The edifice loomed large over the two men.
It was a flat roofed structure, atop of which was a round dish; its centre dominated by a cluster of pointed rods.
“What is its purpose?” the younger of the two men asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Perhaps the builders are still here, somewhere…”
“They are long gone,” the older man said, “No-one has lived in this area for years…”
“But someone was here…”
The older man smiled at his increasingly nervous companion. “They were and then they were gone, leaving this…this building. It will be ideal for our animals when the cold season comes.”
“But how do we get in?”
The older man took his staff, its head carved with a bold relief. He stood in front of what he perceived to be the entrance and steadied himself. Taking the staff in both hands, he swung it into the slightly raised panel to the left and smashed the top of the panel. There was a shower of sparks.
“Was that wise?” the young man asked.
He placed the staff on the ground.
From an inside pocket, he produced a thin metal strip and carefully inserted it into the thin gap that separated the two metal doors. Slowly, the doors parted enough for the older man to place his fingers either side of the gap and gradually force the doors open.
“Quickly,” he hissed at the younger man, “Fetch one of the logs from the cart. It looks as though we have ourselves a new shelter.”
“Off?” Blake asked.
“That is what Orac has stated,” Cally replied.
+The relay station in question is no longer on line. Indications are that it has ceased to function and is therefore not boosting the Federation’s communications in that sector. Such a deficiency will soon attract attention. +
“Has it developed a fault?” Blake wondered out loud.
+Possibly, but the fact remains that the termination of service was quite sudden and without warning. +
“Could someone have turned it off deliberately?” Cally ventured.
“If they did, then they must be mad…” Blake countered.
+…or are ignorant of its true purpose. The planet upon which this station is located is one of the very earliest colonies, set up by the Federation for those who did not want, for one reason or another, to live under the new rules. At the time, it was easier for the new administration to relocate the dissidents. Thus saving itself any ‘trouble’ from those who resented the new way. It is possible that the inhabitants have located this station and, not knowing of its origins, have turned off the power for their own reasons. +
“How long before the Federation realise that they have a problem?”
+It will have already registered on their system. But as to how urgent they will decide the necessity of sending out a repair party...that is another matter. +
“Thank you, Orac.” Blake looked at the main viewing screen. Somewhere out in that endless star scattered panorama was a small planet; a forgotten colony. Whoever lived there now were most probably the descendants of those poor souls first sent there and left to defend themselves. It wasn’t exactly a prison colony, like Cygnus Alpha, but it may well have served the same purpose; to remove those who were a threat to the smooth running of the new Federation. Blake wondered how many other such places existed and if the Federation actually cared about the fate of those it consigned to oblivion. The problem now was had someone decided to draw attention to that fate? Or was it a natural breakdown.
“Someone will have to check that station,” Blake mused.
“And if it is an equipment failure?” Cally asked.
“They still need to be warned, Cally. It’s the least we can do.”
“So what are we exactly looking for?” Vila asked.
“A relay station,” Avon replied unhelpfully.
“Orac called up the details of these early colonies,” Blake explained, “A single story building with antenna built far away from those malcontents who were left here.”
“And usually out in the open…not in the middle of a forest, like this,” Avon murmured, scanning the area and not being impressed by the proliferation of greenery.
“Obviously, the climate has changed….” Blake suggested.
“I thought Orac said something about this planet being at the start of an ice-age,” Vila wondered, “Maybe those descendants of the colonists have been able to make their way to warmer climes...and quite honestly, who can blame them?”
Blake checked the device in his hand, “It’s down there somewhere, in amongst those trees.”
“Maybe all this new growth had something to do with it.”
“Perhaps, perhaps not; but it’s quite possible that some of those descendants have had a hand in the sudden malfunction,” Avon murmured, removing his gun from its holster, “It wouldn’t hurt to assume so, would it?”
“Well, that’s different,” Vila smiled.
The three of them were standing in front of a single story building covered in leaves, branches and an assortment of tendrils. Where the sturdy steel door normally was for such a structure, there in its place was a roughly hewn wooden frame with an equally sturdy door made from planks of wood and fastened with nails.
Blake touched it.
“It seems that we won’t be requiring your skills after all. I think even I can manage a wooden door.”
“Really? Oh, what a shame…I’ll just get back to the Liberator.”
“I seem to recall that you felt as though a nice walk in the fresh air would do you a world of good,” Avon remarked.
“Indeed I did…but seeing this…well, suddenly I don’t feel so sure. I mean, who put it there? Why?”
“Well seeing as you are here, Vila, why don’t you do the honours?” Blake suggested.
“Yes,” agreed Avon, “Something else to add to your repertoire.”
“All right, if you insist.”
Vila approached the door with some apprehension. It looked like wood.
He touched it.
It felt like wood.
He took a small device from his pocket and ran it over the door and its frame.
“It’s exactly what it looks like; a wooden door in a wooden frame. No electrics…nothing.”
“Then what’s stopping you,” Avon asked, feigning boredom.
“You don’t rush these things…”
“Vila, the longer we’re down here,” Blake said, “The more likely we will be spotted by someone. And they may not take kindly to us interfering.”
With a small degree of trepidation, Vila stepped forward and grasped the wooden handle. He pulled it, but it didn’t want to yield.
He pulled it again.
It burst open and Vila was suddenly engulfed in a raging fury of feathers and screeching.
Both Blake and Avon reeled back in shock, shielding their faces from the mayhem. By the time they had recovered their composure, the cause of the fracas had disappeared into the trees.
Vila lay on his back, frantically shooing away the long gone attacker and coughing as the feathers left behind by his assailant caught in his throat.
Avon was by now aiming his gun in the direction of fugitive, “What was that?”
“That,” Blake said, reaching down and picking up a feather, “was a bird.”
“What was it doing in there?”
“Good question. Perhaps we should take a look…”
“Leave me out of it,” snapped Vila.
“Vila, I think it was more scared of you….” Blake insisted.
“Don’t you believe it!”
“Well?” Blake asked, looking at Avon.
Blake’s bracelet chimed. Cally’s voice drifted over the comms. She was scouting the immediate area, making sure that no-one was lying in wait.
“There are the remains of a camp here. The fire is still warm.”
“How many people?”
“Two!” but it wasn’t Cally who replied.
Blake whirled round. Standing at the edge of the wooded area were two men; one armed with a solid wooden staff.
Blake didn’t flinch.
He knew that Avon was right behind him, his gun trained on the two new arrivals. He found it somewhat intriguing that a man, who professed not to have killed anyone, was capable of handling a gun with such consummate ease.
“We don’t mean any harm,” Blake said slowly.
“Who are you?” the elder of the two men asked.
“Travellers,” Blake replied.
“This should be interesting,” Avon remarked quietly.
Blake ignored the comment. “From Earth.”
The two men at the edge of the clearing turned to each other.
“Telling them the truth, Blake, may not be one of your best ideas,” Avon murmured.
“Maybe not, but it’s giving them pause for thought anyway.”
The eldest man stepped forward, “Why are you here? Our forefathers paid for their insolence. Have you come to…..?”
“We’re not from the Federation.”At that moment, Vila chose to sneeze, sending the remaining feathers in his hair scattering to the four winds.
“Excuse my friend here,” Blake proffered, “We didn’t realise this building was occupied.”
“It is a barn, nothing more. Our animals will need somewhere while we build our new settlement. The climate turns cooler and our people will need to find a place that offers warmth and good agricultural land.”
“I can understand your concern, but unfortunately by turning off this device you will no doubt attract the attention of the Federation. They will come here to investigate…and that may not be a good thing.”
“Why should they worry? It serves no purpose.”
“To you, no. But to them? Well that is another matter completely. This device is one of many through which the Federation sends and boosts its communications…”
Avon slowly holstered his gun and jerked his thumb towards the wooden additions gracing the dull, metallic construction, “And they will not be pleased with that! Wanton vandalism that is detrimental to their ability to maintain complete control is tantamount to treason.”
Vila at long last got to his feet and dusted himself off, “Basically, they don’t like others touching their property; and I should know.”
The elder of the two men walked towards them, “They will see it as a sign of rebellion; they will come and exact revenge! And I thought that by now we had been forgotten!!”
“They never forget,” Avon said absently, studying the wooden surround, “But if we could convince whoever comes to investigate that it was an accident; a result of some natural event. That may remedy the situation.”
“What do you suggest?” Blake asked, watching as the other man stepped inside the small building.
“Oh, I’m sure you’ll think of something,” came the absent reply.
Blake turned to face the two men.
“My name is Blake. This is Vila and he is Avon.”
“I’m Kilder. This is Franco. This colleague of yours, he seems very off hand.”
“Don’t mind him,” Vila said, “This is one of his good days.”
“You said you were using this building as a barn, to keep your animals in…” Blake began.
“We’ve noticed the weather is changing. It is getting cooler where we are at the moment and we decided to move to where it is warmer. Although the Federation may not like it should they come looking.”
“They have other problems on their plates at the moment. A colony of former dissidents moving to another part of the planet won’t worry them, but turning off that signal will. Somehow, we’ve got to make it look as though there has been an accident; possibly as a result of one of these trees falling down and crashing into it.”
“We can do that,” Kilder smiled, “We have the tools.”
Just at the moment, Avon appeared from inside the building, his hands cradling some small, round objects.
“What are these? I found them in amongst the wiring.”
Kilder stepped forward and took them.
“Breakfast?” Vila asked.
“Yes, courtesy of your winged tormentor. They are her eggs. Would you care to join us?”
Cally had continued to scout the immediate area and had found herself in a neatly laid out area of woodland. On each tree were several objects, hanging as if about to fall, but clinging on as if their existence depended upon it.
She stood quite still.
This was not the work of nature; this was created by the hand of man.
Jenna drummed her fingers on the console.
She had been at her station for what seemed an age and still no word other than that they were all down and safe. She knew that Gan was by the teleport ready to act should the call come, but it still felt as if she was alone.
Zen’s ‘voice’ boomed around the flight deck.
It made her jump.
“LONG RANGE SENSORS HAVE DETECTED A SMALL CRAFT ENTERING THIS SYSTEM. INDICATIONS ARE THAT IT IS A FEDERATION SHIP.”
“A Pursuit ship?”
“ITS CONFIGURATION IS NOT OF A PURSUIT SHIP.”
“Have we been detected?”
“NO CONTACT FROM THE SCANNERS HAS BEEN MADE.”
“Are they on course for our location?”
“THE PROJECTION OF ITS CURRENT COURSE CONFIRMS THAT THIS PLANET IS ITS DESTINATION.”
“Thank you, Zen. When will that ship reach here?”
“AT ITS CURRENT SPEED, PLANETFALL WILL BE TWO HOURS AND THIRTY MINUTES AND……”
“Thank you Zen.” She reached for the comms on the console, “Blake.”
“Yes Jenna.” His unconcerned voice drifted back, somehow reassuringly.
“We have company. A Federation ship. In little over two hours. I think you should come back…”
“It’s most probably the maintenance crew. How long have we got?”
“Two hours at the most. But I need to get the Liberator away. They haven’t scanned us yet….”
“Do that. We have an accident to arrange down here…”
“…I’ll explain later. Out.”
“Eggs? That the bird laid? And you want us to eat them?” Vila was horrified.
“Full of goodness,” Kilder explained.
“We will take your word for it,” Avon said, finding himself agreeing with Vila’s stand on the subject.
“That will have to wait,” Blake stated, “Right now, we have to get a tree or two down to make it look as though this building has suffered damage from a completely natural source. I’d better let Cally know…”
“Where are you?” Blake asked.
Cally was walking along the rows of trees, taking in the fragrances that filled the air, “I’m not sure, but it’s very beautiful. I shall join you shortly.”
As she continued along the lines of trees, she became aware that someone was watching her. Whoever it was, seemed keen not to be seen, but their footfalls gave them away.
Suddenly, Cally whirled round, gun in hand and came face to face with her ‘companion’.
He was an elderly man, his features wizened by years of toil. In his hand he held a staff, but Cally sensed that he wasn’t about to use it…not yet, anyway.
He studied her for a few seconds.
“You haven’t come to destroy my orchard, have you?”
Jenna took Liberator out of orbit and to the safety of the planet’s moon.
There, she and Gan would wait for the arrival of the oncoming ship. She just hoped that whoever was on board wouldn’t feel compelled to do anything detrimental to the landing party.
“I hope Blake knows what he’s doing?”
“At the first sign of trouble, we can return,” Gan smiled.
“And how will we know if there is any trouble?”
“We will give them an hour after their scheduled landing and check in. It’s a maintenance crew, not a fully armed squad of soldiers. They’ll be all right.”
“Yes,” the man replied, “I planted every one of these trees from seeds taken from the native species. And now your people have come to destroy everything, even though Massran gave his word that he would not allow such destruction.”
“We are not with Massran.”
“Not with Massran?” the old man paused wondering what his next comment should be, “Are you from the outsiders’ colony? I wondered when you would come. The climate is changing and you…..”
“No, we are not. We came here because the relay station down in that valley has been switched off…”
“We are hoping to convince the Federation, when they arrive, that it was an accident.”
“The Federation won’t care,” the old man said, “They stopped caring years ago. But Massran? He’ll care. He’ll think that someone has found his hoard.”
“And when he comes…God help you.”
“Massran? Who is Massran?” Blake asked, just as the last sapling was pulled to the ground and placed on the relay station.
“A Federation officer. He and his men sound as though they do just a little more than keep the Federations interests at heart.” Cally replied.
“….he thinks they will be here to find out why this station has gone off line?”
“This planet could suddenly get very busy,” Avon remarked, looking at the relay station and not altogether sure that Blake’s plan would work, “I think it would be wise to give ourselves a heads up as to who it might be coming to this planet. Obviously a Federation craft is on its way, but who is aboard it? A technical crew or this Massran and his men? Undoubtedly the path we came along has been in use, so I would venture to suggest that any ship would come in somewhere on that open plain.”
“It makes sense,” Blake said, following Avon’s line of reasoning.
“I normally do. I shall leave you to finish here and find myself a place to observe exactly who it is on their way.”
“And when they do get here…?”
“I shall let you know who your visitors are. Forewarned is forearmed.”
From her vantage point further up the valley, Cally could see the plain just beyond the verdant vegetation and could see the ship approaching. It circled the area before slowly dropping to the ground and settling on the surface, throwing up a massive cloud of dust.
She lifted her bracelet to her lips.
“They have landed, but I cannot see who is exiting. There is too much dust.”
Avon stopped and heard the engines in the distance. They fell silent. He looked around for somewhere to conceal himself and decided to climb the slight incline and hide in the undergrowth. It wouldn’t be very comfortable, but it would have to do.
Once he had settled himself, he called Blake.
“No sign of our visitors but I would suggest you keep yourself out of sight. It wouldn’t do to cause our ‘friends’ any undue worry. And I would suggest radio silence until they have left.”
Blake took one last look at the trees now resting against the relay station. As long as whoever it was coming didn’t look too closely, then it would appear that an accident had caused the malfunction.
He looked at Kilder, “Time to make ourselves scarce.”
The ship had landed with a thud which had infuriated the chief technician even more. He was walking along the trail with his second in command close behind. The second man didn’t seem in any hurry.
“Why the rush?”
“This was a planet set aside for those who didn’t want to obey the rule of the Federation.”
“A penal colony?”
“Not exactly. But the powers that be thought it best to rid themselves of so many troublemakers. The descendants of those left here could still be around and I don’t intend to meet them.”
“I’m well-armed. It will take a small army to take us on.”
“And maybe they could be a small army. They’ve been here for years, almost as long as the Federation has existed. And by the looks of it, they could well jump us if they have moved into this area.”
“I thought this station was in the middle of a plain?”
“It was...but nature has decided to change that. Now keep your eyes and ears open. The slightest noise and we are out of here.”
“The Federation want this thing thoroughly checked.”
“It will be...and you will confirm my record, won’t you?”
Avon watched in fascinated silence as the two men hurried along the trail. One a much older, cynical man, the other obviously wet behind the ears from the Academy.
It was only a slight noise from behind him, but enough to make Avon quickly turn, mindful not to make any noise himself. The last thing he wanted was for a trigger happy young gun determined to prove himself in battle.
Avon scanned the undergrowth behind him and up the hill side.
He cursed himself for being so jittery. Maybe he was getting old. But whatever had caused the noise wasn’t in sight, he returned to watching the progress of the two men.
The technician stopped in his tracks.
“Well, that’s that. I’ve always maintained these things should be either in orbit or on a deserted moon; not a planet. It’s beyond repair…”
“But you haven’t looked…”
“I don’t need to look. Come on. Let’s get out of here…”
“But...can’t we have a look round. I’d like to stretch my legs…”
“If there are any of those colonists here they will more than likely stretch you neck. Now we go. I have the feeling that we are being watched and I don’t care to find out by whom.”
Vila’s attention had begun to wonder.
Lying on the ground in the midst of a thicket wasn’t his idea of fun, but he didn’t want to move just in case the well-armed hot head below decided to show off his skill.
But then he saw it.
Just as the breeze rustled the leaves above his head, a stray sun beam touched the ground and caught a small speck of gold.
Vila knew it was gold.
There was only one precious metal that gave off that glow.
Another rustle of the leaves and another ray of light fell upon the bottle…
Vila stifled an excited cry...and wished the two men would stop arguing and go.
Avon watched the two men hurry past.
He could well imagine what report they were preparing…that’s if Blake’s ruse had worked of course.
They disappeared from view, no doubt in a hurry to return to their ship, just as Avon was in a hurry to return to the Liberator.
And then someone nudged his ribs.
It wasn’t a violent nudge, just enough to get his attention.
He didn’t move, but waited for the someone to bark an order along the lines of ‘Get to your feet!’
They nudged again, more urgently this time.
Obviously whoever it was wasn’t in a mood to talk.
Avon turned round and came face to face with the white face of a small animal.
He quickly looked to see who was with this creature. It was alone. It tilted its head to one side and looked at him.
Well he presumed it was looking at him. Its eyes were quite unlike any he had ever seen before; black crosses set in an amber oval.
It nudged his arm and then gently took his sleeve in its mouth. For a moment he thought it was going to bite. But it didn’t, it quickly released him and nodded its head towards the upper slope.
“You want me to follow you?”
He was talking to an animal!
Vila often talked to himself, but Avon was now having a conversation with a white coated creature who wanted him to follow it.
He got to is feet, hoping that Vila wasn’t around to witness this, because he wouldn’t let Avon forget it.
It wasn’t a quick walk.
The animal seemed to know where it was going, but kept getting its long white coat entangled in the bushes. Avon had to free it each time, once it had vocally expressed its disenchantment.
And then it stopped at the top of a steep drop.
There was a plaintive call answered by an equally plaintive call from the creature. It looked at him again.
“You want me to go down there?”
The same plaintive call from somewhere down in the undergrowth again.
“I have a distinct feeling I shall regret this.”
From her vantage point, Cally could see the ship lift off. She turned to look at the man she had named Gardener.
“Was that Massran?”
“No…but he will come.”
“I think we should join Blake and decide our next course of action.”
“I already know Massran’s course of action,” Gardener replied forlornly.
“We shall see. Come, let us go down and join the others.”
“What is it?” Franco asked.
“This,” Vila replied picking up the small rectangle of gold, “Is a treasure trove. Just like that one is.” He bent to pick another piece of metal up. “And that bottle, under the bush? Well, it could be anything. Let’s find out.”
Franco watched as Vila scurried under the bush and came up holding the green bottle aloft.
“Mind you, it’s been out in the sun, so that could have ruined it. You see, if it’s a nice wine, or Brandy, it doesn’t do to put it in the sun. The heat ruins it.”
“But how do you think it got here?” the young man asked.
Vila stopped. This was supposed to be a long forgotten colony, yet there were more pieces of metal around and all manmade, plus this unexplained bottle. He stood quite still pondering the puzzle.
“Well?” Franco urged.
“I don’t know…but I know one thing. We’re being watched.”
Cally had just rounded the bend on the mountain trail when she became aware of something…or someone.
Sure enough, halfway up the cliff face was a man, peering at the scene below. He was half hidden in the shadow of the overhang, but she could see enough to glimpse the weapon in his hand and see that his target was directly below him.
Without hesitation, she drew her gun and fired, all in one swift movement.
Blake’s discussion with Kilder about the effectiveness of their deception came to a shuddering halt. He was off and running in the direction of the sound, leaving Kilder to follow in his wake.
Avon had reunited the quivering small creature with its attentive mother and was trying to clean off all the various leaves and other pieces of greenery as well as fending off the thankful platitudes being directed at him by both creatures.
But even they stopped and looked to where the shot had emanated. Avon’s gun was in his hand and he was soon running through the trees, towards…towards what? An ambush?
Blake arrived first, to find a pale faced Vila staring down into the rock strewn depression. Lying at a strange angle amongst the boulders was the body of a man, his federation uniform quite evident.
“Vila…what’s going on? Are you all right?” Blake asked.
Vila swallowed, “I don’t know…I was just showing these small ingots and this bottle to Franco here and then…”
“Where did he come from?”
“Up there.” It was Cally, “I saw him halfway up that cliff face. He was going to shoot you, Vila.”
“Why? What have I ever done to him?”
Blake took the ingots from Vila’s hand, “Maybe you got too nosey.”
“That’s one of Massran’s men.”
Blake looked up to meet the face of yet another stranger, “You must be Gardener…”
“No, the young lady misunderstood me. Massran called me the Gardener. My name is Adam...I think, or Adamson. Does it matter? The point is, you’ve just found out about the hiding place. The location of the caves where Massran and his crew keep all their ill-gotten gains.”
“Ill-gotten gains?” Vila beamed, “as in treasure??”
“Which may explain one or two things.”
They all turned to see Avon, decidedly dishevelled, standing at the bottom of the slope with two strange creatures beside him.
“What things?” Blake asked, looking at Avon, then the animals and then Avon.
Avon seemed totally unperturbed by the sudden attention he was now receiving, when in fact he was finding it somewhat unsettling as the two benefices’ of his kind act were standing right beside him, gazing up at him.
“Inside that relay station. I noticed that there were extra junction boxes and wiring which seemed to have no bearing on that device at all.”
“And,” Blake asked, watching as Avon’s two new friends began to eat a tuft of grass at his feet and paw the ground.
“Someone was evidently drawing off the power for their own purposes. It couldn’t have been Kilder, he has only just arrived in this area and his choice of tools is hardly befitting. Maybe the Gardener could shed some light on it.”
Adam stepped forward, “Why would I need power? I have everything I need from my gardens, from the land.”
“Are you going to introduce us to your friends?” Vila asked, “They seem very fond of you...”
The bigger of the two animals ceased eating and focussed its two amber eyes on Vila, then returned to looking at Avon.
“I think it likes you, which can’t say much about its intelligence.”
Avon ignored the comment, his attention suddenly on the ground, to the area that the two animals had been pawing. He put his hand out and slowly cleared away some of the loose soil.
“That interesting…” he murmured.
“What is it?” Blake asked walking over to the same spot and absently stroking the smaller of the two animal’s head.
“A high voltage cable…and it appears to run from that relay station…all the way up there. To whatever that man was guarding.”
“Hm…” Blake said, “I think it’s time that we had a look at this Massran character’s hide-away.”
“Absolutely,” Vila agreed, firmly holding the bottle, “What are we waiting for?”
“Gardener…I mean Adam. Would any more of Massran’s men be up there?”
“I really don’t know. I kept myself to myself. I only met any of his other thugs once, and that was when they were destroying my gardens and fields. Massran intervened and promised to stop them on condition that I supplied them with food and water whenever they were here.”
“It stands to reason that we would have already found ourselves under fire by now,” Avon concluded, “if there were any more of this Massran’s men, but it wouldn’t hurt to be precautious.”
“Well then, let’s go and see exactly what that man was prepared to die for. Coming Avon?”
But Avon was preoccupied with his new companions who had decided that they now wanted to follow him, “Are these animals anything to do with you, Kilder?”
“Never seen them before…”
Avon pointed back along the trail, “I think you should return the way you came.”
The two animals looked at him blankly.
“I think it would be ever better if you didn’t steal other people’s livestock.” The young woman suddenly appeared through the undergrowth, wielding something akin to a spear.
“These are yours?”
“Then perhaps you should make sure that you don’t allow them to wander off into these woods and get themselves lost. It can be most inconvenient.”
The young lady suddenly realised that she was the centre of attention and quickly raised her spear.
“Are you another of Massran’s people?” Kilder demanded, “Sent to spy on us?”
“No…my name is Juno. My ancestors came here to be free of oppression and now the weather changes and my people are seeking warmer and more fertile land. My animals came here to find grazing and I followed them…”
“And not very well,” Avon added, “This smaller one managed to fall down a slope. Without me, you may have had less of a flock than you first thought.”
“I am grateful.”
“Yes, I’m sure we all are,” Vila interrupted, “But meanwhile, we need to find out exactly what Massran has been putting aside.”
Blake wasn’t in so much a rush, however, “How many of your people are there?”
“Not many, but they are on their way with everything they own…”
“Kilder, it sounds as though your people will have company in this area.”
Kilder thought for a moment, “There were stories that some of the colonists decided to go their own way. Maybe she is right. There are others. If we pool our resources we should survive whatever this planet has in store for us.”
“And just maybe, Massran may have provided you with more resources than you thought possible. Come on Vila, seeing as you are so eager…”
Jenna had brought the Liberator back into stationery orbit above this planet which was suddenly becoming more and more crowded by the second. And, if Blake was right, there was more trouble on its way.
She listened impassively as Blake explained the events so far, “It sounds as though you’ve had more than you bargained for. I’ll get Orac to find out about this Massran character. You’ll be pleased to know that your plan worked. Those technicians have reported that the relay station is completely out of operation and have suggested a replacement either in orbit or on one of the moons out here.”
“I was hoping they would abandon this sector completely.”
“They still could. With more of the old colonies deciding to rebel, they may have other things on their minds.”
It was Cally who actually led the small group up the well -trodden path, the thought suddenly occurring to Vila that there may be more of Massran’s men up in the hillside, just waiting for some target practice.
But there was no more opposition.
Instead, the path led to a cleverly concealed entrance, a series of stones so placed as if to resemble a rock fall.
Blake led the way in, wondering just what he would find.
He stopped no sooner had he entered.
In front of him, bathed in the eerie glow of emergency lighting was a vast cave which stretched far away into the darkness.
To his left were a small control panel and a communications console. There were small lights flickering on and off. There was still some power reaching it, the question was, whether or not the fallen man had managed to contact someone to warn them that intruders were in the area.
“What do you make of that, Avon?”
“Exactly what you think it is. A communications device. Even on the limited power afforded by whatever power source they have as back up, that guard may have been able to send a warning out and judging by what is actually in this cave, the recipient will be most eager to return.”
They were all staring at the carefully placed containers of ingots, jewellery, bales of highly expensive material, carefully preserved food from all quarters of the galaxy. Whoever this Massran was, he and his crew had expensive tastes.
“Someone was stocking up for a rainy day,” Vila murmured, stepping forward and helping himself to another bottle from the carefully laid ‘cellar’.
“Put that down,” Avon said, his eyes wandering over the glittering jewels, “It’s not yours.”
“And it’s not this Massran character’s either. He has stolen this. Either from other planets or cargo ships. Look, if he and his crew are Federation officers who are looking to make their retirement more comfortable, than they have a perfect cover…”
“…Or even pretending to be Federation,” Blake suggested.
“That’s a dangerous game, Blake,” Avon pointed out, “You only need to come up against the genuine article...”
“It’s a big galaxy, Avon, and it would appear that the risks are worth it.”
Adam had remained standing at the entrance to the cave totally entranced by what he could see in the gloom.
“I never knew,” he said, “I had no idea that this system was here.”
“Did Massran never show you?” Blake asked.
“No…and I can see why. Not that I would have coveted any of this. My late wife and I were happy in our very own small dwelling over in the valley. It was warm during the cold spells and cool when the hot season was upon us.”
“You live in a cave like this?” Avon asked.
“Oh yes, for many years. Her last days were spent sitting just outside it, gazing at the garden which I had created for her. She loved that garden; so much so that I laid her to rest there.”
“I’m so sorry,” Cally said.
“We were happy and we had everything that we needed. Kilder and his people will find this valley and its surroundings perfectly acceptable…”
“Apart from Massran,” Kilder put in.
“Yes, Massran. He will be very angry, Blake,” Adam pointed out.
But Blake wasn’t listening. A trait that annoyed Avon to some extent. Blake was about to bring the wrath of an aggrieved man down on these people and he was sidestepping the issue.
“I wonder how far this cave system extends? Avon, if we restored the power this could make an ideal location for Kilder. It seems to have everything…”
“Blake, you seem to be forgetting that there is every possibility that a rogue Federation officer is on his way back here and these people have nothing with which to defend themselves…”
“They have us,” Cally said, ignoring Avon’s angry look aimed at her, “Perhaps while you and Blake reconnect the power we could explore this system and see exactly what Massran has here.”
“And how do you intend to do that?”
“Torches.” It was Franco, “There are torches in this locker and I have found tools.” He handed a small pouch to Avon, “Will they help?”
Avon opened the pouch, “This sort of work is more in your line, Blake.”
“I’m sure we can manage with these,” Blake said, taking the pouch and tools from Avon’s hand, “Can’t we, Avon?”
“Doesn’t it concern you that Franco found those tools and torches just a little too easily?” Avon asked as he and Blake stepped outside the cave and began to make their way down the trail.
“Kilder told me that he has been a great help since he arrived on this planet a few years back.”
“So this helpful young man just suddenly appeared one day?”
“Yes. Walked up to Kilder’s encampment and asked for help. Seems the Federation were still depositing their unwanted troublesome citizens here until quite recently.”
“From my research, this planet has not been used for almost a hundred years. The powers that be decided it was far too comfortable.”
“That’s true. A planet like Cygnus Alpha would be far more fitting.”
Avon stopped walking and took a glance back up the trail, “So just who is this very helpful young man?”
“Perhaps he was with another group of colonists. They seem to be spread out on this planet…”
“You don’t sound too convinced.”
“I will be far more convinced once we are off this planet…”
“Another unknown factor. Hopefully Jenna will be able to tell us exactly who he is and where he is.”
“He could be on his way back here now.”
“Then the sooner we get on with the job in hand…the better.”
Cally was leading the small group through a low ceiling tunnel, the powerful torch throwing a beam of light ahead of her. The tunnel opened up into another gallery.
“This is fantastic,” Kilder enthused, “This is the answer to all our fears. Somewhere to shelter while we rebuild our lives here, in this valley…I’m sorry Adam. I’ve suddenly realised, my people will be intruders.”
“It will be company and much needed help. The land around here in this valley and the next is fertile and with extra hands who knows what we could achieve.” Adam stifled a yawn, “I’m sorry, it’s been a long day.”
“Perhaps we should return to the front entrance, “Cally suggested, “and wait until Blake and Avon restore the power…” She staggered slightly as the overwhelming need to sleep surged through her body.
Kilder felt it too, “Something’s not right…” Then the slight smell of gas hit him.
Cally realised where she had smelt that too. “It’s Sono vapour.” She tried to reach the comms on her bracelet, but her hand refused to move. As she sank to the floor she knew she had to warn the others…
Avon looked up from what he was doing and stared at Blake who thoughts seemed elsewhere, “What about Cally?”
“Didn’t you hear it…her voice? She was trying to say my name.”
“Blake.” Both men started as Blake’s bracelet chimed for his attention. It was Jenna.
“It seems that your friend Massran bit off more than he could chew. According to Orac, a group of bandits led by a man of that name was apprehended trying to board a cargo ship. They claimed to be Federation Guards checking for illicit cargo. Unfortunately for them, that ship was carrying a group of Sky Marshalls.”
“And?” Although Blake could already guess the outcome.
“Immediate execution for impersonating a Federation officer. His ship along with the remains of his crew was destroyed. Massran will not be returning, so you have one less thing to worry about.”
“If only that were true. Avon and I think something has happened to Cally. I’m sure I heard her voice. Could you try and contact her?”
Vila was seated on a small flat rock, eyeing up the glass bottle and trying to fathom out exactly what was in it, when he felt the sharp end of the spear pressing into his neck. He swallowed.
Into his line of vision came Franco, a gun in his hand and a belt loaded with weapons.
“Your friend was right, you shouldn’t have touched that…it’s not yours. What should we do Juno?”
“Well, for a start,” the young woman said, close to Vila’s ear, “he won’t need that bracelet.”
Franco re-holstered his gun and reached for Vila’s wrist, He roughly removed the bracelet and gave it to Juno.
“And now I have a matching pair,” she declared.
“Where’s Cally?” Vila demanded.
“Oh, she’s all right. A little tired, perhaps, along with that nosey Kilder and tiresome Adam. But not to worry, you will join her. And once Franco has finished with your precious Blake and friend, we shall have near enough a full house.”
“I take it you’re Massran?” Vila said looking apprehensively at Franco. If that was true, then Adam could well be in on this deception.
“No. We joined his crew a few years back and to prove ourselves he left us here to make sure that none of these so called colonists found his hoard. Well, we’ve done our job and more. We have captured Blake and his crew….his ship will follow next. We will be richly rewarded.”
“You’ve got to get Blake first,” Vila pointed out.
Franco smiled, “It’s a challenge and I’m looking forward to it.”
Vila watched the young man saunter off down the trail.
“He has no idea…”
“As you are so concerned about your friend Cally, maybe we should go and join her?” Juno suggested, prodding Vila with the spear.
Vila stared at the bottle and sighed. If only he had stayed in that cave, he could have stopped these two glory seekers.
But he hadn’t.
His need to get out of that dark, repressive atmosphere and investigate this rare brew had taken over his usual wariness and now he was paying the price…maybe Cally already had paid that price. The question was, would Blake and Avon have any idea who they were up against?
He got to his feet.
“The gun…” Juno barked.
“What about it?”
“Get rid of it.”
With his free hand, Vila undid the jack plug and removed his gun from its holster and let it fall to the ground.
“You know, there’s no need to be so aggressive. You’re scaring those two animals of yours.”
“Those creatures? I’ve been looking after that small flock for quite a few years, but at least I’ll get my reward. Massran values loyalty. Once he sees how Franco and I have ingratiated ourselves to the two main colonists groups and made sure that they haven’t decided to explore the wider environs…”
“Until now. What will happen when the climate changes so much that those people have to find somewhere to live; to survive. Somewhere like this?”
“He’ll kill them. Simple as.”
“Not if Blake has his way…”
“Blake won’t have a say in the matter, not once Franco has dealt with him.”
“You have a lot of faith in Franco.”
Juno smiled, “Because he’s good at what he does. Now, make this easy on yourself, just walk up the trail to the cave…”
Vila stopped, his way barred by the two animals that had become fixated with Avon.
“I’d love to, but these two seem to have other ideas.”
“I’ll be so glad to see the back of these creatures. Nothing but trouble. Although they did give me a good reason to come here and find if this was a suitable area for my people to relocate.”
Juno kept the spear pressed into Vila’s neck as she turned her attention to the two animals standing resolutely in the way.
“Get out of the way.”
They didn’t move.
The smaller of the two suddenly decided to approach to maybe try and find out why the young woman was so aggrieved.
“Maybe, you need some encouragement…”
Vila watched as Juno’s spear was suddenly thrust in the direction of the small animal. It quickly retreated, bleating, but not before the larger of the two lurched itself forward to protect its offspring.
Juno was pushed off balance by the angry creature, and Vila swung the bottle up, smashing it against the side of Juno’s head…
She fell over the edge and joined her comrade in amongst the boulders.
Vila peered over. She didn’t move and by the way she had landed, it seemed very clear that she was dead.
The two animals joined him.
“You know,” Vila began, gently stroking the heads of the animals, “I’ve never been so pleased to see two of Avon’s friends.”
“I cannot make contact with either Vila or Cally,” Jenna was saying, “Neither are responding.”
Avon was thoughtful,” One bracelet, maybe…”
“..But two?” Blake said. “Jenna, keep trying. Have Gan standby in the teleport. Avon and I may need to get out of here fast.”
“Already done. Maybe you should come up now…” Jenna suggested.
“I promised Kilder that I’d get this power back on. Besides, we will need the lighting system on when we try to find Cally. Out.”
“That’s if she’d alive, of course,” Avon murmured, his attention drawn to a noise coming from outside the station.
“Even if she isn’t,” Blake said, returning to the job in hand; restoring the power leads to the high voltage cable, “I owe it to her to find her. Don’t you agree?”
“Yes, of course,” Avon replied absently, “How do you think he will do it?”
“Get us out of the way.”
“We don’t know…”
“Oh, come on Blake. Don’t be so naïve……”
Avon hushed him.
Seconds later, Franco stood framed in the open door way, a look of complete innocence on his face.
“Kilder asked me to find out if you were able to restore that power. There’s a whole network of tunnels down there…”
“Where is Kilder?” Blake asked.
“I left him there with your friend Cally…”
“It’s Kilder,” Avon reasoned, reaching for his gun.
Blake stopped him, “I have this one connection and then I want you to throw the switch. He will know his way round those caves…we will need all the help we can get.” Blake reached inside the open section of machinery, “Got it. Okay, Avon, the switch and then Franco can…Where did he go?”
Avon had no sooner thrown the switch when they got their answer; two grenades were thrown through the open doorway…
“Down!” Avon shouted.
The explosion was deafening and the smoke acrid, but somehow, Blake managed to make himself heard.
“Gan…bring us up now!”
Gan was horrified to see the two men suddenly materialise; Blake doubled up and Avon lying prone on the floor.
Blake waved him away, “See to Avon, I think he took the brunt of the explosion.”
“It was Franco,” Avon whispered, slowly sitting up,” And if that’s the kind of weaponry he has...then Vila and Cally wouldn’t have stood a chance.”
“Yes,” replied Blake, “a charming individual who has completely fooled everyone…including us.”
“Vila? Cally? Has he…”
“I don’t know. Have you tried to bring them up?”
“The moment I heard you call…”
“Nothing. Someone will have to go down and see what’s happened.”
“Give me a few seconds…”
“That may be too long.” It was Jenna, “And you’re in no fit state...either of you.”
“I’ll come with you,” Gan offered.
“You’re needed here, Gan. And, besides, if this Franco is as deadly as he appears to be, it’s possible that your limiter may kick in and may compromise you. Now, where would be the best place to stop this one man army?”
Vila had managed to get himself down the side of the depression and was making his way towards the contorted body of Juno. He knew he had to get the teleport bracelets; it was just a matter of removing them and getting back up onto the trail before Franco returned and saw that his co-conspirator was dead.
He had heard the distant explosions and had begun to panic; were Blake and Avon now victims; lying in an outdated Federation facility. Killed by some maniac determined to prove his worth to some glorified outlaw? It looked that way.
No, Vila knew that he had to get a bracelet and get out of this mess, before Franco returned and decided to take pot shots at him.
Oh, he had his gun now, but would he be able to stop shaking enough to actually fire and hit Franco before the young man had a chance to finish him off?
Vila quickly removed both bracelets from Juno’s arm, silently apologised for any intrusion and clasped them about his wrist. And then he heard the crunching of gravel beneath a heavy boot. Franco was coming back up the trail; possible ecstatic with triumph that he had killed two men and now on the lookout for any others.
Vila quickly made his way to the side of the depression and hoped that the slight overhang would hide him from anyone looking down from above.
Franco’s delight at dealing with the two men, who could possibly be a thorn in his plan, had paled after finding that the expected two unconscious bodies were not to be found. He couldn’t understand where they had gone. He had definitely heard their voices and had waited until he had heard the confirmation that the power was now returned.
All he had to do now was make his way back to the cave and contact Massran; to tell him the good news. Franco knew that his standing within Massran’s group would soar once he had delivered Blake and his crew...as well as their ship; wherever that was.
He had quickly taken another look around the installation, cradled his gun and then marched off towards the track and the cave.
He was halfway along the track when he saw Juno’s body.
It worried him that such a consummate comrade had somehow ended up in that depression, along with their other cohort…but more worryingly, was how?
That poor excuse for a criminal could hardly have managed it, could he? Franco had found him to be a timid man, scared of the slightest noise and only interested in booze and anything of high value. He had seen the look on Vila’s face when confronted by all the wealth safely stored up in the cave…
Franco cradled the gun. That coward must be up there. Well, he was in for a shock….
Vila pressed himself against the side of the depression hoping against hope that Franco wouldn’t venture down to see Juno for himself. If he did, Vila was ready for him...although the gun was shaking in his hand.
He heard the footsteps resume and waited for a few seconds before venturing out and back up to the track. He quickly found refuge behind a large bush and began to wonder what his next move should be. As far as he was aware, Cally was still up in that cave, unconscious…or worse. He swallowed; he didn’t even want to think along those lines.
Well, it was up to him. Blake and Avon gone, Cally possibly about to face a young tearaway with something to prove. He could contact the Liberator, but that would waste precious seconds.
No, he had to think of something that would completely throw Franco off guard.
Jenna had found herself inside a brightly lit cave and just as Blake had said, there was a myriad of treasures inside. All neatly piled up, ready to divided between Massran’s gang. Over in the corner was a smelter; no doubt used to melt the precious metals that the gang had acquired and turn them into more malleable small ingots. Just like the ones which were lying at her feet. Obviously, someone had been busy helping themselves to a few of these ingots and knowing Vila as she did, he may well have pocketed a few.
Either that or Franco had helped himself to an extra share and would blame it on the strangers that he had apprehended. Well, Jenna thought to herself, that little plan was about to blow up in his face.
She heard movement from somewhere down one of the tunnels. Could it be Cally? Perhaps she wasn’t dead after all.
‘Jenna?’ It was a strange sensation; Cally’s voice echoing in her head like that, but it was also reassuring. The Auron appeared from one of the side caves, obviously grateful to find a friendly face.
“Are you all right?” Jenna asked.
Cally nodded, “They used Sono vapour…but why?”
“Are Kilder and Adam with you?”
“Kilder is helping Adam. He’s an old man. To use Sono like that…”
“It was Franco and possibly Juno.”
“Where are they?”
“Well Franco is no doubt on his way back here. He tried the same trick on Blake and Avon, but added stun grenades for effect. They’re both okay, but they are nursing headaches.”
Jenna was quiet for a moment. “I don’t know. I lost contact with both you and him.”
“No doubt when they took our bracelets…What do we do now?”
“We throw Franco a small welcoming party…I’m sure he’d love that.”
Franco was nervously approaching the cave entrance when he heard it. The sound of someone shushing him.
He whirled round to see Vila standing a little way down the track, swaying in a decidedly drunken manner.
“Shh, you’ll wake her.”
“Your friend Juno…she’s fast asleep. I told her not to drink too much of this.” Vila held up the remains of the bottle.
“That’s what I told her when she downed a couple of mouthfuls and then threw it at me. I know it’s not the best Vintage, but beggars can’t be choosers…Anyway, I told her that it was pretty strong, but she took no notice; lost her footing and fell down there. Been asleep for ages. Perhaps you should go and wake her up…”
“Perhaps I should shoot you now! She’s dead, you fool!”
Vila looked at the remains of the bottle, “I didn’t think it was that bad...still….”
“Where are Blake and Avon?”
“Down in that…that…barn thing.”
“No, they are not. Yet you are still here. Perhaps I should use you as a hostage?”
Vila chuckled, “That won’t work. A hostage has to be valuable…”
“And you’re not?”
“Well, I’m still here, stuck on this colony, or whatever it is, with two dead bodies…so obviously no, I’m not valuable.”
“I think you underestimate you’re importance,” Franco said raising his gun and slowly retracing his steps down the track towards Vila, “In fact, I think you underestimate yourself completely…”
‘Franco…’ He stopped. The voice was in his head.
Vila smiled, “It’s behind you!”
Franco whirled round, his gun ready. Vila dived for cover as both Jenna and Cally opened fire.
For a second the young man staggered, trying to fire his own gun, when suddenly out of the undergrowth one of Avon’s ‘friends’ charged and sent him crashing over the edge of the track down to join his two fallen comrade-in- arms.
Vila sat up and dusted himself off before joining the animal and her small companion at the edge, “You know, we make a good team.”
“Somehow,” Jenna said, coming down to join the unlikely trio, “I don’t think Avon would agree with that.”
More of Kilder’s people had arrived from their increasingly changeable part of the world. All carrying their worldly goods and grateful to find warm, dry shelter with in the expanse of the cave system.
But from the look on Avon’s face, things could not stay that way.
“Are you sure?” Blake asked.
“Orac has confirmed my figures. The power plant in that relay station will not last for ever and the number of people who will reside in this cave system will put too much pressure on the power output.”
“But we will need that power so that we don’t freeze when the cold comes,” Kilder said.
“And I can tell you that the power plant will not be able to sustain that amount of energy,” Avon explained. His head still hurt, but he didn’t want anyone to realise that just being here in this cave, surrounded by so many eager faces, was, to put it mildly, challenging.
“Then we will freeze…”
“Not in here, but you will need to find another source of heat to cook food etc.”
“Then we will burn wood…”
“The amount of wood needed to maintain any comfort for your people and those others who have yet to reach here far exceeds that which is growing at the present moment.”
Blake stepped forward. “Orac has studied the scans that our sensors have run over this planet and there is another settlement further south and they too are moving to this area as this will be the warmest place in a few years.”
“Are those the people Juno was sent to ‘look after’?” Kilder asked.
“Yes.” Avon replied flatly.
“We were here first. They can find their own settlement…”
“Now,” Avon murmured to Blake, “Would be a good time to exercise your negotiating skills…otherwise you could find yourself being a witness to genocide.”
Blake didn’t need Avon’s advice; he could already sense that trouble was brewing. “You can’t do that, Kilder. These people are here for the same reason as you. They had no choice. Their ancestors were sent here because they didn’t want to live under the under the Federation’s new edicts. They will need just as much help…together you could build a good strong community….”
“Blake, the Federation left our families with only the basics. They didn’t expect them to thrive; but they did. What the Federation left for them all those years ago is breaking down and we have no way of repairing it. This cave system, that relay station, they are the only hope of us surviving this oncoming Ice Age.”
“Avon…this Ice Age, what does Orac say about it?”
“The Ice Sheets will expand covering vast tracts of this planet. It is possible that this area and the surrounding valleys will maintain a micro climate, but there will not be enough for food production.”
“So,” Kilder sighed, “despite all these years; all our struggles; it will end here. The Federation win after all. All this treasure put aside by Massran…but it does not provide food or heat…..Blake, perhaps you could take us off this planet?”
“The Liberator couldn’t take all of you and certainly not all your livestock….”
Avon was only half listening to Blake’s plaintive excuses. He was gazing at the two animals who had decided to become his constant companions again, much to Vila’s chagrin.
“However,” Avon began, “Orac did find a solution. One that will enable you to use Massran’s accumulated wealth.”
Blake felt a little peeved. Once again, Avon had kept something back from him.
“The solution will involve Jenna.”
“Really,” Jenna said.
“Yes, Your contacts from your previous career.”
“And what about my previous career?”
Avon smile wearily. His head was still hurting, but he wasn’t going to let anyone else know about it. “You have access to people who, shall we say, skirt the periphery of the Federation. You will be able to obtain, for a consideration of course, a Transporter, large enough for Kilder and the remaining inhabitants to leave this planet…”
“That’s some consideration, Avon, even by your standards.”
“The where with all is there, kindly donated by Massran. After all, he no longer has any use for any of it.”
Blake walked over to see the piles of neatly stack treasure. “Well Jenna, what do you think?”
“I would say it’s highly likely,” Avon put in, slowly sitting down on a nearby rock, “There’s always a market for the items that Massran and his group have accumulated.”
“And,” Jenna said sweetly,” I suppose you’ve even come up with an idea as to where these intrepid wanderers can go to?”
“Naturally. But it wasn’t my idea. No that was Gan’s…”
“Where, Avon?” Blake asked.
“Destiny…they do owe us a favour, don’t they?”
“Destiny? I’ve never heard of it,” Kilder admitted.
“It’s an agricultural planet outside the Federation rule…” Blake explained.
“An old Earth Colony? Would they allow us….?”
“We can but ask,” Jenna said.
Adam had been sitting quietly in a far corner, “Not me, I’m afraid, I’m too old. Besides, my life is here; to watch over my wife’s gardens. I have food, water…and I have numerous seeds that you can take with you. Maybe even plant an orchard in my memory.” He was thoughtful for a moment, “Yes, I would like that.”
“That’s settled then,” Blake announced, “Kilder, you’ll need to make contact with the other group; tell them exactly what is going on. We’ll contact Destiny and then find out exactly where you and your people can acquire a transporter to get you there.”
“Good,” Kilder smiled, “Although at least two of our newly acquired livestock may take some convincing…”
They all turned to look at Avon who was seated on a rock and was absently stroking the heads of the two creatures that were so enamoured of him.
Jenna smiled at the unlikely scene before her.
“Well, there’s no accounting for taste.”
The Liberator sped out of the star system, heading away from the former colony, where the inhabitants were now preparing to embark on their newly acquired transport ship and leave for a new life.
Even the old man, Adam had been persuaded to leave. The others had shown their concern for leaving an elderly man alone without any chance of help should he become ill or injured while tending his crops. Kilder had even promised that when the time came, they would somehow return him to his beloved wife’s garden and that they would then rest in peace together.
“Good old Massran,” Vila announced. He was seated on one of the foreward couches, a look of anticipation on his face.
“In what way?” Jenna asked.
“Well, all those ill-gotten gains. I’m sure he would be grateful to know that all his treasure has gone to a good cause.”
Vila placed the green bottle on the table and rubbed his hands together with glee.
“And I suppose you are a good cause?” Gan remarked.
“Absolutely. Kilder gave me this bottle in recognition for services rendered.”
“And he was equally keen to give us some eggs…seeing as the breakfast he had offered had been interrupted,” Blake said.
“I hope you declined?”
“Perhaps we should be grateful for small mercies,” Avon murmured.
“And what about you?” Cally asked.
“What about me?”
“Well those two animals seemed most upset that you were leaving them behind.”
“The Liberator is hardly the place for such creatures.”
“What exactly did you do to ingratiate yourself?” Jenna enquired.
“I was able to assist the mother. Her offspring had managed to get itself into a dangerous situation and I helped free it from its predicament.”
“There’s hope for you yet.” Vila decided.
“How long will it take for Kilder and his people to reach safety?” Gan asked, “It’s rather a novel idea getting everyone on a transport ship.”
“No,” Cally smiled, “It has been done before. Adam told me. His Grandmother told him a story many years ago of a man who took his family and a selection of animals aboard an Ark to escape a deluge; a flood.”
“I’ve never heard of that,” Blake admitted.
“It was many years ago, before the Federation ever came to power. His grandmother had once had an old book of such tales but it was destroyed when the Federation demanded an end to the old ways; but she remembered it. Adam said it was the most wonderful memory that he had of her.”
“An Ark,” mused Jenna.
“Well I think we should celebrate,” Vila said, “This is the third bottle I’ve held in my hand and this time I intend to drink it.”
“Vila, I think we should run some tests on it,” Gan suggested.
“Already have…according to Orac there is nothing detrimental to my health…or yours for that matter. Now who wants a glass?”
The others shook their heads.
“More for me then,” he said uncorking the bottle.
“Did Orac actually say what was in the bottle?” Avon asked.
“Didn’t need to. Well, look at it. A beautiful green, glass bottle with workmanship beyond compare. It’s got to be good, hasn’t it?”
“Not necessarily,” Blake pointed out.
“And Massran took great care as to how he stored it. So he must have known what was in it. Why bother steal…acquiring it then?”
“Massran didn’t strike me as a connoisseur,” Jenna said.
“And all that glisters…” Cally began.
“Is not gold,” Gan concluded.
Undeterred, Vila poured himself a glass; studied its contents and then took a large gulp and swallowed. As the others watched, his face contorted and he almost choked.
“Water…” he gasped, “Flavoured water…”
He held the offending bottle up to the light, “Me and Massran…we’ve been