If you go out in the woods today
You'd better not go alone
Don't go out in the woods today
It's safer to stay at home.
Each mortal man that ever there was
Today is in great danger because
T'day's the day the Decimas 'ave their picnic.
Picnic time for Decimas
The little Decimas were 'aving a lovely time today
Until they became aware
Of someone's intentions with deadly rays.
Now see them start to shriek and shout
They love to kick about a couple of heads or two
I hope that when it's time to go
That you'll take your bloody rubbish oh
Nice little Decimas.
From Ditties From the Edge of the World
copyright 1985 Linda M. Short
The forest could have been on any human-settled world. It looked like any forest; plenty of ground cover, moss everywhere and fungi of various types. Something was different from all other forests on all other worlds, though. Fine silver-white webbing, not bunched like cobwebs but long and silky as hair can be, laced the ground. Viewed from above, the silvery webbing radiated out from bubble-like laboratory buildings grouped close together in a clearing. The area was still and silent. The only indication of life was a pair of flashing lights above a heavy door that led into the laboratory complex.
A voice occasionally stretched into the air, hissing and groaning and filled with a maliciousness that tainted the entire complex. They must come, they must come, they must. Within the laboratory there was one room that contained only a few lounge-chairs. On those lounge chairs lay a man and a woman dressed in silver shining suits. They gazed emptily at the ceiling. Their pale yellowy skin was almost translucent, their gray hair slicked back on the man's head and tied in a bun on the woman's. In another dimly-lit room nearby there was a clear plastic cylinder filled with a viscous liquid, and floating in the liquid was something that at first glance might have seemed to be a baby. But it was a tiny wrinkled body with atrophied torso and limbs, fed by an umbilical cord. The head was as wrinkled as the rest of it, but living intelligent eyes blazed and scanned disjointedly around. Thin lips coiled coldly and mouthed words spoken only by the mind. They must come to us.
The Liberator's wardrobe room had an extensive selection of clothes. Most of the women's apparal seemed designed specifically to fit Jenna, who put together a dark-red dress with petals along the collar-line. She also had drug out several pieces of footwear that she liked. Cally had picked out a green satiny jump-suit and complained that the petals seemed to be standard on the women's clothes, and that her figure was more rangy than these were designed for, but she was satisfied that they were at least color coordinated. Vila quite enjoyed digging through the room looking for new combinations to wear. Blake preferred dark greens and browns himself and Avon seemed satisfied with a dignified suit of black and gray, which somehow fit him well.
It was Jenna's watch. She frowned as she checked the readings. She had gone over them more than a dozen times and they remained the same. Enough, she decided. Leaving her station she hit a button on the couch's communication console. A sleepy, irritable voice answered her. "Blake."
"Jenna. Sorry to wake you, but I think you'd better get down here."
Several months of living with him on the ship had taught her that he woke up reluctantly and grumpily, so she refused to take offense at his tone as he asked impatiently, "What's wrong?"
"Our speed's increasing."
His exasperated sigh blew through the speaker. "Well can't you compensate?"
"It's not an external influence, it's us. The primary drive's accelerated."
Blake had dozed off on his back and now he stretched stiffly and silently scolded himself. Jenna was very independent and would never call him for something trivial that she felt she could repair by herself. He rubbed his eyes trying to get the gritty feel out and dragged himself to a sitting position. "All right, I'm on my way."
Deeper in the Liberator's interior, Cally stepped into one of the holds. She looked around alertly enough but when she moved it had a disjointed feel. At her hip she had one of Liberator's blasters. She was also carrying a packet of tools and a small box which she affixed to one of the ship's power channels. Satisfied, she crept out of the hold, closing its hatch behind her.
Blake came onto the flight deck, blinking sleep from his eyes and buttoning up his dark green shirt. "Well?" he asked Jenna.
She was intent on the readings her station was giving her. "Speed standard by three and building."
Jenna frowned, tapping her fingers restlessly. "Well if it continues like this it'll be off the scale in about... twelve minutes. Zen says the automatic repair circuits should have it under control by then, though. Seems to be a malfunction in the P/N overrides."
Blake had turned a wide-eyed gaze on her at the mention of their speed, but now he tossed his head and turned grumpily to the computer. "Zen, estimated repair time."
Eleven point zero-two minutes, replied the computer.
The rebel leader pursed his lips. "Whew! That's cutting it a bit fine! And what caused the malfunction?"
The malfunction was deliberately induced.
Jenna's head came up in a flash. "Deliberately induced?!"
Cally headed through the corridors on her way to the flight deck. She passed by Vila, who was coming through another corridor, without noticing him until his cheerful voice called to her, "Cally! Cally! What d'you think of the outfit?" She stopped her headlong swift walk and turning around started toward him. Vila grinned at her and stretched out his arms to show off his clothes, but a thief's natural instinct for self-preservation alerted him to the fact that her eyes gazed emptily at him, and she had the faintest traces of a smile as if she had forgotten how to make one. "Cally?" he asked concernedly. Her arm came up almost faster than he could see and connected with his temple. The thief crumpled without a sound, and Cally turned back the way she had been going.
Jenna and Blake together were taking readings. Jenna reported, "Speed standard by four and building."
Blake finally moved to the right-hand front station and signalled the teleport chamber. "Avon?"
Avon was bent over some circuitry. He lifted his head and hit the answer switch. "Yes?"
"I need you on the flight deck," came Blake's voice.
The tech's response was icy. "I'm busy."
"Now, Avon!" Blake deactivated the communicator and turned worriedly around. "Zen, how're the repairs going?"
They are proceeding on schedule.
"Hmmm.... What caused the malfunction?" Zen did not respond. Blake frowned and prompted the computer, "Well?"
Involvement is not permitted.
Blake's mouth dropped open for an instant before he snapped indignantly, "If the ship's blown up lofty disinterest won't save you!"
Jenna interrupted calmly, "Speed standard by five and building."
The rebel became all business, setting aside for the moment the matter of a sabatour. "Forward detectors on maximum, full scan." He turned to Jenna. "Abort course programs," and back to Zen, "key all navigation systems to anticipate potential collisions and neutralize."
They were still the only people on the flight deck. Blake bit his lip angrily and opened the comm again. "Avon!"
"All right!" came back irritably.
Cally stepped into the teleport in time to hear Blake say wryly, "If it was all right I wouldn't need you here."
Avon shut off his comm-circuit and bent determinedly back to his research. A faint sound behind startled him, and he spun about. Cally stood in the entrance looking at him curiously. Avon turned back again, tapping his laser probe impatiently against the table. "Our leader seems a bit piqued," he said coolly.
"What are you doing?"
"A little private research." He was ready to ignore her and get back to work, when she came to his side.
"Why?" she asked directly.
His shoulders twitched in a shrug. "All knowledge is valuable."
Cally met his eyes steadily. Her hand came up and rubbed at her right temple in a graceful, unconscious gesture. "Which are the forward detector links?"
The tech was distracted, fascinated by her eyes. They were the most delightful shade of green and brown he had ever seen. It took a moment for the question to register. "What? Oh, um..." looking around he pointed down into the compartment he had opened. "Those two there. Why do you want to know that?"
She looked blank for one second, then smiled affectionately at him. "I'm interested in your work."
He was caught up in wondering if her pale skin was as soft as it looked. She had the trim, delicate-yet-strong build he favored in a woman and those eyes were perfect to get lost in, bottomless, and that she was quick and efficient she had shown ever since she took on Blake on Saurian Major. Oh yes, Blake. His call had sounded urgent. Avon was reluctant to leave just yet, but.... "Yes. Well I suppose I'd better go and see what it is that Blake wants." He left reluctantly.
Cally watched him go, then she brought out the tool-bag she had been carrying and set to work.
"What exactly are you accusing me of?!" Avon snapped coldly.
"I'm asking if your researches have included the P/N override," Blake replied, controlling his temper with an iron will.
Avon gazed at him and shrugged. "I haven't been anywhere near them." He sat on the flight-couch and watched the other two with interest.
Jenna forstalled Blake's inevitable comment to Avon. "Speed standard by six and rising," she said firmly.
There is a partial malfunction on the forward detectors.
The first tool was not powerful enough to do the job. Cally replaced it and picked up Avon's laser probe. It hummed loudly and she reached down into the compartment. There was a small explosion and a ball of yellow light hid her lower arm and hand from sight.
Forward detectors are now dis-functional. Navigation computers have switched to theoretical projection.
Blake checked his readings. "Now we're blind as well," he muttered sourly.
"WHO?!" Jenna slammed her fist into her hand.
"Cally." It was said with such cool indifference that Blake almost did not think to respond.
Finally he managed, "What?"
"It's Cally!" Avon was on his feet in one fluid motion and out into the corridors.
"Warn Gan and Vila!" Blake shouted to Jenna and he followed on Avon's heels.
Jenna hit the comm to Gan's quarters. "Gan? Respond please."
Gan stirred lazily on his cot and sat up on his elbow. Hitting the comm switch he said, "Yes Jenna, what is it?"
Avon and Blake came to a sliding halt just in the entrance to the teleport. Cally stood there with a blaster pointed at them steadily. Her face was devoid of expression as she approached them. "I should regret the necessity to kill you."
Blake held onto calm. "Why are you doing this, Cally?"
Her empty gaze settled on him. Somewhere in her head a voice filled her mind, They must come, it said firmly.
Prompted by it, Cally ordered them, "Move back to the flight deck."
Avon reluctantly backed closer to Blake, staring at Cally. "Look at the burns on her hand," he said quietly.
Blake looked at the black, blistered flesh and winced in sympathetic reaction. "She must be in agony!" he whispered back.
Cally came closer to them. "I will kill you if you do not obey," she said. Both men decided they wanted to live a little longer.
Jenna stood at her console. Hearing them come in she said over her shoulder, "Speed standard by seven. Speed seems to be increasing be-" she broke off, staring at Cally. Somehow she could not feel as surprised as she thought she should. "So it was you."
Blake watched Cally intently for signs of weakness or shock. The telepath waved her gun at Jenna, who glared down and silently refused to move. A faint sign of life came into Cally, then. "Must you invite death?" Jenna considered the question before moving to join Blake and Avon. Cally edged around toward the console and reached to check the controls.
Jenna commented coldly, "Navigation computers can't cope with a change of course. We're running blind."
Cally's attention was focused on them. She did not see Gan enter the flight deck behind her and start edging toward them. Blake stepped forward, hoping to keep Cally distracted. The telepath stiffened. "Don't move!" she warned him.
Blake carefully held out his hands. "Jenna's right, Cally. The ship's out of control, we're as good as dead now!" She glared at him but Blake thought perhaps there was strain in her eyes too. He raised his voice. "Zen, what's our speed?"
Standard by eight point six-five.
Gan was closing in on Cally. Avon spoke over the other two's shoulders. "If you're trying to steal the ship, there are other ways."
Realization suddenly clicked in Jenna's mind. "You're not Cally, are you!" she accused.
Cally's eyes snapped to Jenna. The voice filling her mind snarled, Kill her! She moved to shoot when large hands clamped over her gun-wrist and pain bolted up into her body.
"Hah!" Gan exclaimed as he ripped the weapon from Cally's fingers and shoved her into Blake's arms. Jenna shot by them all to check the ship's controls.
In the laboratory, the little child-thing narrowed its eyes, sensing defeat was possible. They must come to us. They must. They must. It repeated the litany over and over again into Cally's mind.
Cally had crumpled on the deck, but that voice forced her to scramble to her feet and jump clawing at Blake. Gan caught her in his arms and held her as she writhed. Jenna suddenly ducked into the fray and delivered a sharp slap to Cally's cheek, then held the younger woman's face between her palms. "Who ever you are, it's over!"
*Thank you Jenna,* came an exhausted reply. Cally was breathing harshly, her body limp in Gan's hold.
Avon shoved Jenna out of his way and caught Cally's chin himself snarling, "What was that all about?!" and he did not mean the girl's holding a gun on them and sabotaguing the Liberator. She gazed blankly at him.
Blake had never seen Avon angry before. Hostile, contemptuous and sarcastic, yes, but never angry. He intervened quickly. "We'd better keep her sedated."
"And locked up or dumped!" snapped Avon.
Jenna agreed heartily with him. "You should never've brought her on the ship."
Vila stumbled in then, rubbing his tender temple. Avon released Cally and turned on him. "And where've you been hiding?!"
The thief shot him an injured look. "All I said was what do you think of the outfit."
Repair monitors report explosive device attached to primary power channel.
"Where?!!" bellowed Blake.
Hold 3, access duct 7.
"Well can't the automatics neutralize it?"
Blake gaped toward the computer. "Why not?!"
There is no damage.
Avon snorted. "Computer logic: until the bomb explodes, there's nothing for the repair system to repair. Zen, can you reprogram the automatics?"
Pre-emptive interference in crew activity is forbidden.
The rebel leader wheeled around and headed for hold 3, throwing back over his shoulder, "Oh he'll clear up after us, but he won't stop us making a mess!"
Avon snarled after him, "YOU made this mess!"
"We're all in it, Avon!" Jenna pointed out.
The tech was following Blake. He paused mid-step and yelled back at her, "Yes aren't we!!" then went on.
Jenna looked over at Gan, who was cradling the now-unconscious Cally. "You'd better lock her in."
"I will!" Gan replied, leaving the flight deck for the medical unit.
Jenna turned to Vila. "Anything on the detector scanners?"
"Not a thing!" The thief was still shaken. Getting knocked out by an ally was not pleasant, and the ship being sabotaged as well! This did not make him feel any safer.
"Speed's up to standard by ten," Jenna fretted. She turned to Zen. "Drive repairs, how long?"
One point two-five minutes.
Vila looked up, "Can you stop us then?"
"If we don't hit something first. Forward detectors?" Jenna asked Zen hopefully.
Repair monitors are assessing the damage.
Vila uttered a hopeless sigh. "A bomb was all we needed."
Blake came to a sliding halt at the entrance to access duct 7. He entered quickly and looked around for the bomb. It took him a second to spot it, just a small box with a red light glowing steadily. Blake edged close to try and deactivate it. Avon appeared at the door and assessed the situation in one glance. Recognizing the type of explosive he warned, "Be careful of that thing! If the light goes out you've got about three seconds!"
Blake accepted that silently, reaching his fingers around the case's exterior. The light went out and Blake turned a sudden, frightened apologetic gaze to Avon, who decided this was unacceptable. "Look OUT!" he shouted, crossing the distance and tackling Blake. They hit the opposite wall just as the bomb went off and both men blinked tiredly as the flames disappeared under the automatic fire-retardent. Blake slowly eased himself to a sitting position, unable to hide a smile.
On the flight deck Zen announced, Major disruption of primary power channels. All systems switched to auxillory power. All drive units are disfunctional.
Blake leaned back against the wall, an irrepressible grin tugging at his lips. He looked over at Avon. "Thank you! Why?"
"Automatic reaction. I'm as surprised by it as you are." Avon risked a quick glance at Blake to see if the other man believed him.
"I'm NOT surprised." Blake decided not to press the issue and both men got to their feet. The rebel leader left for the flight deck, Avon stayed behind to study the repair-system as it worked.
The two ghastly-pale people abruptly stood and walked into the main laboratory, obeying the voice whispering harshly, We must make ready.
* * *
Blake paced in front of Zen's visual reference point, chewing his lip and listening to Jenna explain her earlier statement about Cally.
"It wasn't what she was doing, it was... the WAY she was. If you looked into her eyes, it wasn't her looking back at you."
Gan grinned behind her. "Avon says that's because she's an alien."
"Everyone's an alien to him," muttered Vila.
Blake chuckled, the tension broken by Vila's statement. "He's certainly more at home with machines."
The navigation computers have completed a theoretical projection of Liberator's position. Zen fell silent.
Blake's patience was wearing thin. He snapped, "And?"
This star system is largely uncharted.
Vila threw up his hands in exasperation. "Oh that's marvelous. We're not sure WHERE we are, but if we were sure, we wouldn't know where it was anyway!"
Repairs to the primary power channel are complete. All drive units are now fully functional.
Blake turned quickly to the others. "Reduce speed to standard by point five!"
Jenna quickly began the procedures, ordering Vila, "Reverse primaries!" As their combined efforts finally had an effect, the steady background engine hum wavered in pitch and then dropped to a lower scale. Jenna sighed. "Speed now standard by point five."
Blake chewed his finger nervously. "Put up navigation projection." Zen obeyed, a black screen irised out with white circles scattered loosely across it.
Circles indicate projected planets. Positions are unconfirmed.
"Well put up our estimated position." A pinprick of light appeared near one of the planets. Blake raised his brows. "That's too close to something we can't see."
"And that we're not sure is there," Jenna pointed out.
Blake pursed his lips, then asked Zen, "What about the detectors?"
Partial malfunction is still not traced. Repair monitors are in phaze two: reassessment.
"Gan! See if there's anything you can do to help Avon! Tell him we need those detectors NOW!"
Gan nodded, "Right," and left the flight deck.
There was silence for a few moments, then Zen said, Hull sensors detect a major gravitational field within Liberator's ambit.
Blake frowned nervously. "Jenna, compensate for gravitational drift."
Jenna did so with perfect calm but she noticed, "Our speed's dropping."
"Field drag?" Blake asked hopefully.
"Field strength's only three point five, it must be something else."
Limited-range forward vision is available should you require it, Zen suddenly informed them.
Vila looked mortally injured. "Why couldn't you tell us that before?!"
"Put up forward vision!" Blake nearly shouted. He glared toward Zen.
Another screen opened onto space. Their view of the stars was obstructed by huge strands of soft, cottony white material streaming across the screen. They stared silently at it.
Finally Vila asked in a small voice, "What is it?"
"Meteorite dust?" Jenna offered hopefully.
Blake shook his head. "Strands like that? Look there's more of it." He was correct. As the strands doubled in thickness, the hum of Liberator's engines dropped dramatically, and they heard something scrape metal, echoing through the ship. They glanced nervously at each other.
"It's rubbing against the hull!" Jenna exclaimed in alarm.
Vila stared at the veiwscreen which was filled with the white strands. He shuddered, whispering, "And it's getting thicker...."
"It's like a spider's web!"
"Some spider!" exclaimed the thief.
Jenna suddenly concentrated on her console, fingers flying from control to control. "That's what's pulling our speed down!"
Blake turned to her. "Increase power to compensate!"
"It's getting worse all the time."
The main signal station was the left-back console. Blake took the station and called up its data screen. "If there is a planet there, we should be close enough to get signals now! Vila go see how Cally is, will you?"
"Must I?" the thief objected.
Jenna hid a smile. "It's not catching."
"It brought my head out in lumps!"
Blake looked up and snarled, "Get a move on!"
"All right! I'm going!" Vila fled the flight deck.
Avon tapped his laserprobe against the table in mild annoyance. "Nothing wrong with that."
The contradiction of attitude and words caught Gan's interest. "What are you trying to do?"
"Bypass the detector comp. and use another one of the systems to receive the signal."
"Can it be done?"
"Of course, it's just a matter of finding the link. Some of this technology is a little more advanced to that which I knew so I'm having to guess at some of it." Avon suddenly dug some wires out of his toolkit and connected one end of them to the damaged area, and the other end to the teleport console.
Gan watched curiously. "But what about the - uh, automatic repair systems?"
"Oh, it'll do the job. Eventually." He smiled slightly, dark eyes sparkling. "It's very methodical, it starts at the beginning and works its way through. It's slow. YOU should appreciate that thought." Gan ignored the insult, long accustomed to Avon. He moved out of the shorter man's way as Avon activated the link. There was a flash of light, and the control panel on the teleport table caught fire. The flames quickly died down as they watched. Avon stared expressionless for a long moment, then commented calmly, "No, that wasn't the one."
"It'll take days to repair that!"
Avon glanced back at Gan. "On any ordinary computer system, but this isn't any ordinary computer system. A malfunction of that size will have registered on the auto-repair. It should cut in in about five seconds, watch." He timed it on his chronometer. "It'll be cutting in about... now."
They looked at the console as a soft humming filled the room. Clean, undamaged circuitry grew quickly back, almost as if it seeped out of the table. Though he had expected it, even Avon was impressed.
Gan shook his head. "That is fantastic!" He edged over to the table, grinning in delight.
Avon allowed himself a victorious grin while Gan's back was to him. "Yes, isn't it. As a matter of fact it is." He took the connecting wires and put them away again. "We could make a fortune with it if it wasn't for Blake," he added coolly.
"In what way?" Gan asked, eying Avon suspiciously.
"There's always a market for technology like this."
The big man shook his head and hid a smile. "I don't think Blake would agree to that."
For a moment Avon stayed silent. Then he said quietly, "There will come a time when he won't be making the decisions." He glanced up and met Gan's doubtful gaze, flashing a grin at the other man which was not designed to reassure him.
Cally and Vila came onto the flight deck. Blake looked over at her and exclaimed in delight, "Cally!"
Vila quickly spoke up. "It's all right, she doesn't remember a thing!"
The Auron held out her bandaged hand to Blake. "How did I burn my hand?"
Blake came down from his station and took Cally's shoulder in relief, leading her to her station. "It was an accident. Look we're very close to a planet but we don't know what it is. Now, I can't find any transmission sources, will you please run the checks for me?"
The computer spoke, Sensors indicate increasing density of silica-based organic material adhering to the hull.
Blake looked up at that but there was nothing he could do, so he continued to watch over Cally's shoulder as she did the checks.
"About spiders' webs..." Vila said nervously.
Blake looked at him. "Mmhmm? What about them?"
"They're used for trapping food."
Cally listened intently into her headset. She still did not know what was happening, but Blake was keeping a close watch on her as she finished the checks. He asked anxiously, "Anything?"
She shook her head, worried by the lack of a signal. "I've tried all recognized systems but there's nothing, no transmissions of any kind."
Blake frowned and looked over at Jenna. "We'll move out, go out the way we came."
Jenna shook her head, "Without detectors? Blind backtracking is a good way to run into pursuit ships."
"We've no choice. If we get clear then we can outrun them. IF necessary," he finished determinedly.
Sensors register increasing gravitational influence. Field strength now eight point six, Zen commented.
Blake moved quickly to a station. "We're moving closer into the planet. Vila, I want a new course. Locate the center of that gravitational field, I want an attitude that'll take us directly away from it!"
"Uh - right."
"Jenna, stand by to bring her 'round. How much reserve power is there?" Jenna obediently reached for her controls but then she stopped. Her hand hovered over her console stiffly as she stood there. When she gave him no answer, Blake turned around. "Jenna-" Blake broke off and stared at his pilot. Her body was unnaturally taught as she stood there, her eyes bulging as tremors shook her. She seemed blindly unaware of them. "Jenna!" Cally and Blake both cautiously approached the pilot. Blake asked worriedly, "What's wrong?"
"Whatever is the matter with her?" Cally asked him.
"I don't know! Vila, give me a hand, we'll take her to her quarters." The thief hurried over to help.
Jenna's lips moved but the voice spilling from her lips was not hers. It was a scratchy, rusted voice. "We have waited for your coming for many years, welcome. It pleases us that you are here."
Blake backed away a little. "Who are you?"
"We will meet shortly, and then we shall answer all your questions. For now, it is only important that you understand the danger you are still in."
"Danger?" He felt horribly stupid repeating that word.
"Your ship is trapped. You cannot free yourselves.
Blake managed a short laugh. "We can free ourselves at any time we wish, you under-estimate the power of our ship."
"On the contrary, you overestimate it. We have examined your ship most carefully through our daughter Cally." Cally and Blake exchanged startled looks as the voice continued, "You would require to sustain your maximum power for one-hundred and sixty hours to break out of orbit. Your energy cells would be exhausted in less than one hundred. Gravitational attraction would draw you back to your present position before your cells could be recharged."
Blake hesitated. He glared with skepticism at Jenna's body. "IF... we are trapped; then by whom?"
"We do have some influence on your safety in that it is within our power to release you from the web. That we can and will do, in return for assistance from you."
Cally studied Jenna intently as Blake asked, "What do you want from us?" his voice laced with suspicion.
"In a few moments we will transmit a homing signal. It will give you a precise landing position. We will talk again... when you have landed."
"Listen-" Blake began.
Cally interrupted him as she felt a sudden vacuum in Jenna. "He's left her. Blake... that could have been one of the Lost!"
"Well don't be mystical, Cally, EXPLAIN!"
She looked embarrassed for a moment but tried. "It is a legend of my people! They were cast out, unfit to share the soul of Auronar." She stopped, thinking about how to explain the rest when a low beeping sound came from her station. Cally quickly went there and put on a headset. She listened for a moment, then nodded to Blake. "Yes, it is a beacon signal!"
Blake turned to Vila, "Get a fix on it!"
"Are you going down!?" Vila asked incredulously.
"Not if I can help it! I don't like the sound of anything I've heard! Let's try and pull her out of here."
Jenna suddenly spoke up, "Ready to go about?"
They gaped at her. She was checking the controls as if nothing had happened. Blake cleared his throat. "Jenna! Are you all right now?"
"Yes, of course I am." She looked about at the flight deck, seeing similar expressions of confusion on the other three faces.
Blake quickly changed the subject to avoid questions he could not answer. "Yes. Vila is the course set?"
"Uh - on the panel now."
"Lock onto it, Jenna."
Jenna smoothly touched her control panel, "She's responding very slowly. Coming around... that's it, locked onto course!" The hum of Liberator's thrusters rose in pitch through the ship.
"All right, give it all we've got, full thrust!" Blake ordered.
The engine hum rose sharply as Jenna complied. "Comoing up... full power," she reported.
Jenna gritted her teeth as she read it. "Standard by one half!"
Blake was startled by the low number, but he said quickly, "Cut in the auxilleries."
Again the engine hum rose in pitch, but Jenna looked at the indicaters with doubt. "It's helped a bit. We're now up to standard by one and one half and building, but slowly."
"Vila..." Blake began.
"Time to use the nuetron blaster."
Vila grinned. "At last! I've been looking forward to this!"
Blake frowned sternly. "Take it EASY, it might blow us all up." He saw Vila cringe at the thought, having been reminded that they still did not know all the functions of their ship. "See if you can blast a hole through that web. Fire!"
Vila touched the firing controls and alarms blared through the ship. Zen came on line. Nuetron flare-shield has not been activated.
"Which one's that?" Vila asked in confusion.
Blake snarled impatiently at Zen, "Activate the nuetron flare-shield!"
Confirmed. Strips of blackness crossed the viewscreen, then, Blasters are cleared for firing.
Vila quickly fired. A blast of blue light from the central spike slashed out and punched through the web. Between the black strips they saw clear space ahead. "I did it!" exclaimed the thief.
Jenna nodded from her console. "We're picking up speed."
"All right, now keep it going," Blake urged her.
Strands of webbing began to fall across the viewscreen. Vila paled, "It's closing up!"
"We're getting drag again, we're slowing down," Jenna said by way of agreement.
Blake struck a fist angrily against a console. "Fire again, Vila!"
Vila fired and the path cleared once more. Zen came on-line again. Power banks one and two now exhausted. Energy drain exceeds recharge capacity. The webbing was falling across their path yet again.
Vila shook his head helplessly. "Every time I blast a hole in it, it just knits up again!"
Blake chewed his lip, then stepped to the foot of the computer. "How long can we sustain this rate of power loss, Zen?"
Standard drive, plus auxillory, can be sustained for ninety hours. Each nuetronic discharge reduces that capacity by three hours.
"How much distance have we covered?"
One hundred spacials.
Blake had been rubbing his chin thoughtfully. Now he dropped his hand, his shoulders sagging in defeat. "We're not gonna make it; all power off," he told them over his shoulder.
Jenna shut the systems down; the background hum of the Liberator's engines dropped quickly. "All off."
Cally came to Blake's side. "What will you do?"
"We don't have much choice."
"We're drifting in again," Jenna said from her console.
"Let her go. Cally, get an exact fix on that beacon; tell Avon, and tell him to stand by." As Cally went to do that, Blake turned to Vila. "I'm gonna have to teleport down. Vila, I want an atmosphere and gravity check." Vila nodded and started the program for that.
As had happened many times recently, the laboratory was surrounded. Little humanoids with hard gray exo-skeletons pounded with rocks, spears and axes on the walls of the building, screaming shrilly as they did so. The evil gods were losing their power, they knew. It was no longer dangerous for them to come so close, to pound on the walls in protest of the murder of hundreds of their kind. That was not the worst of it though. The gods intended to destroy them all when they regained power. The Decimas would not allow that, it was time for evil to die if they could kill it. They could hear the voice of the worst god and they screamed to drown it out, but some of them listened and were terrified by what they heard.
They will come to us. There is little time left, they will come to us. It must be soon, soon, soon. There is little time left.
The few Decimas who heard understood immediately. They gathered the others at a safe distance and set about to explain and plan.
Gan was trying to help Avon set the teleport controls. Avon rudely shoved him out of the way and reached across to adjust one set to precision focus. Blake came into the chamber with Vila on his heels. He had gotten what seemed to be a planetary uniform out of storage, a green jacket with hood and V collar, matching leggings and stout boots. "Set?" he asked Avon.
"Ready," the tech replied.
Cally hurried in behind them, carrying her own gear. "I must come with you!"
"No," Blake said firmly.
"We-you can trust me!" She was anxious to prove herself.
"Really," Avon said dryly. Cally shot him a puzzled look.
Blake sighed. "I know we can. But whatever's down there can control you, it's already demonstrated that."
"But I was unprepared!" Cally sputtered indignantly.
"So were we," Avon stated.
Blake hesitated, trying to phrase his words so as not to hurt Cally's feeling more. "It's better that you stay here." He felt inadequate to the situation and quickly turned to Avon. "Now if I call for backup get down there fast."
Gan looked up. "We'll be ready." Avon shot the big man a look that plainly protested against being spoken for.
Blake bent near Gan and said quietly, "Gan, keep an eye on Cally." Gan thumbs-upped him and Avon rolled his eyes at the word. Trust her, eh? he seemed to be asking. Blake avoided that look and stepped into the teleport chamber.
Avon looked at him steadily, eyes shuttered. "What if something should happen to you and we can't get you back?"
Blake's eyes twinkled mischeviously. "Well then all you have to do is get everybody else out of this mess!" He caught the faintest sign of an amused smile in Avon's eyes. "All right, put me down." Avon checked the coordinates again and hit the send switch. Blake wavered out.
Cally stared into the empty chamber with perhaps justified indignition. She turned to the two men at the console and shrugged her shoulders at them in exasperation, then stomped out of the room. Gan rolled his eyes at Avon and followed Cally out.
The Decimas were foraging near the laboratory complex when they heard a strange humming. They quickly ducked into hiding. Blake appeared in a cocoon of light which quickly faded. He looked around curiously, identifying the cobweblike material all around him as something much like what held the Liberator above. Seeing the buildings he started toward them. A Decima appeared out of the brush and silently hurled a spear at the man. "Ahh!" Blake was lucky, it only scraped his hand. Both he and the Decima ducked behind cover. Blake peered out from behind a tree but saw no sign of anyone around. He drew his weapon hesitantly and cradled his injured hand, then made quickly for the complex. Behind him another Decima emerged from cover and followed.
The Decima caught up with him as he reached the entrance. Blake heard it then and spun around with his weapon up. "Get back!"
Ki's suspicions were confirmed when the being did not kill him. This was not one of the evil gods. He held his arms out, displaying from between joints the green skin of peace. He used the god's language because this being also used it. "Help us! Help us please!" The being lowered its weapon and the eyes, the only thing similar enough between Decimas and humans to use as a guage of emotion, reflected confusion and wonder. It was about to speak to Ki when the entrance opened and an evil god stepped out. Ki had no chance to flee, the god reached out with a prod and Ki screamed as his life was extinguished.
Blake stared in dismay at the fallen form, so small and helpless in death. He looked over at the man who had killed it. "Come inside. There are more of them in the compound," the stranger ordered.
He followed, still too stunned to speak, his injured hand forgotten in the moment. A woman stepped to him and took his hand in her own. "You are hurt. Come, I will treat the wound." She released his hand and led him into the laboratory.
Blake studied them, searching for similarities to Cally, but they were nothing like her. Their skin was almost yellowy-white and their hair gray. The woman's build was light and curving, unlike Cally's angular form. Well, humans had wildly divergent gene-types, why should he have assumed Aurons would not? Because, he reminded himself, Aurons bred by cloning and there would be many repeats among them.
The woman took his hand again and padded his wound with a cotton swab. Blake recovered from his shock and looked over at the man, trying hard to control his angry reaction to the murder of that little being. "Why did you kill him? He was no threat!"
It seemed to take a moment for the accusation to register, then the man stiffened and said reasonably, "One of them obviously was! But don't worry, it was only a Decima."
The woman added in a lilting voice, "You were lucky, it could have been much worse. We've had groups of more than fifty of them in this area." Blake hissed as she hit a nerve with the cotton swab. "Can you close your hand?" the woman asked him. He tried, but his fingers could not close far. He bit his lip to keep back a cry at his pain. The woman nodded slightly. "The tendons are not cut." She turned and took a brown, leathery thing like a piece of liver out of a specimin tray and draped it over Blake's injury.
The thing seemed to tighten over his wound of its own volition and began to make sucking noises. A tingling spread up his arm and he stared nervously at the thing on his wrist. "What is it?"
Despite the blandness of her expression he thought he could see amusement there. Long experience trying to figure out how Kerr Avon was feeling about things. "Don't be alarmed. It's a simple enzyme-matching. Tissue regeneration will take only a few moments."
The man spoke up. "I'm sorry this happened. The Decimas are becoming a problem. When we have full power again, we will reduce their numbers."
Blake's anger came back quickly. "He was asking for help!"
Possibly the woman was angry, he was having a hard time reading her face as she spoke. "Don't waste your sympathy! They want help to destroy us. Stupid they may be, but they know that our power is diminished and that we are at our most vulnerable! Their only hope for a future is to wipe us out."
What she was saying began to sink in, even without the man's help as he added calmly, "They've made several full-scale assaults on the lab. They can't do too much harm of course, their weapons are too primitive. But they are a threat, and they will have to be suppressed."
Blake stared at the silver-haired man. These words were all-too familiar, the Federation's policy with its citizens.
The woman spoke up again. "There, you see? It's dead."
It was indeed. The brown liver-like thing had shrivelled up into a mournfully small twisted shape on the back of his hand. The woman brushed it off Blake's hand revealing smooth skin beneath. Blake tentatively made a fist, then grinned. "That is astonishing!"
Now the man nodded slightly and gestured at Blake to follow him. "A useful technique... for small wounds."
Blake obediently followed him into the room with lounge chairs, just beside the lab. He was focused on his healed wound. "I've never seen anything like it before!"
"Our mission has specialized in tissue creation, and regenerative processes." The man gestured at Blake to have a seat, and he and the woman sat together on the next lounge chair.
The woman added, "Among other things."
"I am Navara," the man began, "and this is my sister Geela." Having completed their part of the introductions, they both stared at their guest, who finally introduced himself.
Geela's eyes blinked slowly. "We are happy to see you. We thought your ship would land. How did you come here?"
Blake answered with cautious pride, thinking, so you controlled her but you couldn't read Cally's mind? "We... have a teleportation process."
Navara looked faintly interested. "Fascinating. Perhaps you could explain it to us."
"I thought you'd already examined our ship?"
"Not all of it."
Blake felt anger bubbling up again, he kept a tight leash on it but still his tone betrayed him just a little. "You used Cally to sabotage us and force us to come here."
Geela seemed to tense. "Would you have come otherwise?"
"Perhaps," he answered cautiously.
"In that case we apologize," Navara interjected.
Blake looked at the two bland faces but saw no sign of subterfuge in them. Perhaps he had not had enough experience with Avon, he told himself with faint amusement. "You communicated with us through another member of my crew."
Navara shrugged. "A simple mental process. Known to the ancients; we have developed and refined it. It is more reliable than mechanical transmissions."
Despite his anger, Blake had to agree with that. He twined his fingers together between his knees as he carefully phrased his next question. "And you said you have a way to free us from the web."
Geela gave a slight nod. "That is correct. We created the web, as you call it."
"Well what is it?" Blake asked, startled.
They seemed to be taking turns talking to him. Navara spoke, "It is a silica-based life-form. A mutation not unlike fungus. Its spores germinate rapidly, and it has enormous tensile strength. It can trap and hold the most powerful ship."
"And what's it for?"
He had the distinct feeling they were embarrassed. Navara answered him again, "It was a line of research which got out of control."
Blake sighed. "Then HOW do I release my ship?"
Geela answered this time. "We developed a fungicide that can be projected by a beam. It will clear a corridor thru the web, you will be able to move freely."
"However, that is where the problem lies. The problem is both yours... and ours," Navarra finished for Geela. They fell silent and gazed steadily at Blake.
He finally realized they were waiting for him to speak. "And so presumably the reason why you brought us here."
The two stood. Geela waved left, "Let us show you. Come!" Blake stood slowly and preceded them cautiously into another room. There sat an old-style generator with two power-cells. One was dark, the other was extremely low. "You recognize this?"
"Power cells?" he asked, leaning on the machine.
Navarra clarified. "Plutonic power cells." At Blake's startled expression, the man pointed. "As you can see from the registers, one of them is totally exhausted. The other almost so."
"And you have no means of recharging them."
"No," Geela answered. Navarra watched her as she continued. "When we have used what remains our life support systems will fail and we will die."
Navarra continued for her, "But, perhaps more significant from YOUR point of view, we do not have enough power to project the fungicide."
Blake eyed them. "So you want me to provide fully-charged energy cells, and in return...."
"We provide clear passage out of orbit," finished Geela.
Blake considered the machine. "I don't know that we have this type of cell. I dare say we have something that can be adapted."
"Then you agree?" Navara asked.
Blake opened his mouth to answer when shrill screaming erupted outside and then the sound of things hitting the walls nearly drowned out his startled, "What!?"
Geela and Navarra moved quickly to pick up prods. Blake walked to the entrance window and looked out. The Decimas were gathered around the dead one's body. One knelt beside it, plainly distraught, the leathery off-white leafish flaps that surrounded its hard skin-plates trembling. It touched the dead body, then as if it felt Blake's gaze, looked up. The eyes that met his were like human eyes, tears stained the red skin surrounding them. Then they went wide and murderous, catching sight of Navara and Geela coming up behind Blake. The others scooped up the dead body and dragged the distraught Decima away with them. Blake turned away, badly shaken.
Navara looked out calmly. "They attacked as a diversion, so they could move their dead."
Geela agreed with contempt. "Stupid creatures. The taking of life seems to affect them! Almost as if they had emotions." The screaming and banging went on and seemed to grow worse. Blake ducked away as a large rock hit the window behind him. He had a feeling it could not hold through too much more of that.
Navara seemed fascinated through the blandness of his expression. "The changes in them are astonishing. The earlier generations showed no indication of agression. Are you going to contact your ship?" he asked Blake.
Blake stared at him for a long moment, biting back a thousand comments about just how he thought they had accidently taught the Decimas to be agressive. He lifted his bracelet. "Blake."
On the Liberator, Cally dashed for the couch communicator. "Cally." Jenna, Gan and Vila joined her.
"Tell Avon I need two fully-charged Plutonic power cells."
"I will tell him." The others exchanged puzzled looks.
They heard Blake draw a breath in a sigh. "Call me when he's ready to bring them down."
Blake dropped his hand and eyed Geela and Navara.
Back on the Liberator, Vila was fretting nervously. "Ask him what's happening down there!" For they had heard in the background the Decimas screaming bloody murder.
"No, he's gone. He didn't sound as if he was in trouble," Cally was not sure that was true, though.
Jenna agreed with her. "He'd've found a way of letting us know if he was."
Cally nervously rubbed her temple. "But the Lost have great power."
Vila found that suspicious. "Why would they need those cells, then? I'll go and tell Avon," he decided, leaving the flight deck.
Gan looked over at Jenna. "Plutonic power cells?"
Jenna opened her mouth to reply when Zen broke in. The detector malfunction has been rectified. Full function on all systems is now available.
Jenna dashed to her station. "Run immediate navigation check and pinpoint our position! Then a maximum-range orbital scan." She tapped in the fine points of her commands and waited.
Detectors indicate unidentified craft at extreme range.
"Put them on the screen."
The screen irised out showing five arrowhead shapes flying in a V formation, three in the middle, two on the sides.
"There they are!" Cally exclaimed.
Jenna identified them without a need for a more conclusive scan. "Pursuit ships! Don't they ever give up!" The question was rhetorical, she knew.
Gan tore his eyes from the screen. "Zen! Are they coming this way?"
If they maintain present course and speed, they will pass at a range not exceeding two-million spacials.
Jenna fretted angrily. "Their detectors will pick us up at that distance, that's too close."
"Shall I tell Blake?" Cally asked quickly.
The pilot considered it, then shook her head. "There's nothing he can do until we're out of the web."
"But he should be told!"
"If he's bargaining, it will weaken his position," the pilot said firmly.
Cally saw the reasoning and nodded. "You're very practical."
The Decimas gathered near the door, conversing in high shrieks and whistles. Finally they cleared the area.
Geela finished with the generator. "Complete." She turned to Blake, "The beam is now aligned to your ship. When we have full power, this control will project a ray that will clear a route through the web. It will take three hours to close in again."
"That should be enough time," Blake said. They took him back into the lab, where he paused, curious. "What was the original purpose of the project?"
Navara looked over at him. "Genetic engineering. The main aims were to halt the aging process in humans, to find a way to maintain continuous life."
"Immortality?!" exclaimed the rebel.
"And to create a new species of animals. Creatures that would be able to perform simple menial tasks, animal machines that cost nothing to produce and little to maintain."
Blake chuckled at that. "Experiments like that have been banned for centuries," he commented.
Geela nodded. "Which is why we had to establish our laboratory on an uninhabited planet."
Blake stared at them, realizing now that the pair were quite serious. He asked hesitantly, "Were any of these made?"
"Yes," Navara answered. When Blake gaped at him, he continued. "We engineered an efficient four-function animal, using the same basic genetic form we then increased it to ten functions. The Decimas."
"You MADE the Decimas!?!"
Geela nodded and clarified, "The prototypes. They breed naturally but a mutant strain has become dominant. They seem capable of thought, they exhibit primative emotions, weaknesses we thought we had eradicated."
"They will all have to be eliminated so that we can be certain the mutant strain is destroyed," Navara finished.
Blake jerked back from them angrily. "They're intelligent living creatures, you can't just wipe them out!" Just like the Federation.
Geela looked at him. "We gave them life, we have the right to take it from them. Please don't concern yourself, they're simply laboratory constructed animals, as are we."
It took a moment to sink in. "You! You are made?"
They were trading off answering him again, as Navara did this time. "We were genetically engineered, allowed to grow to maturity, then our aging processes were stopped. We have no lives of our own, we are simply flesh and blood creations operated by our creators."
Blake stood still, eyebrows drawn together in a puzzled frown. Geela started to laugh then, in the voice which had spoken through Jenna, the dry dead-leaf voice. Navara looked at her patiently as the voice spoke through her. "You seem confused, my friend. We had intended not to meet with you. However, you will be meeting us shortly. No harm can come from your knowing us. Geela will bring you."
There was no change of expression, but suddenly Geela blinked and looked up at him, speaking in the lilting voice again. "Come with us, please." The two preceded Blake from the room.
Just as he stepped after them, his bracelet signalled. He stopped and lifted it. "Blake."
"Avon," came the response.
"You ready?" Blake asked calmly.
Avon sat with Vila at the teleport console. "One of the plutonic power cells is fully charged. The other will be ready in precisely... two minutes," he finished, checking his chronometer to be certain.
Blake nodded to himself and spoke quietly into the microphone. "Well get them down here as soon as you can."
"There's something else." Avon's tone held faint warning. "The detector banks are now fully functional. They've located the pursuit ships and they're coming this way."
There was a long silence, then Blake said firmly, "Have everybody standing by. We'll move out as soon as we're both back on board."
"Good," Avon agreed.
Blake dropped his hand and shot Geela and Navara his best nonchalant look. "I'm sorry," he apologized.
They led him into the next room. Lit by warm, red light it was mostly empty, except for the small life-support system against the opposite wall. Geela and Navara took positions by the door. Blake stepped forward cautiously to look at the thing floating in the tank.
It spoke to him. "You must excuse me. I have not spoken with these lips in a long time. My name is Saymon. That is the name by which this body was once known. I am a corporate identity. We exist through this body."
Blake licked his lips and asked, "We?"
"We were from Auron." The thing seemed to be choosing its words with care. "There were six of us when we set off on this project. Unfortunately our knowledge was not far enough advanced then to eliminate death. Though we DID possess the power to keep alive our thoughts and ideas, the bodies reverted but the minds lived on!"
"Cally's people. The Auronar!"
"Yes, we were from the Auronar, but not OF them as Cally is."
The callousness displayed by this being angered Blake. "But that's why you were able to control her!" he accused.
It answered the accusation with indifference. "That's why we HAD to control her. She would not have accepted us freely."
"You are the only one of the six that is left?"
Saymon explained patiently, "Mechanical aides sustain this body. Through it all six of us continue to live. Our combined mental powers seperate Geela and Navara to carry out all physical operation at our expense."
Blake looked back at them with sudden understanding. "They have... no life of their own."
"None. If our life supports fail, they would simply wither away. Thanks to you, and your energy cells, that will not occur."
The rebel leader adjusted slowly. "So that - all I have spoken to them about, all they have told me, that... was YOU talking, not them."
"And did you mean what you said? You're going to destroy the Decimas?"
"It would have been wiser to have done so before they became so numerous. But to discharge a lethal level of radiation required more power than we had available."
"But the cells I'm providing will give you that power."
Blake hesitated, then shook his head in sudden decision. "No! I can't let that happen!"
"Without our power bank you cannot escape the web!" Saymon pointed out firmly.
The rebel leader would not be shaken. "Then we must come to a new understanding. You won't get those cells until we do!" He raised his bracelet to his lips. "Avon, stay on board until you hear from me!"
A startled voice answered him. "This is Vila!"
"Well don't teleport Avon 'til I say so!"
"I just did! I put him down about ten seconds ago!" Vila was beginning to sound frightened.
Blake bit back a groan and dropped his hand. "He'll be in the compound now."
Saymon quickly tried to force the issue. "If the Decimas are enraged, he may be in danger. Those power cells must be protected!"
The rebel's head snapped around and he snarled at Saymon, "I don't give a damn about your power cells! There's a friend of mine out there!" Blake turned quickly and ran for the entrance, only to skid to a halt when confronted with Geela and Navara holding two prods on him. He had not noticed them leave.
As one they said, "We will help."
They stepped out into the empty compound, Geela on Blake's left, Navara on his right. It was silent outside, sending prickles of danger up and down Blake's spine. As the door closed behind them, he looked quickly at Geela. "You take that side," he indicated left, then to Navara the right. "You take that side, and I'll go straight on." The three went in those seperate directions, Blake hoping to buy enough time to warn Avon, who would without a doubt be in the same place Blake had teleported down, straight ahead.
A group of Decimas slipped out from behind the main building and gathered around the door to study it.
Three Decimas followed Navara to make sure of when he returned. One checked with his leader, who okayed him watching Navara alone. Another small group followed behind Geela, pausing to discuss what to do. Finally, two followed her on opposite sides, out of sight.
He was positive Avon was somewhere right around here, but he still nearly jumped out of his skin when the man spoke up quietly from behind him. "I've been looking for you. What's going on?" Avon had also dressed in a planetary suit, this one of blues and grays.
Blake took a quick look around but Geela and Navara were nowhere to be seen. "Let's get undercover, first." They took cover near a tree. Blake rubbed his hands together worriedly. "Got the cells?"
Avon tapped a hand on the box he held. "What do you think these are, field rations?"
The rebel waved at him to keep his voice down. "Listen, there's a problem. If we let them have those, they'll use them to wipe out an entire race of creatures - PEOPLE, here!"
Avon shrugged. "If it concerns you, don't give them the cells."
"No there's more. They've got a carrier beam which projects a fungicide which'll clear a way through the web for us. It doesn't work without this power."
The tech narrowed his eyes, but said mildly, "Oh, well. If it's between the creatures and us, there's no argument. Even your irrational conscience should be able to cope with that." Blake glared at him until Avon dropped his eyes and let his shoulders droop. "What do you want to do?" he asked.
"Hold off long enough to make a deal," Blake answered, snatching the box out of Avon's hands.
"You're going to have to be quick, Blake. Those pursuit ships are coming this way."
Blake opened the box and brought out the bright glowing energy cells. He stuffed them into the underbrush at his feet. "I'll hide these cells, they can have them when they agree to our terms."
Avon's brow furrowed. "What ARE our terms?" He doubted Blake's logic was sound, emotional decisions were rarely made realistically.
"They're going to use lethal radiation to KILL everything out here. If they allow us to destroy the radiation equipment, well at least the Decimas will have SOME form of chance."
This was greeted with a steady, doubtful look. "Why should they agree?"
"They need the power. They can't survive without it."
Avon's head tilted just a bit. "Neither can we."
Blake quickly threw the case away into the underbrush. "I'll bear that in mind," he snapped.
The other man looked toward the fallen case then speared Blake with an ice-cold furious gaze. "Don't worry, I'll remind you!" he warned.
The sound of someone approaching brought both men to their feet. Blake quickly stopped Avon's automatic reaction of bringing out his weapon.
The two ghastly pale beings, Blake was pretty certain they couldn't be called people really, hurried to them. Navara spoke first. "Let's get back inside quickly. Where are the cells?"
On rare occasions Blake proved himself a competent liar. "He didn't bring them." He was confronted with two stiff expressions of disbelief, to which he said, "We'll get them when we've talked."
"You are lying," Geela finally said.
Blake recognized this as more wishful thinking on Saymon's part rather than actual knowing. He mimicked Avon's coldest tone. "You will get them when you agree to our terms."
Navara, or just Saymon and company through him, turned his attention to Avon. "Put your weapon down." The tech narrowed his eyes at Blake and waited. Navara ordered, "Do it!" Blake realized that Avon was putting the responsibility in his hands. Well, he often did that. So he nodded, and Avon obeyed them by dropping his gun. Navara now turned his prod toward Blake. "You." Blake obeyed, undoing his belt and dropping the weapon. "Now, the cells."
Avon's eyes reflected no emotion as he answered, "I didn't bring them."
In one quick motion Geela brought her prod into contact with the back of Avon's right hand. There was a moment when he thought it had no funtion, then intense pain crawled up his arm, giving him just time to clench his teeth and stiffen against crying out. Geela held it for only a few seconds, then withdrew. Avon sighed faintly, stretching his fingers to ease the sudden cramping of his muscles.
"Minimum power. A full charge would cut you in half," Geela informed him.
Navara traded off with her again. "Understand your lives are totally unimportant to us."
"All right," Blake gave in suddenly. He had no intention of finding out if Avon would hold his silence through being cut in half, just to show that he could. The rebel leader knelt and quickly brought the power cells out of hinding.
Navara gestured with the prod. "Quickly!" They marched the two off-worlders towards the lab. Decimas on point saw them coming and quickly went to warn the others. When they got to the entrance, there was no sign of any Decimas and they had no way of seeing the group hidden from them, exchanging quiet victorious whistles.
Inside the lab, Geela quickly demanded, "The cells!"
Blake handed them to her, and she gave them to Navara. Then she held a prod on the two Liberator crewmen as Navara installed the power cells.
The Decimas headed for the back entrance to the laboratory. As they had suspected, it opened the same way the front did. A small group led the way in, past machinery they remembered as torture and punishment devices. The leaders knew where the danger was, they headed for the room where the gods' power was kept, arriving in time to see Navara stand up from the machine.
"I will irradiate."
"NO Navara!" On the heels of Blake's shout came a scream of rage from the leading Decima. The four led the attack straight at Navara, knocking him away from the machine. Others went for Geela, surrounding her despite a number of them getting killed by her prod. The Decimas ignored Blake and Avon, having witnessed them being threatened by the gods, and Blake quickly activated the fungicide beam as he remembered it being done. He turned to Avon, who looked extremely uneasy with all the carnage around him. "All right, that's the beam!"
The Decimas were in a frenzy, smashing everything in sight. The two humans watched, Avon with growing alarm for his own safety. "THESE are what you wanted to protect!?" he snarled at Blake.
"They're fighting for their lives!"
"Who isn't!?" The two glared at each other as they backed away from the carnage into the red-lit room where Saymon was screaming. Blake glanced toward it with a faintly smug expression. Avon was simply revolted, and his ears were hurting from all the screaming going on, in and outside of the room.
The Liberator was bathed in a warm, yellow-white glow. The web began to melt away from around it. On the flight deck, Cally had fallen asleep on the couch, Gan was wearing vid-glasses, and Jenna was just beginning to doze, terribly bored. The glow caught her attention. "Look!"
They all stood up to watch, Gan taking off his vid-glasses. The glow pulsed and a path cleared through the web into deep space. Gan grinned. "He did it! We're free!"
"Not yet," Jenna fretted.
From their temporary refuge, Blake and Avon watched in shock as Geela and Navara started to "wither away", as Saymon had phrased it earlier. Soon there were only bones lying on the floor and the Decimas kicked those around as they smashed everything they could get their hands on. The Decimas were beginning to head toward this section of the building, their frenzy was frightening.
"Let's get out of here!" Avon urged Blake.
The other man quickly spoke into his bracelet. "Blake. We're ready, bring us up!" They backed away as the Decimas suddenly rushed in their direction. It was with considerable relief they felt the teleport beam pick them up. Saymon was still screaming when the Decimas overturned his tank and began smashing his life-support.
The Liberator departed the web at its best speed. On the flight deck Blake was standing below Zen's holographic screen, watching the pursuit ships fall far behind. Gan and Cally had settled on the couch, and Vila helped Jenna at the flight stations.
Blake raised his head wearily. "Navigation computer do evasive action strategy. Key course and speed to optimum escape probability. Basically, lose them, Zen." He rubbed his eyes, feeling a headache growing and determined to go back to sleep.
Avon was suddenly beside him, his calm voice a balm, though as usual it held a measure of arrogance. "One thing they proved back there."
"What?" Blake asked, suspicious of that tone.
"Biological machines will never replace the real thing, they're far too unpredictable."
Blake clucked at the tech, though his headache seemed to draw away and let him relax. "At least the Decimas stand a chance, now. You can't seperate living creatures. Being alive involves them together." He held Avon's eyes for a moment, keeping the man silent with the locked gaze, then turned away.
"I couldn't agree with you LESS," Avon finally responded.
Going to the couch, Blake threw back over his shoulder, "It's a fact of life!!" As he sat down between Gan and Cally, he added to the computer, "Zen, when we've lost the pursuit ships resume course for Centero!"
Wearily, Blake rested his head in his hands. Avon glared at him and groped for a way to get the last word in. "I'll tell you a fact of life, Blake! Change is inevitable!"
The rebel leaned his head around to gaze innocently back at the tech. "Why else do we fight, Avon?" Much to Avon's frustration he could think of nothing to say to that, and Blake pretended to ignore him again.
Avon, computer technician and full of contradiction.
Blake, rebel leader commanding Liberator
Cally, rebel telepath from planet Auron
Gan, calm foil for crew, strong stable person
Jenna, pilot of Liberator, began as smuggler
Vila, thief extraordinaire
Geela, genetically engineered non-person operated by Saymon
Navara, genetically engineered non-person operated by Saymon
Saymon, amalgam of six minds existing in an atrophied body, genetic engineer
Decimas, genetically engineered people who were too independent to be controlled by Saymon and Co., and who wound up having to destroy their creators to prevent themselves being destroyed.
Ki, Decima who approached Blake for help