Logo by L. Mundy Undercurrents
By James I. Ide
Chapter 2 Index Page Chapter 4



The tableau Vila beheld on the teleport deck was a startling sight: Avon sprawled flat on his face, Cally sprawled flat on her back clutching a large rectangular case, and Dayna, wearing a very surprised expression, in a crouch, blaster half way to firing position.

Vila's jaw dropped, and before he could even ask what happened, Avon was getting to his feet, spitting sand, yelling down at Cally, "What in hell did you think you were doing?" and Dayna was kneeling next to Cally lifting the case from her, yelling, "Cally, are you all right?"

Cally had the breath knocked out of her and couldn't answer either of them. Dayna set the box aside while Avon continued angrily brushing the sand out of his hair and off his clothes. "Well?" he asked when she made a move to get up.

"I'm all right," she said, beginning to try to sit up, but abandoning the attempt with a gasp.

"Well? What was that all about?" he demanded.

"Oh, give her a minute, Avon," Dayna said, "you can see that she's hurt."

"She's also responsible for losing a very valuable set of components and I want to know-- "

"You and your components! You've got the ones she brought up-- " Dayna said, nodding at the box.

"Half a set!" he said, shoving the box out of his way with his foot so hard that the box slid across the teleport room and fetched up against the far wall. "Half the components aren't of any use whatsoever."

Dayna, tired of the argument, stared Avon right in the eye and said, "You're so beautiful when you're angry." Which made Vila snicker and Avon glare all the harder.

"I think that joke has worn thin," he said, dangerously. But Dayna wasn't impressed.

"Stop it, all of you!" Cally said from the floor. "Help me up, Dayna."

"Battle stations, everyone! We've got company!" Tarrant's announcement preceded the concussion of the first hit by only a split second and they were all running for the flight deck when they felt it. As they reached the flight deck, they felt a second hit and the lights flickered.

"What the hell was that?" Tarrant asked.

"Another hit, of course," Avon said.

"It didn't feel like one," Tarrant said. "Zen, was that a hit?"


"Explosion? Power surge? Zen, system status: is there a system problem?"

"There has been a power surge in the ship's main life support systems. Cause unknown. Repair circuits are functioning."

"Here they come again. Zen, lock on target; fire!" Nothing happened.

"Have you cleared-- " Avon began.

"Of course I have," Tarrant cut him off. "I'm not a complete idiot! Zen, I said fire!"

"Fire has commenced," Zen replied.

"Zen, fire has not commenced," Tarrant said, feeling a cold sweat of uncertainty breaking out. "Now fire!" And again nothing happened. "Zen, why aren't you firing?"

"All systems indicate compliance."

Both Tarrant and Avon were intently scanning telltales for obvious signs of trouble.

"I show no indication of weapons system failure," Tarrant reported. "Computer malfunction?"

"No indication. Zen, cancel," Avon said, rapidly taking control of the situation. "Battle computers off line."

"Battle computers off line."

"Zen, battle computers on line."

"Battle computers on line."

"Clear for firing."

"Cleared for firing."

"Lock on target. Fire!" This time it worked and their pursuer went up in a blaze of light. "Tarrant, get us out of here before anyone else shows up," Avon said, beginning to run computer system checks to track the problem.

"Gladly. Zen, course two one zero mark eight, standard by six."


"Well, that was a lovely ambush," Tarrant remarked. "I hope you got what you wanted."

"Half of it," Avon said, giving Cally a dark look. The system checks were not yielding up any useful information.

"Half? But that's not-- "

"No, it isn't," he said, forgetting the systems checks for the moment as his anger rekindled. "And I would still like to know-- "

"What I'd like to know," said Cally, "is if one fires a scatter gun into a teleporting person, does he materialize with the pellets imbedded in him or does he reappear looking like a sieve?"

"Yes, Avon, I'd like to know the answer to that, too," Dayna said, grinning at him.

It was only a moment before he grasped the situation. "A scatter gun, you say?"

Cally and Dayna both nodded.

"Didn't you see it?" Dayna asked, a bit sarcastically.

"No, I can't say that I did," he admitted. "Who had it?"

"Your friend Gwarl," Dayna informed him. "It was under that long coat-- holstered like a bounty hunter's."

"He drew just after you said 'Bring us up,'" Cally said, "and I happened to glance his way and-- "

"He nearly got the both of you and I didn't have a clear shot. If Cally hadn't shoved you-- "

"Imbedded," Avon stated. "Once the field is fully established," he continued in his most pedantic tones, "nothing can penetrate or interfere; but, if one fired at precisely the right moment the field would absorb the kinetic energy, trapping the pellets, and, well, there you are."

"Like a raisin pudding?" Vila asked.

"Yes, Vila, very like," Avon said.

"Wonderful," Vila said. "I've never liked teleporting myself."

"I rather like raisin pudding," said Tarrant.

"Avon pudding," Dayna said and she and Tarrant dissolved into laughter at the macabre picture.

Cally, watching them, envied them their youth and their belief in their own immortality; she wished she felt like laughing herself, but, today death had come all too close to both her and Avon. She looked over at him--

And he was looking back at her. "I've never liked raisin pudding," he said.

"Neither have I," she said. And they both began to laugh. Because they both believed in their own mortality, and because, today, that belief had saved them both. It was reason enough.

As she laughed Cally held her side. "Oh!" she said when she could stop laughing and catch her breath, "It's sick bay for me. I think I've cracked a rib!" She straightened up carefully and looked about asking, "Any other injuries?" It was then she noticed the blood on Avon's console. "What have you done to your hands?" she asked him.

Avon looked down at his console and then at his hands noticing his injuries for the first time.

"Let me look," she said. Moving carefully, she went to him. "That's quite a gash," she said taking his hand, "and you've got sand in those scrapes-- "

"Somebody pushed me."

"A likely story. Come on. Sick bay for both of us," she said, leading the way.

"Tarrant, Dayna, see if you can get Zen to tell you what went wrong," he said following Cally. "I'll be back in a little while."

"Tell me, Avon," she asked as he caught up with her, "how would one achieve the sieve effect?"

"Easy. Fire well beforehand at very close range."

For some reason, that seemed even funnier than the other answer.

It had been a long day.

It got even longer when they discovered that the box of components they'd brought on board had exploded all over the teleport room: it took hours to assess the damage.

But, as Cally observed, it could have been worse. There could have been two boxes of components.

* * * * *

"Now what do we do?" Dayna asked.

"Head for Barram," said Avon.

"Where in hell is Barram?" Vila asked.

"Not in hell, on the way, perhaps, but-- ask Orac," said Avon, tossing the activator to him.

Vila turned Orac on. "Orac, where is Barram?"

"It is located within the Janus Rift," said Orac.

"If I remember correctly, on the Federation's side," Tarrant commented. He knew Avon had already thoroughly researched Barram and that now he was amusing himself by making them dig out the same information. It was annoying, but when was Avon ever not annoying? "Isn't it, Orac?" he asked, wanting Orac to confirm his statement just to let Avon know everyone wasn't stupid.

"Close to the edge of the Rift bordering the Federation's space," Orac clarified, "but Barram is not on the Federation's side. In fact, their political status is neutral."

"Auron was neutral, too. Much good it did them," said Vila. And received a punch in the arm from Dayna to remind him to mind his tongue around Cally. Most of the time she was fine, but her moods were changeable and sometimes she seemed on the edge of tears. He glanced over at her, and was relieved to note that she didn't seem to have heard.

"Barram's case is somewhat different," said Orac. "It is a privately owned planet-- "

"Barram Pharmaceuticals," Tarrant interjected, not entirely sure he was right, but taking the chance.

"-- owned by Barram Pharmaceuticals. The government is autonomous and has a policy of political neutrality, established under Federation Charter. Any ship requesting to do business with Barram is granted protection within their established neutral zone for the duration."

"And why is that, Orac?" Tarrant asked.

"Barram is a depot for the acquisition of rare and exotic plants and minerals which may have pharmacological applications."

"Any ship can request protection, Orac?" Cally asked.

"Any ship doing business with Barram is protected under the charter."

"And," Cally said following up the thought, "they have to be able to guarantee their protection because it's the not-so-legitimate traders who go to the most interesting places and have access to the most interesting samples-- but how does that help us? We don't have anything to trade."

"The key phrase, I think, is 'doing business.' Right, Orac?"

"Correct. For a fee," Orac said, "any ship may make use of their repair facilities and technical expertise, which are remarkably sophisticated. It is a gesture of good will, since it encourages all manner of ships to call and there is no knowing which ship might stumble across a pharmacological miracle."

"But, Orac, how does the Federation handle Barram?" Tarrant asked, interested now in spite of himself.

"Barram's neutral zone is chartered by the Federation and, while the Federation has no authority on Barram, or within it's established neutral zone, and while they may not post a patrol or breach their communication network, their visits must be tolerated by Barram. There is also a mutual assistance clause in the charter."

"But, even if they say there isn't a regular patrol," Dayna said, "all the Federation would have to do is stay out of range and no one could approach or leave Barram-- and if a ship reached Barram, the Federation could blockade the planet-- it can't be as simple as all that, Orac!"

"No, it is not a simple situation," Orac continued, petulantly. "But it works. Barram has an established reputation for neutrality and fair-dealing and there have been no incidents of Federation interference with any ship in the forty-five years since the charter was granted."

"How far are we from Barram?" Tarrant asked Avon.

"Forty-eight hours at standard by six."

"That's a long way off for us in our present condition, isn't it?"

"If we do not put in at some safe harbour," Avon said, "we have the option of finding a hiding place and sitting blind while we attempt to make repairs to the computer systems and the teleport room."

"I don't much fancy that option," said Tarrant simply.

"Nor do I."

"We certainly can't afford another encounter like the last-- one more slip or miscalculation and they'd be turning us in for the bounty. But, if we run for Barram-- and running it would be-- we had better be assured of that sanctuary or we may find ourselves in dire straights."

"More dire than we're in? Repairing Liberator is top priority, but sitting blind while we do it is suicide."

Tarrant was silent for a moment. "Barram it is, then. Now, if only we can stay out of trouble for two days."


Chapter 2 Index Chapter 4

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