. She got home from what had been a fairly trying day at Channel 3 to find - to her relief, much as she loved them - most of her temporary lodgers absent, with only Raphael slumped on the couch watching TV. "They're getting the rest of our stuff," he had offered in explanation, and Master Splinter was in the box room asleep. Or meditating - it was difficult to tell.

Then there was Casey, who had shown up not long after. With her present. A frank exchange of views soon developed.

"You guys..." Raphael called, interrupting the flow of their conversation. "I can't hear the commentary."

Distracted, Casey pushed hair back from his face. "Uh, do you mind, Raph...? We're trying to have an argument here..."

"Uh, no. Go right ahead."

"Seriously, though..." April continued, pale grey eyes flashing dangerously. "I mean, I don't wanna seem ungrateful... But... What the heck... For my birthday, a bat...? We agreed, yeah, it's early days, we don't even have to do the gift thing... But... A bat...?"

"A bat...?" piped up Raphael, head snapping round. "Cool..! What do you feed it..? Could I look after it when you're on vacation..?" As Casey and April looked at him steadily, his head started to retreat involuntarily into his shell. "Sorry... Yikes."

April smiled at him, calming down. "Not that kinda bat, Raph." She went behind the breakfast bar, pulled out the offending object and hefted it. "A cricket bat." Noticing something, she fingered the edge with a frown, noting the little notches. "A used cricket bat... Nice, Casey. You know, sometimes, you're just a little too slick, you know what I mean...?"

"Hey..." Casey held out his hand with index finger raised. "I guarantee that bat has never once been used..." He paused for a moment, visibly thinking. "To play cricket." As April shook her head at him and then moved over to the spiral stairs, bat in hand, he shrugged expansively. "Hey..!" He looked round as if to appeal to Raphael for support. "C'mon..!"

"I'm not here," said Raph.

April stopped halfway up, and leaned on the balustrade. "Hey, I suppose I'm lucky you took the trouble to wipe the muggers' brains off it before giving it to me, huh..?" She seemed about to add something and thought better of it. Continuing up the stairs to the mezzanine level above, she vanished from view. "Good night!"

"Good night, April!" Raphael called.

Casey stood there in silence for several seconds. Looking round. Looking up. Looking to the door, then to the window. Over at Raph. All the time seeming to be about to say something. "You wanna patrol the neighborhood?" he called over. "Then maybe grab a jar...?"

Raphael took a few seconds to consider. "Sure," he replied. Jumping to his feet, he grabbed his long coat and hat and joined Casey en route to the window opening onto the fire escape. "Hey... Was that your cricket bat you gave April..?"

"Yeah."

"That's your favorite."

"Yeah..." Casey said quietly. "You know what, I'm glad somebody gets it..."


Casey shook his new friend awake when he started slumping onto the bar. "Hey, wake up. You'll get us thrown out. Uh, where was I..?"

The man straightened his back with an audible crack, and searched for the non-existent watch he seemed to expect to see on his wrist. "What time is it..?"

"Say, will you quit interrupting...?" said Casey. "I'm getting to a good bit... Y'know, the bit where I'm all sensitive and stuff."


April and Casey sat on the roof of the apartment building at night, side by side on foldout chairs. "So what was it you wanted to say..?" asked Casey.

"I think that might be my line." April pushed a lock of brown, slightly curly hair behind her ear and looked at him levelly, dark eyes wide... Yeah, dark... He couldn't help it, it bothered him... Didn't they used to be...? Didn't she used to be...?

Oh yeah, she was expecting him to respond... "Well, yeah, maybe... I guess, it works for either of us, right..? I mean, it's all..." He shrugged, and looked out over the sea of lights.

"All what...?"

"I mean, we don't do this enough... It's like one of us has to make an appointment." That sounded right, didn't it...? It was even true. He had avoided mentioning the other thing. His unease, the sudden weirdness... The difference, that nobody but him seemed to be able to see...

"Yeah, I suppose... OK, I think I see where this is heading..." April breathed. "We know who the busy one is here..."

"I was thinkin'a heading off," Casey said abruptly - April looked at him again, curious, almost offended that he had said something she hadn't seen coming.

"Where?"

"Just around." He shrugged again. "Time to think, y'know..? Travel round, see some different sights for a while."

"Break some different bad guy heads...?" There was a hint of a smile as she said that.

"Y'know me real well." He stood up and wandered over toward the edge of the roof slowly, before turning back to face her. "Maybe... Maybe this is all we got."

"What does that mean...?"

"I mean, uh... At first, we were pretty tight, yeah...? I mean, once we got over you not liking me and stuff..."

"Is that what you?"-

-"And then we had some great times... Still do... We get on great, don't we...? But..."

"I get you. Maybe we're..." Different...

"Friends. Yeah." Different...

"Just friends." April pondered. They both considered that, neither of them wanting to be the one to confirm it one way or the other. Casey turned round to look out at the city. "Casey..."

"Yeah...?"

"Thanks for the cricket bat."

"You never know when that kind of thing'll come in handy."

"I know."

"I mean, this is a dangerous city sometimes, even at the best'a' times... But we got other stuff goin' on, so for us, all bets are kinda off..."

"Casey. I get it. I do actually get it now. Thank you."

He thought about that for a moment, face gradually relaxing into a smile. "Hey, uh... You know... You're welcome." He seemed to reach a decision, and moved back over to her and sat down on the chair again, searching the pockets of his jeans and jacket. "Uh... Yeah, here it is..."

Producing a faded piece of paper, crumpled and curled at the edges, he handed it to her. April looked at it, nonplussed, peering at the faded writing. "Uh, Casey... You, uh, shouldn't have... What is it...?"

"I'm coming back. I mean, you know that anyway, right? I'm definitely coming back. But this kinda shows you I really mean it. You know I got that bike, yeah...?"

"Uh, yeah... Honda, right...?"

"Well, I pawned it months ago... Every time I get the green together I got just enough to stop Lou selling it..."

"Oooohhh... Kaaayyy..."

"So you can keep this for me till I get back."

April smiled faintly. "OK."

"Just, uh, don't lose it, alright...?" He stood up again.

"You got it." She stood up and they hugged briefly. "Be safe."

"Likewise." He started walking away, and turned back again. "Hey, uh, I'm sorry I"-

-"I'm sorry I said you needed to grow up," she interrupted.

"Hey, uh..." he smiled sheepishly.

"Although..." she said, eyes narrowed, folding her arms against the sudden chill breeze. "Maybe it would help."

"Yeah..." He waved and jumped onto the fire escape, and was away.

April stood there a few minutes longer, then seemed to notice the ticket in her hand for the first time. She looked at it thoughtfully, then shook her head as if to dismiss the idea forming in her mind.


"So your girlfriend is actually a different person now from when you met...? Did I understand that right...? Or did you mean she's changed so much she's like a different person...?"

"Man, did I really tell you that...? You know, that's like, the ultimate no go. I haven't even started figuring that out yet..."

"It's always about a girl..." the guy said, with a wistful look, as he and Casey crossed the parking lot of the Goat Head.

"Yeah, I suppose..." Casey knew something was wrong as he approached his old beaten-up car. Even under the poor quality artificial light, he could tell it looked a lot more beaten-up than usual. As he got closer, he could see one door ripped open. Practically hanging off, in fact.

"No...!" he called, running toward it. "No!" he added. "No..." he said quietly, resigned to the truth.

"Sorry..." his new friend said. "What'd they take...?"

Casey had a look inside. "Well, I ain't got much to start with, really, but what I did have was kinda important to me... Yeah, they took my, uh, stuff..."

"Stuff?"

What the hell. "My, uh, weapons. I had a bag of weapons." The guy raised an eyebrow at that, but that was the full extent of his reaction.

"Weapons, huh...?"

"Yeah. Well, sports stuff. No guns. I don't do guns. Don't worry, I'm not weird or anything... Well, I suppose I am, but no more than most people, you know...?"

"I'm not judging."

"Well, it's gonna be a drafty night."

"You're sleeping in there?"

"I wasn't planning on driving anywhere, after all those beers..."

"Got a couch you could use..." the guy said. "I'm in the trailer park, ten minutes walk..."

Casey considered. "...OK..." he said at last. "Thanks." He closed the door, ignoring the grinding sound it made, and secured it as best he could, so that it at least looked from a distance like it was closed. Then he followed the guy up the road.

"I'm Casey," he said. "Sorry, I never caught your handle."

"Gabe."

"Your wife be OK with me crashing...?"

"No wife. Not any more. Just me and my gal."

"Daughter?"

"Yeah."

Had Casey retained sharper wits, he might have been a little suspicious that Gabe had gone from being very drunk to completely sober pretty fast. But then he wouldn't really have been him.


Casey would have stretched out on the couch if he could, but as a relatively tall guy it was far too short for that. He made do with stretching out his upper body and curling his legs up. They could take a turn being straight out later. That seemed fair.

No. No good. There was still something making him uncomfortable. Irritably, he reached under the cushions and his hand encountered something solid. Wooden. He pulled out the baseball bat, and grinned. "Old school" he said contentedly. "Nice."

He held out the bat to assess its quality and was startled to find someone standing there in the cramped main room of the trailer looking at him. A girl, a teen, with dyed black hair and strikingly green eyes.

"Hi," Casey said, frozen in place.

"Hi," the girl said after a long pause. There followed an even longer pause.

"Your dad let me sleep here," Casey said.

"I know. I heard you talking."

"OK."

"Gabe's my stepdad. I'm telling you that 'cause it's a fact, I don't resent him or anything. He's really cool."

"...OK."

"Your name's Casey." It was a statement, not a question.

"It's what I'm called. I don't like my name, so I don't use it."

There was the faintest hint of a smile. "Me neither..."

"What do they-?" Casey stopped short as a shadow moved across the curtained window and running feet could be heard outside. Stealthy, but unmistakable. He was on his feet in an instant. Fortunately, he was still fully-clothed.

"OK," he said, "My instinct says we're in trouble, and I got good instinct... You guys expecting any visitors..?" He hefted the baseball bat and stood between the girl and the door.

"Not expecting..." the girl replied.

"OK..." Casey grinned. "Don't worry, you guys are lucky you got me... You got a crisis, I'm your guy... Quick, before this all goes down... What do I call you...?"-


-"Shadow," the voice said down the phone line. -"Operation Shadow is go..."




Chapter 2: The Hunters Remain the Hunters


The Turtles' lair, New York - 1990something...

"Hey! April showers bring May flowers! How're you doing...?" **

April looked askance at Casey for a moment. Casey. Not Whit. Whit was back in Japan, several centuries ago. Dead by now - Long dead. She tried not to think about that... Hey...! Casey's here!

"I get back from a very poor excuse for a vacation, and that's all you can say?" she quipped, trying her best to keep it light. The two of them leaned next to each other on Donatello's work bench so they could talk quietly.

"Hey, it's a poem!" he said mock-defensively.

"I thought it was a weather report... Anyway, I like you better without the beard."

"Beard?" Casey was confused.

"It's a long story."

"Well, I got time," he said. "I'm not going anywhere." Pointing at her, he added in a rush "Oh, yeah, and the shorter hair... It's..."

"Thanks," she replied casually. "So was yours." They were distracted as, for some reason which might remain forever mysterious, Master Splinter put a lampshade on his head. It was meant for Michelangelo's amusement, but it turned out they all found it pretty funny.

Eventually, Casey recovered enough to continue their conversation. "So, anyway, looks like the guys are doing some kinda dance routine now. Which is... a little weird, but that's OK... This, uh, vacation. Tell me more."

"I feel like I kinda got to see a new side to you," said April enigmatically, and Casey frowned. He looked like he was about to demand more info, then shrugged instead.

"OK."

"So, I've told you a little about my vacation... And believe me, you will get to hear all about it one of these days... When you least expect it. But what about your vacation...?"

"My, uh, vacation, huh?"

"Yeah. I, uh, didn't expect you to be gone so long... Casey, you've been gone eight months. You do realize that, right...?" - Casey nodded, and breathed in and out slowly, as April continued - "I mean, obviously, since you didn't call, I figured you'd been on ice somewhere."

"On ice..." he mused. "Yeah, I suppose you could say it like that."


Somewhere else, about 7 months earlier...

It all went so fast. That was the weird thing about it.

The first of the intruders edged his way into the trailer, seconds after Casey had turned out all the lights. It wasn't his fault the combat training hadn't covered this exact situation. There was no module titled "Resisted armed infiltration of a trailer"... OK, he was lying on the floor - Why was that? Ooowww... Maybe it had something to do with this lump on his head... He felt dizzy...

"Gabe!" a voice called. Gabe... That meant something. Kinda sounded familiar. "Gabe!" called the voice again.


"Stay there!" Casey stage-whispered to the girl, practically carrying her away from the trailer and into the darkness offered by the trees. Carrying her because she fought him tooth and nail - it was the fiercest fight he'd had in... Oh, at least a minute.

This is what you get when you try to help people.

Dumping her on the ground, Casey turned back toward the trailer. He stopped. Dammit! It was no use. They really did have the place surrounded now. Far too many of them. He looked down at the girl - She was looking at the trailer as well, and apparently coming to the same conclusions, her rage of a few moments ago pretty much forgotten.

"Hey, I tried, OK..." said Casey quietly. "I got no answer from Gabe..."

"I heard him..." she explained quietly. "He pretended to keep talking to me the whole time, so they'd think I was there... So they'd just go after him..." She put her head in her hands, and when she took them away again she was calm. Totally self-possessed in a way Casey found pretty surprising - Just what kind of stuff had this kid been through already...?

"We gotta get outta here..." said Casey with regret. "I'm comin' back for these guys, make no mistake, I'm comin' back, but right now we gotta get outta here..."

"True." Shadow turned and was walking away before he knew what was happening, and he hurried to catch up. Hey...! Just who was the grownup here...?

"Look..." he said to her as they walked. "I gotta know what's going on here... Who are those guys, and why are they after Gabe...?"

"Who said they were after Gabe...?"

"You saying they're after something else...?"

"Or someone."

"You?"

"One thing about you, Casey Jones, you really are as smart as you look."

"Listen to me, kid... What you don't know has a bad habit of getting you killed, that's my experience. Care to share the big secrets, huh...?"

"You've already seen what's wrong with the world, you just don't want to talk about it."

"Huh...? What's that supposed to mean?"

"Not sure you can handle it yet. Maybe someday."

"Gee... Uh, thanks."

"Did you read a lot as a child...?"

"Has anybody ever told you you're a strange kid?"

"It's relevant. You remember Benny the Elephant...?"

"It's Benjy the Elephant," Casey said automatically, accessing a part of his memory he didn't even know he had.

"Is it?"

"Yeah, it is. Benjy the damn Elephant... But what's that gotta do-?"

-"Will this thing actually get us anywhere?" she asked, looking askance at his wrecked car.

"It'll get us where we need to go," he responded defensively. "Don't you worry, OK..."

"I'm not worried," she said. "The problems we're facing are so huge, there's no point worrying."

"Great..." he said, picking out the last fragments of glass before carefully getting behind the wheel. "You're a real ray of sunshine, uh... Shadow."


"Sorry about all this. I hope my people weren't too rough, Mister uh..."

"Gabe. Just Gabe."

"Mister... Gabe." Agent Brown stepped out of the pool of light his prisoner sat in, and was momentarily lost in the deep shadows. His footsteps could be heard as he walked around, and then he suddenly thrust his face forward, becoming visible again. "We will find out your name, you know. It's just a matter of time."

"I wish you joy of it."

"Just how much do you know, I wonder...? Do you know about the people you're protecting...? Do you know just where they came from...?" Gabe murmured something in response, and Agent Brown, a little hard of hearing and very sensitive about it, leaned forward again. "I don't believe I heard you, sir. Could you speak up a little...?"

"He said they're family." The voice, that of Agent Green, came from outside the pool of light, and Brown scowled.

"Thank you..." he growled, and walked around the prisoner again. To his chagrin, Gabe was smiling to himself. "What's so amusing... Gabe...?"

"You are... No, don't take offense... You just don't understand, and you never will..."

"I believe it's you who doesn't understand, sir... The dangers these... travelers represent..."

"They never moved an inch..." Gabe said. "Most of 'em are in the same place they've always been. How can they be travelers...?"

"Gabe..." Green said quietly. "Tell us about your family."

"I, uh..." Gabe thought for a moment. "I lost them. Thought I did..."

"You did" Brown said brutally.

"Nothing prepares you..." said Gabe quietly. "Nothing. In the morning, I was a husband and a father. By nightfall, I was neither."

"I'm sorry, Gabe..." said Green.

"I'm sorry too..." said Brown. "If not for the accident that killed them, you wouldn't have been so vulnerable, such easy pickings for the invaders to prey upon..."

"They're not invaders...!" said Gabe, losing his cool for the first time.

"Tell us what happened..." suggested Green.

"Uh... A lot of times, I thought I saw one of them - You know, in the street, in the park... Anywhere... I had a therapist for a while, she said that was normal... But then... Then one day, I thought I saw them both... And..."

"And it was them."

"It wasn't them," Brown corrected them. "It was something that looked like them."

"There were differences..." said Gabe. "There were certainly differences, but in all important ways, it was them... It took a while before they would trust me, and even then it took a while before I could get my head around what they were telling me, but it was my wife and my daughter... They're not aliens, they're people... From a world so like our own that you'd struggle to find the difference..."

"The main difference..." said Brown "Is that their world is gone, and in clinging to ours, they'll make it go the same way."

"Listen..." said Gabe. "The way I understand it is this... There were walls protecting us, walls we couldn't see... Ever since the beginning... Walls that kept everything in its right place, and kept... Kept something else out. Whatever has happened, those walls are suddenly not doing their job, and there's people crossing over who don't even always know they've crossed... You really think you can track down all of them... What are you going to do with them...?"

Brown shot a warning glance in Green's direction, and leaned over Gabe again. "We'll protect our people - That's our people - as best we can, for as long as we can. Now... You said something about... keeping something else out. You didn't mean the beings you think of as your family... So just what did you mean...?"

"I don't know nothing."

Brown stared at him levelly, for a long time. "We'll see," he finally said.


"Hi... This is April... I can't come to the phone right now, as I've been kidnapped by a gang of ninja thieves as part of their feud with some friends of mine... not that I could talk anyway, with tape on my mouth...! So, I'm currently tied up in a junkyard, the Turtles are in a deep trance having their memories searched by an ancient demon who can control rats, and... oh, yeah, Master Splinter is missing, presumed dead after a run in with said demon... I think that about covers it... Wow, what a day, huh...?"

That wasn't the message on April's answerphone, although it would accurately have summed up her status at that moment - In fact, Casey just got no answer. He muttered in frustration, and slammed down the gas station's public payphone. He was sure April would have been able to help him with Shadow's weird cryptic clue... and maybe just with this whole situation generally. God, he missed her, even if...

Yeah, let's forget about that right now... One problem at a time... He turned, realizing that he hadn't seen the girl for several minutes, and he had vowed to himself - and to the absent Gabe, not that he would have heard - to keep her in sight... Where was she...?

"Hi..." she said, from right behind him, and he whirled round - "Whatcha doing...?"

"Uh... Making a phone call." He didn't like being thrown off balance like that, and he wondered how deliberate it had been. "Trying to make a phone call."

"Girlfriend...?"

"Well... Yeah... Kind of... I guess... It's complicated, you know."

"It's OK, you don't need to justify or explain anything to me... I was just curious."

"OK... Look, uh, I think we should keep moving... Maybe get you back to New York, and then I'll go see if I can help Gabe... Maybe, uh, take some friends with me... Those goons are not gonna know what's hit 'em when I get my posse together, know what I'm sayin'?"

"You can't."

"Say what...?"

"Don't look like that... I want to rescue Gabe, of course I do. But it isn't possible. Trust me. Where they've taken him isn't somewhere we can go."

"You, uh, speak for yourself, OK...? I can go anywhere I wanna... And I know we only just met, but Gabe is a friend of mine. That means I got his back, and as soon as I make sure you're safe, the way he'd want, I'm going after him."

She shook her head. "You don't understand."

"Y'think...? Maybe that's 'cause I ain't getting any explanations, I'm just gettin' some waffledygook about elephants..."

"Gobbledygook."

He pointed a warning finger, trying to look stern and failing. "I'm gonna pretend I didn't hear that."

"Come on..." she said. "We've been here a while now. It's time we moved on. It's possible they recognized you, and if they did, we got problems..."

"Yeah, OK..."

"We'll find a phone next place we stop. You can call April then."

"Yeah..." Casey stopped dead, and stared at her. "Hey, wait..."

Shadow turned to him, inwardly kicking herself, realizing how careless she had been. He hadn't mentioned her name...! He didn't know how important he was...! "What...?" she asked, still hopeful she could get away with it.

Casey grinned. "I nearly forgot to pay for the gas...! Be right back."


"What's that...?" Agent Green asked, frowning, as Agent Brown carefully unpacked the equipment case handed to him a moment earlier. He produced an unfamiliar device separated into three components and carefully slotted the components together.

"So, there's still something I know that you don't, huh...?" said Brown acidly. "Finally, after being repeatedly kicked up the ass, the tech guys have produced something to make our job a little easier..."

"A long-range detector..." Green concluded.

"That's right. Any n-particles within five miles, it'll tell us... As we get closer, it'll tell us more. With this, we'll find them."

"We'll find someone."

"Someone giving off n-particles. Which by definition is not a waste of our time... Think about it, though... That campsite had residual traces that were off the scale. Something major had gone down there."

"Probably not that girl. We have no evidence she's moved across more than one barrier."

"Then she's with somebody else who has." Brown smiled. "Whoever it is, we'll get both of them."



* This attribution is unlikely. It is now thought more likely to originate, no doubt for his own reasons, from the shamed daimyō Norinaga c.1590CE.

** Just a little bit of this - the first few lines - has been taken from a short deleted section of the ending of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, still there in the novelization.



Link to part 2

A 90s movies story, set between movies II and III


Previously: A Matter of Life and Strife





The Foot Clan had been away for a while, looked like for good... Then, just before the weekend of the rat invasion* - and boy, we all know where we were that weekend... Unless, like a lot of people, you can't remember it so good...

Uh... Yeah... Strange... Go figure...

Where was I... Oh yeah... So the word went out, among those of us who needed to know, and a few others beside... The Foot were back. That was too bad, but for New York's organized crime scene this sort of ebb and flow was fairly standard stuff. Always best to take the knocks, go with the flow... I certainly do...

What did send out a few shock waves was when a select invitation went out to a few key members of the, uh, how you say, criminal fraternity - *Heh* - Guilty as charged. Although, I should point out right away, this ain't admissible in court, and if it was, I ain't the one telling 'ya' all this...

Come and talk, it said. Now, the Foot Clan were a lot of things, but one thing they hadn't ever been up to now was talkers... Curiosity's a powerful thing...

That junkyard of theirs was guarded like some hidden fortress from the olden days... Nobody was getting into that place - Or, if they did, getting out wasn't gonna be so simple...

Lucky - or maybe lucky ain't so much the right word - we had a free pass... So, in we went. Invited guests.


Watched ominously by Tatsu, leader of the Foot Clan in New York, the visitors to the junkyard were mostly young and scruffily-dressed, though a couple were quite the opposite - Representatives of the city's crime Families, who had in the past learned to fear the Foot Clan. Now, though they knew the Foot were not at the top of their game any more, they were still wary when it came to entering the lion's den.

A workshop at the back of the yard was the venue for their meeting, and with his limited English Tatsu made use of one of his protégés as a mouthpiece - The guy was young, slick and, a lot of the guests found, kinda rubbed 'em the wrong way. They'd rather have heard what Tatsu had to say directly, however basic the vocabulary, so that was going against them for starters.

"Thank you for coming..." Freddy began, wide blue eyes cold and calculating. "Master Tatsu welcomes you, and appreciates that you have taken time to hear his proposals..."

"I ain't hearing no proposals so far, Michael Dudikoff..." said one of the criminals, a confident and very well-dressed gum-chewer in his thirties. "What's say we cut to the chase, huh...?"

"Of course..." Tatsu's representative cast a quick glance at his master, whose fixed scowl gave little away, and continued - "The Foot Clan is prepared to grant a limited autonomy to certain of our territories here in New York, and believes this offers a chance for us all to work together... So long as our rights are respected, the Foot is happy to take a more supervisory role than before, while direct running of these territories is a great opportunity for many of you"-

-"Hey..." Wiseguy interrupted, walking slowly around them, to Tatsu's obvious annoyance, "It's not that I don't appreciate the offer, and it's not like we don't have a few things in common - I mean, hey, I really dig yous guys' taste in decor, know what I'm sayin'...?"

He gestured toward the other side of the workshop, where a dark-haired young woman in black leather jacket and pants sat looking at them them warily - A hottie, most of them had decided when they entered the workshop. Clearly, though, she wasn't there by choice - She was held to her chair by lots of rope and gagged with a strip of tape. Obviously upset about her situation, but pretty calm, he thought, all things considered - watching them all and listening carefully.

No explanation was forthcoming from the Foot spokesman, and Wiseguy looked back at him and raised his eyebrows. Their business, he supposed, but he couldn't help but wonder what else the Foot had on their slate today. "Buuuut... I really am struggling to see why you guys are being so nice about this..." he went on - "'Less, the rumors we all been hearing are true... 'Bout you maybe not being as strong as you were. In fact, I heard you guys were totally washed up..."

He winked at the Foot's unfortunate prisoner before moving back toward Tatsu, and she turned her head away from him - Looks kinda familiar, he mused, and then it hit him - Oh yeah... that TV news reporter... "Sorry, and all..." he said, "but I gotta pass... No hard feelings, it's just you guys are still a little too much." He gestured again towards the young woman - April O'Neil, that was it! "I mean, I know we can't exactly take the moral high ground here, but we're businessmen. You guys let it all get too personal, maybe a little cruel..."

"Mmmmfff...!" April emphatically agreed, and Tatsu's scowl turned toward her menacingly - A Foot ninja standing by gripped her shoulder in warning, and she shot an angry look up at him. Wiseguy smirked a little, pleased to see her defy her captors - Miss O'Neil was Irish stock, of course, with a name like that, but he had thought she was a little bit Italian too, and now he was sure of it. Not quite enough for him to risk his neck, but definitely enough to root for her...

"That's very unfortunate..." said Freddy quietly.

"Yeah, feeling's mutual, guy, but uh, never say never again, huh...?" Turning back to April, Wiseguy looked a little regretful. He knew it didn't bode well that Tatsu was letting her listen in - looked like he wasn't planning on freeing her anytime soon... or ever. "Hey, uh... Sorry, sweetheart, hope it all works out for you..." he said, lifting his hat, and she looked at him with a sort of apprehensive bemusement. "There ain't much I can do, so ciao for now..."

She didn't plan on making it easy, big dark eyes staring at him questioningly, but when he told her there wasn't much he could do, that was misleading... There was nothing he could do. As he turned away, April tugged against the ropes holding her tightly to the chair, her cry of dismay thoroughly muffled by the tape over her mouth. Yeah, thanks... Make me feel even more guilty, why don't ya...?

Hardening his heart, he nodded toward the door, and the others hesitated - Having refused his offer, would Tatsu just let them leave...?

It looked like Tatsu was wondering that too, but after a long moment he shrugged and waved his hand dismissively. Wiseguy led the way out into the yard and toward the gate, smirking the whole time... With one last tape-muffled sob of frustration, April looked at her Foot ninja guards as if she was hoping to make them feel guilty. Glancing round, she noticed what looked like an umbrella stand a few feet behind her, into which a few weapons had been stacked... Sharp-bladed weapons, some of them.

Her hands, securely tied behind the chair, flexed and her fingers investigated the coarse rope around her wrists, chair and rope creaking. Her eyes widened in sudden excitement at the possibility that came to mind, but she forced herself not to show it. Turning back around, April sat still, biding her time.


Hey... I'm not saying I didn't feel bad for her, but what was I supposed to do...? We all have our lot in life - Alas, mine is not to rescue the beautiful damsel in distress - It's out of my hands, OK?! Anyways, I made it up to her later. Read on, read on...


Mostly, the visitors couldn't get out of there fast enough but Wiseguy, taking his time, stopped halfway between the workshop and the main gate to take out a small ornate pocket-watch and flip it open. Apparently a little surprised at the time, he started to tuck it away again, and as he did so managed to scatter a lot of loose change on the ground.

"Oh my..." he said casually, and leaned over to start picking it all up with painful slowness. Freddy, watching from the doorway of the workshop, was both a little amused and also intrigued. What game was this guy playing...? Tatsu came out to stand next to him, and glared at their guest suspiciously. He abruptly gestured for Freddy to do something.

One of the other Foot ninja had apparently already taken charge of the situation, and was already helping to pick up the discarded coins and other bits and pieces. "Thanks..." Wiseguy said quietly without looking at him.

"No problem..." said Matt, voice slightly muffled by his mask.

"Good to see 'ya'."

"How'd 'ya' know it was me...?"

"Kidding, right...? Y'move like a panther, Matty boy..."

"Just say whatever you gotta say, and make it quick... They'll get suspicious..."

"Just that, you know, it's not too late... I dunno why you joined this circus, but there's still a place for you among your own..."

"Oh yeah...?"

"Things change, Matty... Things change..." He put one of the coins in Matt's hand as he picked up the last of the others. "For your trouble..." he said, amused. "You know how to find me."

As Wiseguy departed with a wave for a scowling Tatsu and half-smiling Freddy, Matt stood back and tried to attract as little attention to himself as possible. When he had a chance, he took a look at the coin. About the same size as a quarter.

Which was just what it wasn't.


About 18 hours later

Matt threw his weapon to the ground, and nudged Jake to do the same. They raised their hands. One of the Turtles, the one with the red bandana, came up close to them and peered suspiciously in their faces.

Both of them went pale as the creature raised one of its sais and prodded Matt's chest with it - Was this it...? Was this thing going to kill them...?

"What about these reprobates...?" The idea of these mutant Turtles had been part of their lives for a while now, but Matt had never seen one quite so up close, and hearing it speak was still pretty unreal.

"Leave them, Raph...!" April hurried over urgently, trailing ropes, one of the other Turtles having only just cut her free from the support pillar Freddy had her tied to. Matt glanced at the unconscious Freddy on the floor, oblivious, and faintly smiled at the thought of how much this would upset him...

For Matt, familiarity with Freddy had bred contempt, and he knew that, even with all his plans in ruins, this would be the thing that bothered Freddy the most. He had obviously been looking forward to presenting April to the merciless new Foot leader coming in right now from Tokyo... Jake couldn't have handled that, and Matt didn't really think he could have either.

They had done the right thing. Yeah, keep telling yourself that... Keep telling yourself... While these Turtles skewer you like a kabob, and she laughs as they do it... Probably just wants a good view before they start... Wouldn't blame her... April used her hands, still bound in front of her, to gently move the sai a little to one side, and Matt was taken aback. Weirdly disappointed, in fact... Now he had to think what to do next...

"April...?!" the red-masked Turtle exclaimed.

"Look, trust me, OK..." - As she spoke, one of the other Turtles, the blue-masked one, finished freeing her - "I know these two aren't angels, but I think they deserve a chance." Jake and Matt exchanged nervous glances. What was going to happen here...?

The creature turned back to them with a frankly terrifying expression. "Why... I ought'a..." It looked back at April for a second, then its menacing gaze returned to them. "Sharpen up, guys..." he said in a quiet voice that was New York to its core. "That is your cue to leave, while you can!"

Really...? Matt and Jake moved away before the creature could change its mind. Get outta here, and be thankful...

"Hey, Jake..." called April. "You are kinda cute, for what it's worth..." She shrugged. "Just sayin'."

Matt rolled his eyes. He grabbed Jake by the shoulders and helped him on his way to the back door of the workshop, aware of the goofy smile on his friend's face. "Don't look back, Jake... Don't look back..." he muttered. "Leaving..."

Pushing Jake bodily through the door, he turned back for a second and momentarily made eye contact with April. OK, Jake, I get it... She is pretty cool... He winked nonchalantly, and followed Jake, unable to believe their luck had held. They were free. More or less...

"What...?" he heard April ask defensively back in the workshop before they got out of earshot, and smiled faintly - Yeah, we did the right thing.

"What now...?" asked Jake, and Matt sighed... It looked like he had very few options.


So, I hear what you're saying, what's this all got to do with me...? Your enigmatic, slightly world-weary yet ever so insightful author without name... Well, dear reader, I was the handsome, debonair visitor to the Foot Clan's yard that fateful evening...

No, it was so... Hear me out. That was how it all started. And if I'd known where it would lead, maybe I wouldn't have been so eager to stick my neck out like that...

My problem is, I'm basically too good-hearted. For a criminal, that is a major issue, as I'm sure you can imagine. Somehow, though, it's one I've almost always been able to overcome...


Wiseguy caught the fast-moving object with lightning-fast reflexes as it arced across the smoky room toward him, and several hands twitched in close proximity to the triggers of their concealed weapons. He looked down at the object.

The coin. He looked up at the one who had thrown it.

"Matty..." he mused. "Matty, Matty Matty... Matty."

"That's me."

"Who's your little pal...?"

"That's Jake... He's OK."

"Glad to hear that, Matty... Wouldn't have wanted to think he was comin' down with the sniffles or somethin'. What brings you here...?"

"You know what brings me here... You brought me here."

"Yeah, OK... I brought you... I didn't say bring a friend... It is just the one, I take it... You don't have a gang 'a' them outside...?"

"He's got nowhere else to go."

"That's my problem...?"

"Who said it was a problem? Jake'll be as much an asset as I'll be."

"He's not Italian."

"He's not Italian. So what...? You got loads'a guys here who ain't Italian."

"So, you're all, uh, keen to join us now, Matty Boy...? Last time, I don't remember you being so eager... It was Foot Clan, Foot Clan, Foot Clan... I think you'd been watching too many martial arts movies and not nearly enough Scorcese..."

"I'm not gonna beg. You offered, and here I am. Not just me but someone else with the same skills... I brought you two good soldiers when all you looked for was one... Now, that's good business."

"Let me be the judge of that, Matteo."


It was about an hour later that Wiseguy managed to finish up business in the front room, skillfully leaving Matt and Jake still unsure of where they stood - Even though he never for a moment had any intention of not granting them refuge. He returned to his private office at the back, and slumped into the chair behind his desk. Leaning over, he pulled back one of the slats of his blind and peered out through the rain-smeared window at the breakers yard outside.

His domain. His empire. The start of it, at least.

"Well...?" The female voice was cultured and precise, with the faintest hint only of an accent.

"Very well, thanks. At least... I think my voice is sounding a little hoarse today... What d'ya think...? It's the damp."

"Do they suspect?"

"Course they suspect I'm up to somethin'. This is a suspect line of business we're all in, know what I'm sayin'?" He rubbed his eyes. "Do they think I've got you back here...? 'Course they don't."

"Good..." Karai sat back in her chair, but the movement was deceptive - She did not relax. Ever. "So long as they don't."

"You feel like telling me why you want these two kept in the dark...? Instead of, y'know, actually keeping them in the dark somewhere...? I heard stories of what you guys do with your deserters, and they weren't pretty."

"These are not... ordinary deserters."

"I see what you're sayin'. I'll go along with that, so long as you keep your side."

"Very well." Karai rose to go.

"Wait a moment... I'd hate to see old Matty Boy harmed, you know... I mean, it's not a deal-breaker, but it'd be nice to avoid if at all possible."

"Do not worry... I have, as you say... Bigger fish to fry."

Wiseguy smiled. "I'm sure you do... Well, uh, mind how you go."

There may possibly have been the faintest hint of a smile on the young woman's normally impassive face as she moved past him to the other door, one that matched the one forming on his own. "Till our next meeting..." she said. "Don Turtelli."


Yeah, I know... I know... What could possibly go wrong...?


As soon as Karai had left, the smile left his face abruptly. He reached over to his desk drawer, and pondered the small object lying inside. Carefully, he took out the crumpled, faded remnant of a piece of paper, folded over several times to fit into a small pocket, and, not for the first time, read it carefully.

The last thing he had expected to find.

The other night, he and a couple of his most trusted guys had gotten into the Foot Clan's abandoned junkyard, just to see if anything useful had been left behind after their third - and he had hoped at the time, final - defeat. They had found the detritus of a full-scale battle between the hordes of marauding rats and an army of weird pest-controlling robots... They had searched the yard, and then checked the workshop.

There they had found much what he had expected - the old furniture, the spare clothes, the weapons the Foot had left behind. He found the rickety old chair April had been tied to, half-hidden under the discarded ropes, and something made him look among the scattered items on a nearby table... Spare rope, part-used roll of silver duct-tape - Ooh, I hate people who don't turn a little of the corner down - That was the Foot's, all right, but the other items looked like being Miss O'Neil's confiscated property. A little money, a motorcycle license... Ah, hence all the leather... a credit card - All that was now making its way through the postal system back to April with his anonymous compliments... And one more thing which, given where he had found it, must have been, like the other stuff, confiscated from the Foot's prisoner...

He read the faded writing on the document - Some of it typed, some hand-written. One Honda motorcycle held in pawn in return for payment... Owner one Arnold... The rest of the name was difficult to make out, but he was pretty sure he knew what it said. Could be a coincidence, of course, but in his experience those were few and far between. So... He leaned as far back in his chair as he safely could, and considered carefully. His uneasy new ally knew nothing about this pawn receipt, and there had to be a way he could use this to his advantage...

"You've been keeping unusual company of late, haven't you...? Casey Jones."

Next: "What Casey Did Next"




Chapter 10



(Relevant extract follows from the annals of the August Siblinghood of Morphenniel; Data adjunct 486 - Experiments in Lawlessness: The Late Federation and the Frontier Planets)

...

...When writing these briefings, it is still even now possible to be struck with sheer incredulity at social policies once genuinely advanced as if, not exactly beneficial, then at least expedient - The Federation's interference in the affairs of the Old Earth agricultural colony of Gauda Prime stretches credulity more than most.

It should not be necessary to explain the result of the complete suspension of the rule of law in any isolated community - particularly not one with inhabitants long inured to toil, not to fighting - or the kind of people likely to descend on such a place in great numbers - from all across the galaxy. Suffice it to say that the proud colonists who had rejected the Federation's initial offers of protection were soon begging to be admitted.

Neither should it be a surprise that the Federation's price for its acceptance of the beleaguered colonists' joining should be the immediate, if monumentally costly and time-consuming, restoration of law and order on Gauda Prime. Some people, as an ancient saying tells us, just have no shame.

[See data adjunct 482B - Scarred for Life: Roj Blake and the Final Throw of the Dice - for further details of this period.]

...

(Extract concluded. Exiting backdoor... Deleting data retrieval signets... Deleted)


Gauda Prime - 27 years ago

A voice crackled from a communicator - "Alive...! I want him alive!"


Arlen walked slowly along the line of bodies arranged on the ground for her inspection, trying to ignore the still-pounding headache. "Tarrant..." she said as the youthful face was revealed, serene in death - "Dayna Mellanby... Vila Restal..." Her hand went up to to absently with the bandage wrapped around her head where it had impacted on the ground after Vila's uncharacteristic and ultimately-doomed heroics - "Blake... Soolin... Deva..."

She looked up - "Why this one...?"

"Who... Klyn...?" The man accompanying her was wiry with a thinning shock of curly hair, his face deeply-lined with a prominent beak of a nose, clad in the same kind of Federation field combat uniform Arlen had hurriedly donned before returning to the control room - His had no rank insignia, but nor did he need any.

Everyone who needed to know who Jarriere was did - For others, there was no need.

"She's irrelevant... Commissioner Sleer is only interested in the seven. You can dispose of Klyn and Deva here."

"If you say so..." Jarriere cocked his head. "The seven...?"

"That's what they're called, aren't they...?"

"Are they...? Not by anyone I know..." Despite his words, Jarriere's voice and demeanor were the very opposite of combative - gentle and unassuming would be more apt. Curious considering his reputation.

"Perhaps you should travel more widely and talk to a larger circle of people..." Arlen suggested icily.

"Ah, you've been listening to the stories..." Jarriere passed a glance over the row of dead faces - "Out of history and into legend, eh...?" He looked up at her again. "Blake's Seven." He grinned. "Depending, of course, on how you count them."

"Just do it."

"Certainly... And after that, I'll be off... Me and a few others."

"What...?"

"This is the end of something, I think..." Jarriere mused. "And the beginning of something else." He looked steadily at her, hand not far from his gun. "Time to get out..."

"Hasn't she always rewarded you well...? I've never seen anyone else she's held in the same esteem..."

"I'd go further than that" said Jarriere. "I'd say she's always been absolutely lovely to me, and that makes me all the more set on getting out while the going's good."

"And you just expect me to let you go...? Let you disobey a direct order...?" Arlen's question was calm, as though she was merely discussing a hypothetical scenario.

"Yes" he replied without hesitation, his voice now somewhat flinty. "Because if you don't, your chances of getting out of here are substantially reduced... Your chances of getting out of here with him non-existent. And do you really want to be the one who failed to get him back to her...?"

Arlen's eyes narrowed as she mulled it over, aware of the itchy trigger-fingers no doubt poised all around her - Her men and Jarriere's...

"Think on it..." he continued persuasively - "When you bring her those bodies... and him alive... She won't care about anything else... Anyway, she knows if she ever really needs me again, I'll be there... For the right price. It's just a slight adjustment in our relationship, that's all..."

"I'm not agreeing..." she said at last.

"Of course not... You're just recognising reality." His voice was gentle once more, and Jarriere grinned again. "It was good working with you... Hope to again before it's all over."

"And if she does hunt you...?"

"Unlikely" he said. "I'm the one who does her hunting, and it'll take a while to find anyone else as good as me... Anyway, I think she might see it much as I do... You could come too, you know... Send him back with the others, come and make some real money, and a proper life for yourself."

"The service is my life."

Jarriere seemed to be disappointed at that, even a little sad - In time, Arlen came to believe that he had probably been able to foresee a few things that she couldn't. "Well..." he said, holding out his hand - Arlen reluctantly and briefly shook it -"Good luck to you, lieutenant... Hope it all works out well for you."


Gauda Prime - 3 months ago

Most of the habitable land mass of the planet Gauda Prime was taken up by native forest or the vast plantations of the colonists, but here and there, on rocky outcrops, small settlements had sprung up where the farmers could trade and obtain essential supplies. Some of them grew from there by means of limited deforestation into the primeval forests. Well into the Fourth Century of the Second Calendar, such cities were inevitably hives of criminality and violence and indeed, even decades after the nominal restoration of the rule of law, remained the province of the organised criminal.

Some of those criminals were rich enough to be able to buy themselves out of even being regarded as criminals.


"There now..."

Mara sat very still as the small hand-held device buzzed across her skull, emitting sonic waves that very efficiently, smoothly and cleanly trimmed her thick brown hair - Again she glanced down as if expecting to see the discarded chestnut locks falling onto her lap or the floor around the chair, but somehow the device seemed able to discard the unwanted strands into thin air.

The old man peered closely at the top of her head and ran his fingers across her now close-cropped hair. "You like that...?" he asked.

"I haven't seen it" she said, and held on to the arms as he suddenly spun her around one hundred and eighty degrees to view herself in the nearby full-length mirror - Mara actually did like the short cut suggested by the hairdresser - She could see him too in the mirror, his long beak of a nose jutting forward as he awaited her verdict with the confidence of a man who knew just how good he was.

"That cut has always been my favorite..." he said. "Not all women suit it, but those who do..."

She reached up to toy with the unruly locks of slightly curly hair he had left intact at the front. "You missed a bit."

He chuckled. "Quite deliberate, I assure you..." he said in his soft, distinctively-accented tones. "Both for aesthetic reasons - don't ask me why, I just know it's right... And to hide that cranial port of yours... Oh, years since I saw anything like that... Just where have you come from...?"

"A planet."

"Good for you. Good for you. I asked for that."

She climbed down a little even if she didn't for a moment relax her guard. "Sorry... But I've learned not to tell anyone my business."

"As I say, quite right... Quite right... Save it for Mister Rollo when he arrives, eh...?"

She stood and followed him as he walked over and cleansed his hands at a larger table-mounted sonic cleaner. "How much longer till he gets back...?"

"Oh, not long, not long..." He used the angled mirror to have a look at her without her being aware of his scrutiny. "Are you not having an agreeable time here, then...?"

She eyed the dingy surroundings of the shop - its ancient fittings and wooden shutters hanging open onto the dusty street - and smiled. "Not at all... I do actually quite like this place."

"Have a mind to stay here, do you...?"

"No, I don't think so. As soon as I find out what I need to know, I'll be off."

"So it's information you're looking for...?"

"You're very good."

"Thank you..." he replied.

"But not that good, eh...?"

"Well, that would depend..." he said "On what my agenda was... If I was seeking to genuinely cause you to betray your intentions with an unguarded remark, then I was clearly wasting my time... But if I was rather seeking to distract you while the tiny device I planted in your scalp attunes to your brainwave patterns and prepares to download all the data I'm likely to need, while simultaneously - and unfortunately - causing a fatal hemorrhage in the process..." - His gentle tones became gradually sharper as he went on - "Then perhaps I am, as you say, that good."

Mara tried to ignore the chill advancing up her spine, and focus. "You're not really a hairdresser, are you...?"

"I am absolutely a hairdresser. I've done many other things too." As an aside, he remarked "It really is amazing the kind of things you can pick up quite cheap on the black market here - Like that little device - I would have killed for that in the old days..."

"Am I speaking to Rollo...?"

"That's how some know me... You, as a very special courtesy extended to very few, may know me as Jarriere."

"Your real name?"

"One of my real names."

"I was told you could help me find a former Federation officer called Arlen."

"Arlen what?"

"Just Arlen... That's the only name I was given." This custom among the older people in the wider galaxy for primary and secondary names still confused her a little.

"Given by whom...?"

"Does it matter?"

He smiled. "Suppose not. That wasn't so difficult, was it...? Why do you want her?"

"You know where she can be found?"

"I didn't say that now, did I...? Let's not get ahead of ourselves."

"All right."

"If you had simply asked that in the first place we might have reached an accommodation of some kind much sooner."

"Is that what we're going to do?"

"I'm not sure... What do you think...?"

"I think we might."

"You're very sure of yourself, aren't you...?"

"No..." Mara replied. "I just don't have much to lose."

"Oh... So you think it's only those with something to lose who have fear...?"

She pondered that. "I don't know..."

"What do you know...? And, while you're answering that, chuck this one on too - Who sent you...?"

"You wouldn't know him."

"What's your name...?"

"Ooh, that one is far more difficult than you imagine..."

"Go for whatever feels most like you at the time, that's what I say..."

"Good advice. But, before I tell you that, can I ask you something...?"

He smiled at her boldness. "I can't promise to answer, but go ahead."

"That display over there on your desk... Is that connected to this thing on my head...?"

"Yes."

"Thank you..." Mara closed her eyes. "You'd best just go ahead, then."

Jarriere frowned, as if suspecting some kind of trap, then just for a moment he looked angry. He had finally lost patience with this girl - "You're forcing me to use it... I hope you realise that."

"I do."

The device he had used to cut her hair was in Jarriere's hand a second later, as he used it to activate the lethal brainwave converter - His eyes widened and he shrieked in agony, his body spasming and causing him not just to drop the control but to collapse onto the floor. Mara was standing over him in an instant.

"You really think I didn't see you planting that thing...?" she said, scooping up the control - Carefully she removed the tiny device from where she had in turn planted it at the base of his spine and slapped it onto the bald spot at the back of his head. Jarriere howled with renewed pain, and he tried to form words. Mara put her face very close to his.

"I've never killed anyone before" she told him. "And I didn't ever want to... I'm sorry."

"What..." he gasped. "Your name...?"

She looked him in the eye, glancing momentarily at the controller to familiarise herself with it - "It downloads automatically, I assume...?"

"Name...?"

"My name..." She thought for a moment. "My name is Blake."

Jarriere's eyes clouded over. "Then I'm... I'm glad it was you..." Mara found herself confused and a little disturbed by that, and she moved back from him a little.

She held up the control, and activated the second stage of the process - Extraction. Jarriere's eyes turned black instantaneously, and without another sound he slumped over onto the floor. Mara turned and tried to forget the twitching corpse was even there as she moved over to the desk, ready for the next stage of her mission.

"Now..." she mused. "Where are you, Arlen...?"


DSV-A1 - Now

"Murder...?" the voice asked, and Mara found herself looking around involuntarily, searching for the source, failing in that but succeeding in making herself nauseous in the process. She made herself ignore it and close her eyes against the assault on her sanity that was the surrounding space.

"Murder...?" it said again. "Was it really necessary...?" This time she recognised it.

"Hello, Alek..." she said. "Another data ghost...?"

"Murder...?" he reproved again. "Is that what I taught you...?" Mara's temper flared.

"No... Not a data ghost... And not Alek either... You know what I think...? I think that whatever this place is, whoever is in charge is attempting to use very basic - stupidly basic - psychological means to break me down and make me somehow easier to dominate, easier to fit to whatever purpose is intended... Well, forget it... You blew it the moment you tried to use him against me... Because that man..." - Her voice broke a little, and she took a moment to regroup - "The thought of that man, that's what gives me strength...! Not weakness...! Strength...!"

The unfathomable multi-dimensional chaos surrounding her gave Mara no single focus for her ire, but she stared at a fixed point defiantly nonetheless. "So here's what you can do... Bring more! Bring everything you've got...!" She took a deep breath and yelled "Bring it!"


A planet in one of the outer spiral arms of the galaxy

Avon's current pair of boots had deteriorated beyond the ability to wade through the fording point of the river, a mere trickle though it now was, so he took them off and rolled up the legs of his trousers. On the other side, he let his feet dry in the air as he took his usual halfway rest, looking round the whole time - A lifetime's caution was not to be abandoned at this stage.

The small hand-held device was in his hand almost as soon as the buzz was heard, and he snapped "What is it, Orac...?"

"You did ask to be informed..." the petulant voice retorted, sounding almost wounded. "The ship has arrived at Galaxy City and is currently engaged in selecting its crew..."

"Good." Avon took a breath - This course of action had been so long in the planning - contacting the abandoned System rebel station, fooling the automatic systems, ordering construction of a new Deep Space Vehicle and waiting the years it took to be assembled and finally traverse the entire galaxy. Now it was at last here - The final act - Or perhaps the first.

"Is that all...?" Orac demanded fussily, no doubt eager to get back to numerous matters demanding his direct attention. Avon made him wait a little longer.

"Will you miss me, Orac...?" he said, a faint smile threatening to break out. "When the time comes..."

"I do not understand the question... Kindly rephrase it or withdraw it entirely..."

"Never mind."


Laden with the bag of provisions he had obtained in his trip to the scavengers' encampment, Avon went back along the ancient path lined with sparse shrubs, then around the perimeter of the dome, and soon he came to the entrance he customarily used to gain access to the massive structure. The electronic key, without which access would be unlikely and safe access utterly impossible, whirred away for about a minute, and he waited patiently. Finally, the lock yielded and the round access hatch was able to open, and Avon made sure to secure it again when he was inside.

Up the rickety set of stairs, and along the service gantry, and then through the door into one of the main corridors - His footsteps echoed in the silent emptiness of the place. Eventually, he came to the sealed entrance to the lab block and used his keyed entry coder to gain access.

The door slid open fast, and if Avon was startled to see his companion waiting immediately on the other side, he did not flinch or otherwise give any sign of it. "I've brought the supplies" he said casually.

"Good..." The tall, heavy-set man turned away and walked across the lab to continue monitoring the instruments.

"You should be able to make more of your enzyme now" Avon added.

"Thank you..." The other man was apparently engrossed, one eye engaged in peering through a scope. The other eye, the one currently visible to Avon, was bisected by an old scar that made his eyelid droop. From this angle, a thick mop of curly grey hair obscured his other features. "I do so hate indigestion."

"You've been visiting the scavengers again" said Avon. It was a statement, not a question, and his tone did not invest it with any apparent judgment.

"I have. You don't mind, I trust...?"

"I didn't say so." Avon took off his coat and draped it over a chair. "Interesting that you only do this while I am asleep - Almost like you don't want me to find out... You were... dressed like that...?"

Straightening up, the other man's face broke out into a broad grin, and he looked down at his apparel - Fairly normal, he thought - Much the same rough homespun sort of ensemble that Avon himself sported. But they both knew he was being disingenuous.

"Always like that?" Avon demanded.

"Well... I might have experimented..."

"Just be careful."

"Oh, I'm always careful, Avon... Is it me you're worried about, or am I stepping on your toes somewhat...? You can tell me if I am, don't worry... I wouldn't want to be... opening up any old wounds for you."

"If you do, believe me, I'll let you know."

"As I say... Don't hold anything back..." said Roj Blake. "We are, after all, old friends, you and I."


Chapter 11


The final day of the Second Intergalactic War

Cast in the blood-red glow of a dying star, the last Andromedan fleet waited. The bulk of their other forces had been destroyed in their recent, sudden and unexpected, reversal, but there was still enough firepower here to destroy the exhausted forces of the humans several times over.

All they awaited was the final decision - and the orders that would follow. One thing remained.

An intelligence asset was about to be exploited.


- Transfer of prisoner is proceeding -

- And what is so special about this prisoner? - Our policy toward the intelligent - semi-intelligent - primates of this galaxy is extermination - Need I really remind you of that? -

- No - Yet I am not the one who spent all that time among them, am I? -

- Standard infiltration procedure an- -

- -And your speech patterns? - More and more human all the time - My orders, since you seem intent, come from the highest authority - The highest - The prisoner - The Avon Kerr - is to be investigated -

- Questioned? -

- He has already been questioned - Exhaustively - And provided little of use - The Avon Kerr is unusually resistant to our techniques -

- So there is only one recourse -

- He is to go to the Inquisitor-general - There we will discover just what is so different about this Avon Kerr -


He was borne from one ship of the Andromedan fleet to another encased in a large translucent slab of some peculiar organic material, driven by some kind of anti-gravity device. Despite himself, Avon found it fascinating - but then he had found practically everything he had observed since his capture fascinating. Somewhere, at the back of his mind, it occurred to him that he should be feeling some kind of trepidation at what awaited him, but that just made him feel faintly amused.

Something would happen - It usually did, and if it didn't...? Well, what did it matter?

They rose on some kind of open lift through hundreds of decks on the vast semi-organic Andromedan ship, and when they finally halted at their destination he felt not even the slightest jolt - Either his gelatinous prison protected him or the mechanics of the lift did. He looked to either side, where his escorts stood.

The standard Andromedan infantry soldiers seemed to be a different caste to the officers and scientists - crude humanoid shapes made from the same semi-transparent gelatinous substance as his prison. He wondered if they were stuck in that shape, or had the same ability to shape-shift and mimic others as the Andromedan agents he had encountered on Star One. He could contentedly spent years studying these creatures if it hadn't been so urgently necessary to find ways to destroy them instead.

"Leave us..." said a disembodied voice, whispering yet totally clear, the sound apparently originating from everywhere at once. The soldiers obeyed, and Avon tried to see beyond the pool of light he had been placed in, to no avail. Then the slab encasing him started to change its state, the material running and forming channels and rivulets, thinning at the front until a gap opened and expanded, soon becoming wide enough to step through.

So he did.

"Welcome, Avon..." the voice said, and he looked around for a source. Obligingly another light came on, illuminating a large podium and some sort of intricate technological cradle for one of the Andromedans - One of the officer caste like those which had infiltrated Star One all those years ago, but far larger. This amorphous green creature glistening in its cradle was roughly the same size and weight as a man, with numerous spindly tendrils extending out from the central mass and connecting to, he assumed, the ships systems and various means of communication - Not for the first time, Avon wished for a chance to study the Andromedans' electro-chemical data storage technology closely.

"What do you want?" Avon's question was abrupt and toneless, very much giving the impression he resented the interruption to his schedule. "I was busy."

"Ah... Yes..." The creature had no mouth, and Avon assumed the voice was being generated somehow, perhaps directly from its brainwaves. What was-?

-"I am the... Inquisitor-general..." the creature obligingly told him, and despite himself Avon took a breath. He had heard of this particular Andromedan, but never expected to face it in person. "You are to be congratulated..." it continued. "The defeat you inflicted on my brethren was impressive..."

"Which one?" Avon turned away from it to peer into the surrounding darkness, boots squeaking on the smooth floor.

"We will discover much, I think, you and I... That, you see, is my function... Oh, you thought perhaps I am expert in torture or some such tedious practice... But no, I am much more than that... I am Inquisitor, in the purest sense..."

Interesting... What did that mean, exactly...?

"Oh, make no mistake, my brethren expect me to extract information from you, more or less as you might assume. But I have less interest in the deployment of what is left of your military forces than I have in what makes you - you, specifically - the one who has brought us closer to defeat than ever before in our long history... What is Avon Kerr, and if humans produce such a man, capable of defeating us, is it really best that they become extinct...? Would it not be more diverting to see... What is the next stage of their development...?"

"That's a lot of questions" Avon observed wryly.

"Oh, indeed... I am well-named, you can see... Now, time is short, and I must advance... I see your brainwave scan is almost complete... Oh, do not worry, that is far less... intrusive... than it may sound... It merely allows me to begin to form conclusions... No, not quite conclusions... but lines of inquiry..."

"It occurs to me..." Avon mused "Your ideas concerning what to do with my race might not be the same as that of your colleagues. From what I've seen, they are quite clear in their purpose. And their purpose is to destroy."

"Yes, you are quite correct... It is a conundrum..."

"So the question, Inquisitor-general, becomes - What are you going to do about it?"


A little less than 12 standard hours later...

It began with one explosion, one only, but soon it became a chain-reaction, rippling through ship after ship of the last Andromedan fleet in existence. The fleet erupted into a cataclysmic expanse of fire and rended metal - The sudden and furious release of energy was silent in the vacuum of space, but anyone tuned to the Andromedans' internal communication systems would have heard the screams, or what passed for screams from a life form such as theirs - In their panic, many of the crews switched from one bizarre shape to another as if cycling through till they could find some form that could support them, however briefly, in the hostile environment of deep space.

One ship survived - A small one, and it was outside the area of the explosions before they erupted. As if its two occupants had somehow known what was going to happen.


A planet in one of the outer spiral arms of the galaxy - 15 years later

"Attention..." said Orac suddenly - "The central computer on DSV-A1 is requesting clarification."

"Clarification on what...?" Avon did not even look up from his work. He was making minute adjustments to very fine circuitry, a magnifying lens over one eye.

"Is it authorised to fire on hostiles...? I really am most surprised it is necessary to elaborate - You should have foreseen"-

-"It may return fire if fired upon, if and only if UniS forces threaten the safety of the vessel or its passengers... Tell it that, Orac!"

"Very well..." Orac said sniffily, and closed the comm link.

"Can I help?" - Blake stood behind Avon as he worked, casual with his thumbs hooked into his belt. He had listened with apparent amusement throughout the terse exchange.

"By staying out of my way, yes."

"It's like that, is it?" said Blake, amused. "You know, it's very little fun being a ghost."

"You're not a ghost..."

"Well, that's a matter of perspective..."

"You must like that shape - You spend a lot of time in it."

"Does it bother you?"

"What if it did?"

"Feeling a little guilty, are we...?" Blake laughed. "I must say though, Avon, I was very glad to see that of late you've started asking questions first..."

"Were you...?"

"And shooting later..." Blake said pointedly, talking over the interruption.

"You must be very proud, Blake... After all this time, still inspiring the young and foolish to get themselves killed." Avon hadn't yet looked up, and had no plans to.

Blake thought about that for a moment, staring into space. "If it wasn't me, it would be something else. That drive to overcome tyranny is in all of us..." He looked now at Avon. "However deeply it might be submerged."

"How very inspiring."

Blake frowned. "And, since I'm not really Blake, that particular pearl of wisdom can only have come from you, Avon." The frown was replaced by another smile. "Who'd have thought it?" he mused warmly.

Avon was amused by that, and after a few seconds grinned broadly, though he still didn't look up from his work. "Certainly not me."

"Feeling the responsibility?"

"Keenly."

"All those young lives, depending on you..." Crossing over to Avon's other side, Blake leaned in very close, almost speaking directly into his ear. "After all, we don't want them ending up like us, do we?" - Avon actually stopped working for a moment.

"No."

"Well, then..." Blake paused before continuing, speaking slowly and very precisely. "You'd better get it right this time, hadn't you?"


DSV-A1

Mara was starting to recover from the nausea induced by the craziness of her surroundings, as the chamber around her started to settle on its final form - She finally had a floor to stand on without feeling sick, walls to tell her which way was left or right, up or down - Ceiling? Not quite there yet. She dare not look up - She still hadn't quite recovered from the last time.

Yes, this was actually becoming a room worthy of the name. There was only one minor problem.

This room had no doors.


Galaxy City

Darvin, Rissa and Caul's headlong charge took their foes by surprise, but even so it was a near thing - Shots impacted all around them as they hurtled toward the guards. Predictably enough, Rissa was the first to come into contact, and wrenched the gun from the hand of her first opponent and somehow turned and fired before the man could even react, shooting him in the face.

"Oy!" Darvin called, after elbowing his own opponent in his face and breaking his nose. Also armed, he turned his gun on the others and was met by universal, abject, surrender - Raised hands all round. He and Rissa shared a quick smile, but neither of them had any illusions - this was only half a dozen of them compared to the hundred more out there. And who knew how many others were in on it.

Then there were the UniS troops accompanying Scarn's ambassador. Probably safe to say they weren't going to be friendlies.

He was about to speak when, without warning, Caul threw himself forward and slammed Rissa against the wall - Her momentary anger vanished when a sniper's shot impacted a few feet away, exactly where she had been. Darvin turned and shot the sniper as Rissa turned her captured gun on the others - Once Darvin's attention had turned back that way, she threw an approving glance Caul's way.

"Thanks." - He waved it away, gasping for breath.


"You were expecting someone else, no doubt..." Brintun glanced briefly around the Administrator's suite once again, clearly finding it no more to his liking than before.

"I was..." Servalan replied, appearing entirely unruffled by the presence not only of Brintun but of the several armed UniS soldiers accompanying him. "Someone a little more... invited, perhaps. What have you done with her...?"

Brintun ignored the question, and sat - He wiped the sweat from his forehead with a decorative throw before casting it aside. "Your head of security has staged a coup..." he said bluntly. "My men have managed to hold the hub and a small area surrounding it, but Ramm's people have superior numbers..."

She smiled. "So that's it."

"Yes."

"So... You step in to assist in my... difficulties and help regain control, and after the immediate crisis... You find it necessary to garrison Galaxy City with UniS troops..."

"I frankly hadn't thought quite that far ahead, but what a good idea..."

"Very well played."

He paused before venturing a reply. "Thank you. Coming from you, that's..." He looked down with mild surprise. "Planning a journey?"

On her feet, incongruous with the long dress, Servalan wore military-issue boots somewhat like his. "Well..." she said "You reach a certain age and comfort becomes more of a priority than it used to be."

He smiled along with her, though his was watery and somewhat reptilian. "You do realise, of course... You have no choice but to co-operate... You can even remain as Administrator..." That was said with apparent spontaneity, as though the thought had only just occurred to him - Fooling no one.

"In name only..."

"In name, yes... Under UniS protection... You will be the political leader, and a senior UniS man will be in charge of all military affairs... A small price, surely...?"

"How long do I have to think about it?"

"You will give us the code to disarm their hand-weapons remotely..." Brintun said, leaning forward. "Wouldn't you rather a bloodless revolution...? Think of the civilians..."

"You've thought of everything, haven't you...?" Servalan mused, and Brintun leaned back again complacently. "Almost everything."


Rissa's answer to Darvin's unspoken question was quick and decisive. "Shoot them."

"It would solve a lot of problems" Darvin mused, as he handed one of their captured weapons to Caul. "You know how to use this...?" he asked.

"Give him a few seconds" Rissa said confidently with a faint smile.

"I'm asking him" Darvin said, turning back to Caul.

"Uh... Give me a few seconds..." Caul said.

"You don't have a few seconds..." said a voice, and they all searched frantically for its source - Darvin looked down, and faintly through the grate running along the side of the floor, he saw a familiar face looking up from the level beneath them.

"Ramm!" He tried to get a clear shot downward even as the cackling former head of security disappeared from view, just as several more of his men appeared at either end of the walkway.

"Surrender!" one of them called.

They all had a clear shot. A headlong charge would get them all killed. Darvin racked his brains, even as he automatically held out his arm to stop Rissa attempting it anyway. As the guards approached, his options were narrowed proportionately as the range was - They could not possibly miss.

This time, they really were trapped.


"Laser probe..." Avon muttered, and was about to stand to go and retrieve the necessary tool when he saw it on the worktop right next to him. How...?

"Interesting..." he said. "I find myself wondering how that probe came to be there. Given that I would have noticed if anyone else had moved it..."

"If I told you how the trick was done, it wouldn't be a trick any more, would it...?" said the wiry man with receding grey hair as he moved behind him to hop up nimbly and sit on a nearby bench. "Well well, Avon. You've gotten old..."

"And if I told you how that trick was done..." Avon mused "It would be something of a long story." He turned briefly. "Hello, Vila."

Vila was admiring his reflection in one of the metal service panels on the wall. "Hhhmmm... I've aged quite well..."

Avon was mildly impatient. "You mean my imagined version of you..."

"Well, the real me never got the chance, did he...?" Vila stared wistfully into the distance. "And he had so much promise..."

"I'm sorry."

That was a straightforward statement from Avon, free of any obvious emotional resonance, but it still raised Vila's eyebrows. "...And I wish I could have stuck around long enough to hear that" he said sadly.

"So do I." Avon rubbed his hands over his face, exhaustion catching up with him. "This is a foolish self-indulgence..." he said. "I have to say goodbye. There isn't much time, and this is going to be too close for any mistakes..." When several seconds passed and there was no reply, he turned. "Vila...?"

Vila was no longer perched on the bench, but in his place was a tall woman of slender build, dark shoulder-length hair turning grey - She had a long face and dark eyes that seemed to see through all of Avon's defences into what remained of his soul.

You're right, Avon... said Cally, telepathically projecting her voice into his mind - There isn't much time left... And you don't like it when anything gets too close, do you?

Avon considered that for a moment, and then turned back to his work. "Hello, Cally."

"Regrets, Avon...?" This time she spoke aloud.

He turned again to look at her for a few seconds before replying. "Only small ones."

"I'm glad."

"No you're not. I let you down." Cally didn't reply, but something in her expression seemed to concede the point. "And it was all for nothing" Avon continued.

"Is that what you believe...?"

"This time..." he mused, "This time we're going to get it right."


Juni glanced over at Faal silently. They sat on opposite sides of the shuttle's passenger section, both flanked by armed UniS troops. The gaunt Clone Master was intermittently visible as the light through the viewing ports played over his face - lights from the asteroid mining stations and orbit beacons on their way through the belt surrounding the planetoid hosting Galaxy City. She badly wanted to reach out, but the presence of the UniS troops thoroughly inhibited her.

For his part, Faal gave no sign of being worried, or of being anything more than slightly inconvenienced. If he was as scared as she was at what might await them on the UniS flagship, he hid it well.


"They are on their way..." Brintun's voice crackled through the speaker above Admiral Zanso, causing the veteran officer to frown impatiently. "Nothing must prevent you getting these prisoners to Proxima, Admiral... That is of paramount importance..."

"I advised you not to send them as yet..." Zanso barked. "We have a situation here..."

"The alien is moving away again, sir..." reported an officer, as if to reassure the Admiral.

"That means nothing...!" Zanso assured his subordinate. "It may be coming around for an attack run - Had you thought of that?!" He leaned over the transmitter again. "Brintun - Can you hear me...? Abort the shuttle run. I say again, abort. We may soon be under attack by an unidentified - No, a known hostile..."

"Too late, Admiral..." the voice crackled again. "Make the best of it..." The sentiment in itself was encouraging, but from Brintun it sounded decidedly ominous.


DSV-A1's central computer sifted reports from its subordinated computers and all the ship's instruments, skimming through reams of data at miraculous speed - Thus it became clear that the situation was balanced on a knife edge. To complete its mission, decisive action may be necessary.

Hostile vessels arming weapons... Force wall at maximum... Weapons systems on line... Confirmed...

From one of its forward-facing prongs, DSV-A1 fired a blindingly intense burst of energy in the direction of the UniS flotilla.


The lights in the laboratory, driven by ancient programming, had dimmed slightly to simulate the night-time that wouldn't otherwise exist under the thick bomb-proof shell of the dome. Avon had gone off for a few hours sleep, aware that it might be his last such opportunity for a while - His companion, back in the shape of Roj Blake, was alone.

He laid out the equipment, and poured the chemical compound, which had taken on a greenish-brown colour, into a large flat dish so that it was no more than a few millimetres deep - Breathing deeply, he laid his hand flat in the compound so that it was partially submerged, and after a few seconds started to absorb it through his skin. As his concentration slipped, his body started to pulse with internal light and his shape became less distinct, but as the compound was drained he resumed his grip on Blake's shape once more.

The Inquisitor-general stepped back, restored.


Former deep space freighter "Flame", 4.5 weeks after the fall of Pelios

As was often the case, Mara and Caul exchanged no words as they changed shift on their vessel's flight-deck - Mara assumed that if anything had happened that was important enough to be shared but not important enough to summon her, he would let her know.

In any case, as she took up her place at the controls of Flame - she was not exactly sure why she had settled on that name for their new home - she already had a lot to think about. As Caul well knew.

At least, she assumed he knew. They hadn't really talked about it.

"How's he doing...?" Caul broke the silence.

"No different..." Mara replied as she checked the automatic logs. "Go and see him. I think he's still awake."

"All right..." Caul turned back just before exiting. "I'm sure..." She never found out exactly what he was sure of, as he never finished the sentence.

"You have to look after him..."

She had given that no reply at the time Alek had actually said it, having been taken so aback, but now Mara was just itching to reply.

"Why do I need to look after him...? Why can't we just look after each other...? Why is everything suddenly on me...?" As the aged control switches refused to engage the way they should, in a burst of temper she forced one into place.

"Caul was in many ways ideally suited to life in the Habitat..." Alek had continued, pausing a lot to form his words with even more care than usual - or was he just in more pain than he was admitting to...? "But the wider galaxy will probably not be quite so ideal. There are things out there... He will need you... Someone who understands his condition..."

"Condition..." Mara said quietly. "What condition? Why does he need to have a condition? Why can't he just be Caul? And why do you...?"- She closed her eyes and paused for a while before continuing. "Why can't you just... stay? You weren't ill when we were on Pelios. You were more alive than anyone I've ever"-

She rubbed the emerging tears from her eyes, even knowing that she was making the mild infection in one of them worse. "Why does this have to happen now...?" she asked the empty flight deck.

The intercom crackled into life, and she started. Somehow knowing what was coming...

She pictured Caul's hesitation on the other end... No, don't say it... If you don't say it, then for a while longer it just hasn't happened... Don't say it, Caul... Please...

"Mara... I'm... I'm sorry... Alek has... Well, he's... dead. Alek is dead. It must have been just after you... left."

"Understood..." she heard herself say calmly, and the intercom switched off. Mara leaned back in the flight chair.

It's all right. Until I see it, it hasn't happened. And I haven't seen it yet. Till then, I'm just going to look after this ship for a few hours. That, I can do... Then, after that, we'll see...

Maybe I'll let it have happened then.


They watched on the monitor as the shrouded body was blasted into the void, where it spun a few times before the gases released with it dissipated into space and Alek's body settled into a gentler forward motion and slow rotation. It was visible to them for a couple of minutes before it disappeared from view.

She was holding Caul's hand, a fact Mara hadn't really registered till then, so numb was she. They stood there like that for a while until, at a certain point, it felt right to let go, and they got on with the running of the ship.

The past was behind. Where the future lay was less simple.


"Where do we go...?" she had asked Alek as soon as they had the chance to speak after their hasty escape from Pelios.

He had seemed strangely reticent to express a view on the matter, but when at last she had managed to corner him into a reply he had said "I thought I would leave that up to you..." and left it at that.

Some time later, after they had dealt with their most urgent supply problems, she had broached the matter again. This time he had asked her more directly - "What do you want to do...?" She had decided by then.

"Gauda Prime..." said Mara. "I want to find out what happened... I want to know. I want to know everything."


5 months later


The stranger - the King in exile, as Adran still thought of him - quickly obtained his supplies in the encampment, oblivious or just plain indifferent as ever to the vague suspicions of the scavengers, and then started out for home. The boy accompanied him some of the way, and if he did not welcome the company the older man didn't choose to say so - Adran took that as tacit permission to tag along.

After a while he felt bold enough to strike up a conversation as they walked. "Why do you live over in that place...? Why don't you join us in the encampment? You could work, you're still able..."

"Why would I do that?"

"Because then you wouldn't be alone. You did say you were alone."

"And I would be welcome, would I...?"

"Before long. We take all sorts, my dad says... No questions asked."

"Perhaps I need certain things that are only available... in that place." He turned to look at Adran for a moment. "Had you considered that?"

"No." The boy thought for a while. "Don't you get lonely?"

"No."

"Not ever?"

"No."

Adran shrugged. "I get that. I'd like to be alone too."

"You've picked an odd way to further that ambition."

"I mean, family is overrated, isn't it...?"

"I wouldn't really know."

"Soon as I'm able to, I'm going to go off by myself and explore this place."

That made Avon stop for a moment. He seemed reluctant to speak, wrestling briefly with some inner conflict. "I wouldn't stray too far from your ships."

"The ships...?" Adran responded incredulously. "The ships are rubbish. I think probably half of them can't fly any more."

"Repair them. Cannibalise some to repair the others if you have to. Whatever you have to do. This is the only warning you're likely to get."

"You mean, leave here...?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Because something is going to happen."

"Something bad?"

Avon shrugged. "It depends on your point of view."


DSV-A1, Deep space, 676,849 spacials from designated embarkation point...

Internal configuration in flux... Parameters being defined... Processing... Processing... Life support systems on line... Specified compartments ready for habitation.

Confirmed.


Galaxy City

"Our first priority should be to double the security at the following points..." said Servalan very precisely. "The airlocks, obviously... Entrances to the hub... though preferably not too openly... The armory, and small arms lockups... And, this being possibly the most vital, the gravity drive..." She looked round at Juni, Faal and the City's head of security - a slightly portly, thick-necked man named Ramm - "...Well, don't everyone speak at once."

"A good approach, Madame..." said Ramm - Servalan for some reason always found herself fascinated by the single fleshy fold of skin that formed at the base of his skull when he sat back in one of her chairs, and had to stop herself staring at it. "And exactly the approach I had planned to take... Add to it my mobile reserve force, ready to respond to the area of greatest need... Should any crisis actually arise, that is..."

"And you two...?"

In contrast to Ramm's relaxed posture, Juni and Faal both sat straight-backed, avoiding each others' gaze - Even someone far less observant than Servalan, Ramm for example, could have noted the tension hanging over them. Servalan had no patience for any such distractions at this point, and was determined to shock them out of it.

Whatever it was. She had some notion, but was hoping somewhat against hope that she was wrong.

"Yes..." Juni's attention snapped into focus, and she met Servalan's eye with a cool, consciously professional demeanor. "Yes, Madame Orella. The need for possibly extensive overtime has been discussed with all our security personnel, and all are amenable."

"Good for them." Only someone like Juni who knew her well would have detected the faint hint of danger in Servalan's tone. "Faal...?"

"Madame...?" Like Juni, Faal quickly pulled himself together. "Nothing unusual to report."

"Your people are ready, should any... threat emerge...?"

"My people..."

"The technicians are, I believe, operating at maximum efficiency..." Juni interrupted, rescuing Faal, and perhaps throwing the briefest glance his way while doing so.

"I'm glad to hear you say so..." Servalan sighed, if only inwardly. None of them could possibly know how difficult it had been for her, all those years ago, to adjust to managing an organisation where the best results were genuinely obtained by treating her subordinates like human beings - even the ones who weren't quite. After clawing her way by any means necessary to the very top of the Federation hierarchy - twice!

Sometimes, the sheer effort of it began to tell on her... On days such as these. "Well..." she said. "That will do for now... We will resume at the same time tomorrow... assuming nothing changes drastically in the meantime, that is..."

The other three got up to leave, Ramm draining his drink appreciatively having refilled it more than once during the meeting. Juni hung back and seemed to want to add something, and Servalan dismissed her with a faint smile that said Later. "Faal..." she said, her voice gentle. "Stay a moment, please."

He did so, reluctantly, and she waited till the others were away before she said anything. "Madame..." he began, before she cut him off.

-"Have you told her?"

"No."

"Good. At least there is that."

"I think she knows anyway. Or is close to working it out."

"That would be unfortunate..." Servalan pointed out, turning to look at him. "For both of us. Why does she suspect?"

"Because she is intelligent..." Faal answered immediately. "There are discrepancies in the official account... Unavoidable ones."

"Yes, I suppose so..." Servalan looked weary for the first time. "I almost wish she was a less perfect copy. Less intelligent than my dear girl was, and more easily deceived... But then, that wouldn't be... What would be the point...?" Faal almost thought that was it and, anticipating dismissal, started to turn toward the door, but Servalan's next words turned his blood cold.

"Have you resumed your relationship...?" she asked calmly.

"Madame, I"-

-"Or rather, have you begun one with her on the same terms you had with the original Juni? Let me stop you before you make the mistake of lying to me. And inform you that I knew of your relationship with her very promptly indeed. Bright she certainly was, but capable of hiding anything from me...? No."

Faal addressed the initial question. "I am not pursuing any relationship beyond the most functional professional one. To do otherwise would be against the basic tenets governing the Clone Master's life and work."

"Have you considered that might be a mistake?"

"Madame...?" Faal's mind was reeling - Having dreaded the prospect of Orella finding out about his weakness, this last question was forcing him into very uncertain territory.

"A happy girl, buzzing with all those lovely youthful hormonal feelings... She might be less inclined to spot the discrepancies you mentioned... And even less likely to care if she does." Servalan's eyes clouded over. "Believe me, I know."

"In this, Madame..." Faal said, "I stand ready to abide by your preferred course."

"The most intelligent among us are often capable of remarkable feats of self-deception" she continued. "You'd be surprised... Or perhaps not. After all, you did deceive yourself that you had managed to hide your liason from me." She smiled broadly, but that just made him more uneasy.

"What do you plan to do?"

"Too early to say..." Servalan had a brief moment of looking almost vulnerable, but soon recovered. "Which I suppose is just another way of saying I don't know..." She looked at him pensively. "I suppose I'm lucky it's only you who heard me say that."

Lost for any other kind of response, Faal simply inclined his head - That usually sufficed for any exchange with a human in authority, but then none of them had ever been quite like this one.

"You heard the recording? Of my conversation with our guest...?" Servalan changed tack very quickly, but Faal immediately knew what she was referring to.

"Yes."

"Nothing to say...? About my handling of her questions...?"

"I saw it as your prerogative to withhold information, if you saw fit."

"I didn't so much withhold information as just lie to her. Which may yet prove to be a mistake, I don't know... The clone Blake was not capable of producing a child. That is correct, is it not?"

"That is so" he confirmed. "Although sexually functional, that type of clone was never designed to be genetically compatible with a human being."

"Something like yourself, eh, Faal...?" Servalan quickly added "I'm sorry, do forgive that. A rare lapse."

"Madame."

"While the girl thinks she is most likely Blake's daughter - in a manner of speaking - She may yet be able to work with us. But if she learns that her father is more likely... Well, I wouldn't want to learn that a man like Coser... Oh, never mind..."

"Madame...?"

"This is the worst part, Faal. Where everything is in the air at once... And no one knows how any of it will land..."


"I'm sorry..." said Brintun. "I've forgotten your name."

"My name is of little importance..." replied Miko serenely. "I am here to speak for the Children."

"Well, I was rather hoping to speak to some grownups at this point, if that could possibly be arranged..." Brintun's voice was brittle.

"We are all Children in the Light of the One." Miko met the UniS representative's challenge with a level, unconcerned gaze.

Brintun cleared his throat with a short, sharp sound. "Yes."

The two of them sat facing each other in one of Galaxy City's opulent guest suites, with several of President Scarn's whey-faced courtiers watching the verbal bout with dead-eyed indifference. Brintun knew, however, these cronies of the President would report every word they heard, and what's more every word would be weighed carefully for any potential advantage to them in their backstabbing route to the top of Scarn's inner circle.

As the man currently at the apex of that structure - and keenly aware that a circle does not normally have an apex - Brintun was always conscious of their scrutiny.

"Be assured..." Miko went on, "Your concerns regarding our alliance are well-known"-

-"Indeed...?"

"...And your counseling your President against an understanding with the Children of Light was, seen in the light of mere political expediency, perfectly sensible..."

"Thank you."

"But seen in the true Light, that is the Light of the judgment that awaits us all, it is clear, Mister Brintun, that your path is a rocky one..."

Brintun glanced briefly at his feet, clad in Federation-issue boots. "I'm always prepared for rough terrain."

"We all think we are prepared. But each of us, when the time comes, must face the Light in our own unique way..." Miko's scarred face took on a peculiar quality when he smiled, as he did now, the still-livid scar puckering in a way that was unpleasant to behold. Brintun found his distaste more and more difficult to disguise.

"It seems to me your religion is a peculiar mix of several ancient superstitions, with disparate bits and pieces of mythology all forced in and made to fit this... agenda you have... Interesting from an anthropological perspective if nothing else..."

"And yet your President Scarn chooses to ally himself with us... Perhaps he sees the way clearer than you do."

One of the chairs creaked as the courtier slumped in it stirred in anticipation of overhearing a treasonous exchange, but Brintun was not so easily drawn. "President Scarn is a survivor, above all..." he said with admiration that was not entirely forced. "Great empires have come and gone, and he has endured. Now is his time."

"Well, on that we can agree..." said Miko, his tone investing his words - apparently inconsequential to any disembodied listener - with additional meaning to those present. "Now is the time."


The UniS flagship Leviathan hung in space just far enough away from Galaxy City to avoid detection, its support craft buzzing around it like worker bees - There was more activity than was usual at the moment, as a transfer of personnel was underway.

His enormous frame squeezed into a flight chair, President Scarn endured the brief journey by shuttle from Leviathan to his waiting launch - An elegant vessel reminiscent in its shape and colours of some exotic bird, built for speed and charged with returning the President home, his duties here discharged.

First, however, there was one more task to be performed.


"I think it would be true to say, Sol... This is make or break for your plan..." Scarn remonstrated over the private, scrambled video link. Brintun received it in the guest suite, using his own equipment and confident that their exchange would avoid the scrutiny of eavesdroppers.

"I understand that" Brintun replied calmly, the sweat still nonetheless pouring off him in waves.

"Let's not have to break anything, eh...?"

"A sentiment we can all agree with."

"I don't necessarily ask for agreement, Sol. Just good advice. And at certain times, just obedience."

"That is certainly understood."

"So long as it is. Is everything in hand?"

"Everything is prepared."

"Good. Contact me on Proxima III when the site is secured."

"Acknowledged."

"I look forward to it."

"As do I." As the video link cut out, Brintun looked up to see his guards ushering a visitor into the suite - A powerful stocky figure squeezed into one of the resplendent uniforms of Galaxy City's security force.

"How goes...?" asked the man cheerily, noisily chomping on a piece of fruit grabbed from the hub's marketplace en route to the guest suite.

"A question..." Brintun mused coldly, "I was about to put to you, Mister Ramm..."


DSV-A1, Deep space, 459,236 spacials from designated embarkation point...

Deep Space Vehicle now on state of alert... All automatic defence systems in readiness... Combat readiness to be maintained. Hostile scrutiny to be discouraged...

Confirmed.


Admiral Zanso stalked onto the vast bridge of Leviathan in ill temper - None of the crew present were surprised, or even particularly blamed him. The distinguished officer, a veteran of the Intergalactic Wars, had been thoroughly sidelined on his own vessel, and only now was he able to exert his own authority without the overpowering presence of the President or his oily advisor.

"Situation report...!" the gaunt flag officer barked, and all present hurried to assemble one.

"Flotilla maintaining station within acceptable parameters, sir..."

"Nothing on scopes... No, wait..."

"Wait...?" Zanso demanded incredulously. "You tell your Admiral to wait...?"

"Apologies, sir... I had something there... Just for a moment... Then it was gone... Trying to get it back..."

"Well..." Zanso somewhat regretted his brief outburst - He took no pride at all in letting recent pressures get to him in that way. "Report as soon as you have it."

"Sir."


"Hey there."

"Hey..." Rissa moved her seat at the bar over slightly to let the bulky figure sit next to her - the man she had assisted against Scarn's heavy-handed security.

"Thanks" he said, as he silently negotiated a drink from the barkeeper.

"Wasn't a problem..." she said. "In fact, I enjoyed it. I'd been cooped up on the ship for a while, and that was just what I needed."

"I like that..." he said, smiling, and swigged from the tall glass the keep had just put in front of him. "Watch yourself, though..."

"How'd you mean...?"

"I hear things, that's all... Don't underestimate UniS. They mean to have this place - the whole thing."

"You think Madame Orella will let that happen?"

"Some think she's lost her edge a bit. But anyway, I just thought I'd best warn you - something is going down..."

"Well, thanks for that..."

"Least I could do." He drained his drink and stood, clasping her hand in his massive one for a moment. Then he left, leaving her lost in thought.

Darvin arrived from the other side, and sat in the just-vacated seat next to her. Caul came up to stand next to him, looking like he would rather be anywhere else, and wiped at a stain on the bar with his sleeve. A blood stain, as Rissa well knew - she had caused it to be there. She grinned at the memory - that guy had truly deserved it.

"I've just been talking to Caul..." Darvin said.

"Oh yes...?" She looked over at Caul casually and winked, receiving a vague smile in response. "And what has our very handy new friend been saying...?"

"He's only agreed to join us, that's all..." Darvin said cheerily.

"If Mara does..." Caul added. "I think she will." Darvin and Rissa exchanged glances, and then realised that the subject of their speculation was actually walking calmly around the perimeter of the bar area and round toward them.

"Hi, you...!" Rissa called. "Sorry for pointing the gun at you, but it was orders..."

"It's all right..." Mara said, slightly detached. "I've had a bit of time to think."

"Thinking is overrated" said Rissa.

"Thinking has its place..." Darvin countered. "But has it resulted in any deciding...?"

"Well, I've decided I'll join your crew..." said Mara. "If the offer stands. As for the rest..."

"Yeah...?"

She was about to reply, but at that moment the lights suddenly cut out and emergency lighting kicked in. Darvin and Rissa were on their feet instantly, and leading their new friends away from the bar. "This way..." said Darvin. "We don't wanna get caught in here..."

"What's happening...?"

"Fun fun fun..." said Rissa, but her subdued demeanor belied the glee her words suggested. "Those fools have actually decided to go for it."

"We don't know that..." said Darvin. "It could be any number of things."

"Hey...! Infallible instincts, right here..."

"Yeah, I forgot... Well, Miss Infallible Instincts, let's just get to the small arms, shall we...?"

"You go for the small arms. I want one of those things that fires rockets...!"


Servalan was relaxing in her sitting area when not one but two calls came through on her private comm-system. Recognising one, she gave it priority. "Yes...?!"

"It's happening..." said Darvin - A moment after he said that, the base alert came up on her wall monitor, and a klaxon sounded outside.

"Al right..." she snapped. "Follow the plan."

"Already on my way. Pick you up in... ten...?"

"Make sure you do..." Servalan walked over to a dressing table and sat before it. After a moment, staring at her reflected image, she carefully took off her black bob-cut hair and set it aside - Beneath, her actual steel-grey hair was cut short.

"Soon..." she said quietly. Then, remembering the other call, she switched channels with her remote device. "What is it...?"

"Sorry to disturb you, Madame..." said an unfamiliar voice. "But you did say to tell you... That signal you had us analyse..."

"What about it?"

"It's coming in now... It's being beamed directly at us...!"

"Find the source!" Servalan rushed out of her sitting area and up the stairs to the guest reception area and her private collection of art - There she stood and gaped for a moment.

The box had come to life - lights activated within and an electronic hum that she had not heard for decades filled the room. "Orac!"

Barely had the box come to life than all signs of activity ceased, and it once more became dormant - Servalan moved toward it, incredulous. "No!" she cried. "No!"

Her fist slammed down on Orac with as much force as she could muster. "No!"


"Ready the ship...!" Darvin yelled into his wrist communicator, and turned to the others as they walked urgently in one of the City's service corridors. "Just in case..." he said, almost sheepish.

They turned at a junction and found themselves faced with the business-end of a gun, though Juni pulled the weapon up to point at the ceiling when she recognised them. Faal was with her, and he was not armed.

None of them could quite see Faal with a gun, though the time might come...

"Where are you going...?" Juni snapped, her indifferent gaze taking in all of them and zeroing in on Darvin.

"Small arms, then to evacuate herself... And by a remarkable coincidence that's where you're going now as well... Consider yourself under my command now, OK...?"

"Your command...?"

"That's right. Check with her when we've got her safely on board Revenant, by all means. It's all arranged."

"Arranged...? By you...? Why wasn't I kept informed...?"

"I don't know... Ask her that as well..." Darvin made reproachful eye contact with Faal as he said that.

"Two groups...!" Juni said decisively. "You secure the weapons, I'll bring her to you and then we'll all proceed from there." Darvin clearly would have liked to be able to dismiss that, but he knew it made sense.

"All right..."

"Faal, with me..." Juni said, and turned to leave.

"Take one more..." Darvin interrupted, and looking round he settled on Mara. "OK...?" he asked her.

"Of course."

Juni looked uncertain, but for the sake of getting away she settled. "Come with me... Don't fall behind."


DSV-A1, Deep space, 47 spacials from designated embarkation point...

Mission reaching crisis point... Potential hostiles now on scanner scopes... Weapon systems on line... Damage control procedures in readiness - energy transfer from internal configuration programs confirmed... Concomitant delay of internal configuration procedure now being calculated...

Confirmed.


Menacingly, Leviathan approached the planetoid hosting Galaxy City, settling into geostationary orbit - and for Admiral Zanso, that was where it all started to go wrong.

"Detectors offline, sir!"

"Restore them!" the Admiral demanded.

"Trying, sir... No response. It's possible they've been blocked deliberately."

"Possible...? Since when has that been possible...?"

"Don't know, sir..."


"About time!" Juni snapped as a squad of guards led by their Chief came up to join them - Ramm looked the three of them over.

"This all...?" he asked. "No Darvin...? Or that girl with the eyes...?" Something made Mara uneasy, and she was about to warn Juni when at that point such a warning was rendered obsolete - Ramm's men turned their weapons on them, and on Faal.

"You're coming with us..." Ramm breathed. Surprisingly he spoke not to Juni but to Faal - Reflexively, the tall Clone Master had stepped between him and Juni, and Ramm noted that. "Her as well..." he added to his men, indicating Juni.

"Are you out of your mind, Ramm...?" Juni demanded as she and Faal were dragged away, a question he ignored - He glanced at Mara and seemed to dismiss her instantly. "Um... You two, find somewhere and guard this one..." he said, as if annoyed at having to engage with such a minor detail.

Not resisting, Mara was led away. Now was not the time.


"That was our own people...!" Darvin was incredulous as he, Rissa and Caul found themselves pinned down on the approach to the arms lockers. "What...?"

Rissa watched coolly as some of their own security men circled above them on a narrow gantry - In a moment, they would be able to target them. "Darvin...!"

He saw the danger, thinking furiously. "All right... Not much choice then... With me...?"

"Have been up to now."

"Count to three... One...!" Taking Caul as much by surprise as the enemy, Darvin and Rissa scrambled out of cover and charged headlong at their opponents, yelling as they went...


The two guards brought Mara to a storage room with only one door in and out, apparently with a view to adding other prisoners as their mutiny progressed. She perched on a neatly-stacked heap of large shiny tins as one guard took up a position near the door, gun trained on her. The other one took up his station outside.

Still not quite the time.


"Get me the landing party!" Admiral Zanso barked savagely to the bridge personnel of Leviathan, his patience long since run out.

"Impossible sir... All communications with the surface blocked..."

"Well, get them unblocked...!"

"Sir...!"

"What now...?"

The navigator was studying the readings on the panel. "Detectors were restored for a moment there, sir... They showed... something..."

"Anything better than that to offer?" the Admiral said dangerously.

"It's coming round toward us, sir... The alien... It's big, as big as we are. At least..."

"Nothing's as big as Leviathan..." The Admiral pushed him aside and studied the data himself. "Could it be an Andromedan ship...?" he whispered - He had always feared it wasn't really over...

"Whatever it is, sir..." the navigator said, "We'll be able to see it momentarily... Yeah... Here it comes..."


Anyone looking out of one of Leviathan's aft viewing ports would have seen the horizon briefly distort as the unidentified object came into view in the extreme distance, and the light of the star behind it momentarily flare as it passed between it and the UniS flagship.

Getting closer.


DSV-A1, Deep space, 0.5 spacials from designated embarkation point...

Teleport system on line. Ready to engage program 17... Confirmed.


Mara was staring intently at the guard left to look after her, willing him to make some kind of mistake, when the opportunity she had hoped for came out of nowhere.

It started when the comm-panel on the wall behind him beeped. "Yes" the guard said irritably, awkwardly keeping Mara covered with one hand while holding the switch with the other. "Yes...?" he said again when there was no answer.

Finally, a voice emerged from the speaker, but it wasn't speaking to him. It simply said, in what sounded like the prissy tones of an elderly academic - and on Pelios Mara had met a few of those - "You, girl... Breath-mask."

It was all the warning she needed - Mara took advantage of the guard's consternation to retrieve the breath-mask she had used on Danteron from the capacious pockets of her trousers, and put it to her face, as the doors to the storeroom were sealed and simultaneously the air evacuated via the vents.

Knowing what was happening but with no way to stop it, and in his panic not even registering Mara's mask, the guard hammered urgently at the door, first in the hope of attracting attention and then in an irrational effort to break it open. As he was distracted, Mara picked up a heavy can and slammed it against the side of his head, knocking him unconscious. She picked up his gun from the floor, very glad to be armed once again.

"Put on the bracelet..." said the voice, apparently irritated at having to involve himself in this.

"What b?"- Suddenly the object was there on the floor next to her - There was no disturbance in the air or charge of static as with Revenant's teleport, but the arrival was marked by a momentary halo of light around the object that seemed to melt away within a couple of seconds but remained as a faint after image on her retinas.

"Put it on...!" For some reason, she found herself obeying, crouching down and putting the bracelet, superficially like a refined version of Revenant's, on her wrist - It fastened with a click.

Teleport engaged...


The atmosphere on the bridge of Leviathan could not possibly have been more tense, not even if the intruder had started firing on them. The Admiral hunched over the scanner scope, hungry for the latest data quicker than the bridge personnel could provide it.

"Have we got it yet...?" he demanded. "Get me precise data on that thing... And an optical. Now!"

"Trying, sir..." said the First Lieutenant. "It seems to resist attempts to scan it... somehow..."

"Well, get me a visual!"

"That we can do, sir..." came the relieved reply, and he urgently pointed to the Admiral's scope. One of the operators hurriedly put the visual feed through.

"It's..." One of the operators looking through the scopes, a grizzled veteran, breathed out slowly. "It can't be... Never thought I'd see..."

"Get me the visual!" the Admiral demanded as there was a brief lag before the image appeared on his scope. "Put it on screen as well!" He looked up.

"It's back..." said the veteran, smiling faintly, tears even forming in his eyes. "It's back..."


Mara found herself clutching at the bracelet on her wrist as the only real thing, at least the only real thing that wasn't her or the clothes on her back, that she could see - Everything else was in flux.

The space around her was somehow... fluid. Not as in made of a liquid, but somehow... imprecise, as if the very space she was standing in - and in itself that was a puzzle as there didn't seem to be a floor of any sort - was in the process of forming. Deciding at great length, in no hurry at all, about what kind of wall or floor or ceiling to become, with all options on the table. It was extraordinarily disorienting, and not at all an experience she would have chosen to have.

Table.

A large table started to form a short distance from her as she thought that, and Mara resolved to restrain her thoughts while this process was taking place.

She did not dare look down - insanity threatened if she did that. Better to just close her eyes and wait. No doubt it would be over soon. Then... Whatever else might come.

Internal configuration continuing at reduced capacity... Processing... Life support maintained... Processing...


The Admiral's eyes widened.

The other ship glided above the surface of the planetoid toward Leviathan with an elegance the UniS ship could not aspire to. Its hull grey but shining brilliantly with the reflected light of TNCB-5213, it was formed of four parallel, vaguely cigar-shaped pieces, three of them arranged in a triangular formation around the central one, all ending with forward-pointing turrets terminating in narrow prongs. At the rear, cradled and partially-enclosed by the structure of the ship, a bright-green spheroid - Perhaps the ship's means of propulsion, or perhaps fulfilling another function that could only be guessed at.

To the eyes of Leviathan's bridge personnel, it was simultaneously beautiful, awe-inspiring, utterly alien and terrifying - A lot of the operators stepped back from their stations nervously as if the alien could come out of the scopes to attack them.

The Admiral looked around incredulously. "What is it?" he demanded. The veteran looked over at him, seemingly incredulous that the Admiral could possibly not know.

"It's the Liberator."

Mature Content

This content is intended for mature audiences.


or, enter your birth date.*


Month

Day

Year*
Please enter a valid date format (mm-dd-yyyy)
Please confirm you have reviewed DeviantArt's Terms of Service below.
* We do not retain your date-of-birth information.

DSV-A1, Deep space, 1,458,000 spacials from designated embarkation point...

The ship, under precise and highly efficient control, slowed as it neared the star system TNCB-5213. Navigation, battle and damage control computers briefly exchanged data and settled back into automatic routine, as the central computer acknowledged their input with a simple Confirmed.

At the same moment as the presence of the potentially hostile spacecraft flotilla concealed close to the destination planetoid was registered, the ship shut down all non-essential systems and merged into the darkness of space, coasting along on its momentum. A stealth approach - None would know of its presence until the very last moment.


Galaxy City

Mara had, of course, not been allowed to enter the Administrator's quarters armed, but in this they had slightly underestimated her - The glass object, some kind of abstract sculpture, was in her hand in under a second - In three, it was broken and in five a long pointed shard was pointed threateningly toward Orella.

No... Not Orella... Or Sleer...

Servalan.

She seemed not unduly concerned. Smiling, she moved over to a chair and sat down. "Oh, silly girl... I hoped for more than this... Much more..." She sipped her drink. "Oh well..."

"Servalan..." said Mara. It was the first time she had spoken the name, and it felt strange. Strange also to find herself finally confronted by her... Unreal.

Servalan swirled the green liquid around her glass. "That's a secret known to very few, just to give you an idea what an honour this is..." She smiled, and added "For you."

Mara felt awkward standing there, makeshift weapon extended out in front of her, and even a little embarrassed. She let it fall onto the rug, her eyes never leaving her host.

"That was somewhat expensive and very difficult to acquire..." remarked Servalan. "Perhaps I'll deduct it from your wages, should you decide to take up Captain Darvin's offer... Oh, has he not mentioned that yet...? Forgive me..."

"Forgive you..." Mara said quietly, in a daze.

"I do pay very well, if I say so myself, so it shouldn't take too long to redress the balance..." Servalan gave Mara a dazzling smile, and indicated toward the other chair. "Do please sit down. Drink...?"

"I could have killed you..." Mara said, voice free of expression.

"No you couldn't..."

Mara looked up, startled, to see Rissa leaning over the balustrade of some kind of minstrel gallery above the door, a long-barrelled gun pointed at her. "Oh, it's set to stun..." she said reassuringly - "I wouldn't harm you... You're like the... I don't know... cousin three or four times removed I never knew I had."

Behind Rissa, Darvin came into view, managing somehow to look both stern and apologetic. Mara's eyes met his in faint accusation. Why...?

"You must have so many questions..." said Servalan, and Mara turned back to her, startled - "I'll confess I have a few myself..."

When Mara glanced back up at the gallery, Rissa and Darvin had gone. Was she now trusted to behave...? Turning back, she found herself looking at Servalan's vulnerable throat as she spoke... It would be so easy, and there was no way they could get to her on time...

"Did you kill them...?" she asked.

That stopped Servalan, possibly even took her aback. It was very difficult to tell - This was a woman used to hiding her true feelings.

"Kill who...?"

"Significant that I have to narrow it down..." mused Mara. "I mean my mother... and a man called Blake."

"I didn't kill Blake" said Servalan. "Though I confess it wasn't for want of trying..." She shrugged and took another sip. "Those were different times... As for your mother..."

"Yes...?"

"I had no idea you even existed, you know... Till a week or so ago... That's a solar week... How strange we still adhere to that, don't you think...?"

"What was her name...?"

There was a long pause before Servalan answered. "Rashel."

"Rashel..." Mara said the name slowly. "Where did she come from...?"

"That I don't know, but at some point she came to work at a Federation weapons development facility."

"She developed weapons?" Mara got the sense that Servalan wanted to laugh at that point, and was holding herself in check, and the anger started to return. "Whatever it is, tell me."

"She helped the workers."

"How did she help them?"

"Most of her grade were utilised as manual labour... but it was judged that she would be of far more use elsewhere." Servalan looked away. "I'm sorry. I know it's probably not what you wanted to hear."

"I wanted to hear the truth."

"Everyone thinks that."

"I'm not everyone."

Servalan seemed to consider carefully what to say next, clearly wanting to change tack somewhat. "She was"-

-"A slave. She was a slave."

"I suppose you're not the first to use that term... Whether your mother would have welcomed having it applied to her is another matter... She was... somewhat headstrong, as I recall..."

"Gave you a lot of trouble, did she...?" Mara got up and helped herself to the drink offered earlier. "Good."

Servalan sat in silence, masked by her apparently effortless calm, but Mara knew she really was taken aback now.

"I had the IMIPAK key in my hands, you know... I almost pressed it... I wonder what the range is."

"You're very quick... Quicker than she ever was, and she was far from stupid."

"I've seen the specs for IMIPAK... A time-delayed assassination weapon consisting of two devices - The gun, a marker. The key, a long-range activation device... She held that power over you for..."

"Over three years."

"I almost pressed it." Having already sipped her drink experimentally, Mara now downed the rest in one go.

"What happened after IMIPAK was stolen is not just classified, it's entirely undocumented... How did you know I had been marked...?"

"I didn't" said Mara. "Not until you confirmed it just there."

"I suspect it may have been out of range, but had it worked, it wouldn't only have been me you killed."

"Am I like her...?"

"You remind me much more of someone else entirely."

"Blake...?"

"Not quite."


Pelios - 6 months earlier

They had lost. The fight was over before it had begun. It was not long at all before that simple fact entered Alek's head, and when it got there it was immediately and calmly - strangely so, given the situation - accepted.

Pelios was lost.

He fought his way through the crowd, and clutched Mara by the arm so as not to be swept away again by the hurrying throng - He had no idea where they were all going, but had no doubt at all that wherever it was, it would be the wrong place. The wisdom of crowds.

Pelios was lost.

He gave himself a moment to take stock. A moment, that was all. The ship wouldn't take anything like a significant portion of the Habitat's population - Half a dozen would be pushing it. In fact, four was more realistic. Four.

Four.

Himself, Mara, Caul. And... Yes, it had to be. She had to be made to realise it as clearly as he did. She had to come with them.

Pelios was lost.

"Wha- Where are you going...?" he shouted, as Mara pulled free from his grasp and made for the corridor beyond the observation room... It soon became clear what her intentions were, as she cannoned into one of the guards still holding Caul, using the crowded confusion to her advantage. The man lost his balance and was only held up by the press of the panicking throng, and Mara grabbed Caul and hauled him away.

She failed to notice, as she did so, the other guard pointing his gun at her... Pointing and... firing!

Caul noticed and, without even thinking about it, he slammed his elbow into the guard's face - causing, he suspected, more pain for himself than the guard, but surprising the man and throwing his aim off, and the shot struck harmlessly a couple of feet above and behind Mara's head. The two of them regrouped with Alek and, with great difficulty, escaped the busy junction into one of the service-corridors they had used earlier.

"What now?" demanded Mara.

"Same plan" replied Alek without emotion. "We get to the ship."

"But..." Mara let her objection end at that, because she was as aware of the situation as he was. She had seen the hordes of fanatics storming the gates.

Pelios was lost.

"Just give me one moment..." Alek said, stepping away from them and producing a small handheld device from one of his deep pockets. It only took a moment to activate, and he lifted it to his mouth.

"It's me..." he said.


Dorra had found refuge from the chaos that had suddenly enveloped her ordered world - She had only been granted a moment, however, to take stock before Alek's call interrupted her.

"I told you" she said, matter-of-fact.

"As I was about to say" Alek continued - "You have permission to say I told you so."

"I never asked for your permission" she retorted. "Never."

"Even now..." There was a brief pause as Alek collected his thoughts. "I'm still leaving. Come with me." It was as straightforward as that, but then they really didn't have any time to waste.

"You will surrender yourself to the guards" she said calmly. "And be placed in confinement until this crisis is over."

"Oh, for f"-

-"Fail to do so and you will be shot on sight." She paused. "Please, Alek. We need you."

"I loved you" Alek replied. "You'll know that, of course."

"Yes."

"Nothing to say...?"

"Nothing." She ended the call.


Alek turned to the waiting Mara and Caul and said simply "Let's go."

Pelios was lost.


Dorra fought her way through the panic, all the while trying to rally the citizens or at least impose some kind of order on the retreat. She racked her brains for some plan - Where could they rally and defend themselves, even hope to turn the tide against the invaders...?

The truth was, the last opportunity to attempt a realistic defence had already been missed. It was too late.

Caught off balance, she stumbled. Thrown off further as her fellow citizens collided with her, she fell hard. Blinding pain, till a surge of adrenaline allowed her to drag herself to her feet...

No... If nothing else, she would meet this end standing up...

The stray shot, fired accidentally by one of her own people, killed her instantly, and for the final time Dorra fell. Careless feet trampled over her prone body - those of her own people at first, but soon those of the Children of Light.

Pelios was lost.


Perhaps it was that there had been no obvious signs that the human colony on Pelios was still a space-faring culture, or perhaps for any one of a number of reasons it was seen as a low priority, but the Children of Light's initial attacks had failed to block off access to the makeshift spaceport.

It was only with Mara and Caul's aid that Alek forced himself along the apparently endless service corridor, and then across the hangar bay used to launch the Habitat's one functioning space vessel, sounds of fighting audible in the distance. Up the steep staircase leading to the access-way, and the ship's principal airlock. Through the narrow passageway inside onto the flight deck and, with momentary relief, he collapsed into the pilot's chair.

Only momentary, because they were far from safe yet.

Under his urgent instruction, Mara and Caul helped with all the essential pre-flight routines, and Alek found himself very glad he had insisted on keeping the ship in readiness to launch. Before long, they were able to lift off, and to Alek's gratification the automatic systems successfully operated the hangar bay doors and let them out - just before that, he had been certain he could hear the firing of weapons outside. The ship was sturdy enough, but when he was able he would be sure to launch a probe to examine the hull for damage.

The ship's systems kicked in to dampen the gravitational forces which otherwise might have crushed them as the ship climbed steeply into Pelios's atmosphere and at least a chance of freedom.

Pelios was lost.


It was all Miko could do to hold back and await the incoming reports. He wanted to be at the head of his battalion once more, gun or blade in hand, the exultation of glorious, justified war washing over him. But he waited.

That was his job now, appointed by Tylner himself. To command. Tylner had told him he was meant for this - his days leading his men and women, those days when he had known such wonderful certainty in everything he did, were merely preparation for this.

When at last the news came in, he felt nothing. An objective was achieved, nothing more. And when they dropped the frail corpse on the ground before him, he felt only revulsion.

"This seems to be the closest they had to a leader..."

"And you bring it to me...?" Miko asked, voice dangerous. "What use have I for this... this bag of bones...? Take it away!"

"Yes, sir."

Miko stepped forward, and surveyed the growing ranks of terrified prisoners being herded together. Pelios was theirs.

Pelios was lost.


Galaxy City - 6 months later

"I can't believe we're doing this..." said Rissa, pacing back and forth across a few feet of floor. She and Darvin waited on a narrow walkway outside the Administrator's suite, the entire hub of Galaxy City visible around and below them through the semi-opaque artificial sky.

"They may get on" Darvin said noncommittally. If his reply was supposed to shut down the conversation, it failed.

"You'll never go against her, will you...? Not even a little... Oh, but I forgot, she built you out of a kit, didn't she...?" Rissa regretted the words as soon as they were out of her mouth.

Darvin stared at her. "Thanks..." he said, real anger in his eyes.

Her shiny silver eyes stared back at him, but her tone tried to diffuse the tension - "Hey... You know what I mean. You built me out of another kit... I get it. Loyalty, I get. But what if your loyalty to two different people pulls you in two different directions...?"

"Well..." Darvin said "If you figure out the answer to that, do please let me know right away."


"Who gave you access to classified Federation files...?" asked Servalan.

"We had copies, back on Pelios, where I used to live..." Mara replied. "Don't bother going there, though... Your new allies have taken over. They hold the files now, if they survive."

That made Servalan frown momentarily, but she chose not to pursue it. "That's how you recognised me."

"You were afraid I'd gotten the information from someone else...? Like... I don't know... Avon...?"

Servalan smiled secretively, and took a few moments to answer. "The thought had crossed my mind... But why would Avon, who has managed to very effectively hide himself from me and apparently everyone else for the last fifteen years, suddenly reveal himself to the possible daughter of a clone of the man he murdered...?"

This time it was Mara's turn to be taken aback - Servalan had clearly been saving this knowledge for the moment she could use it most effectively. Her mind was in turmoil, and she didn't trust herself to respond.

Servalan visibly relaxed in her chair. "Oh... Yes, I forgot to mention that, didn't I...? The real Blake most certainly died on Gauda Prime - I saw the body. Your Blake was a clone. I met him - A most impressive clone, very convincing..."

"A clone... My father...?"

"I can't confirm that for you, I'm afraid. But since, during the time in question, your mother and Blake's clone were the only humans on that planet, it does seem very likely."

Mara was already coming to terms with this revelation, perhaps because she needed to so badly, perhaps because she felt she dare not grant the woman opposite any unnecessary advantage. "It doesn't matter..." she said, though who she was trying to convince was not immediately clear.

"Of course not." Servalan raise her glass slightly as if to toast the sentiment.

"I'm still his daughter..."

"And perhaps his legacy... His successor."

"What does that mean...?"

"I find myself opposed to a regime which is intent on reconquering the territories of the old Federation... It is amassing armies and ships to a degree not seen since the last war, and if it is allowed to succeed a dark age will descend on the galaxy like nothing that has ever been seen before... The Federation was founded on sound ideological principles, however it might have... drifted from them - Scarn's is a tyranny based on the wielding of power for the sake of it, for the glorification of ancient and corrupt privilege..."

Mara helped herself to a second drink - Her face was flushed now, and a smile threatened to break out and take over her till-now solemn expression. Trying to ignore that, Servalan continued - "The subjugation of non-humans, of the proletariat... Of women... Yes. Us...! Make no mistake. The Proxima system is thoroughly and oppressively patriarchal, and Scarn is nothing if not misogynistic. Those values are going to dominate throughout the galaxy if he is allowed to win."

"Is this actually going somewhere...?"

"I have helped to build a very worthwhile enterprise out here. A trading hub, a centre for commerce, for cultural exchange. In time, perhaps, a place where diplomatic alliances can be formed that will shape the future of our depleted human race!" Having risen as she spoke, Servalan's voice quietened again. "I contemplated my predicament... and found myself thinking... What we need now is another Blake... Believe me, I'm not unappreciative of the irony. Then along you came..."

Mara laughed, and at length got up off her chair. "This is sick..." She turned to go, and looked back over her shoulder. "You're sick."

"I assure you, I am quite well."

"All these years later... You still haven't stopped... The Federation isn't dead. It's sitting right here in front of me." She moved toward the door. "I am free to go, I assume... Or perhaps I shouldn't assume that..."

"You have the freedom of Galaxy City... Within certain obvious restrictions."

"Of course, Madam President... Or is it Supreme Commander...? Or Commissioner... I'm not really sure."

As Mara walked away, Servalan added just one more thing. "What if Blake had had the chance to strangle the Federation in its cradle...? What then...?"


Pelios

If Alek, Mara or Caul had entertained any illusions about the finality of their escape, they were soon to be corrected. Several ships belonging to the invaders had stayed in space, and some were sent in pursuit as soon as their little vessel broke orbit and became visible to their scanners.

The atmosphere on the flight-deck was tense. "Any more ideas...?" Mara demanded with a fatalistic lightness.

Alek was exhausted, more so than he could ever remember being at any point in his life. He had anticipated this situation, of course, but till now had simply kicked it down the line and hoped that a solution would present itself. "I think it's somebody else's turn" he replied irritably.

Mara's heart was thumping as she said, mouth dry "What about the barycentre...?"

There was a long, terribly long, moment of silence. Wondering if they just hadn't grasped her idea, Mara elaborated. "Ride the barycentre."

"Risky." That was apparently all Alek had to say, but she could see he was thinking intently.

"Well, we might have all the relevant data somewhere... They probably don't yet... They haven't had time to take observations..."

Alek was already searching the database. "Fuck!" he roared.

"Does that mean we don't have it...?" Mara turned, irritated at the sound of furious tapping at the console next to her - Now she thought about it, it had started a few moments earlier, as soon as she had made her suggestion.

Caul turned to her, eyes wild with apparent glee. "Data entered..." he said. "I, uh, processed the most recent readings yesterday..." he added almost apologetically as he saved their lives.

...Possibly saved them.

"Show me..." Mara hunched over her monitor as Caul's data started to come through. It was what she needed - the precise mass, relative positions and gravitational profile of Pelios's three suns. Cross-checked with a precise temporal reading courtesy of the computer, it would be all they needed... She turned back to Alek for a final decision.

"Do it" he commanded.


Their ship shot forward, engines at full-burn, through the infinitesimally narrow corridor between the fluctuating gravitational forces of the trinary stars - Riding the barycentre, as Mara had put it. The pursuing ships came forward more cautiously and some indeed saw the danger and their more cautious captains ordered a course-change even if it did risk failure. Others just continued on their course, oblivious to the danger or else so intent on their mission that nothing could distract them.

One by one, they fell foul. Their engines could not possibly generate enough thrust to escape the pull of the three suns, and the pursuing ships were dragged, slowly but inexorably, off course. It might take some time, but they would all end up being drawn closer and closer until the radiation destroyed them.

Flame escaped.


Alek, Mara and Caul quickly settled into taking an inventory of their stores, as well as a multitude of other tasks, as they prepared their vessel for the rigors of deep space. The one thing none of them did was talk about what had just happened. For now, there were simply no words.

Pelios was lost.


Galaxy City

Trained from an early age to anticipate danger in a hundred different ways, Rissa was nothing if not sensitive to non-verbal signals, and so when Juni approached the waiting area outside Madame Orella's suite, she knew to make herself scarce for a while - Juni's brief glance at her as they passed each other was sufficient acknowledgment.

"Faal..." Juni approached the tall Clone Master with far less hesitation than before - Since then, she had had time to think. "I want to know what it is."

"Juni..." he acknowledged, and then settled down again to await his appointment.

"I want to know."

"I'm very sorry, Juni, I really don't know what you want of me."

"Why you've been trying to avoid me, ever since..." She collected her thoughts, and again found herself fingering the Arcturan pearl on its chain around her neck. "I thought we..."

"I'm sorry."

"Stop saying you're sorry!"

"My apologies. Standard is not my first tongue, as you know. I find the automatic translator devices somewhat crude, and my own mastery is not quite"-

-"So now you're hiding behind that...? Your Standard is flawless, and you know it. What happened, Faal...?"

He turned to face her. "I don't think I can give you what you seem to require of me. My people"-

-"You have no people, Faal. Not any more." That was said gently, but firmly, as if to point out that he was not going to be allowed to hide behind that either. "So, last of the Clone Masters, you're either going to have to come up with something better than that, or tell me the truth..." Her tone hardened. "Or should I ask her?"

"Please don't do that."

"You honestly think she knows nothing? Her...?" She pulled the pearl to the limit of the chain and brushed it against her lips as she thought. "Is it something to do with the accident...? It must be, because before that"-

-"Please... Stop asking me these things. I can't..."

"Can't what, Faal? Can't tell me why I survived...? Why I alone survived on that shuttle when all the others died...? Why I can remember so many things with such clarity but can't remember anything about that day or for weeks after it...?"

"That is not uncommon."

She peered closely at the pearl and, after a moment, bowed her head and carefully took it off. Holding it by the chain, she held it out towards him.

"I'm not going to take that back..." he said quietly, believing he understood the symbolic importance of the gesture. "It's yours."

"I'm not giving it back. I just want you to look at it." He sensed some kind of trap but had no idea how to avoid it - Seeing little choice, he took the Arcturan pearl and held it out between them. Waiting for further instructions.

"Look at it..." she said, voice barely a whisper.

"What am I looking for...?" He was just playing for time, and found himself examining the object closely, from all angles. At length, he saw what she was driving at. His eyes snapped back to meet hers. "I see nothing" he lied.

"Yes, you do... Arcturan pearls are all unique, that's what you said. All. No two the same. Seldom are they even broadly similar." She took it back, and put it back around her neck. "I know every contour of this one. Every bump, every groove... Every flaw."

His eyes closed.

"This one is flawless..." she continued. "But it didn't used to be." She ran a finger delicately over the area on the pearl where the fault line used to be - He tried to move away, but she clutched his arm. "Why is that, Faal...?"

He pulled away, and moved toward the door, and the company of the guard. Anyone. Anything to make this conversation stop. "Why is that...?" Juni hissed.

The guard indicated they should go in, and she hurriedly composed herself. Whatever her misgivings over the growing feeling that something was being hidden from her, not for anything would she disappoint Madame Orella.


"Is this how you plan to spend your time now...?" Darvin approached the table where Mara sat, overlooking the main hub, and slowly took up a chair - She could hear the mechanics of his artificial leg operating as he did so, and for some reason found the noise hilarious and had to stop herself laughing. He looked pointedly at the drink she was nursing, clearly not her first. Or second.

"How else should the daughter of a sex-slave and a clone spend her time...?" She gazed at him with disinterest. "Oh, yes... That's right... I should save humanity from its oppressors... That's all... No pressure."

"You might be misunderstanding what exactly Orella is offering you."

"No, I get it. I'll be the public face, she'll be the one pulling the strings. Her new Travis... Oh no, sorry, that's you, of course."

His artificial hand tapped onto the table. "That was low."

"That's how I plan to spend my time. Being low."

"That name you've been taking upon yourself, on and off... It means something to a lot of people out there..."

"Please..."

"All right..." Darvin sat back. "All right."

"What do you mean...?"

"I mean... all right." He stood up and started to leave.

"Wait..." she said - Back turned, Darvin smiled.

"All of it..." she continued. "All of it was for this..." She looked down. "I've killed people to get here... because I thought it was worth it. I thought it would be justified... And for what...? You really think Ser-" She stopped herself. -"You think she is so much better than this Scarn...? Why should I care which of them rules?"

Darvin turned back. "Yeah... All right, I get it. You obviously know quite a bit about her, maybe more in some ways than I do... But I was there when..."

"When what, Stev?"

"When... Let's just say, I wonder if one day, if you ever find yourself faced with the sort of decisions she had to make, I wonder if when that day comes you might see things a little bit differently."

"You're talking about the war... again."

"Yes! I'm talking about the war. While you were growing up back there on your little backwater planet... Not even knowing there was a war... We were faced with an enemy so... vastly superior, so... so hostile - so relentless..." He stared at her intently, eyes haunted. "She stopped them... Somehow... Not for long, but somehow she turned us around and we started winning battles. Oh, it cost us, but it gave us a little time... And that's when she did it..."

"What did she do...?" Mara was still a little scornful, reluctant to let go of her resentment.

"The end had come... The end of the entire human race. No one believed we could win... Except her. What we didn't know was, she had one more weapon. One last resort, for when everything else failed. She set him free, and in the end he found a way, a terrible way, to save us all."

"Avon."

"Avon."

"He came up with that... peppering."

"All the technology already existed... The means existed. But only a mind like his could cut through it... Think the unthinkable. And of course he knew, he could present the options, but he didn't actually have to do it. He didn't have to give the order. He didn't have to pull the switch."

"She did."

"That's right."

"She killed... What...? Half the human race? More than half...?"

"To save the rest of it. Yes. I was there when she did it... What would you have done...?"

"And where was Avon...?"

"There's another story..."

"So tell it. I don't appear to be going anywhere."

"Not one I can tell... Maybe one day, she'll tell you about Avon and the Andromedan Inquisitor-General..."

"Where is he...?"

"No one knows...! What do you think she's spent the last fifteen years doing...? Once he had his freedom again, Avon was impossible to control. And after the Andromedans captured and interrogated him... Well, he was the first ever to come back from that, and when he did he was... different... Then, not long after that, he disappeared... and she's been looking for him ever since."

"Why is it so important she finds him...?"

Darvin took a while to form a reply. "I think that might be complicated."


A planet in one of the outer spiral arms of the galaxy...

"Adran!"

The boy sighed, and turned back. "What...?"

"You know you've gone too far this time. Get back here...!"

"Not this time!"

"You know we're not allowed out here. It's dangerous."

"Who says...?"

"You know who says...!"

Adran's answer was carried away by a sudden gust of wind across the valley, but his sister was fairly sure the second word was him.

"What do you think you're going to find over there anyway...?" she called.

"The unknown!"

"Oh, don't talk nonsense!"

"All right then... The King...!"

His sister laughed. "Will you at least let me catch up...?!"

"All right then! Hurry up!" Adran waited impatiently as his sister ran to catch up with him, holding her flowing skirts in place as the wind caught them. "All right..." he said. "What...?"

"You were supposed to be gathering wood. I don't see too many trees around here... They don't grow this far out."

"They probably don't like the wind."

"Why do you call him that...?"

"Who?"

"The King..."

"Because that's what he is. He's a great King, forced into exile, awaiting the right time to return and claim back his kingdom."

"Who says that...?"

He looked away. "Can't remember..." He fiddled with a loose rock from the outcrop they were leaning against. "It feels like the truth..." he mused.

"Anyway, there's more than one of them living over there... I've seen two men and a lady, and Kera has seen another man who didn't sound like any of the ones I've seen..."

"A lady...?"

"Yes."

"Didn't know that... What was she like...?"

"Oh, you know... Older, but not old... Nice, but... sad."

"Dad said, when he first heard that place was occupied again, they took a scanner out to the edge to see how many there were, and there was just one."

"He also said the scanner started showing all sorts of crazy things that weren't possible, and then packed up. Believe me, I've seen more than one."

"More than one at a time...?"

She looked at him questioningly. "No, but what does that prove...? Are you trying to say they're all the same man in disguise...?"

"That would be quite a disguise..."

Both their heads snapped round, startled, at the unexpected voice. The newcomer had appeared from round the other side of the outcrop, Adran realised - He must have ducked down there as he heard them approach.

"Just what have you seen...?" the man asked, his voice only just loud enough to be heard over the wind.

"Well, I've seen you..." Adran replied, keen not to give the impression that he was in any way scared. "Just you. Going to the market to buy food."

"And I thought I was so clever, going in under cover of daylight." The man was older than almost anyone Adran had ever seen - older than Grandad had been when he died - but still strong. He wore rough homespun clothing like theirs and a battered old hat that cast a shadow over part of his face. His jaw was set, his expression somehow... cruel.

No, not cruel. Indifferent. Like he wouldn't ever go out of his way to harm you, but if you got in his way that was just too bad.

"I've seen others..." said his sister. "Your friends."

"Friends...?" The man smiled, but coldly. "Interesting. What are they like...?"

"There's a big man, about your age... A kind man. He smiled at me, and I liked the way his face went all creased when he smiled..."

"Who else...?" The king in exile seemed genuinely fascinated, a fact Adran found a little strange.

"Another man... I wasn't too sure about him at first, but he's kind too... He did a trick for me and Kera..."

"And you said Kera had seen a lady..." Adran prompted. That really got the man's attention, which had been drifting somewhat.

"No..." his sister corrected him. "I saw the lady."

"And what was she like...?" asked the man.

"You don't know?"

"Perhaps... I want to know what you think."

"What do you all do in that place...?" his sister asked, sulky now, tired of what had been an amusing game to start with.

"All...?" The man leaned a little closer. "There is no all. There's just me."

"I've seen the others."

"Perhaps..." he suggested "They're ghosts."

"...There's no such thing."

"Perhaps one day..." replied Avon - "You'll find that's all there is left."

Mature Content

This content is intended for mature audiences.


or, enter your birth date.*


Month

Day

Year*
Please enter a valid date format (mm-dd-yyyy)
Please confirm you have reviewed DeviantArt's Terms of Service below.
* We do not retain your date-of-birth information.
My Blake's 7 fanfiction folder: himoff.deviantart.com/gallery/…

"What is this place...?" A question Mara had been about to ask, but Caul, leaning over the control desk on Revenant's bridge, got there before her - Rissa looked over at him and her gaze lingered, assessing him curiously.

"If you have to ask, you don't know..." Darvin said smoothly. Then looked quizzical. "No, wait... I got that wrong..." He turned to Rissa - "What did I mean...?" - She shrugged nonchalantly.

"If you have to ask, you wouldn't understand...?" suggested Mara, coming forward to join Caul.

"That's probably it" said Darvin, still dissatisfied. "Sorry, forget I said anything..." Engaging the ship's automated pilot, he added "Just enjoy the view..."

The settlement must have started long ago as a small mining outpost, Mara guessed - Safe to say it had grown from there. Well out from its star, only a point of light in the distance, the small blue planetoid was clearly their destination, but the multitude of rocks around it kept obscuring her view - Asteroids, hundreds at least, each pursuing an eccentric course around the planetoid. Alarming, but Darvin and Rissa's nonchalance suggested that they might not be the navigational hazard they seemed to be.

"The system is TNCB-5213" said Darvin. "The position is the middle of nowhere, in galactic terms... At least, till recently..."

Revenant swooped through the careering asteroids, backing and veering as required, and suddenly plunged toward the planetoid's surface. Darvin and Rissa watched eagerly for signs of discomfort from their guests, but neither Mara or Caul would give them that satisfaction.

Watching the monitors, they could just make out structures on some of the asteroids - Mining outposts. They turned their attention to the rapidly approaching surface, and became aware of a hazy mist gathering around the ship.

"Cloud?" Mara queried. "I wouldn't have thought this place had an atmosphere."

"Artificial" said Rissa.

"And if you're wondering what paid for that, you've just seen it..." said Darvin. "Those asteroids are rich in... Well, where do you start...? Helium-two, mercury, selenium, zeiton... Even gold, of all things, not that it's much use..." He shrugged. "The asteroids are held here by gravity generators at the centre of GC - A source of wealth and protection in one. Spinning around endlessly and - here's the thing - unpredictably, but never colliding with each other... The pilot who could get through this without computer assistance - Well, there isn't one... No one is quite that good..." - His tone implied an unspoken Not even me - "To land, you need permission from down there."

As they descended from cloud level and approached the surface, he added "Welcome, my friends, to Galaxy City!" Next to him, Rissa punched the air weakly in listless sort of mock triumph before letting her arm fall limply to her side.

"Remarkable" breathed Mara, and Darvin turned to her. "Yeah, quite a place..." he said. "Not a bad place to get lost in, if you're of a mind to..." He looked at her pointedly. "An even better place to be found. You just have to meet the right people..."


If Mara and Caul had expected to see, as the name Galaxy City suggested, a massive complex of buildings on the surface of the planetoid - anything to rival the Habitat on Pelios - they were to be disappointed. The surface, with its generated nitrogen and oxygen atmosphere, could support life, and indeed could be circumnavigated in ninety minutes at a brisk walk, but it wasn't actually host to Galaxy City - It was Galaxy City. A fact that became clear when Revenant was greeted with a landing platform that rose out of the ground and, upon touching down, was conveyed beneath the surface as a concealed hatch closed behind them.

Darvin led Mara, Caul and Rissa out through the airlock and along the transfer tube, and into a service corridor overlooking the vast hangar in which Revenant was now docked, only to be greeted with-

- "You've picked a bad time to get back...!" -

- The tall young woman with long red-gold hair stalked away after making that terse statement, her leather-sleeved lilac dress billowing behind her, and Darvin hurried with a little difficulty to catch up.

"What exactly does that mean?" he demanded, moving in front of her and giving her no choice but to stop - She looked slightly dubiously at Darvin's companions but made no comment.

"Mara, Caul... Meet Juni..." Darvin said to them. "Juni - Mara and Caul..."

Juni gave a perfunctory nod and folded her arms. "I imagine I'll get to learn your names, if you turn out to be important..." Back to Darvin - "Scarn is here."

"You're joking!"

"Why would I do that?" She seemed genuinely confused by his assertion.

"In person...?"

"Of course not in person! He wouldn't fit through half the doors. But it looks like he's planning to say something - They're setting up a projector now..."

Darvin appeared a little flustered as he turned to them again, and Mara got the impression he was talking to them as a means of giving himself time to think. "Juni is the Administrator's personal assistant, basically she runs this place day to day..." He turned back to Juni. "Why is he doing this?"

She shrugged. "I just got back myself." Mara found her attention drawn to a small object on a fine chain around Juni's neck, one that she had started absently exploring with her fingers during her conversation with Darvin. A very striking and distinctive piece of jewellery, some kind of natural object - like a pearl from the seas of old Earth such as Mara had seen a specimen of on Pelios - a dull white in diffused light but glittering with a multitude of colours when she turned and one of the light sources in the corridor caught it. As if aware of her interest in the object, Juni concealed it again under her dress and half-turned away.

"I need to see her. Now..." said Darvin. "No, wait. I'll get changed first..." He was thinking furiously. The attack on Revenant, the sudden visit... How did it fit together...?

"Suit yourself. I imagine she'll be kept busy today anyway." Juni turned on the rather tall heels of her almost knee-length plastic boots and continued on at a fast pace, and they followed into the main concourse.

It was full of technicians and other base personnel hurrying to and fro, and guests from - well - everywhere. Even with their journeys of the past six months, Mara and Caul could not have imagined such a variety of beings existing in one place, such a variety of human cultures and, if they were not very much mistaken, the occasional non-human one too. The array of sights, sounds and exotic smells was bewildering and they cast a glance at each other, thoroughly confounded.

Nothing like Gauda Prime or Danteron. Certainly nothing like Pelios.

Then finally they passed into the central hub of Galaxy City, a vast space on several levels with a multitude of shops selling produce from across the galaxy. "Look up, if it doesn't make you dizzy..." said Darvin, obviously relishing the opportunity to show the place off to his guests.

They did, and gasped - The ceiling, which couldn't be much more than a hundred feet above them, though the distance was difficult to judge, was lit to simulate a blue Earth sky, compete with wispy white clouds. A bizarre and, at first, unsettling illusion which did indeed leave them feeling dizzy.

"Ooh..." Mara turned as Rissa grabbed her arm excitedly, and drew her and Caul's attention - "Watch this... Watch, and let me know what you think..." Bemused, Mara turned back to see what Rissa was getting so excited about.

Juni hold out a hand hesitantly to pluck the flowing sleeve of a tall - very tall - figure examining some alien fruit. Hesitant...? That wasn't what she had come to expect of Juni, even in such a brief acquaintance... The figure turned, and Mara and Caul exchanged glances - The tall man had been hidden from them by his large ornate collar, but now they could see him they found that his appearance was extraordinary.

He was long-faced and solemn and his complexion was unnaturally pale. His eyes were surrounded by a painted dark area, whether make-up or permanent tattoo was unclear. He looked otherwise basically human, but they found themselves wondering if they were about to encounter their first humanoid alien - In the explored section of the galaxy such things were rare, thanks to the Federation, but not unheard of.

"Faal..." said Juni, and the tall man bowed slightly, his eyes never leaving her face. "I'm... back..." she continued haltingly.

He nodded, as if to agree that this was self-evidently true, and his passive glance swept over the others disinterestedly. At a loss for anything else to say, she made do with "I'll see you at the next meeting..." and Faal bowed again.

"No, you didn't imagine that..." said Darvin quietly as they continued on their way. "And no, they're not. Not as far as I know, anyway."

"Not what?" Mara asked Caul, but he was equally nonplussed.


When Mara and Caul had gazed up at the artificial sky, the last thing they would have expected was for someone to be looking back - but someone was.

The watcher stood on a viewing platform and looked down and through the sky, opaque on the underside but transparent from above. An artificial sky may have been somewhat superfluous now that there was a real one above ground, but this feature pre-dated that development and, then as now, had concealed the office and living quarters of the City's Chief Administrator.

Manipulation of the control panel built onto the platform yielded a floating holographic monitor, which proceeded to magnify a portion of the view, allowing Madame Orella to get a good look at the new arrivals.


"Old, fat and rich... Basically, everything I aspire to be." That was Darvin's summation of President Scarn, who was technically the owner of the ships that had attacked them on their way home. Rissa's lip had curled at the first mention of him.

They had casually joined the crowd assembled in the main square. Like the others, they were surprised when the heavy-set old man, like all Proximan aristocrats a ludicrous figure with his flowing robes and his heavily-waxed hair sculpted into tall stiff spikes, suddenly sprang into being, several times larger than life - and that was large - on a specially prepared dais.

It appeared President Scarn was going to address the informal assembly.

Mara noted that despite the apparent casualness of the whole thing, Scarn's people moved in a carefully orchestrated way, black-clad guards - with their Federation-inspired uniforms - and white-clad officials clustered around the platform so as to block any attempts to reach their leader's image projector. Looking up, she saw the guards stationed at regular intervals along the safety rails on the upper levels, looking down on the assembly. Galaxy City's own security stood by uneasily, perhaps uncertain exactly what was required of them.

"I suspect Scarn's ambassador may not have been honest about how many men he brought with him..." Darvin said to Mara in a low voice. "There's no way Madame Orella would have let them land otherwise..." He smiled. "Well, I hope they underestimate her. I really do."

"Who's that...?"

Mara did not point, a fact Darvin noted approvingly, and he followed her gaze to a decidedly low-key figure standing below the platform - placing himself in such a way as to be visible to all and therefore see all, but draw as little attention as possible. An older man, but probably somewhat younger than Scarn himself, sparse hair slicked back, contained and watchful.

"That's Brintun..." Darvin breathed. "Job title - Not sure, actually, but it doesn't really matter... Power behind the throne, some say, but they also say that you shouldn't ever let Scarn hear you say that..."

She smiled faintly. "I won't. Promise."

"Good girl. Knew you could be counted on."

"If Scarn dislikes this Brintun, and he's as powerful as you say, why doesn't he just dismiss him...?"

"I don't think you're ever going to be much of a politician, my friend..." said Darvin, his tone making the observation clearly into a compliment. "You know, Scarn can't be projecting that all the way from Proxima... He must be somewhere pretty close by..."

"My people...!"- began Scarn, in a voice that was expertly projected even without the loudspeakers dedicated to the task.

- "His people...?" bristled Rissa -

-"You must all be wondering why I am here..." Scarn continued. "I know there is a certain... history of... fractiousness between us, but then we have all lived through troubled times... Well, it is my hope that that will soon be at an end. It is no secret that Madame Orella and myself have been engaging in dialogue recently... Productive dialogue, to be sure. And I hope that the fruits of that dialogue will soon be clear to all..."

"Get on with it...!" said a male voice in the crowd, and Mara noted that some of the guards around Scarn's projector scanned the assembly and shifted their grip on their guns. Whether he was aware of the interruption or not, the Proximan ruler continued regardless.

"For all that we may have had our... disagreements, one thing unites us... and that is our common stand against the great crisis of our time. The uncontrollable tide of émigrés..." He paused as if to collect his thoughts. "Now, of course, it is not that we are without compassion, but there has to be a limit of some sort to"-

-"What the hell is an émigré..." said the voice. "Do you mean refugees...? Say refugees, then...!"

"This was a bad idea" said Darvin with detached interest. "Wonder how Brintun's going to deal with this..."

"I think I can guess..." said Rissa grimly, and with that pushed her way through the people in front of them and quickly vanished into the crowd.

Scarn's voice drifted over again. "As I say, and everywhere I go I hear this again and again..." he said. "The flood of non-indigenous peoples into the core worlds is in very real danger of swamping us... Of overwhelming our infrastructure and threatening to stretch our resources beyond breaking point..."

"Non-indigenous...? Get a better speech writer... We're all from fucking Earth...!"The emphatic interruption seemed to be some sort of breaking point for Scarn's retinue, or else perhaps it had taken them till now to locate the man in the crowd, but now several guards plunged determinedly into the assembly toward him, people hurriedly moving back to allow them access.

"But more than that..." Scarn continued, oblivious - "More important than our infrastructure, it is our very culture... our way of life, that is under threat..."

"From you..." mused Darvin.

"Fuck you...!" The man was sturdily-built, bent-nosed and thick-necked, and stood his ground unafraid - He wore hard-wearing tunic, trousers and boots that marked him out clearly as one of the City's contractor construction workers. He looked at the guards closing in on him with what seemed like polite interest.

"But all is not lost... No..." said Scarn - "Fortunately for all, this great crisis is going to become the greatest of opportunities... Unified Systems stands at a crossroads..."

"Last time I checked, Galaxy City wasn't affiliated with Unified Systems..." Darvin said in a worried tone, and turned to Mara. "Now the attack starts to make sense."

"...and that this happens to coincide with an opportunity for expansion into the furthest corners of the galaxy, is a very fortunate coincidence... New worlds to tame, great projects that will require vast manpower... WE stand ready to forge an empire like the galaxy has never seen..."

"Just nobody say Federation, eh..." commented Darvin. "Nobody say the actual word, and it's all fine."

"Or slavery..." Mara replied quietly.

Scarn's guards were starting to lead the man away, with him refusing to let them grip his arms, when Rissa stepped in front of them. And shifted to stand in front of them again when they tried to avoid her.

"Hello. Going somewhere? Can I come?"

"Go away, little girl..." said one of the guards - "Before you have to get another new set of eyes..." He waved his hand in front of her in an exaggerated fashion, and tried to move around her again.

"You know..." Rissa said - "This is normally my favorite part, but I hate you people so much I'm going to skip it, all right..." Before the guard even knew she had moved, she had elbowed him in the face and a second later her knee slammed into his genitalia, probably doing permanent damage. The other guards didn't get a chance to use their greater weight - or weight of numbers - against her, as Rissa just slipped through them and casually tipped one of them over on top of the others, leaving them in a struggling heap.

"Should we help...?" asked Mara.

"No..." replied Darvin. "I think there's almost enough of them."


Sol Brintun was sweating in what was for him the uncomfortable warmth of the City Administrator's luxurious suite of rooms. His round-collared civilian suit, like all the ones he owned, was dark to hide the more or less permanent sweat stains. He walked across the reception room, annoyed at how his feet sunk into the plush carpet, and his tiny eyes skimmed over the Administrator's art collection indifferently.

"Thank you, I won't have a drink" he said in his reedy voice.

"I didn't offer one..." said Madame Orella lightly, and smiled broadly to show no offence was meant. Orella was a woman of, if hearsay was to be believed, more than sixty years, somewhere around Brintun's own age, although her relatively unlined face and bob-cut black hair seemed to belie that. "Your reputation precedes you here, and that includes your well-known... vicelessness."

She moved across the room with an easy elegance, feet hidden by her long dark-red fur-lined dress, one arm swinging lightly at her side while the other held a glass of green liquid. "I'm not sure I entirely believe it, to be quite frank."

Brintun cleared his throat, and proceeded to talk as soon as Orella had stopped. "The President"-

-"Can I offer you any refreshment at all?" asked Orella as she sat in an ornate chair built on Earth centuries before. "I believe we have some that are not psychoactive, though personally I have very little use for those..." She smiled again, and again noted that Brintun wasn't in any way responsive - just impatient for her to stop talking so that he could begin again.

Not a diplomat. Not a man of any particular principles or goals beyond the acquisition of power. Apparently no appetite for sensual pleasures of any sort, although her sources were still digging at that particular seam. What did he want, beyond the continued rise of his tiresome bloated master...? Orella sat back in her chair, determined to find out, and waved him to the chair opposite, making a mental note to have it taken out and cleaned later.

Reluctantly, Brintun sat, his face wearing the same pained scowl as it had when the guards ushered him in. "The President wants me to convey his congratulations on your recent successes..." He rushed through that, as though impatient with such diplomatic niceties while grudgingly accepting their necessity.

"Successes...?"

"Your recent agreement with Lod of Herriol for one thing. A real step forward, if free trade throughout the sector is your goal." He seemed pleased for the first time, as it became clear he had put Madame Orella off her stride. "That is your goal, I take it?" At the sight of the watery smirk that crossed his face, Orella wished for the return of the pained scowl.

"You are very well informed, Mister Brintun."

"Of course. I have to be. I haven't got to this position by dint of my charm."

"I don't know what you mean" she said disingenuously, chin resting on one hand.

"I mean what I said." While he took off his glasses and used a cloth to wipe his eyes clear of excess moisture, Orella took the opportunity to roll hers. "Now..." he continued. "It is President Scarn's main concern, in coming here, to make sure we have very clearly defined goals... Ones that don't, shall we say, conflict with each other... It would be unfortunate if they did."

"Couldn't put it better myself."

"It is our intention to provide the leadership that has been lacking since the war... The Federation will never return, of course - There are too many for whom even the word itself is toxic... It is for President Scarn and the Unified Systems to fill that vacuum..."

"And you..."

"What about me?" - Orella waved her hand as if to say Never mind, and Brintun continued - "It is inevitable. A vacuum, after all, exists only to be filled."

"That must make space travel a very interesting challenge for you."

"I mean, of course, a power vacuum."

"I knew that."

"Yes." That was his perfunctory means of filling silence.

"Well, that doesn't concern me, so long as this facility can continue, free from interference."

"Of course..." He sat back, and wiped sweat from his brow. "Do you miss the Federation?"

Something in Orella's eyes changed at that moment, the easy humour of a moment ago replaced by something cold, almost reptilian - "What?"

"I do, sometimes. The certainty. The structure it gave all our lives... You know I was in the Space Service...?"

"Indeed..." A lieutenant with an undistinguished service record, as Orella knew very well.

"I do miss it sometimes... These are terrible times, and that certainty is what I want to give back to people. All people. Don't worry about the President's talk of the refugees and such. That's all just a means to an end... There will be a place for everyone..."

"A means to an end...?"

"Oh, absolutely. Anger, if you can harness that and focus it... It can accomplish a lot of things that would not otherwise be possible. And uniting the majority against a substantial minority is highly effective in that regard."

"So long as that anger never focuses itself in the wrong direction."

"That's the trick."

"You don't worry that it provides somewhat shaky foundations for the next great power in the galaxy...?"

"You see..." he continued, ignoring her, "Some of us remember those days well..." He stood, and so did she, and he leaned in close - If her being slightly taller troubled him, it did not show - "I have a very good memory... Madame Orella..." The smirk returned. "And, to save your spies any further trouble, I'll share this fact with you quite voluntarily... I like my women young..."

With that, he turned and moved away - Staring at his retreating back, Orella's loathing was now quite evident. Before reaching the door, he turned and added emphatically "Young... Madame Orella..." and then sketched a half-formed salute and left.

Orella stood still for a very long time, face motionless, body trembling very slightly. Finally, the empty glass broke in her hand and, startled, she dropped it. She held up the hand and watched the blood seeping out from the cut and dripping onto the carpet.


"Not to worry" said Darvin unconvincingly as they turned away and wandered slowly across the square. "I'm sure he means well."

"I'm sure he doesn't care whether any of us live or die..." said Rissa, entirely unscathed by her involvement in the recent fight. "But the feeling isn't mutual - I'd like to garrote the bastard till I discover a new shade of purple and his tiny eyes slop out onto my hand." Mara and Caul looked a little askance at her, but Darvin just reached over and rubbed her shoulder briefly.

Offering no comment, Faal nodded politely to all of them and turned and walked away - Juni stood watching him for a moment, looking bereft. She failed to notice Caul standing just behind her. "You all right...?" he asked quietly.

She turned, nonplussed, as if one of the lounge tables a few feet away from where they stood had asked her a question. There was a long pause before she said "Which one are you again...? I've forgotten."

Caul already wished he hadn't spoken, even before the reply, and he just stood back out of her way as she strode purposefully off, heels clicking. He was startled as Mara, whom he hadn't realized was so close, suddenly clutched his arm with a painfully tight grip.

Her face had drained of colour, and in answer to his questioning look she could only nod across the square - He turned to follow her gaze, and immediately felt like he had been punched in the gut.

President Scarn's embassy was filing through one of the archways toward the lifts, and among the gaudily dressed aristocrats, austere attendants and grim military men, there was a small group who were instantly and terrifyingly familiar. Their robes were gleaming white - not caked in mud like the last ones he had seen - making the dark-red stains stand out even more starkly than they otherwise would.

The Children of Light had come to Galaxy City.


"Darling girl...!" Madame Orella greeted Juni as she came into her suite, and held her hands. "How was the journey?"

"Good..." Juni replied, looking round the reception room as Orella poured two glasses of the green liquid. "Something's different."

"Yes..." Orella said mischievously. "Take your time, see if you can work it out... While I hear your report."

"Herriol went well" said Juni, accepting the glass. "They're just as opposed to trade barriers as we are, so once we get down to negotiations with a full team..." She was staring at Orella's bandaged hand. "What happened...?"

"It's nothing. Don't concern yourself. Now... Betafarl...?"

"Exactly as you'd expect."

"Oh dear..." Orella moved around the room slowly. "Well, when the rest of us are reaping the rewards perhaps they'll think differently."

"I think it very likely." Juni finished her drink and went to put it down. Realising something, she smiled. "It's the collection..."

"Be more specific..."

Juni walked along the objets d'art and contemplated the items one by one. Finally she settled. "This is new, isn't it...?" Orella glided across the room to join her as Juni peered closely at the peculiar, apparently abstract, piece.

"...No, it's quite old..."

A transparent box, made of some kind of hard-wearing plastic, Juni guessed, with what looked like a cobbled together mass of electronic components inside. There were several light sources in there too, but at this moment the box was dark. "Does it light up inside?" she wondered.

"It did once. But it hasn't for some time."

"Why not get it fixed?"

"Why indeed...?" Orella pondered. Moving on, she gently steered Juni by the shoulders away from the box and toward the door. "Now, I understand Captain Darvin has returned."

"Yes, of course, I'll send him in."

With an affectionate squeeze of her shoulder, Orella let Juni go, and then turned away from the door. She stared for a long moment at the box, and that was how Darvin found her as he was shown in. The doors were closed again to give them privacy.

"Captain!" Orella greeted him, as he stepped forward and touched his brow to her proffered hand. "A productive journey...?"

Darvin sighed ruefully. "Do I have a report for you...?!"

"Well, I certainly hope so." That was said good-naturedly, but with a hint of steel. "Come through. Drink?"

"Of course..." he said, following Orella through a doorway and down a few steps to a sitting area where a large horseshoe-shaped couch waited invitingly. Collapsing onto it, Darvin flexed his sore foot inside its rigid boot. He looked forward to getting back into his everyday wear, but accepted the benefits of a dress code - Orella was old-school, and deserved the pomp as much as she expected it.

Orella came to join him with another two glasses of the green liquid, and let Darvin have a sip of his before she began. "The signal...?"

"We have lots more data. I've turned it over... Maybe more can be gleaned from what we have..."

"But you don't think so." She thought for a moment. "Well, I see why you weren't in any rush to report."

He took another sip and swilled it round his mouth, letting it sting. "Just an unfortunate consequence of coming back today. I didn't want to distract you from the President's ambassador."

"You always were discreet. But I think you'll find I'm quite capable of concentrating on two things at once."

He dipped his glass in acknowledgment of the mild rebuke. "Noted." He threw his eyes to the side in a mute question, and Orella looked over in that direction toward the control panel on the wall.

"The scrambler is activated, yes."

He took a breath. "I've brought them with me."

"Excellent."

"I don't think you'll find out much from them, though... They're just a couple of kids... Well, kids - They're not that young, I suppose, but they've come from some strange backwater, so they might as well be kids."

"Leave that to me - You've done very well getting them here. Thank you."

Eyebrows raised, Darvin took another drink, and broached the next thing he wanted to say. "Actually, I like them. If that's worth anything. We were attacked on the way back, and let's just say they pulled their weight and then some. I was hoping... Once you've talked to them, I was going to offer them berths on Revenant... With your permission, of course."

Orella smiled secretively. "Perhaps you shall." Her eyes became cold again as she looked at him. "Attacked?"

"Yes." He leaned forward. "Three of the new Gamma Pursuit Ships. UniS ships. I suppose they counted on me not getting back here to implicate them."

"Have they seen you since you arrived?"

He shrugged. "Possibly. They'll know Revenant is here soon enough... Sorry, if I had known they were coming..."

Orella held up a hand to stop him, and smiled grimly. "Yesterday, I might have been surprised. But after what I've heard today, it makes perfect sense..."

"UniS have arrived out here ahead of even the most pessimistic estimates. Looks like our hand is forced."

"Meaning...?"

Darvin looked awkward - "Well... I know it's been a while, but Scarn won't have forgotten you... Perhaps some of his people..."

"I think we may already have passed that threshold..." She stood, and deposited her glass on the nearby table. "Was that everything...?"

Darvin hurried to catch up with the suddenness with which his audience had been terminated, draining his glass and struggling to his feet. "One attacking ship was destroyed. The others dispersed. We captured the commander of the destroyed ship."

"I didn't expect them to move against us so soon..." Orella mused.

"Tell me about it."

"Keep the prisoner safe... I'll send for you soon, Captain... Send in the girl you brought back."

He nodded. "She's waiting now."


Amid all of Madame Orella's collection, Mara's attention had quickly been drawn to the same object that had so intrigued Juni. She brushed her fingers over the hard, lightly-stained surface of the box, aware of the door guard's discreet scrutiny. Hearing someone move up behind her, she turned to see Darvin walk past - He gave her a reassuring grin as he left.

Orella came through the inner door to join Mara in the reception room, and they looked at each other for a long moment. Mara didn't really know what she had expected, but Madame Orella's appearance almost instantly made her feel like there was a lead weight in the pit of her stomach.

"Are you all right, my dear...?"

Orella's question sounded like it came from thirty feet away instead of eight or nine, and Mara heard the heart thumping in her chest. As Orella stepped forward, Mara automatically stepped back, and seeing the older woman's face change she realised that she understood.

She knew.

Orella. That was not her name. Mara never forgot a face, and as she stood there faced by Galaxy City's Administrator, her mind went back to Alek's apartment in the Habitat, and the records of Roj Blake. She saw the faces, one by one... Blake... Kerr Avon... Jenna Stannis... Vila Restal...

This face had been there in those records. Despite her strenuous efforts to remove all such references, the erstwhile Commissioner Sleer had never thought to venture as far as Pelios to purge their archives. There, a picture of her had been retained.

This woman had once been Supreme Commander of the Federation's military forces, and later President. She had hunted Blake and then Avon remorselessly across the galaxy. She was a ruthless opportunist. A cold-blooded killer. Dangerous in a way that few people could ever aspire to be dangerous.

She was Servalan.

Mature Content

This content is intended for mature audiences.


or, enter your birth date.*


Month

Day

Year*
Please enter a valid date format (mm-dd-yyyy)
Please confirm you have reviewed DeviantArt's Terms of Service below.
* We do not retain your date-of-birth information.

My Blake's 7 fanfiction folder: himoff.deviantart.com/gallery/…


(Relevant extracts follow from the annals of the August Siblinghood of Morphenniel; Data adjunct 593A - The Federation Falls: From the Ashes... An Albatross)

...

The 3rd century of the 2nd calendar

...

93rd/94th year

Despite the massive loss of life, the immediate aftermath of the Second Intergalactic War was not actually quite such a chaotic time as might be supposed - at least for the Core Federation systems. There is evidence aplenty that local authorities in most surviving sectors managed to keep control of resource distribution and basic order, and little evidence of violent unrest. With their military machine to all intents and purposes destroyed, however, and even the most optimistic projections estimating full recovery more than 10 years away, it was clear that the Federation was finished.

The quiet disappearance of Sleer, the mysterious figure who had dominated the Administration in its final decade - just as calls to try her for war crimes were gaining traction - was in retrospect seen as the ultimate admission that this really was the end.

...

95th/96th year

Elements both within and outside the old Administration - members of the Cabinet, senior military figures, and even one of the famed resistance leaders who had done much to slow the advance of the Federation at its peak - put aside their differences in search of a new model for the future, and came together at the head of a new, altogether looser federation (though that word was to be avoided at all costs). The Unified Systems Alliance was born - Before long the Alliance part of the name was dropped for somewhat obscure reasons (see appendix 141-5680-subsection 1C) and it became known more simply as Unified Systems (UniS).

So what went wrong...?

...

(Data retrieval interrupted. Exiting backdoor... Deleting data retrieval signets... Deleted)


If the accompanying warships were in outline reminiscent of sharks and crocodiles, the Unified Systems flagship was more like a whale - Leviathan was designed more for its ability to overawe an opponent than to outmaneuver them, and to accommodate the extensive staff of a UniS Admiral on top of the 1,000 strong crew. The Admiral in this case was a sidelined, even perhaps irrelevant figure - ousted from his luxurious quarters and forced to requisition those of the Captain, and so on down the line, in favour of the current occupant of the Admiral's suite.

The President himself.

Sol Brintun waited in the ante-room, less than patiently. In conspicuous comfort, certainly, but no amount of plush antique furniture could make up for the sour feeling in the pit of his stomach. As he sat here, half a galaxy away his carefully-nurtured plans were in dire peril of being brought to ruin... and he was being kept waiting.

"You made sure of impressing on the President the extreme urgency of this matter...?" he barked at a passing servant. From the angle the servant viewed him from, Brintun's eyes were magnified considerably by his glasses, and his unblinking stare was decidedly unsettling. The bead of sweat gathering over his left eyebrow was magnified too.

The tall, thin young man looked down at him somewhat sniffily. "The President will see you, sir, as soon as he is able..." he said, before scampering aft back to the day-cabin, and Brintun resolved he would be added to The List as soon as he had leisure. Clearly he had little idea of just who Brintun was - just as many did not recognise the true importance of the President's Advisor-without-portfolio - but he soon would.

Brintun waited. And fretted. And sweated heavily.


When Brintun finally lost patience and walked into the day-cabin without announcement there was, briefly, silence, as if those in attendance could not quite believe anyone would have the temerity to come in without escort or invitation. The soft murmuring of voices and tinkling of exotic music quickly resumed, however, as it became clear there was to be no eruption of rage, no dire consequences for Brintun, or for anyone unlucky enough to be close by.

For now, at least...

"Sol..." said a low voice, and a huge liver-spotted hand beckoned. "Come here, come here... You wanna drink...?" A chuckle of restrained amusement. "No, of course you don't..."

President Scarn got up from the couch he had been lounging on, with some difficulty, and some of the scantily-dressed young men and women in attendance looked up again, briefly, in their surprise - For the President to rise to meet a visitor was a rare thing indeed. This kind of visitor, anyway.

"I have been waiting outside for some time. I don't think you realise"-

-"Wait" said Scarn firmly, clicking his fingers and a moment later accepting the resulting cup of wine without further acknowledgement. "Not in front of them."

He was an imposing figure, tall and extremely broad and powerful-looking, even accounting for his age and the rolls of fat that were visible beneath his loose-fitting, opulent garments - His full head of greying hair was sculpted, in the fashion of the Proximan nobility from which he had sprung, into several tall waxed spikes. He draped his great slab of an arm around Brintun's more wiry form and brought him to the other side of the vast day-cabin, to an ornate conference table surrounded by impressive high-backed chairs.

They both sat, and Scarn rested his massive forearms on the table, hands clasped together. "Now."

"You know that the Flavian Pursuit ship squadron recently encountered one of her ships, and tried to destroy it..."

"Tried, yes. Didn't succeed."

"Fortunately."

"Some idiot of a Commander, Faryl or something..."

"Haryl."

"Well, if he isn't already dead, I'll have him killed." Scarn's train of thought moved on. "I dunno, maybe it would be a good thing. We've been following this plan of yours for, how long now...? And no nearer"-

-"Exactly" Brintun interrupted, knowing he was the only man in existence who could safely do so. "The plan. To abandon it just as it reaches fruition would be utter folly."

"Bold words, sir."

"I thought that was why you needed me."

"Bolder still..." Scarn playfully knocked one huge hand against the side of Brintun's head, to his obvious annoyance. "It's a good thing I like you..." He wiped Brintun's sweat off his hand onto the hem of his tunic. "Well... Y'know what I mean."

"It is almost time to move against Orella, yes... but important to remember the reasons why we are moving against her in the first place. If we play this very carefully... She will lead us to him."

"Ah yes..." Scarn sat back. "You're right, Sol. Quite right." His fingers drummed loudly on the tabletop. "Good thing that ship wasn't destroyed." His eyes narrowed. "Where is he, Sol...? Tell me that..."

Brintun met the President's eye steadily. "That we will find out."

"Where are you...?" the President mused quietly. "Avon..."


Revenant, deep space

"It was my fault..." said Darvin quietly.

"How so...?" asked Rissa, taking the printout from him and skimming over the data. "Sorry, not seeing it..." The two of them were in Revenant's medical lab, trying not to look at the now-shrouded remains of One on the autopsy table. Three, cleaning up, studiously ignored them.

"You won't find it in there..." said Darvin, rubbing his face with his real hand. "I should have known...!"

"Known what?"

"When they installed that teleport thing, one of those guys was an old-timer, he worked on the - whad'yamacallit... Aquitar project, a sort of precursor..."

"Didn't go so well, I heard..."

"Well, yeah... But the thing is, apparently in the early stages of human testing they tried it out with Mutoids..."

She shrugged. "Makes sense to me..."

"Yes. But the point is, it stopped after that. The whole project. Even though the results up to that point had been so promising, and the expense already incurred was huge..."

"Why...?"

"The guy didn't know exactly, but he'd heard rumors..."

"The Mutoids went..."

"...Exactly."

Rissa studied the printout again. "So the teleport disrupts the Mutoids' programming..."

"More than that, it totally destroys the organic material protecting the electronic components in the brain from rejection... Basically, it scrambles their brains... I should have listened... Taken it seriously... Never put one of the Mutoids through that thing."

"And..." Rissa mused, "If just Mara and me had gone through, we'd have been in and out quickly - Job done..." - Darvin looked at her as if to say Thanks for pointing that out - "Well..." she continued. "You're the ship's captain..." She slapped him on the shoulder as she moved to the exit. "Not a god."

"Who says...?"


Mara avoided the captured officer's gaze whenever he glanced over at her - She just, as Darvin had asked her to, made sure he stayed where he was.

The prisoner sat at a table bolted to the deck in Revenant's brig - They were surrounded on three sides by the confinement cells, and Mara guessed this had been the guards' duty area - Darvin, for whatever reason, did not use the cells, so here she was, gun ready in her holster, standing with the prisoner in her line of sight. Bored, but alert all the same.

It was still better than Pelios.

Commander Nic Haryl tried his best not to fidget, not to sweat, not to show the girl any sign of weakness, but the very strenuous effort he put into that manifested itself mainly as... fidgeting, sweating and looking weak. The fact that his fine straight blond hair was coming free from its pomade and starting to fall down around his face was not helping his attempts to maintain his dignity.

How could he have allowed this to happen...? Three Pursuit Ships - cream of the new Unified Systems fleet - and he had allowed a clapped-out old Federation frigate with a skeleton crew to best him. How...?

Darvin came in, and sat down opposite Haryl. The two of them regarded each other for a long moment.

"You..." Darvin said, pointing with his artificial hand - "You have severely inconvenienced me... You know that...?"

"Good."

Darvin sneered in disdain. "And as for your tactics - All right, the basic two-pronged attack is a classic, never gets old... But you're supposed to stand well back till the outcome is as near-certain as it can be... Who were you trying to impress...? Who taught you"-

-"You did... sir."

"Oh..." Darvin sat back, casting a brief glance At Mara off to the side - She had suddenly taken a keen interest in the interrogation - "You were at the Academy..."

"Yes."

"I used to train cadets..." Darvin explained to Mara.

"Federation officer cadets..." Haryl said, having identified a weakness, unable quite to believe his luck.

"That's right..." Darvin confirmed grudgingly.

"While you were recovering... sir."

"Of course..." Darvin said, anger starting to show, "I don't remember you..."

"I dare say you don't, sir."

"You must have been young..." Darvin mused. He judged Haryl to be mid-thirties at the very most. Probably younger.

"Last intake. Sir."

"Oh..." Darvin felt on firmer ground now, and even started to enjoy this again - "Bad luck. Joined just as it was all coming to an end, eh...?"

"Fortunately there ended up being... other options for candidates with the correct skills and qualities. Sir."

"Or whoever they could get... Unified Systems, eh...? Nice idea at the beginning... But look what happened. Federation in all but name, but a lot less competent..."

"Is this supposed to be an interrogation, sir...? Because I seem to be finding out more than you are..." He glanced over at Mara and winked.

Darvin chuckled at that. "Yeah... You're in there. You know, if you had a bit of charm about you, that might not be quite so amusing... And if you hadn't soiled yourself at the first sight of an angry Mutoid..."

"Yes... What did go wrong there, sir...? Not having trouble with your crew, are you, sir...?"

"Don't you worry, son. Just don't you worry. About anything..." Darvin was genuinely menacing now. "You've no need to worry. Ever again."

Haryl sneered at that, while looking a little confused and fearful. Even more so as Darvin stood up, moved over to Mara and gave her his sidearm. "Take this, Mara... It's set to kill" - She looked at him, features carefully blank, but wondering what he was doing - "I'll be outside."

With that, he left. Mara moved forward, and at length raised the gun to aim it at Haryl's head.

"What is this...?" Haryl gasped - "I'm supposed to fall for this, am I...? Some sort of trick... It's pathetic..." - He became increasingly distressed - "You're pathetic. Wouldn't last a minute where I've come from..." - His breathing was loud and somewhat hoarse as he prepared himself - "Well, do it then... Do it! Just kill me...!"

Mara had just listened to him calmly the whole time, gun level - Finally, she spoke. "I... thought I was going to. I thought, why not...?" She lowered the gun. "But no. Just... no."


In the corridor outside, Mara passed the waiting Darvin silently, glancing at him only briefly as she returned his gun. He looked down at it in his hand, and smiled faintly.


Haryl was trying to control his breathing and ward off the advanced panic attack he was experiencing when Darvin came in again - His head snapped round, and he regarded Darvin like a cornered animal as Revenant's captain raised the gun.

He jumped in his seat as a loud click was heard. No shot was fired.

Darvin moved closer, and loomed imposingly over the table and the terrified prisoner. "I wouldn't do it either..." he said quietly. Then raised his voice. "I wouldn't either...!" - His eyes were blazing - "You got that...?!"

Haryl was left alone for a short time to contemplate it.


"All right, laddo..." Rissa called as she entered the bridge - Caul jumped up from the central chair, startled - "You... Are... Relieved."

"Thanks..." Putting on the battered dark-red leather jacket he had acquired on Gauda Prime, Caul made to leave.

"Though you don't look very relieved... Oh, and that's thanks, sir..."

"Oh. Sorry. Sir."

"I'm just joking. You don't need to call anybody sir. Ever. Though, don't tell him I mentioned it, I think Darvin secretly would like it."

"Right..." Looking like he had no idea how to extricate himself from this conversation, and would far rather be pinned down somewhere under heavy fire, Caul edged slowly toward the door.

"Anyway..." Rissa continued. "Speaking of, he's asked if you would take a look at the interface between Revenant's main systems and the teleport. After what I did to it, he's not risking it again till the whole thing is thoroughly checked out, and you... Well, you seem to have an affinity... Hey, I'm good at making messes that you can fix... Obviously meant to be..."

"I'll go now..." he said amenably, looking directly at her for the first time since she had come in, and gave a small wave as he made for the door.

"Oh, one more thing..." - He turned again to face her - "Like I say, you seem to have an affinity with all this stuff... I have a problem... Nothing too vital, but the door to my quarters keeps jamming just short of being closed... You're scheduled for rack time later, same as me, and I wondered if you would just take a look at it as you pass... You know, on the way to your quarters..."

"Yes... Of course I will." Was that all she wanted...? It seemed straightforward enough. He even smiled a little.

"I mean, if you're too tired by then... Or it's not your area... That's fine. It's just, I know how useful those hands of yours are... Just thought..."

"No, not a problem. I can do that."

"Thanks, Caul..."

"No problem."

As the doors closed behind him, Rissa turned to the control desk and smiled.


Pelios - 6 months earlier

The first thing Alek did was fashion a staff, a sturdy length of wood to support some of his weight, as he and Caul embarked on their trek into the jungle. The route he had never forgotten, even if the terrain was even more difficult than he remembered - or was his body just less responsive? - and so several hot, uncomfortable hours later they neared their destination.

"This is it, I'm sure..." he said, planting his staff in the ground. "It was somewhere near here..." He cursed himself for not anticipating that the jungle would have thoroughly hidden the wrecked ship in the intervening years.

Caul climbed a tree to the first set of branches. Out of breath, he looked in every direction, and Alek found the wait unbearable until, at last, the younger man looked down.

"Have you found it?" he demanded. Caul was about to point, lost his grip on the tree and struggled to retain it. "All right, come down..." Alek said testily. "Just... come down."


Again, Alek found himself waiting, looking up at Caul as he climbed, this time up the partially-exposed side of the crashed ship to the wide rent in the hull. So focused was he that when he heard the faintest sound behind him, and turned, heart suddenly hammering against the inside of his chest, it was far too late to make any difference.

The face, if it could be called that, of the Dream Weaver was so close to his own that it occupied most of his vision. He felt a strange form of calm descend as he realised... He had been living on borrowed time, after all...

No...

There was no Dream Weaver in front of him. Just the head of one, held up toward him... Held by...

Mara looked at him, her face impassive. "Sorry..." she said coldly. "Did I startle you...?"

He snorted. "I suppose I did deserve that."

Mara held the piece of Dream Weaver up and showed him the end of the fragment of stem still attached to it, hacked through after several attempts with her knife. "It couldn't have done much to you, anyway..." she said. "It's body is crushed underneath the ship... These feeders seem to operate independently, and have been uselessly trying to feed a non-existent host for decades... Long since run out of poison though... Fortunately for me."

She smiled, but it was a cold smile, devoid of warmth. They looked at each other for a long moment. "I'm sorry..." he said.

"What for...?"

"Anything you want me to be sorry for."

That provoked a genuine smile, if a somewhat half-hearted one. She looked over at the crashed ship. "Should we get Caul down from there?"

"You go. Let this tired old body rest... and then..."

She had started to move toward the ship, but turned back. "And then...?"

"And then..." Alek said, eyes closed. "I'll tell you everything..."


Star Maiden stayed behind for now, hidden, while some of the smaller ships of the fleet, those most suited to the task ahead, returned to sub-light speed well inside the star system - Powering down right away, they allowed themselves to continue on momentum, almost invisible to scanners and unlikely to be picked up by manual observation.

Pelios would not know that the attack was imminent - Not until it was far too late.


"Sit there... Lie down..." Alek's instructions came with a lifetime of easy authority behind them, and they were in his environment - in the main room of his apartments high in one of the main towers of the Habitat, in fact - and Mara did as he asked. She reclined on the couch, and looked up at the apparatus suspended above with curious interest.

"What is that...?" she asked.

"I'm going to get you to proceed to the interface in a moment..." Alek said, busy setting a program in motion at his work desk. Caul looked back and forth between them - How much of this he was following was anyone's guess, and neither thought at any point to ask him.

Alek had smuggled them here in his private lift, their journey unrecorded and seemingly unremarked upon. The privileges of a senior A - the most senior A - citizen were apparently sacrosanct. He had allowed them both time to clean up after their ordeal in the jungle, and done so himself, but it was clear he had a very particular reason for bringing them back here.

He took a cranial lead over to Caul and handed it to him. "Do you mind if he monitors...?" he asked over his shoulder to Mara.

"Monitors what...?"

Alek turned to her, leaving Caul with the lead in his hand. "Your past, my girl, is... How can I put this...? Mysterious. Up to now, I have been the leading expert on it, at least here on Pelios. Now, you are about to find out everything I know..."

Mara just stared at him for a long moment, and her eyes flickered over to the waiting Caul. "Plug in, Caul."

Alek made the final preparations. "Relax... Let your mind go blank... Focus."

"Where's my lead...?"

"You don't need one. Just look at the Opticon above you." At the back of her mind, Mara idly wondered what other technology was reserved only for the most senior A citizens, but she mainly focused on readying herself for interfacing with whatever program she was about to go inside.

The secrets of the past... revealed. She should have been excited. Why did she feel like they might be better buried?

She closed her eyes, and opened her virtual ones. The interface - the same white corridor she had seen many times before, the same junction. As ever, she waited till one became more distinct than the others and walked down it... Into...

Void.

She fought the wave of nausea that threatened to tear her out of the program, and allowed herself to be reassured by Alek's disembodied voice - This time it really was his, not that of his data ghost. "I'm going to show you something..." he said. "In five seconds, you will see an image. I want you to share your response without delay, whatever it might be..."

She waited. "One..." he said - "Two, three, four, five..." Then she saw him - for the first time, but as it would turn out, not the last.

The man was young, or certainly not very old - the time stamp on the visual log his image was taken from told her this was thirty years ago - He was neither tall nor short, of slightly stocky build, dark hair falling in a fringe over his forehead, his cold eyes looking along the sights of the strange-looking gun he held. Pitiless. Merciless. Ruthless. Or was that just what he wanted to project...?

"Quick, girl..." Alek urged. "Your reaction. Do you know him...?"

"No" she replied. "I have never seen this man before. To my knowledge, at least."

The image vanished, leaving her in the black void once more. "In another five seconds..." Alek said calmly "There will be another image. I want your reaction to this one too... One"-

-He had lied. The image appeared - the man appeared - right away. He was a little taller and sturdier in build. He had a full head of thick curly hair, and held the same peculiar kind of gun the other man had. So many things passed through her mind as she saw him, so many unexpected emotions, but at the forefront was the simple, inescapable fact that this was not the first time she had seen that face.

"Yes..." she said aloud, voice unemotional, but tears starting to form in her real eyes - Alek nodded as if it confirmed something he had suspected - "Who is he...?" she whispered. "Who is this man...?"

Alek leaned in close to her and replied quietly. "His name was Blake."


Star Maiden hung in space at the edge of the system. On the spacious bridge, dimly-lit with white-robed Lightseekers huddled over the workstations, Tylner presided high above them, receiving their reports.

"Attack ready to commence..." said one. "Awaiting final instructions..."

Tylner picked up the hand-held device the captain of the Star Maiden had once used to jovially address his passengers - Now it connected him with the ships of his attack divisions. "The attack is authorised, authorised, authorised..." he said - "Commence attack. Commence. Commence. Commence..."


"The man's body in the crashed ship..." said Alek, as Mara allowed his disembodied voice to conjure up whole worlds in the black void, "was partially identified as this man - Roj Blake... The body of the woman, I'm afraid, has yet to be positively identified..."

"Partially identified...?" queried Mara. "What does that mean...?"

"His biodata was somehow... damaged, in such a way that we were never able to make a fully accurate profile for him. We relied on visual identification from images taken at the site and recorded on the Federation's main security database..."

"What was wrong with the biodata...?"

"Irrecoverably corrupted... Or perhaps, as I argued at the time, so different that our normal analysis procedures were inadequate..."

"Was Blake not human...? Nothing I've ever heard about him suggests that."

"I said it was mysterious, didn't I...? The conclusion was that his body had been badly damaged by radiation before the crash. There was no other indication of that, it's nonsense as far as I am concerned, but it was easier to believe than the alternatives, and so was allowed to stand."

"And what did you think...?"

This man both was and was not Roj Blake..." said Alek. "The visual ID, checked and re-checked, says he is. The biodata analysis suggests he is someone, or something, else entirely. The visual match is just too precise. The biodata analysis totally unreliable, so I lean a little more toward the notion that he was."

She hadn't wanted to rush to the question, but she finally asked it. "Were they my parents?"

"The woman was your mother, yes. There is no doubt."

"And was Blake my father...?"

"Impossible to say."

"Who was the other man...?"

"His name is Kerr Avon. He was Blake's colleague for some years in his insurrection against the Federation... Some say his lieutenant, assuming Blake actually had a formal chain of command... Some say, friend too... Sources differ on that."

"I"-

-"And he was the one who murdered Blake on the planet Gauda Prime just slightly under twenty-seven years ago."

Silence persisted for some time. "How is that possible...?" she asked, voice brittle.

"I don't know. Too many sources agree that Blake died on Gauda Prime to be easily dismissed, and yet here we have what appears to be his corpse, here on Pelios. Crashed, just days later."

"He must have escaped from Gauda Prime. But what was he doing here...?"

"There, I'm afraid, is where our ignorance makes us equals."

"You have more information?"

"I do indeed..." said Alek. "Now, everything you know of this man Blake and his crew is little more than folk tales, myths distorted by distance and multiple tellings... What I am about to share with you is everything the Habitat has. Sensitive information, sourced mainly from the Federation's own databases... Trial records, military dispatches, visual and aural logs, ministerial meetings... One thing, alas, we have never been able to reach is biodata records, or that could have solved our mystery right away... Too secure in their encryption, and now the Federation is gone so too are the records... Ready...?"

"No."

"Do you want it all anyway...?"

"Yes."

Mara let the information come to her - Visual, aural, written, subliminal, intuitive... She read the reports, watched the trials, heard the testimonies, saw the faces and the bodies of those involved - Roj Blake watched as a machine decided his guilt or innocence on blatantly trumped-up charges... Space Commander Travis later found himself in a very similar situation... Before that, Travis related his many attempts to destroy Blake and his miraculous ship, the Liberator...

Something in the records triggered a memory - Finding the strange device in the jungle... Her finger poised over the controls with some strange compulsion to activate it... "So that's IMIPAK..." she whispered.

Then came the war... The first war...

Then... Star One destroyed... Blake was gone... Travis was gone... There was Avon... and Servalan! The Federation's Supreme military Commander was now President, and she took personal charge of the capture of the Liberator and final destruction of Avon and his crew... Till the destruction of the Liberator above the artificial planet Terminal...

It wasn't over... From a hidden base, Avon and his crew rebuilt... Finally, as the Federation expanded again, with Servalan back from the dead, shrouded in the false identity of Commissioner Sleer, he built a new resistance movement, an alliance of many planets... He almost succeeded... He failed...

One final effort... Find him... Find Blake...

Gauda Prime... The trap was set with precision... A Federation operative - Arlen - infiltrated Blake's organisation... Troops moved in to capture Blake and Avon and all the others - Vila Restal, Del Tarrant, Dayna Mellanby, Soolin - in one fell swoop...

The unexpected... Blake shot dead by Avon... The others fell... Avon... There the record failed to illuminate any further.

It all took a little under six minutes.

"Now you know it all..." said Alek, as Mara's tear-filled eyes looked at him almost accusingly.


The attack ships of the Children of Light glowed white-hot as they entered Pelios's atmosphere - If anyone happened to be looking up from the Habitat, they would have seen the fine points of light in the sky, presaging what was to come...

No one did.


Dorra opened her eyes, and sighed. It was worse than she feared.

With some difficulty, she got up off her couch, identical to the one in Alek's apartment, and moved over to her personal work desk. She deactivated her Opticon, and her hand paused as it passed over the controls... For a long moment, she considered forgetting what she had just been monitoring.

It would be so easy.

No.

Her fingers touched the controls, and the intercom activated.


"We have to hurry..." Alek's limp became more pronounced as he led Mara and Caul to his private lift. Both of them found themselves taken aback.

"Wait..." Mara said. This was moving a little too quickly for her, and she doubted Caul was coping any better. "You're saying you have a ship...? We're going...? Leaving Pelios...? Just like that...?"

Alek turned, mouth hanging open as he considered her words. "No, not just like that. I'm seventy-four years old. This has been at the back of my mind for... Oh, I couldn't really say how long... It's time... It's just... time..." He shrugged. "I'll go alone if I must."

Mara shook her head slowly, still having trouble. Leave Pelios...? The prospect was... exciting, certainly. Terrifying. Daunting. Wonderful. Impossible to face. Impossible to turn away from. She turned to Caul and, their faces close together, searched his features for clues to what he was thinking about this. Her mouth moved without forming words.

Caul just stared back. Unprompted, both of them found themselves grasping each others' hands, each as clammy as the other. Holding them tight.

She turned back to Alek - "Where is this ship...?"


Dorra led the way down the corridor slowly, purposefully, like she was at the head of a funeral procession - Behind her, the guards hands held tight onto their unaccustomed guns, recently broken out of the armory with very little notice. She was in no hurry to get there, dreading what might happen when they reached their destination.

Not for a moment, however, did she consider turning away.


Alek tried to summon the lift several times, telling himself there was merely a minor fault even as all his instincts and experience told him otherwise - His hoped-for element of surprise was lost, if indeed he had ever had it.

"Dorra" he said quietly. A single word with the full weight a lifetime of mixed emotions behind it. Mara and Caul, hands still joined, stood watching his growing apprehension nervously, and he turned to them.

"They're not going to beat us that easily..."

He led them to a second door, and forced it open against some resistance, and a moment later they were hurrying down a dimly-lit, little-used service corridor. Mara tried to take Alek's arm to help him, and after automatically refusing the help at first he took it gratefully the second time.

They approached an intersection, and without warning the Habitat security guards appeared and blocked the way. They turned, only to find more guards appearing at the other end.

They were trapped.

It took several seconds before Dorra joined them, having of necessity stopped keeping up with the guards some time ago. When she came into view and saw them, her eyes passed over Mara and Caul dismissively and she stared levelly at Alek for a long moment.

He met her gaze unflinchingly. No regrets, my love.

She turned away.


The attacking forces of the Children of Light approached through the atmosphere of Pelios like a swarm of angry insects - focused, intent, and for any who observed their approach, ominous.

The landing craft began to touch down, the first advance guard in the ships most suitable for this type of assault - They had done this before, many times, and the operation was well-oiled. Before long, streams of white-robed fanatics, each with their own distinctive dark stains, were running toward the Habitat, each possible exit cut off and guarded, each division and company with its own specific task to perform, each officer focused on his or her goal.

The Habitat's security forces resisted piecemeal, and dozens of minor skirmishes developed - The Children of Light took some casualties, casualties they were prepare