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Fandom: Blake's 7
Series: Tirren Phale
Title: Time Squad
Rating: Australian PG, much the same as the show.
Acknowledgements: I've borrowed the vast majority of the dialogue in this story directly from Terry Nation's script for the Blake's 7 episode “Time Squad”, as shown on the BBC. Terry Nation owns the characters (except for Tirren – she's my creation) and I'm playing in the universe he created.

Time Squad

It had been four months since Tirren had joined Blake's crew at Cygnus Alpha. Three months of steady training, preparation, and intensive courses in piloting the Liberator, one further month of shaking down enough to be able to operate the ship without breaking either it or each other. The various personalities aboard the Liberator were an interesting mix, to put it mildly. The most agreeable was Olag Gan, whose natural disposition was phlegmatic, and whose temperament was friendly. At the other end of the scale was the computer tech, Kerr Avon, who tended to combine an acidic tongue and an arrogant disposition with all the natural charm of a bad-tempered Tarsian Warg Strangler. Of the others, Vila was cowardly, twitchy and neurotic; Jenna tended to be stand-offish and remote, while Blake combined charisma and pig-headed stubbornness in near-equal quantities. Gan and Vila maintained a friendship built from their time on the London, reinforced by being the only ones on board from outside the Alpha grades. Blake, Jenna and Avon had somehow managed a three-way balance of power, none of them being able to be sacrificed; while Tirren had become entirely too used to existing with only her own company, not just on Cygnus Alpha, but well before that. Having decided to induce a resistance to the regular suppressant drugs, she'd found herself fairly isolated within the bounds of Terran society. Even as an alpha grade, she could never be certain her few contacts would be able to maintain silence. The necessary adjustments to relationships took some time, and a lot of work.

Gan and Vila accepted her without question, as she'd been the one to break them out of captivity on Cygnus Alpha. Blake also appeared to have accepted her without any worries. This left her only Avon and Jenna to win over. Of the two, Jenna proved to be the more difficult. Avon had come around once she'd proved to be able to think, as well as to understand enough about computers and programming to be able to back him up, or at least act as the equivalent of a surgical assistant. Jenna, on the other hand, appeared to resent her, both as a crew member, and as another woman. The first was understandable – after all, none of them knew Tirren aside from what little Blake, Gan and Vila had learned of her on Cygnus Alpha. The second was far harder to deal with.

In the end, she'd wound up with the duties of relief teleport officer, medical officer, assistant computer technician, communications officer, chemist, biologist, medical technician, biochemist-at-large, and audience for the regular battles between Avon and Blake. The two men (both alpha males, with all this implied) tended to butt heads on nearly every issue which came up. Blake would tell Avon to do something, Avon would take exception, and the two would exchange words. Avon would wind up capitulating, but only after he'd goaded Blake to the point of anger. It appeared to be something of a game between the two of them. In the end, out of a sense of frustration (and to prevent herself from adding something lethal to their coffee) Tirren had begun keeping score. So far they were dead level, and neither of them had noticed her tallying up the scorecard on her console at the back of the flight deck.

Avon was just beginning to come slightly ahead on points when they found the projectile.

She'd been working in her lab when the call came through from Jenna for everyone to report to the flight deck. She was the third to arrive, after Vila and Avon, and she viewed the emergency signal with a certain amount of trepidation.

“Do we know what it is?” Tirren asked.

“Not yet,” Blake said. “Jenna thinks it might be space pirates.”

“No, I said faking a distress call was a trick used by space pirates,” Jenna corrected.

“It's something to keep in mind,” Avon said. “We may be walking into a trap.”

“On the other hand, it might be a genuine distress call,” Gan said, having arrived in time to hear the last exchange. “We should help them.”

“I agree,” Blake said. “Tirren, see if you can raise anyone in the ship.”

Three minutes later, Tirren gave up on her attempts. “I'm getting nothing back, Blake. Just the same distress call. It must be on a mechanical repeater.”

“Do you recognise the type?” Blake asked Avon. The tech shook his head.

“No. Primitive. Too small to sustain a full life support system by the look of it.”

“Doesn't seem to be any heavy armament,” Jenna contributed.

“Could it be a high speed transporter?” Blake asked Jenna.

“To transport what?” Jenna said.

“Do we care?” Vila cut in. The thief looked twitchy, although this appeared to be his default state.

Jenna appeared to notice this. “Getting nervous?” she queried.

“No. I've been nervous all along,” Vila replied, taking her question at face value. Tirren chalked up a point to Vila on the scorecard. “I do not like the look of that thing.”

Blake decided to change the subject somewhat. “Zen, have the sensors picked up any sign of life?”

“No information can be given.” The tone of Zen's reply was unusually firm.

“That is not what I asked,” Blake said. Zen's occasional habit of answering a different question was sometimes enlightening, but tended to be exasperating when it occurred. Having a computer with a mind of its own could be a minor liability. “I want to teleport across there.”

“There is room,” Zen answered. It sounded as though the computer was being deliberately uninformative.

“And life support?” Blake persisted.

“There is life support... for a ... limited... period.” The computer sounded as though it were trying to get the information out around some kind of restriction. Tirren exchanged looks with Avon. It didn't sound like a positive recommendation.

“I'll go and take a look then,” Blake said.

“I'll come with you,” Jenna volunteered, before anyone else could say anything. Blake nodded.

“Avon.” The word was a command. The tech glared at Blake, but started to follow them out to the teleport. Tirren added another point to Blake's score. Their progress was interrupted by Zen.

“It is in... in... in...” The computer appeared to be having extreme difficulty getting the words out.

“I'll have to overhaul that thing,” Avon commented venomously before stalking off in the direction of the teleport.

“... sane.” Zen's final comment was accompanied by what appeared to be a complete shutdown.

Gan wandered over to the reference point. “I wonder. It's almost as if Zen has a limiter,” he mused.

Vila looked at him in confusion. “A limiter?”

“Something to stop it from helping us too much,” Tirren said, as she made her way past the two of them to Avon's station.

“Or maybe it's someone who stops him,” Gan said.

Vila looked even more nervous than before. “Gan, if you're trying to scare me, you're succeeding,” he said.

“I'd best get the medical unit set up,” Tirren said. “Can the pair of you manage here?”

Gan nodded. “We'll be fine.”

Ten minutes later, the metaphorical temperature on the Liberator was a lot higher. Zen was thoroughly incommunicative, the teleport had decided to explode itself, and they'd just received information the air on the projectile was running out. All in all, things weren't looking good.

The four remaining crew had rushed to the flight deck to manually retrieve the projectile. Avon had taken the pilot's position, while Tirren took Avon's console. Vila and Gan retained their usual positions, with Gan picking up some of the communications functions Tirren usually handled.

“Lock the inner hatches, positive pressure,” Avon instructed.

“Hatches locked,” Tirren confirmed.

“Equalise the lower hold pressure.”

“Equalised,” Vila replied.

“Open the main locks.”

“Locks opening,” Gan said.

“Visual,” Avon instructed Vila. The display on the main screen shifted from the forward view to the view from the main locks.

“Ramp fully opened,” Tirren announced, her eyes fixed on the readouts from the console before her. The manual flight drills had been boring, but now the lives of Blake and Jenna depended on all of the crew remembering every last detail of them.

“Good,” Avon said. “Moving to line up. Right lateral, minimum power.”

“Too much, you're overshooting,” Vila said, watching the screen intently.

“Left lateral,” Avon instructed. “That's enough. Hold.”

“Square on,” Tirren said.

“Give me a fall line projection,” Avon said. Vila complied. “Good. We're aligned and we're ready to go. Do you three know what you have to do?”

“Uh-huh,” Gan said. Avon spared a moment for a highly skeptical look in the big man's direction.

“I hope so. Commencing docking procedure... now.”

The faint hum of the engines accompanied the word, and the Liberator began the achingly slow process of manoeuvring to collect the pod. The display on the main screen seemed to change only by millimetres.

“That's very good,” Avon murmured, almost to himself. “Gently... Easy... Easy. Good. Alignment is exact.”

An alteration on her screen caught Tirren's attention. “She's turning,” she said.

“Right lateral,” Avon ordered.

“Quickly!” Vila added. Tirren nodded as the control responded.

“She's drifting under the laser projection,” Gan said.

“Down degree point zero one,” Avon commanded.

“You're too close,” Vila said in anguish. “She's going to hit the ramp broad side on.”

“Get around.” The whisper from Gan was barely audible. The seconds seemed to creep by.

“Down another point. More lateral.” Avon snapped.

“You're too close,” Vila whined. “Pull away, Avon.”

“No time. She's coming 'round. Gan, when the tail is on the laser projection I'll go straight in.”

Time seemed to slow until Gan suddenly shouted “Now!”. There was the hum of the engines, and the movement of the Liberator was visible on the screen. The projectile was engulfed within the outer hold.

“You've done it,” Vila crowed. “You've done it!” Out of the corner of her eye, Tirren saw Avon breathe a sigh of relief and release the controls.

“Close the main hatches,” Avon instructed. “Zen, transfer to inner hold number five.”

The whirr of Zen's console was a welcome return. “Transfer process commenced.”

“Hull re-pressurised,” Vila said.

“Inner hatches released,” Tirren said, looking up at Avon with a smile. “Well done.”

“Switch up the visual,” he told them.

“Very delicate,” Vila commented as he made the necessary adjustments to the display. “You know, with hands like that and a decent upbringing, he might have made a respectable pickpocket.”

Fortunately Avon took this as the compliment it was meant to be. “Yes. We'd better go down and check that they're all right.” He motioned to Tirren and Vila to join him. “Keep a watch, Gan.”

Tirren was the third to arrive in the hold, having stopped to pick up a first aid kit. She arrived to hear a quiet exchange between Jenna and Avon.

“You don't sound too sure about that,” the woman was saying, sounding somewhat breathless. “Thanks anyway. Nice flying.”

Tirren's arrival appeared to dissolve a certain tension holding the group together. Avon pushed past Blake and Jenna to head into the projectile, presumably following Vila, while Blake headed over to the comm unit. Tirren cautiously approached Jenna.

“I'll just do a couple of checks, if you don't mind?”

Jenna nodded. “I feel fine, now we've got air.”

“All the same,” Tirren said, holding a small diagnostic readout to the blonde woman's wrist and checking the display. “It looks as though there's no permanent damage. You might have a bit of a headache – your electrolyte balance is fractionally out - but it should go away with time. Have a drink of water, and you should be set. If the headache persists, I'll get you some pain-killers from the med stores.”

“Thanks,” Jenna said. Tirren nodded, and cast a look around the hold to locate Blake. He was still over by the comm unit, although the way he was talking tended to argue against him having suffered any long-term effects of oxygen deprivation. Jenna touched her on the arm, regaining her attention. “There's a couple of people in cryo-sleep inside the projectile,” Jenna said. “They might need your attention more urgently than Blake.”

Tirren nodded, and made her way over to the projectile, hiding a smile. Jenna had made it abundantly clear over the past four months that Blake was to be considered Jenna's property. Tirren hadn't argued the matter. There were too many other factors interfering to make her even vaguely inclined toward making a play for Blake. It had been at least sixteen months since she'd thought comfortably about masculine company. Indeed, the acceptance of four male egos in close confinement around her had been one of the hardest adjustments she had found herself having to make to life on the Liberator.

The interior of the projectile was crowded. Tirren was glad of her small size, as it allowed her to move with relative freedom. Vila and Avon had already moved to share the single pilot's chair at the front of the crowded space. The two men were talking as they usually did – Avon murmuring to himself, as though taking mental notes, and Vila interjecting at odd moments to query some of those notes. Strangely enough, Avon seemed not to mind the process. Possibly it helped him get his thoughts straight.

“Excuse me,” Tirren interrupted, “have you figured out which are the re-animation controls?”

Avon indicated something on the console and said, “I've already started the re-animation process. There should be readouts of some kind on the cryogenic chambers.”

“Thank you. I'll have a look for them.” Tirren made her way to the far end of the projectile, near the bulkhead which separated the cockpit from the rear of the ship. Idly she wondered what was behind the bulkhead. The small consoles next to the hoods of the units didn't have much more than indicators that the unit was occupied. Scrambling over the middle unit, she started looking at the foot of the units.

When Blake decided to climb into the projectile, things became very cramped indeed. Tirren squinched herself further down toward the far end near the bulkhead, while Blake made his way forward. As she continued her search, she heard him speaking with Avon.

“What do you think?” Blake was asking.

“It's an old ship,” Avon said. “Or from a technologically backward culture. Sub-light drive. So obviously the desitination was outside the star system from which it was launched.”

“Obviously,” said Vila, who clearly didn't agree. “Why?”

Tirren looked up from where she was knelt between the two functional units. “If the journey time had been shorter than the natural lifespan of a humanoid, they wouldn't have put the crew into cold sleep. Cryogenic suspension halts the processes of ageing and decay.” She got to her feet, having to duck a little to avoid hitting her head on the low ceiling. “These two are probably hundreds of years old.”

“Any idea where they were going and why?” Blake asked Avon.

“No, but they weren't planning on coming back. All the instruments are set for landing. There's nothing for take-off.”

“There'd be no point in going back,” Blake said. “The world they left would be dead years ago.”

“No sign of any weapons,” Avon continued. “In fact, there isn't much equipment at all. Either they were headed for a civilised destination where they expected a friendly reception or...” There was a pause as Avon considered possible options. “We are missing the point entirely.”

Tirren, from where she was searching, considered the latter to be very likely. There weren't any readouts to show the progress of re-animation at all, or if there were, they weren't in a place which was visible from the forward controls, which seemed odd.

“It all seems a bit single-minded to me,” Vila said.

“I've cut in the re-animation unit,” Avon told Blake. “It'll take a little while, but these two should come out of it and be able to tell us what it's all about.”

“Can we speed it up?”

Blake's question was asked of Avon, but Tirren decided to answer. “It's an automated system. Interfering with the program could kill them,” she said, her words somewhat muffled by the position she was in, scrabbling about to see whether there were any readouts at floor level.

“Well, there's no point in waiting around,” Blake said. “Tirren, take a look at them in a couple of hours.”

“Oh, wait a minute. There is something we could do,” Avon said. “We could take out the program in the auto-navigational unit, link it into our own computers and take a reading on the planet of origin, the course and the destination.”

“It's worth a try,” Blake said, making his way out of the projectile. Vila followed him, muttering something about getting Avon's tools for him.

“Are you having any success finding readouts?” Avon asked. Tirren started, not having expected the question.

“No, I'm not,” she said. “I'm not sure whether that's a good sign or not. As you said, we may be missing the point of this craft entirely.” She sighed. “Is there any sort of readout on the console?”

Avon took another look. “Not that I can see.”

“Well, I'd say our best hope is to leave the job to the automated systems. I'll check the records in the medical database.” She looked over the corpse in the unit closest to the hatch. “I wonder whether I could get this one out and try some tests.”

Avon gave the cryo-unit a cursory glance, being far more interested in trying to locate the auto-navigational unit. “Possibly. To what purpose?”

She gave a small chuff of laughter. “Curiosity, mainly. I'm interested in knowing what kind of beings would send off a living time capsule like this.”

“They look to be humanoid.”

“So do a lot of otherwise alien species,” Tirren answered. “There are a few diagnostic tests I can perform which might be able to pin things down a little more. 'Humanoid' tends to be fairly vague when it comes to descriptions. Even if they're human, there's ways and means of pinning down planets of origin.”

“I shall leave you to it,” Avon said, returning to his contemplation of the console. The two of them worked in companionable silence for a while. Only the rattle of Vila returning with the toolbox interrupted things. By then, Avon had worked out how to get to the auto-navigational unit, and he requested Tirren's assistance in getting at it. “You have the necessary qualifications,” was how he phrased it.

“Meaning I've smaller fingers than either of you?” Tirren translated quizzically.

“Exactly.” Avon moved out of the way, and let Tirren get at the console, indicating what she needed to do. The task was easily accomplished, and the two men retreated to the flight deck to give the unit over to Zen's analysis. Vila left the toolkit in the hold so Tirren could work to remove her tissue samples from the frozen corpse. This took only a couple of minutes. The projectile was left alone, in the deserted hold.

As Tirren was later to comment, it might not have been the best move on the part of the Liberator's crew.

About an hour later, following the careful preparation of a number of slides, extracts, and the setting in progress of several tests on the tissue samples, Tirren returned to the flight deck. Avon was at his console, while Blake was hovering nearby, involved in the process Vila labelled “being leaderly”. As far as Tirren could figure, this involved some micro-management practices a former professor of hers had been expert at, and which had annoyed her immensely at the time. From the expression Avon was taking no trouble to hide, it appeared they had a similar effect on the computer technician.

“The decoders are working out the notiational system,” Avon was saying. “It's taking longer than I thought.”

“Has anyone been down to see our guests lately?” Blake asked.

“I went down a little while ago,” Tirren said.


“They're thawing. If their biological profile is similar to a human one, we should be able to talk to them in a couple of hours. I'm running some tests on tissue samples which should be giving results in the next thirty minutes, if you're interested.”

It turned out Blake wasn't interested in the results of Tirren's tests. Or at least, not as interested as he was in getting started in a career of annoying the Federation on Saurian Major. Vila and Avon were ordered down to the planet with him, while Tirren, Gan and Jenna were left to keep an eye on the teleport and the defrosting sleepers. In that order, apparently.

Jenna and Gan sat themselves down on the couches in the flight deck. Tirren decided to get back to testing the tissue samples. There were some interesting anomalies which had shown up in preliminary scans, and she wanted to investigate those further. When Gan came knocking on the door of her lab to obtain some painkillers, she realised she'd been crouched over the microscope for an hour straight, and it was time to take a break. This was how she came to be in the rec room with Gan when Jenna came back from inspecting the hold.

“Gan, one of them...” Jenna's voice echoed down the corridor. Tirren looked up – Jenna sounded unnerved. The next shout of, “Gan, where are you?” brought the pair of them into the flight deck.

“What's happened? What's the matter?” Gan gasped, rushing over to where Jenna was. Tirren took a look at the way the other woman was holding her upper arm and went for the medical kit kept in the flight deck storage area.

“One of them attacked me,” Jenna was saying. “I tried talking to him, but I couldn't make him understand.”

“It's all right, you're safe now,” Gan told her. “Where is he?”

“He's in the hold. I've locked the door. He threw something at me. He practically broke my arm.”

“Let me take a look at it,” Tirren said, rolling up Jenna's sleeve. There was a very nasty looking bruise on her upper left arm, and gentle papation of the area made Jenna wince. It didn't look as though the bone was affected, which was a mercy, although it was possible the bone itself was bruised.

“I tried to get you on the communicator,” Jenna continued, “but he'd smashed it. Then he rushed me.”

“He's probably frightened,” Gan said. Tirren pulled a tool Zen had assured her was for tissue regeneration from the medical kit and started to run it over the bruised skin on Jenna's upper arm.

“No, he didn't look frightened,” Jenna said. “He just looked murderous.”

“Could be.” Gan didn't sound so sure. “He's been asleep for centuries, then wakes up in a strange place not knowing what's happening. Or why.”

“He could be confused, I suppose,” Jenna said, sounding a little dubious about the whole business.

Tirren decided to contribute. “We have no idea what mental damage might have been done by long term cryogenic suspension. We also don't know how long they've been in suspension.” The tissue regenerator had finished its job, and the skin on Jenna's arm looked fine. “How's that?”

“That's amazing,” Jenna said, looking at the place where the bruise had been, and moving her arm to test the range of motion available. “Thank you.”

“You stay here,” Gan said to the two of them. “I'll go and sort him out.”

Jenna went across to the armoury. “Gan?”

The big man turned back. “Yes?”

Jenna handed a gun and gunbelt to him. “Be careful.”

Gan nodded, buckling on the gunbelt as he headed toward the hold.

“The results of those tests are back,” Tirren said, but was interrupted by the chime of a communicator. “I'll tell you in a second.” Making her way to the nearest console, she picked up the call. “Tirren.”

“Blake,” came the voice over the communicator. “We haven't made contact with the rebels yet. We're moving. Reference three, three, four, zero. I'll call in again when we get there.”

“Right,” Tirren said, noting the coordinates on the console.

“Anything happen with the crew of the projectile?” Blake asked.

“One of them...” Tirren started, then saw Jenna shaking her head vehemently and quickly altered what she was going to say next. “They're recovering. Everything's under control at this end.”

“Good, I'll check with you later,” Blake said. “Blake out.”

The communication cut off. “Why didn't you want me to tell him about the attack?” Tirren asked Jenna.

“He doesn't need to know,” Jenna replied. “We can handle it.”

“I wish I could be so certain,” Tirren said. “I was going to tell you the results of those tests. Whatever the crew of that projectile are, they certainly aren't human. From what you're saying, they're coming out of cryosleep faster than any human would. Their tissue types don't correspond to any of the ones on file in Zen's data banks, either.”

“Anything else?”

“From what I've seen of them, their cell structures are very different to human ones. I can't be certain; the samples I've taken are from dead tissue, so it's hard to guess how the live cell would function, but it looks as though the excretory and metabolic speeds of these aliens are much faster than our own.”

“What does that mean?”

“They'd heal faster than a human, and they'd be harder to kill with poisons or drugs. I'd need to do more tests to be certain.”

Jenna looked worried. “That doesn't sound good.”

“No, it doesn't,” Tirren agreed. “We should check up on Gan.”

Jenna nodded. “I've just remembered – I checked on the other one before I got attacked. He grabbed my wrist as I was trying to take a pulse. Get a gun.” The pilot matched action to words, collecting a gun from the armoury, and grabbing a belt. Tirren followed suit, strapping the belt around her waist as they made their way to the teleport area.

“You go ahead,” Tirren said to Jenna at the teleport area. “I'll put out a call to Gan.”

“Good idea.” Jenna started looking around all of the corridors, while Tirren tried a general hail over the comm system.

“Gan. Gan, please respond and report your location.” The two women listened to the call echoing through the ship. There was no response.

“Gan, please respond.” Still no answer.

Exchanging glances with Tirren, Jenna drew her gun. Tirren followed, delaying only long enough to stop in at the medical unit and grab a medical pack. Then, gun drawn, she headed down the maze of corridors to the hold where the projectile awaited them.

The door was open when they got to the hold, which wasn't unexpected. What neither of them had been expecting was the cable which stretched from the projectile to a wall panel within the hold.

“Gan?” Jenna called. There was no answer. Jenna gestured toward the projectile with her gun, nodding at Tirren to check it. Tirren nodded, and moving as slowly and as silently as possible, made her way over to the hatch. Jenna, meanwhile, moved toward the connection for the cable at the Liberator end.

Tirren climbed onto the stubby wing of the projectile, and looked cautiously through the hatch.

“Gan?” she called. There was still no answer. Looking closer, Tirren realised both cryogenic capsules were empty. Tirren fought a strong impulse to utilise some of the more obscure swearwords in her vocabulary.

“Tirren, watch out!” The shout from Jenna made Tirren spin, to see one of the alien crew drop down from the top of one of the ventilation ducts, just in front of her. Gasping in shock, Tirren kicked out at the alien, knocking him from the wing onto the floor. He landed looking straight at Jenna. There was a brief confused moment of action, the sound of a gun firing, and the alien lay dead upon the floor.

Tirren looked over at Jenna, who was watching the alien carefully, presumably to ensure it wouldn't get up again. There was a strange knife on the ground near its hand. Tirren jumped down from the wing, and kicked the knife away.

“Thanks,” she said to Jenna. “Do we know where the other one is?”

A noise came from the projectile behind them. Both women pointed their weapons at the hatch, as a hand and arm emerged. Then Jenna put out her own hand, and pushed Tirren's gun down. It was Gan.

“What happened?” Jenna asked, as he struggled out of the projectile, falling off the wing.

“Jenna...” Gan seemed to be having problems speaking. “Couldn't stop them. Couldn't stop them. Implant.”

“What?” Jenna sounded somewhere between shocked and furious. As Gan leaned forward, Tirren caught sight of a metallic gleam within his dark curls.

“Brain implant,” she said, pointing it out to Jenna. “That explains the headaches.”

“Limiter...” Gan gasped. “Not possible for me to kill now. Never wanted to.”

“Gan, what happened in the projectile?” Jenna demanded. Tirren pulled a mild tranq-pad from the medical kit, and set the dosage. As the drug started to pervade the man's system, he was able to speak more freely.

“They kill,” he said. “Anyone. Everyone who isn't theirs.”

Tirren exchanged glances with Jenna. This wasn't good either. “One of them is already dead,” Tirren told Gan.

“The other one. I saw his face, Tirren. Despises us.” Gan looked on the verge of passing out.

“Don't try and speak. I'll take you to the med-unit,” Tirren said. “Then we'll search for the other one.”

Jenna nodded, assisting Gan to his feet and helping Tirren take his weight. “I'll get started on the search. Meet me at the teleport unit.”

“Shall do.”

Gan started to come to his senses about halfway to the med-unit, which made Tirren's task a lot easier. For one thing, he was able to bear some of his own weight.

“Why didn't you tell me about the limiter earlier?” Tirren asked him. “I mean, I know you've been getting headaches, but if I'd known...”

“I didn't think anyone could do anything about it,” Gan said.

“Weren't you given any medication after the implantation?” When Gan shook his head in reply, Tirren tsked. “Let me do a couple of scans. I should be able to come up with a drug regime to make the whole business much more bearable for you.”

“Is that possible?” Gan asked, a light of hope starting to show in his eyes.

“Possible? It's supposed to be a standard follow-up to limiter implantation. Just let me get my hands on the butcher who implanted that for you!” Tirren sounded furious.

“You'd best help Jenna first,” Gan said as the lights flickered. “I've waited this long, a few more minutes won't matter.” He gave Tirren a rather wobbly smile, and shooed her out of the med-unit. “I promise I'll just stay here and keep out of trouble.”

Tirren ran the whole distance from the med-unit to the teleport area, and still arrived almost too late. The sounds of a scuffle intensified as she got closer, but when she finally reached the teleport area, it was to find the second alien standing over Jenna, with his knife drawn. Barely pausing to take aim, she fired, and struck the alien. It collapsed, half-over Jenna.

Tirren rushed forward, and helped Jenna move the corpse off her legs. “Good shooting,” Jenna commented breathlessly.

“Don't mention it,” Tirren said, giving the other woman a shy smile. “One good turn deserves another. Are you all right?”

“A bit bruised, but otherwise fine,” Jenna said, climbing to her feet. She checked a display on the teleport console. “They've linked their ship to our power source. I'm getting a very heavy power loss. I'll have to disconnect. Will you be all right here?”

“I should be,” Tirren said. “I'll go and check the scans on the flight deck. Who knows what else might have crept up on us.”

Jenna nodded her agreement, and turned back toward the hold, while Tirren made her way the corridor and down the stairs to the flight deck. A brief electronic whirr from Zen caught her attention as she entered.

“Tirren Phale,” the computer announced. “Basic decoding of the projectile's auto log is now complete. Occupants are identified as programmed guardians.”

Tirren nodded, wandering over to check the scanner console. Fortunately, there didn't appear to be anything showing up on detectors.

“They are conditioned to eliminate any life form which could be a threat to the brood units and genetic banks contained in the rear section of the projectile,” Zen continued. “Liberator crew are such a threat and will be attacked.”

“Tell me something I don't know,” Tirren muttered under her breath, still checking the scans.

Almost as though it had heard her, Zen completed the analysis. “There are four guardians. Repeat, four guardians.”

“Shit!” Tirren swore, and nearly twisted her ankle trying to get off the flight deck and up the stairs. As she combined hopping and swearing for a couple of seconds, she heard the chime of the communicator. Blake's voice echoed in both the flight deck and the teleport section.

“Jenna, we're ready. Stand by to bring us up.”

“Shit, shit, shit! Why now, Blake? Why not wait five minutes? Bloody annoying man!” Hobbling, she made her way to the teleport area.

“Control?” The question sounded impatient. Tirren suppressed another burst of swearing and stumbled to the teleport console. Now, what was the procedure again? Fix on the voice first...

“Control, now!”

Got it. Check for the number of people. Four rather than three – presumably they'd found someone down there.

“Jenna? Gan? Tirren? Teleport NOW! Can you hear me? Teleport now!”

“Keep your hair on,” Tirren muttered, reaching across to the switches. The teleporter whined, and four figures occupied the teleport bay. Blake took in the sight of the dead alien on the floor near the console, and Tirren's rather stressed demeanour.

“Where's Jenna?” he demanded.

“Jenna's in the hold. There's another of those things in there,” Tirren said, flipping a hand vaguely in the direction of the dead alien.

Blake nodded, and headed for the hold at top speed. Vila put down his box of tricks, and went over to where Tirren was sitting. “What about Gan?”

“Gan's in medical. He'll be fine,” she said. Tirren looked over at the fourth figure who'd accompanied them. Another woman. Oh wonderful. “Who's our new friend?” she asked.

“Oh, Cally. She's an Auron,” Vila said.

“Or so she says,” Avon said. “Are you all right?”

“Hurt my ankle a little trying to get here in time to teleport you all. I should be fine in a few minutes. If I could borrow a shoulder from someone to get to the med-unit, I'll strap it up and I should be up and about in no time flat. But first we need to get out of range of interceptors from the planet.”

“Vila, Cally, you help her,” Avon ordered, before stalking off toward the flight deck.

Twenty minutes later, everyone was gathered together on the flight deck, watching the explosion of the communications centre on Saurian Major. From a few thousand spacials out, it reminded Tirren of an old vis-recording of a fireworks display. After a couple of seconds, though, it became uninteresting. What was more interesting was watching the faces of her fellow crewmembers.

Avon appeared dispassionate, although by the time she'd reached the med-unit, she'd found an instruction from him to ensure Cally was who and what she said she was. It was fortunate the tests had come out positive, she thought, otherwise there would have been a battle royale between Avon and Blake right there in the med-unit. Jenna also watched the whole show without any outward expression of emotion, although there was a tightness about the pilot's jaw which boded poorly for the next few weeks, if Tirren was reading things correctly. Vila was looking satisfied, and for the first time in ages appeared less than nervous. Gan responded well to the drugs she'd given him to help regulate his autonomic responses; for the first time in ages, he said, he was able to be around other people without getting a headache. Blake, of course, looked thoroughly pleased.

“That should give them problems for a while,” he said from his seat on the forward couches, sounding smug. Tirren noticed Cally turn toward him, and realised the Auron woman must have been talking with Blake via telepathy when he replied, “Pleasure.”

“Do you wish to return to Auron?” Blake asked Cally.

“I cannot return to my people,” Cally said. There was a tension about the woman, almost a suspicion of someone bracing themself for a rejection. “I have failed.”

“Then stay with us.” Blakes voice dropped to a low purr by the end of the sentence. Tirren was in a perfect position to see Jenna's back stiffen at Cally's positive response.

“What are we going to do about the projectile?” Jenna asked.

“Dump it in deep space,” Blake replied off-handedly.

Jenna's lips thinned. “Thanks a lot,” she muttered. Her tone implied she was less than impressed with Blake's answer.

“I don't like the sound of that,” Gan said. “It's murder.”

“Would you rather it was hooked back into the power system?” Avon interjected caustically. “You heard Zen.”

“A single cell from the genetic banks in the projectile can be incubated to a fully grown adult within two minutes, Gan,” Tirren agreed.

“We could be up to our armpits in homicidal maniacs within the hour,” Vila said, contributing his mite to the conversation.

“Maybe that was why Zen was so uncooperative,” Blake mused. He didn't look up from whatever it was he was planning.

“Seems to me,” Jenna commented, “it should have taught us something about the wisdom involved in bringing aliens on board.” The look Jenna directed at Cally conveyed precisely what she meant. Tirren winced. The already-fraught personal relations on the Liberator had just become even more complicated.

Mentally writing off the next month as still more shakedown time, Tirren made a mental note to work harder on the scorecard. “At least with eight of us,” she volunteered as an attempt to pour oil on the already troubled waters, “we can run Liberator properly.”

“Seven, surely?” Vila queried.

“You forgot Zen,” Blake said from the couch.

“You're not counting that machine as a member of the crew?” Avon demanded, sounding more than a little irritated. Too late, Tirren remembered the problem with pouring oil on troubled waters: there were too many firey personalities on board.

Blake canted a look at the computer tech. “Ooh,” he said slyly. “What do you say to that, Zen?”

Zen, fortunately, couldn't take sides. “Please state course and speed,” it requested in its usual calm tones.

“Very diplomatic,” Blake said. Tirren hid a grin. She'd have to check with Vila, but unless things went really badly on Saurian Major, that put the pair of them just about equal. A good way to leave things, for now.

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