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Fandom: Blake's 7
Series: Tirren Phale
Title: Supplies
Rating: Parental Advice Recommended
Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction. I do not own the characters or the universe of Blake's 7. Tirren Phale is my own creation, but she is a fan character rather than a canon creation.


The weekly crew meeting was going as expected. “According to Zen, we're running short on reagents for some of the replicators,” Tirren said. She'd been given the job of looking after the replicators after Cally had arrived on board, that being the one of Avon's responsibilities he'd been most eager to shed to his second-in-charge.

“What are our options?” Blake asked, looking at the crewmembers scattered in various locations around the flight deck.

“We can wait for the replicators to accumulate sufficient material through standard transit,” Avon said, not looking up from the piece of circuitry he was working on, “or we can do a supply run.”

“How long will it take the replicators to recharge?” Gan asked.

Tirren referred to the notes she had. “About two weeks, according to Zen. The worst affected systems are those for the teleport bracelets and the auto-repair systems.”

“Two weeks is a long time to go without auto-repair,” Jenna said.

“Precisely,” Avon agreed. “There are some measures we can take to work around the problem.”

“Such as?” Vila said from where he appeared to be napping on the couch.

“At present, the missing compounds are able to be substituted with those from the food, drink, clothing and medical supplies replicators,” Tirren said, referring once more to her notes. “Medical supplies aren't much of an issue. I'm capable of putting together a lot of the necessary items in the lab, given time. However, if we run into pursuit ships within the next two or three days, we may be in trouble. In such a situation, there'll be no choice but to utilise the food and drink supplies to bolster the auto-repair circuitry. At that point, we will need to do a supply run.”

“Information,” Zen chimed. “Detectors indicate unidentified craft within scanner range. Available data suggests Federation pursuit ships.”

“Bugger.” Vila's sentiments appeared to be shared by the majority of the crew as they moved to their positions.


It was Tirren's watch. In theory, this meant she was monitoring the consoles and scans to gain advance warning of incoming pursuit ships, meteorite storms, or stray astral bodies. In practice, she was interrogating Zen's databanks.

“Zen, I need a list of planets fulfilling the following criteria: non-Federation; peaceful; able to supply six months worth of the reagents missing from the replicator systems based on current levels of material drain. Sort the list by distance from our current position, then by matching criteria. Last criterion is most important, second is least important. Confine the list to a maximum of six best candidates. Confirm with estimate of time to output.”

“Output within twenty minutes,” Zen replied.

“Thank you, Zen,” Tirren said. For a brief instant, she thought of what Avon would have said had he heard her anthropomorphising the computer. Tirren had always found being polite to computers made them work a bit better – rather like people.

She'd taken what was already being called the “graveyard shift” watch – the watch that coincided with the maximum number of sleep periods. She'd volunteered for it. Having to stay awake and alert watching made a difference from attempting to sleep but being unable to drift off, or sleeping only to wake from a nightmare.

She sighed. Under ordinary circumstances, she'd deal with the problem by taking a sedative at the end of her watch and sleeping the dreamless sleep of the drugged. She'd been refraining ever since Centero. There was too much chance they'd be caught by a Federation patrol.

She checked the console. Zen would let her know if there was anything worth noticing, but she couldn't help double checking. She found herself drumming her fingers on the edge of the console. Her nerves were shot.

Since they'd stolen the Federation cypher machine from Centero, the entire crew had become aware of how high their capture stood in the priorities of Space Command. While Blake might take it as a sign they were doing well, Tirren tended to the majority view (held by Jenna, Vila and Avon): being on the Federation's “most wanted” list was more trouble than it was worth. Cally appeared to agree with Blake, but then, the Auron's priorities were often different to those of the rest of the crew. Cally was the only freedom fighter by vocation amongst them – in Blake's case, it was a crusade, and crusaders never tended to be rational.

No matter which way the issue was viewed, the honest truth was that being a wanted fugitive with a bounty on one's head was not the most ideal of conditions to land on any planet. Were they to put down on a Federation planet, they'd be lucky to escape with their lives. Choosing a neutral planet was slightly safer – always provided some citizens of the planet weren't more interested in the money the crew of the Liberator could be converted into.

An idea occurred to her. “Zen, bring up the latest vidcasts from the Federation, please.” With one eye on the scanners, and one ear on the vidcast, Tirren sat and thought her way through her plan.

The best time to raise anything with Blake was far enough ahead for him to be able to convince himself it was all his idea. With this in mind, Tirren raised the issue of the supply run the next morning, presenting him with the list of planets, sorted according to distance, resources, and connection to the Federation. As she'd suspected, the three best matches for resources were all Federation planets. Of the other three, two were pro-Federation neutrals, while the third was in such dire economic straits there was very little chance they'd be able to purchase the necessary items at any cost less than their lives.

Understandably, Blake dug his heels in. “In that case, we let the Liberator recharge automatically,” he said, in his best 'here ends the argument' tone.

Equally understandably, Avon launched himself into the fray. “Don't be a fool, Blake. You saw the report from Zen. Without those resources, we are a sitting target for the Federation patrols, or we are starving.”

“There has to be another way.”

“There isn't.” Avon was at his most acidic. “Due to your choices of destination, we have exhausted the supplies for both the auto-repair systems and the teleport regeneration systems. In order to run rudimentary auto-repair, we are having to cannibalise our own food and drink.”

“Zen, how long will existing food supplies last?” Blake asked.

“At current rates of consumption, and with current drains on the supplies due to auto-repair synthesis, food supplies will be consumed within twelve days. Further demands on auto-repair systems will decrease this time.” The dispassionate nature of Zen's analysis added to the bleakness of the figures.

Blake cast another look at the list. “There's nowhere else within range?” he asked her.

“No,” Tirren said. “I ran the search five times during my last watch. Those six options we have there are the best ones.”

“Right. Zen, set course for...” Blake checked the list, “Delta Taurii two, speed standard by three. Hopefully we'll be able to get down and back before they spot us.” Delta Taurii Two was one of the two neutrals, a peaceful planet which avoided Federation interference by allowing the Federation to be its main trading partner.

“I've a suggestion,” Tirren said.


“Send me down,” she said. “I checked the vidcasts last night. They know about you, Jenna and Avon, and probably have since the three of you escaped the London. Since Saurian Major at the earliest they've known about Vila and Cally, and Gan they've known of since Centero. I'm the only member of the crew the Federation doesn't know about.”

Blake frowned down at her. “I don't like it,” he said. “You're still a convicted criminal.”

“Yes, but one they think is on Cygnus Alpha. They aren't looking for me the way they're looking for the rest of you.” Tirren met his gaze. “I'm the one with the best chance of doing this supply run and not getting caught.”

“Tirren has a point, Blake.” The comment came from Jenna. Both Blake and Tirren looked over at her. “I've seen the vidcasts myself. None of them mentioned Tirren. Not as an escaped prisoner, and not as a member of the crew of the Liberator. She's not being looked for.”

“Secondly,” Jenna continued, “I've been to DT2. She'll fit right in.”

“Fit right in?” Blake sounded puzzled.

“Zen, bring up social and political data for Delta Taurii two,” Jenna said. “Display to main screen.” The data started to flash up, showing images of the people and culture of the planet. “There!” she said. “Zen, reverse, and hold frame.”

The image displayed was of a woman who could almost have been the sister of Tirren Phale. The same long dark hair, plaited back from the face. The same delicate features, the same dark skin. The only difference was the woman shown was wearing what was likely to be a native costume. It appeared to consist of a single length of fabric wrapped and draped around her in a very clever fashion. Her wrists and ankles were adorned with gold bracelets, and her eyes were outlined in some form of dark paint, making them look three times as big.

“I was down there about ten years ago,” Jenna said. “I stood out like a full moon; it was very hard to do business. Tirren shouldn't have any such problem.”

Almost against his will, Blake appeared convinced. Tirren looked over at Jenna, and winked. Finally, she'd be able to go down to the surface of a planet and breathe some fresh air.

It took several day's work to decide on the best plan. In the end the consensus was Tirren should go under cover on the planet. As Jenna pointed out, if Tirren said she was from an orbiting spaceship, people would expect her to arrive and leave in a shuttlecraft, and at present Liberator had a grand total of zero. Instead, some research into various databanks, and a bit of judicious computer jiggery-pokery on Avon's part set Tirren up with an identity as a member of a prominent merchant family setting up a subsiduary company on the smaller of the three main continental landmasses.

The fabric for Tirren's native costume, which she found was called a sari, was found in the treasure room. “Silk, interwoven with gold thread,” Vila said, having retrieved the bounty from where it had been hidden beneath a couple of carpets. “Looks about five times richer than anything else in the city we're dropping you off in, so it should be enough to convince the punters.” Some further searching provided a selection of bangles and anklets, as well as a neckchain, all of which looked gaudy and bright enough to fit into the local fashions.

Some further research, meanwhile, had unearthed an unfortunate truth about the cultures of the planets in the Delta Taurii system. While they retained traditional costumes from a more colourful period in Terran history, they also retained some of the traditional customs. In particular, money matters were viewed to be a masculine province, while trading was a female one. Tirren would need to have someone male along to handle the pursestrings, if not the actual negotiations. Avon, much to his disgust, was also kitted out in appropriate garb for a visit planet-side.

“It's quite simple, Avon,” Tirren had said. “The Delta Taurii planets have been settled by people from the Industani domes, where I grew up. Gan is far too tall to pass for the correct background, so is Blake – and both of them have curly hair, which is very rare indeed and would excite comment. Vila might pass, but it would be tricky. You have the right bone structure, and your hair and eyes are dark enough to pass. All we need to do is alter your skin colour to suit.”

“She's right, Avon,” Blake had said. “We checked. You're the nearest match to the physiognomy of the people of the Delta Taurii system.”

“You're also the best match in temperament,” Jenna commented. “The men of DT2 tend to be very arrogant and stand-offish.”

The jibe earned her a glare from Avon, and grins from both Blake and Vila, who had stayed to kibitz. Tirren hid her grin by searching the medical cabinets for the items she’d need to change Avon’s pale skin to match her own.

It took a couple of day's practice for Avon to pick up Industani Standard. During this period, Tirren spent a lot of time remembering an accent she'd spent the past ten Terran standard years attempting to bury. The looks she'd received from other Alpha grade students at the universities she'd attended outside the Industani domes had implied her speech was difficult to understand or in some way inferior. It had been her first experience with people of a completely different cultural background. She'd known there were different root cultures in the Industani domes – most of them down at Delta level or below, where the rungs of the ladder were tight-packed, and every little bit of status was clutched at in frantic desperation. There were the over-arching Federation cultural rules, which enveloped everyone, and stratified the social classes. But she hadn't realised there were differences between Alpha groupings within other domes.

She'd been amazed by the differences she'd found in her years of travel between the domes. It was one of the specialist training programs for able students, designed to enhance their loyalties to the Federation over bonds of kinship, culture, or memory. She'd been shunted about, a semester in this dome, a year in that one. Learning the different types of Alpha grades that existed – the ones who advanced through the ranks by virtue of their intelligence or skills; the ones who were born to the rank; the ones whose parents had purchased their ranking, or who had been born to wealth; the dillettantes. The subtle snobberies of comparative value within the different groupings. Her own situation (a father who had climbed through the ranks to his grading and a mother who had been born into the Alpha grades) was not all that unusual. From her mother, she'd learned poise, diplomacy, reticence and grace. From her father, she'd gained her drive, her interest in intellectual achievement, and her ambition. From her peers in the wealthier domes, she discovered any accent in one's Standard led to the presumption that one had elevated oneself from the Beta, or worse, the Delta classes.

Now she faced the issue once more, trying to teach Avon the nuances of Industan Standard. According to Jenna, the peoples of this system clung to their pre-Federation heritage, hence the clothing, the cultural system, and even the stratification of classes within their society. Flawless Standard would mark them as incomers.

The teleportation was planned and researched with care. They would appear at the nearest groundport terminal, with luggage suggesting they had arrived on one of the intra-planetary transports. The cover story was one of a sister and brother who were visiting to determine whether the city in question could be used as a manufacturing base for one of the corporations in the family trust.

Tirren looked across at Avon. The experience of teleportation had been interesting, although she wasn't sure whether she'd get used to the moment of disorientation on arrival. “We need a carrier,” she said.

Avon nodded, scanning the area.

“They're over there,” Tirren said, pointing. “Go fetch one.”

Avon glared at her, but appeared to have noticed the same thing Tirren had; none of the carriers were being propelled by either women, or persons of status. Instead, the rack of carriers came with an attendant group of small boys, all clamouring for his patronage. He chose the least grubby and most intelligent-looking, and brought the lad back to where Tirren was waiting with the luggage.

“Who is this?” she asked Avon.

“Mem, I am Sanjay,” the boy replied, bowing to her. “I am pleased to serve both mem and sahib.”

Tirren nodded. “Load our luggage onto the carrier. We will require a groundcar.”

“If the sahib and the mem will come with me,” Sanjay said, “I will show the mem and the sahib where such things can be hired.”

“We shall require the best,” Avon put in, as he watched the boy load up the carrier. The boy appeared to be taking almost theatrical care of their belongings. Probably sizing the pair of them up as potential targets for theft.

“Certainly Sahib,” the boy replied. “Please to follow me.”

Tirren followed behind Avon, as custom decreed, with Avon following their temporary guide and servant. The young man behind the counter of the groundcar hire firm was polite to begin with, shading toward obsequiousness when he realised the size of the credit balance the banking systems believed they had at their disposal. They hired a groundcar, choosing to have one without a driver.

Once their destination had been programmed into the groundcar for them by the eager young man from the groundcar hire firm, and their luggage had been loaded into the car from the carrier by Sanjay, and appropriate gratuities had been given to each of them they were able to head off on their journey, and relax.

Only slightly, though. Tirren could sense the tension in Avon as she sat beside him on the bench seat of the groundcar. She was also conscious of her own nervousness – their business required a number of stages in order to obtain the necessary supplies. She'd have to maintain the facade of a good woman of this society, playing on half-remembered rules her mother and father had never maintained. Only her mother's mother had shown any regard for the old traditions, and Tirren hadn't seen much of her maternal grandmother before she'd been sent to school. Once at school, she'd not seen much of her family at all.

She'd done the research, but most of the statements about the cultural practices of Delta Taurii two were Federation propaganda diatribes on the changes the Federation would bring with them should the planet accept Federation control. The remainder tended to be propaganda leaflets from the various anti-Federation groups on the planet explaining why Federation control should be rejected. Neither had been helpful, concentrating on minor matters of religious dogma. So she was forced to rely on ancient vistapes, and half-forgotten memories of her own.

Avon's manipulations of the computer systems had reserved two executive suites, in keeping with their assumed status. A communicating door between the lounging areas of the two suites allowed for conferencing. Tirren explored the suite which had been allocated for her use, while one of the hotel's staff unpacked her bags.

“How would I acquire a maidservant for the duration of my stay?” she asked.

The girl paused to bob a curtsey in Tirren's direction. “I act as maidservant as required, madam.”

Tirren looked at the girl. She was a couple of inches taller than Tirren and her facial features were a touch coarser than Tirren's own, but to an unobservant watcher, she could probably pass as Tirren. A useful bit of luck, Tirren decided.

“Good,” she replied. “What is your name?”

“Ayanna, madam.” The girl's voice was even in the same range as Tirren's.

“I shall not require assistance all of the time. How should I contact you?”

The girl indicated a call bell on the main console for the room. Tirren nodded, and indicated to the girl she should continue with her tasks. There was a knock on the connecting door.

“Come,” Tirren said. Avon opened the door, looking around. “Oh, it's you, Avijit,” she said, smiling at him. Avon took the hint.

“Yes. We should get started, Tiya. There is a need to have our tasks completed as soon as possible.”

Tirren nodded. “Give me a moment,” she said, going into the sleeping chamber. Ayanna had finished unpacking the clothing, leaving Tirren's personal pack alone. Tirren collected her handheld from her pack. It was the work of a moment to trigger the download code which dumped their “shopping list” down from Zen's storage into the handheld's memory. Tirren grinned, shutting the unit with a small 'click', and walked back out into the sitting area.

“Got it,” she told Avon, brandishing the handheld toward him. “First stop is the warehouse district.”

The warehouse district of Mumbai Nova was much like any other – combining businesslike commercial flair with a seediness enhanced by a number of groundcar repair firms hiring out small workshops in the area. Their cover story and the logistical issues involved in getting sufficient supplies for the Liberator required Avon and Tirren (or Avijit and Tiya) to hire a warehouse. Avon had only wanted to hire the warehouse for the few weeks their stay would take, but Jenna had overruled him, drawing on years of free trading experience. The warehouse was theirs for at least six months, with an option for an extension to a year.

Liberator, come in Liberator,” Avon transmitted once they were safely within the warehouse they'd hired.

Liberator here,” came Cally's voice over the comm link. “Getting a fix on your signal now.”

“Good.” Avon looked around the vast space they had available to them. “As soon as that's done, phase one is complete.”

“Any problems so far?” Blake asked.

“If there had been problems, Blake, we wouldn't still be here,” Tirren said. “Is someone manning the teleport?”


“Phase one complete,” Cally said. “Liberator out.” The communication broke.

Tirren looked across at Avon. “Time to go shopping,” she said.

The next few days were spent arranging meetings with suppliers, boards, delivery firms, and other groups to ensure the supply of their goods. Tirren acted as spokesperson at these meetings, finding another use for skills in committeeship and meeting management she'd learned through her academic career. Combining these with a long-neglected talent for mimicry, she performed an impersonation of one of her favourite professors, a woman who'd seemed vague and fluffy, but concealed a formidable will beneath the facade.

Avon watched these meetings in fascination. Tirren had managed to synthesise a large parcel of drugs to be traded for the required raw materials during the journey, and the money from the sale of those drugs had acted as their start-up capital. At first, he'd thought Tirren an easy mark for the various salespersons. He'd resigned himself to surrendering part of Liberator's bounty to the planetary banking system. On a metal-rich planet, such as Delta Taurii two, the various metals, jewels and rare earths which comprised a lot of the treasure room's contents weren't worth as much as on one of the agricultural worlds. To his surprise, Tirren was a canny negotiator, playing groups off one against the other, and winning discounts by promising to purchase very large quantities of low-quality ores. After watching her bargain down an objectionable factotum to a third of his asking price, he'd stopped worrying.

Delivery arrangements were made, and soon shipments of this and that started flowing into the warehouse. Avon contacted Liberator. They teleported down Vila and Gan with a couple of antigrav lifters each planetary “night” to retrieve what had been delivered during the day.

Everything was going swimmingly. Tirren was insistent any profits be used to purchase extra rations, something Avon was resisting at every turn. He'd seen the sorts of bulk ration concentrates available, and recognised them as being one of the less appealing varieties. So far, he was winning the argument. There were no comments on the local commnets about dangerous fugitives being present in the district, and no signs of Federation troops in the area.

It couldn't last. It didn't last.

They had stopped in a specialist shop, one of the few in the city which sold the sorts of parts interchangeable with those of the Liberator. Tirren had wandered away, seeking a few items for the laboratory section. It had just been himself, and an overly-helpful clerk, who insisted on following him around the shelves.

“I am capable of selecting what I am looking for,” Avon said.

The clerk looked at him strangely. “Certainly, sir,” the clerk said. “Is sir from this region?”

“No,” Avon replied. “I am visiting.”

The clerk was looking at him still harder. “But sir looks familiar,” he said. “I am sure I have seen the sir's face before.”

“Unlikely.” Avon looked over to where Tirren was talking with a different clerk, trying to catch her attention. She looked up at the right moment, and came over to the pair of them.

“Avijit,” she said, “are you upsetting this poor man?” She smiled at the clerk coquettishly as she took Avon's arm.

“Oh no, madam. I am just wondering where I might have seen sir before,” the clerk replied, bowing to her.

“My brother and I are not from this city,” she told him. “You probably have him confused with someone else.”

The clerk took another look at Avon. “No, I have seen sir's face before. I think it might have been on the bulletins.”

Avon stiffened. The bulletins which played in the local public transport system were the standard rundown of the Federation's most wanted. From what Tirren had said on Liberator, it seemed unlikely his face would not be among those pictured. He started to move his hand toward his gun.

“Oh no, you must be mistaken,” Tirren said, pinching Avon on the arm. “This is my brother Avijit.”

Avon opened his mouth to speak, but was silenced by both the pinch (which would probably leave a mark) and the tones of the biochemist next to him. He had never heard the woman sound quite so empty-headed and silly. From being sharp, incisive and in possession of an intelligence almost on a peer with his own, she appeared to have gone in the course of a single sentence to complete fluttering incompetence.

Dumbfounded, he listened to her burying the protestations of the functionary under layer after layer of outraged and outrageous featherheaded wittering. Of course this was her dear, dear brother! Who else could he possibly be? What did the man mean by asking these silly questions? Why, who else would her husband trust to escort her beyond the bounds of the family lands? Who else could be trusted to keep away all those silly young men and their silly ideas of capturing her for a ransom? What was the man trying to say about her brother? Her brother, who had never done a single thing his parents had disapproved of in the course of his life, her beloved brother, was supposed to be a criminal, was that it? Was that what the man was saying? Well of course they were good citizens – how dared the functionary even imply otherwise? She had never been so insulted in her life! She had a very good mind to leave the store; how dared this person so much as imply that her dear, darling brother could be anything other than a good, loyal citizen of the Federation! She would make a complaint! She would speak to this person's manager and get them sacked! The rudeness of it!

By this point, the clerk was starting to drown in the tides of her outraged, near-hysterical diatribe, and trying to apologise. Avon watched in well-hidden surprise as Tirren continued to browbeat the man into complete and utter submission. The manager was summoned, and proceeded to apologise profusely for the behaviour of his underling. Both of them were apologising just as much to Avon as to Tirren, but despite all of this, Tirren continued her jeremiad against the pair of them. Avon attempted to step in at several occasions, only to receive another hard pinch each time.

Finally, she appeared to break down into sobs. Avon, alerted by another pinch, gave the pair his best and most affronted glare, and hustled his theatrically weeping 'sibling' out of the store and into a hired groundcar. Once safely into the groundcar and with their hotel programmed in as the destination, Tirren looked up from her 'tears', to reveal she was nearly weeping from laughter.

“Oh, to see their faces,” she said. She looked across at Avon, to see him looking at her as though she'd gone insane, and burst into laughter once more.

Avon didn't appear to share her mirth. “What was the purpose of all of that nonsense?” he demanded. “In case you have forgotten, our aim here is to go unnoticed. Instead, you appear to have made us only slightly less noticeable than a minor thermonuclear blast.”

“Rubbish,” Tirren retorted, regaining her sobriety. “A rich woman throwing a tantrum is only to be expected.”

“Where did you learn to act in such a manner?”

“My mother would act in just such a manner when she wished to get a bargain from her favourite jewellers. It always worked, too. The beautiful thing, you see, is that they'll never raise the matter again, so we shall go back to the same store again tomorrow. I will, of course, be protesting furiously about the whole incident, while you will treat it as a colossal joke and be embarassed by my behaviour.”

“That should require no great exercise of acting skill,” Avon commented dryly.

“We should also get a reduction in price,” she said, “given their markup on those components was at least seventy percent. They’ll think that was why I did it. Enough to afford plenty of food concentrates.” She gave him a cheeky grin, reminding him of Vila.

“No. We are not buying the food concentrates.”

“Why not?”

“They taste hideous.” The familiar argument was almost relaxing.

“Nonsense. I know the brand. They don't taste of anything.”

“Precisely my point.”

Tirren chuckled. “All right, no food concentrates. For now.” She pulled out her handheld. “We have almost everything we came for. Another three days for the last of the deliveries to arrive, and we can go back.”

Tirren was woken in the middle of the night by the sound of boots in the corridor outside. She'd never been a heavy sleeper at the best of times, and it hadn't been the best of times for at least five years now. Boots trying to move stealthily on carpet were enough to wake her.

She pressed the call button for the maid and grabbed her handheld. She'd taken the precaution earlier in the week of acquiring a maid's uniform from Ayanna, on the pretext of a fancy dress party to go to later in the month. Donning it over her nightdress was the work of a moment.

As she hurried into the dress, she pretended to berate someone, smashing a bottle of expensive scent.

“How dare you, you clumsy girl! I will report this to your manager. Insolence!”

A stinging slap across her own face, to account for the disorder of her hair under the cap. A couple of drops of the liquid in her eyes, to bring on tears, and explain her hiding her face.

There were sounds of a scuffle next door. They’d caught Avon, she thought. Damn!

She scuttled to the servant's entrance to the suite, unlocked the door, and ran down the corridor, sobbing. Behind her, she could hear the sounds of the connecting door between her room and Avon's splintering off its hinges. Ah! The maid's room.

The door was just starting to open as she came to it. Grabbing Ayanna, covering her mouth with one hand, and closing the door behind her, she pulled the girl back into her room.

“Ayanna, you must help me!”

Ayanna, who looked to have been woken from a sound sleep, nodded in a bewildered fashion. “Of course, madam.”

“There are some men here who have come to kidnap me. I must hide, do you understand me?”

“Kidnap you, madam?”

“Yes. They are dressed like Federation troopers – a ruse, I think. I must hide.”

Ayanna, still looking surprised, nodded, and gestured toward the second cot in the little room. “Manisha is sick today. You can have her bed. Lie there and groan, I will tell them it is your woman's time.” The sound of boots outside startled both of them. “Quick, into the bed.”

Tirren jumped for the bed and hid beneath the covers.

“Open up,” came the command from outside.

“Who is it?” Ayanna asked in a sleepy-sounding voice, gesturing all the while at Tirren to hide herself.

“Federation officers. We need to search the room.”

“Is that you, Tapash?” Ayanna said, suspicion in every word. “Because if it is, it isn't funny.”

“Open the door.” The voice was more impatient.

“Tapash, this is not funny. You were told not to try to enter these rooms already.”

“This isn't Tapash, citizen. You are instructed to open this door.”

“All right, I will open the door. But if that's you, Tapash...” Ayanna opened the door, pretending startlement at the dark-clad troopers standing before her. “You're not Tapash.”

“We're looking for a wanted fugitive,” the voice said. “We need to search the room.”

“There is nobody here except Manisha and myself,” Ayanna said. “You can see that.” Her gesture took in the entire room. Tirren whimpered.

“Get up.” The command was directed at her. Tirren climbed out of the bed, clutching at her belly all the while.

“Look at me.” A hand under her chin forced her to look up. She faced a pale-skinned man, a single blue eye glaring at her. “Where is the woman?”

Tirren looked up at the man in bewilderment. “I do not know who you speak of, sir,” she said.

A light shake of her jaw. There was strength behind it, and more. “Don't lie to me, girl. The woman. She'd have skin like mine. I can smell her scent on you.”

“Ai, the mem, she sent me away because I was clumsy and broke her things,” Tirren said, feigning anguish. The fear in her voice was unfeigned – should this man suspect he was talking to his quarry, her chances of survival were slight. “I could not help it. The pains, they are so bad, sir.”

“Hush, Manisha,” Ayanna said, coming to her side. The maid looked up at the man. “She is new, and it is her woman's time.”

“The mem, she said, she said...” Tirren's voice broke off into sobs. The man released her chin, allowing her to hide her face in Ayanna's shoulder.

“She told me the mem had told her she was going to see the manager and get Manisha dismissed for her clumsiness.” Ayanna's voice was steady. “You may have passed her on the way up.”

The man appeared to consider this knowledge. He turned to one of the people behind him. “Search the room. If you find anything out of the ordinary, contact me.” He turned back to the two girls. “If I find either of you have been lying, it will go very hard for you.”

Ayanna nodded. Tirren whimpered, and buried her face further into Ayanna's shoulder. The man stalked out, leaving the two standing in the middle of the room as one of the security men searched it. The search took only a couple of minutes.

“Nothing out of the ordinary, Commander Travis,” the searcher reported through his comm. Tirren's ears pricked up at this information. So, the man with the eyepatch was the notorious Travis, the man who'd been set to hunt Blake. This made things both more and less complex. More complex, because there was a high likelihood Liberator would have moved off station, removing a source of backup. Less complex, because at least she knew who she was dealling with, and how ruthless she could be in achieving her objectives. The trooper listened to the crackle of instructions from the other end of his communit.

“Yes sir,” he concluded. He turned to face Ayanna. “You're to come-,” he started. He didn't have time to get his sentence finished before Tirren had applied a nerve pinch.

“We have to go,” she told Ayanna. “Travis is already with the manager, and he'll know I'm not Manisha by now. We're both in danger.” Ayanna nodded, her eyes wide. “Do you know a back way out of this place?” Another nod. “Good. First we're stopping at our rooms. There are some things I need to pick up.”

The maid led Tirren back to the wreck of the suite. She chased through the remnants of her things, trying hard not to breathe in the near-overpowering fug of scent that remained. The connecting door between the rooms had been broken down, but there wasn't a guard inside the room Avon had occupied. Tirren reflected on the usefulness of a broken scent bottle as an area-denial weapon, while she searched for the small tear in the seam of the mattress she'd made the day after they'd landed. There it was, and there they were – false identity papers, and a small flechette gun, loaded with tranq darts. From what she recalled of this particular type of dart, they'd be adaptable to her purposes. She had taken the precaution of re-donning the maid's uniform before she'd left Ayanna's room, and she now stuffed the pockets of the apron.

A thought occurred to her – Avon being Avon, he was bound to have been at least a little paranoid about the chance of them having lost their cover. It was unlikely in the extreme that he would have come along without at least one spare teleport bracelet – more than one, following Cally's misadventure. There'd be one at the warehouse, she knew, but there was sure to be another in the suite somewhere.

“I need you to help me,” she told Ayanna. “I'm looking for a bracelet – about five centimetres wide, black and silver, with a large pink ornament on one side. It will be hidden somewhere in these two rooms.” The girl nodded. “If you can find it, I can use it to get you out of here as well as me. You search this room, I'll search the room I was in.”

Ayanna started searching before Tirren had left the room. The girl was going to make a better job of it than the Federation troops had. Tirren, in the meantime, went through the places she knew she'd hidden things in the room she'd been occupying. Some of the more obvious hiding places had been compromised, but that just meant lost trinkets. The ones she'd been hoping would remain undiscovered (inside containers which purported to hold toiletries; the small waterproof packet in the cistern) had been. Her back-up supplies were untouched.

As a final thought, she removed her own teleport bracelet from the underside of the top drawer, where she'd taped it.

When she returned to Avon's room, Ayanna was just removing a teleport bracelet and one of the Liberator's guns from a panel concealed in the back of the wardrobe. There were also a few small packages, which Tirren decided they'd determine the identity of later. “Time to get out,” she said. “If you like, I can knock you out. You should be safe then – you just have to tell them I overpowered you.”

“No, I'll come with you,” Ayanna said, leading Tirren out the servant's door of Avon's suite. “How are we going to get out? They'll be looking for two maids leaving through the back door.”

“I know,” Tirren said. “Find an empty room. We're leaving through the front door.”

Twenty minutes later, a richly-garbed lady exited one of the better hotels in Mumbai Nova, followed by a veiled maidservant struggling with a pile of baggage. The porter had ordered a groundcar, and loaded the luggage on board. The troopers had compared the lady with a scan of a wanted criminal, but no match had come up. They hadn't noticed the maidservant.

In a small room off the main floor of a large warehouse, Ayanna removed the clothes Tirren had lent her. Beside her, Tirren was holding one of the spare teleport bracelets. “Liberator, come in Liberator.” Only a static crackle answered her.

“They've probably had to run,” Tirren concluded. “I need to get Avon back.”

“Kerr Avon is your brother?” Ayanna asked, incredulous.

“No,” Tirren said. “He was posing as my brother.”

“So who are you?”

“Tirren Phale,” Tirren said. “I travel with Blake and his crew.”

“Are you here to influence the vote for independence?” Ayanna asked, looking awed.

“No. We’re here to resupply,” Tirren said. “Which reminds me - there's a terminal in the next room. Get onto a supplier of concentrated foodstuffs and order a year's supply of concentrates for a workforce of ten thousand. The story is that we're setting up a manufacturing plant on an outer moon.”

Ayanna nodded. “What are you going to do?”

“I'm going to be doing some research. I can't retrieve Avon without knowing where he's been put.”

A crackle from the teleport bracelets broke the silence. “Tirren, this is Liberator. What do you need.”

“Cally! It's good to hear from you. I need fast teleport for two. Travis is in town, and Avon has been captured.”

“We knew about Travis,” came Blake's voice through the second comm circuit. “He tried to take a potshot at us as he was coming in. Stand by to come up.”

The warehouse shimmered, shattered, and reformed into the teleport area of Liberator.

“Blake, this is Ayanna. She helped me get out of the hotel, but she put her own life on the line doing it. We need to do something about that,” Tirren said.

“Where's Avon?” Vila asked, from where he was sitting at the secondary teleport console.

“He got taken by Travis. I'm going to get him back.” Tirren returned her bracelet and the spare to the rack, before taking the one Ayanna was wearing.


Tirren turned and gave the thief a rather unsettling smile. “Have you heard the saying 'better living through chemistry'? I plan to prove it.” A thought seemed to occur to her. “By the way, there's going to be a delivery of some food concentrates to the warehouse fairly soon. Don't forget them, whatever you do. Avon would be most upset.”

“Now, what was there about that to make her so happy?” Vila asked Blake as the biochemist vanished down the corridor toward the laboratory area.

“I don't know, and to be honest, Vila, I don't think I want to,” Blake said. He turned to their visitor. “Miss... Ayanna, was it?” The girl nodded. “This way, please.”

After ten minutes concerted work in the laboratory, and another ten minutes hasty data retrieval, Tirren was ready to go. Part of her time in the lab had been occupied by an argument with Blake. He’d wanted to do the rescue mission.

“No,” she’d told him. “You would be picked up within seconds, which would just make the job harder. Travis doesn’t know who I am. I still have the best chance of a stealth attack.”

As expected, Blake hadn’t accepted the argument at first, and had followed her all the way onto the flight deck, trying to change her mind. She’d ignored him, going to her console instead, and getting the location of the nearest Federation base to the hotel.

“Zen, analysis of this building,” she said. “I want to know whether there are any areas which are shielded from teleportation. Display them on my console.”

An area of the console lit up bright red. She turned to Blake. “That is where they will be keeping Avon,” she said. “It will need to be a sneak attack, and it will need to be well coordinated. One person has a far better chance than two. I am going now.” She piped the coordinates she needed to Cally’s console, and also to the main teleport system. “Cally, would you please operate the teleport for me? We will need to get out fast.”

“Are you sure you wish to do this alone?” Cally asked her as they walked down to the teleport area. “I would not mind accompanying you.”

“To get a chance at Travis?” Tirren replied, reading the answer in the Auron's blush. “No, Cally. Your sanity is more important to us than Travis' death.”

Cally gave her a smile, and a telepathic “thank you”. “Teleporting now,” was all she said aloud.

Space Commander Travis was torn between irritation and triumph. Triumph, because he'd managed to lay hands on another of Blake's crew – this time the computer expert, Kerr Avon. While the man hadn't agreed to cooperate, he did appear to be considering the matter. Full-blown interrogations didn't come cheap, and Travis was starting to receive complaints from the bureaucratic ninnies in Space Command about the cost of his pursuit of Blake. While Avon wasn't Blake, he was certainly a prize; someone he could use to get more funds from the bean-counters.

On the other hand, he hadn't managed to capture the woman. From the information they had available, it was either the pilot Stannis, or the Auron woman they'd captured on Centero. Probably the Auron – the reports said the woman looked like a native, and given the way Avon was disguised, it appeared she had stained her skin in some way. If he had both of them, he could have pulled Blake in, without question. Given the attitude of the technician, Blake might well be willing to cut his losses and run.

“You're certain his cell is shielded against teleportation?” he demanded of the local functionary who was purportedly in charge of the whole operation.

“Certainly, sir.” The local's voice was colourless. The man probably loathed him; it didn't matter. He didn't care about the attitudes of underlings, provided they completed their tasks. The functionary was welcome to detest him with all the fury available to such an emasculated fool, provided he was correct about the cell being shielded. Travis turned away and stalked to the other end of the room, his nervous energy finding an outlet through the pacing.

“The cell is shielded,” came a third voice. Female. Travis turned, to find himself facing a small woman, dark-skinned, dark-eyed, holding a flechette gun in one hand and a strange handgun in the other. The gun was trained on his head. The functionary, was lying on the floor, unconscious. A dart was lodged in the flesh of his mutoid bodyguard, just above its collar. The woman didn't even look away from him. Travis had a full view of his bodyguard as it writhed in what looked like agony.

“Don't move, Space Commander,” she said. “I will have no hesitation in shooting you. I wish to retrieve Kerr Avon. You will have him brought to this room under escort.”

“You won't get away with this,” Travis snarled. “With one word I can fill this room with troops.”

“Commander, you wouldn't live to complete the word.”

Tirren found herself startled to the point of suspicion by how well things were going. Travis unattended save by a single local and a mutoid bodyguard was unexpected, but not unwelcome. Now she was in a standoff. If Travis chose to play things the hard way, she'd be in real trouble.

But as she’d told Blake, she had to do this. Avon's skill set was far more important on Liberator than her own. While she could certainly solder chips to a breadboard, and make guesses toward the hardware configuration of Zen and the other systems, Avon was the only one who had even the vaguest understanding of the way the whole thing fitted together, and who could make the necessary alterations to systems to allow them to continue despite damage. She knew Avon wouldn't be expecting the rescue – he hadn't been working to make himself well-liked. He would consider it logical and sensible to sell information about the Liberator for his life, and thus he had to be retrieved in order to safeguard their own lives. Finally, there was the consideration that Avon was one of the few people capable of standing up to Blake for longer than about fifteen minutes. The rest of them tended to give in to the man, due either to exhaustion or Blake's charisma.

On the positive side, Travis still didn't know who she was. He couldn't figure out which way she'd go in a tight situation, or know how dangerous she could be. Her other advantage was Travis’s near-obsessive desire to capture Roj Blake. She doubted he'd risk it to test whether or not an unknown opponent would shoot.

“Who are you?” His question was inevitable.

“I am the one with the gun pointed at your head.”

The comment got her an appreciative smile. “Point taken. I need to get to the comm console to issue the instruction.”

The console was close to where she was standing. She stepped to one side, keeping the gun trained on her captive the whole time, and retreating out of the man's reach. “Give the instruction. Kerr Avon is to be taken to this room under escort. Any other instruction will spell your death.”

She had to give the man credit. He gave only the instruction she'd issued, and cut off immediately. “Well done, Commander. You may yet live to get Blake.”

“What will you do when the escort get here?” Travis asked. He sounded curious.

“That's my problem,” Tirren said. To be honest, she hadn't expected to get this far.

“You could make things easy,” he said. “I just want Blake. I'd be willing to let you go in exchange.”

“I suppose you would,” she agreed. “But as soon as you have Blake, you'd be after me. You won't stop until we are dead.” She looked speculatively at the man. “I could solve a lot of problems here and now, Commander.”

His left arm was starting to move upward. Ah yes, the gun in the artificial arm. Fortunately, one of the despatches they'd intercepted prior to the Federation changing their codes was a request for parts from the Space Command prosthetics section. Tirren had come prepared for anything. He looked at the dart which had lodged in his prosthetic shoulder with ill-disguised triumph.

“Got you!” he crowed in triumph. “There's no circulation in that arm. Anti-coagulants won't work.”

“I know,” Tirren said, dropping the flechette gun, and pulling a small device from a bandolier across her chest. “However, the conductive solution should,” she told him. Another dart shot out toward Travis, lodging firmly in his artificial arm. It trailed a cable behind it, and as he watched, she squeezed the small device. A current caused the commander's body to arch painfully. “This is an old calendar pacifying device. It's called a taser.”

Even as the shock was coursing through him, Travis found himself respecting the woman. She was well-prepared, and ruthless. An opponent worthy of his interest. Not quite up to Blake's calibre, but certainly a worthwhile foe.

“Now, Commander,” she said, looking at him in an eerily calm fashion, “I do hope I do not have to do that to you again. I am here to retrieve my colleague. I shall do it. If you are a sensible man, you will survive the experience.”

There was a knock at the door. “Escort party and prisoner, sir.” The commander looked an enquiry at her.

“You want to speak to the prisoner alone, commander. You think he might be amenable to a sensible solution to the problem of Blake,” she prompted. He gave her a nod, and parroted her instructions.

Behind the door, Tirren raised the taser, prepared to shock the commander, should he deviate from her instructions.

The escort, damn their eyes, decided to bring Avon inside the room. Well, that was the plan all shot to hell. She pressed the trigger on the taser at the same time as she changed the focus of her fire to take out the nearest of the escort.

“Avon, here, left ankle,” she yelled, hoping he would manage to fill in the blanks in the message and realise she was telling him the location of a spare teleport bracelet. She shot another of the escort, using her other hand to grab something from her bandolier. Travis was starting to come out of the shock of the taser, and the escort were starting to recover. Come on, Avon!

She felt Avon bump into her more than saw him. She was too busy throwing down the smoke grenade she'd taken the precaution of bringing with her. Another shot at a third member of the escort, accompanied by the feeling of the bracelet being removed.

“Teleport now!” Avon's voice beside her, and the sensation of being snatched by the teleport as she tried to get a decent line of sight on Space Commander Travis. Then she was in the teleport area of Liberator once more, facing Cally as the Auron woman opened the comm channel.

“They are both back, Jenna.”

“Good,” came Jenna's voice from the flight deck. “We've got all the supplies; time to get out of here.”

Tirren turned to look at Avon. He looked dishevelled, and one of his eyes was badly blackened.

“You need to be debriefed,” she said. He nodded, his expression even more closed off than before.

Cally rose from behind the console, and took the man by the arm, leading him off in the direction of the medical unit. Tirren wondered whether Avon would unbend before the Auron's concern. She rather doubted it, suspecting the man would prefer to be debriefed by the med computer, but Cally was welcome to try. Certainly what she could see of his physical ailments would be within Cally's skill to treat. With trembling fingers, she removed her teleport bracelet, and allowed the shocks and tribulations of the past few hours to wash over her. Her body was demanding payment with interest for the efforts she'd put in. Whether she could allow the time for payment to be rendered, however, was a different question.

“Tirren,” came Blake's voice over the comm, “we need you up on the flight deck – there's some pursuit ships after us.”

Sighing, Tirren made her way up the corridor. No rest for the weary, it seemed.

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