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Current Poll

Who is your Favourite Guest Rebel?

Avalon - (Project Avalon)
Avalon - (Project Avalon)
18% [17 Votes]

Selma - (Horizon)
Selma - (Horizon)
5% [5 Votes]

Tyce - (Bounty)
Tyce - (Bounty)
15% [14 Votes]

Norm One - (Redemption)
Norm One - (Redemption)
2% [2 Votes]

Bek - (Shadow)
Bek - (Shadow)
6% [6 Votes]

Kasabi - (Pressure Point)
Kasabi - (Pressure Point)
19% [18 Votes]

Hal Mellanby - (Aftermath)
Hal Mellanby - (Aftermath)
14% [13 Votes]

Hunda - (Traitor)
Hunda - (Traitor)
5% [5 Votes]

Deva - (Blake)
Deva - (Blake)
9% [9 Votes]

Other
Other
6% [6 Votes]

Votes: 95
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Started: 09 July 2016

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Reunion Denied by Andrew Williams

Reunion Denied
by
Andrew Williams


"Liberator has been sighted in orbit around Brakken," said Cheng, proffering a flimsy.

Stopping in the corridor, Blake scanned the page. "What's Avon playing at? Brakken is even more dangerous than the last planet he visited. It's in the middle of a military exclusion zone!"

"You know what he's playing at. He's looking for you, Blake."

Blake handed the page back to Cheng. "How do you know he's really there? There are as many rumours about the whereabouts of the Liberator as there are about me."

"You know how," Cheng snorted. "We can discount half the rumours about the Liberator because they involve you. Half the galaxy thinks you're still on board. Besides which you know it's him! When I showed you this report just now, you didn't say 'Oh, another rumour'; you knew! This can't keep going on, Blake! We need every tool, every weapon we can get our hands on, and Liberator is out there being wasted on fools' errands. Even if you won't take it back because of some stupid deal you made with Avon, it could be doing other things. You know Avon and the others are all in danger the longer they keep looking. Did you know that some people are deliberately circulating hoax sightings? One of these days the Federation's going to realise that it's a good way to set a trap, and then we could be facing a whole fleet of Liberators."

"Which is why we're camped on Perstraika," said Blake. "You know the rule about getting lost in the forest."

"Forest? You mean jungle, don't you? I'm just glad we have that beam-fence to keep the local predators out. I've heard them pacing around, growling at night, trying to find a way in. We're just one big tin of pet food and they're all out there looking for the can opener."

Blake ignored the babble. His people were all good people, and they occasionally needed to let off steam. Complaining was merely one way to do it, and it was better than them beating each other up. "Alright, the rule about getting lost then. If you get lost - no matter where you are - stay still, and eventually you'll be found. So we're staying still."

"Why not send a message?" Cheng argued. "We don't want just any searchers to find us - not the Federation ones, at any rate."

"What's to differentiate a message from a rumour? How could Avon authenticate it? How would we know he'd received it? The best way is for us to meet up face to face. Besides which, I've already got Deva to send out a message for Avon - discreetly - to let him know where we are."

"And if the Federation intercepted it?"

"If anything happens, then we abandon this planet. We've still got Firewalker, remember."

Cheng was not convinced. "And what differentiates this message from a rumour?"

Blake smiled. "Rumours don't have coded counter signs."

Without warning, the lights snapped off, and the background hum of the base whined down into silence.

"Not again!" said Cheng. "I'd be a lot happier if we knew who'd built this base."

"Or why they abandoned it," agreed Blake, as dim red emergency lighting blinked hazily to life.

"They probably went somewhere with a reliable power supply. This emergency lighting is useless," complained Cheng. "The only thing it lights up is the bulbs themselves."

"The power will come back on shortly."

"And if it doesn't?"

"It always has so far."

Cheng pulled a face. "That's not much of a guarantee. I wouldn't like to rely on the batteries to keep the fence running for any great length of time. The whole thing is just an energy grid. Without power, it doesn't exist! It becomes nothing more than a series of evenly-spaced posts. Do you want to be outside when those night creatures realise it's not there any more?"

Blake shot him a look of exasperation. "Alright, if main power isn't restored within the next ten minutes, I'll take a look at the generator plant."

Cheng started back down the corridor. "That makes me feel so much better," he said sarcastically.

* * *

"Any response yet?" Blake asked, sweeping into Deva's office.

As usual, Deva was huddled behind an array of half-stripped computer equipment, looking harried. At the sound of Blake's voice, he tossed his diagnostic probe onto the bench.

"How am I meant to see in this light?" he said, sweeping his arm around to indicate the wan red haze that barely lit the workbench, leaving the corners of the room shrouded in darkness. "Not that I have that much idea about what I'm doing."

"What about the message?"

Deva stamped over to a drawer, yanked it open and hurled some tools in. "Yes, yes, the message! I sent it several days ago, I told you."

Blake took a breath. "Has there been any response?" he asked calmly.

Deva turned. "Yes, as a matter of fact, there has been. Someone sent the coded call sign back to us. Let's hope it was the Liberator. I've sent the second signal, so we should get the counter signal back soon."

With a nod, Blake rested his hand on top of one of the dismantled machines. "And what about these? Any success?"

"I told you Blake; I'm a programmer," snapped Deva. Blake couldn't quite make out the frown on the man's face, but he knew it was there. "Maybe your wonderful friend Avon can do everything, but I can't. To me, hardware is someone else's responsibility!"

So that was it. Having learned that Avon was on his way, Deva was feeling threatened. Blake allowed himself a quick, wry smile, confident that it wouldn't be seen with the room so dark.

"What about electrical generators? Can you help me with that kind of hardware without violating your job description?"

* * *

The stars twinkled in the chill night sky as Blake and Deva trudged up the ridge to the generator shed. The shed was a simple affair, being four walls of wire mesh, and a roof, huddled under a rocky outcrop jutting out from the ridge. Above, beyond the ridge, the land swept back, almost perfectly flat: the ideal location for the landing pad. Due to the extremely strong winds on this world, the base had been built in the shelter of the slopes. The grounds around the base and landing pad looked neatly trimmed, the result of some chemical agent applied long ago to keep the surrounding jungle at bay.

Blake crouched next to the hulking rectangular generator block as Deva shone the powerful spot-torch over his shoulder. Deva let out a low whistle. "It's all burned out," he breathed, slowly sweeping the beam over the blackened generator. "No wonder the power hasn't come back on!"

Blake stood. "No it's not, look at it! That's not just a hole, the entire side has been destroyed. It can't be an electrical burn out."

Deva peered closer. "But it's all charred, look at it!"

"Can't you tell what's missing?" Blake asked, turning to his companion. "There's no smoke. And there's no smell. This thing should reek of burnt plastic and hot metal."

"Well, it is very well ventilated in here," Deva hazarded, flicking the torch beam around the wire mesh walls surrounding them. Beyond the shed, they could make out little of the clearing they were situated in; only the glimmer of the perimeter fence posts stood out in the torchlight. And with night falling, they could see none of the jungle beyond that.

"A strong breeze could dissipate a lot of it, but the generator itself would still smell horrible. Don't touch it!" he shouted, slapping Deva's hand away. "It may still be live, or storing a charge. Don't you know anything about electrical equipment?"

"I told you I was a programmer," Deva mumbled.

"Blake!"

Blake and Deva turned to see who was calling. A bobbing torch beam showed Kesset was running up the incline for all he was worth. "Blake! Come quick! It's Ogilvie!"

Blake sprinted towards Kesset. "Where is he?" he shouted, running past the ship's engineer.

"In the lab!" puffed Kesset, rounding after Blake. The two men tore off towards the base entrance.

Deva stood alone in the shed, hearing the whoops and growls of the jungle creatures, but seeing very little. Night was falling fast, and he was now outside alone. The silhouette of the base could just be made out against the darkening landscape, and, without closing the shed gate, he turned and ran towards it.

* * *

The presence of a research lab was a definite clue to the purpose of the base, although completely unused by Blake's team. The mess, sleeping quarters, Operations centre and landing pad were all infinitely better suited to their needs.

The size of the lab, in relation to the rest of the facility, showed the main purpose of the base had been whatever scientific research or experimentation that was going on here before it had been abandoned. The heavy-duty nature of the containment systems built into the laboratory were a distinct concern to Blake. What worried him more, however, was that they did not know if the subject of the research had left with the scientists, or if it was indigenous to the planet. Where Deva had failed, however, Orac would succeed, Blake was certain - another good reason to renew contact with the Liberator.

Blake charged into the corridor that led to the research lab, and straight into a crowd of his people. They huddled together, bathed in the dull red lights, peering through the open double doors of the lab.

"What's going on? What's happened to Ogilvie?"

"Ogilvie is in the sickbay," said Cheng. "As for what's going on, we're not sure. Ogilvie seems to have disturbed something in the laboratory."

Blake pushed his way through the others and into the doorway, where he could survey the room beyond. Avery handed him a torch, and Blake played the beam around the room. One of the long workbenches was pushed up against another bench, its anchorage to the floor neatly severed. Nearby, one of the man-sized containment cubicles had been wrenched from the wall. A winch and portable generator sitting nearby were the obvious means of destruction. Where the cubicle had been, blank grey wall could be seen, and Blake could see another irregular burn hole in the wall. In the wall! That confirmed it wasn't a fire; these walls wouldn't burn if you smothered them in napalm. He panned the torch beam along, hoping no one else had seen it, or recognised it as being something other than Ogilvie's handiwork.

"Didn't anybody hear him doing this?" asked Blake, incredulously. At the same time his mind was telling him that he hadn't heard anything either, despite being on the base along with everyone else.

Avery pointed to the walls, directing Blake to shine the torch. "Acoustic baffling - the place is perfectly sound-proofed."

"Does anyone know what was he doing?"

"He was working on it during his rest periods," piped up Vanech, a dark girl from Herriol. "He was fascinated by the room and the equipment. He told me he'd found a small hole in one of the cubicles, said it shouldn't be there. He said they should be completely lined, and that we might be able to find out some reason why the base had been abandoned."

Blake turned his stern gaze upon her. "Didn't you think to tell anyone? What if he had managed to stir up something dangerous? Right, that's it. Cheng, Kesset, seal this room up. I don't want anyone going in there. Avery, you get over to the Firewalker and let Jenna know what's going on. Wait there, we may need you to bring back some of the emergency batteries. We can't fix the generator tonight."

He didn't tell them he didn't think the generator could be repaired at all; there was enough worry in the room already. "I'm going to the sickbay." He threw another stern look at Vanech. "I'll speak to you later."

* * *

Before going to the sickbay, Blake made a detour to Deva's office. It was important to remind Deva not to mention the generator to anyone, and as the programmer had not appeared at the lab, Blake supposed he would be in his office.

As he expected, Deva was there, eating some dinner by himself, and trying to get something to work. Blake was of the opinion that Deva enjoyed grumbling about hardware more than anything else. It seemed to be his hobby.

"Any more messages?" Blake asked, stepping through the open door.

The question provoked more complaints from Deva. "Yes, there has been, but I doubt we'll get any more! Someone, let's hope it was the Liberator, sent the coded counter sign back again, and no sooner had we received it than the whole comms array packed up. Obviously it's not a power problem, seeing as we still have light. I think it's been sabotaged!"

"Sabotaged?" echoed Blake.

"The same as the generator! I think we might have a double agent among our people, Blake."

Blake gnawed a finger. "I want you to keep that idea to yourself," he said. "And I don't want you mentioning the generator to anyone."

"Of course not," Deva replied, pushing his plate to one side. "I haven't said anything to anyone. If there is a saboteur, we don't want to give our hand away."

"Good. There's not a lot we can do now, not without power. We can't even see inside the base, let alone out there. I don't think there is a saboteur, but if there is they probably won't make a move until tomorrow."

Deva frowned. "You think so? If it is a saboteur, why would they wait? In two moves they've got rid of the power and the communications. Why would they wait until morning, when they've got us at such a disadvantage already? Why would they slow down when they've suddenly moved so fast?"

"We're not completely disadvantaged. We still have emergency power; everyone has hand-held comms that run on batteries," argued Blake. "Besides, would you like to be outside if the survival batteries fail and the beam-fence goes down?"

Deva changed tack. "Did you see Ogilvie?"

Blake shook his head. "He's in the sickbay. I'm on my way there now."

"The only thing that would reassure me now would be if you told me Ogilvie was in sickbay because he hurt himself sabotaging the generator or the comms gear."

"No, he was in the lab. And he couldn't have gone there after sabotaging the comms gear because it didn't fail until after you and I went back; after we'd heard he was in the lab."

Deva took a drink from his cup. "In that case, the saboteur is still at large. You know what the next target will be, don't you? Get onto Jenna right away and tell her to protect Firewalker at all costs. Tell her not to let anyone -" Deva was interrupted by the chime of his hand-comm. "I set it on speaker while I was having my dinner," he explained, stabbing the call button. "Deva here."

"Deva, it's Harper. Is Blake with you?"

"I'm here," Blake answered.

"Blake, it's Ogilvie. Get up here quickly!"

"Right, I'm on my way," he said, cutting off the link.

"Blake!" Deva grabbed Blake's wrist. "If something has happened to Ogilvie, then perhaps he knew something about the saboteur. Caught him in the middle of something. Him - or her. Ogilvie was always wandering off to see Vanech."

Blake slapped Deva's comm back into the programmer's hands. "Call Jenna. Buzz her three times, then hang up and call again. That way she'll know to go somewhere private to speak. Tell her what's happened, and to be on her guard. Avery is with her, but he doesn't know what you and I know. Tell her not to leave the ship no matter what."

"Got it."

Deva started punching in the code as Blake exited.

"And Deva -" said Blake, from the corridor, "take it off speaker before you call."

* * *

The medic was waiting at the top of the stairs when Blake arrived.

"What is it?"

"Ogilvie's dead," explained Harper. The haunted look in his eyes was emphasised by the ruddy tint cast by the emergency lighting strips.

"Murder?" breathed Blake.

"I can't explain it," said Harper, hustling Blake down the corridor to the sickbay. "You have to see it for yourself."

Arriving at the sickbay, Harper keyed the door open, and Blake looked in. He could tell which was Ogilvie's bed; not because the body was in it, but because of the circumference of destruction all around it. An enormous hole seemed to have been burnt through the floor. Littered around it were blackened twists of metal, a charred pillow and something else. Blake turned away, realising it was a hand. Whatever it was had burnt through Ogilvie, the bed, and then the floor.

The door swished shut before him as Harper realised that Blake had stopped looking, his brain not processing the signals, stopping him seeing any more.

"I've never seen anything like it. What the hell is it?" cried Harper.

Blake shook himself back to life. "Isn't the Operations room just below this one?" he breathed.

Harper's hand-comm chimed. Snapping it off his belt, he answered, "Harper. What? The Ops room? I'll get my things and -"

Blake did not hear anymore; he was already bounding down the stairs two at a time.

* * *

"Get back! All of you get back!" he commanded, herding the stunned group from the Ops room door. Someone in the crowd was screaming.

Glancing inside, the devastation was more than he could imagine. It was hard to see by the emergency lighting, but he didn't need to see details. A growing, melting circle below mirrored a great charred hole in the ceiling. The black circle was spreading out, reaching the central computer bank, which blackened, warped, and fell in on itself.

"It's as though there's an invisible fire in there," yelled Cheng, crossing to Blake. "No smoke, no flames, no heat... just destruction."

Blake turned to Cheng. "Did you seal up the lab? Well, get back there. Reopen it, break the door down if you have to. Let me know what you see. Go now!"

Cheng sprinted down the corridor. Blake turned to see Harper, armed with an injector pistol, firing something medicinal into the screaming man. The man - Samoht - fell silent, knocked unconscious. As he slumped, Blake could see a patch of black spreading over Samoht's arm.

"Get away from him," ordered Harper. "Everyone stand back. Has anyone touched him? No? Good, let's keep it that way." Squatting down, he added, "It's contagious."

The group shuffled further back from the prone figure.

"Everybody listen to me," commanded Blake. "Get what you can. Be outside in five minutes, then head for Firewalker. We're abandoning this base."

The panic that was bubbling under in the crowd erupted, and they scattered in all directions, yelling and screaming.

Blake turned to Harper, who was still kneeling over Samoht. Harper looked up, tears welling in his eyes. The man at his feet was rapidly becoming unrecognisable.

"There's nothing I can do for him," he choked.

"He was in pain, and you stopped that pain," soothed Blake, resting a hand on the medic's shoulder. "But now we have to go."

Harper's hand-comm chimed. He unclipped it from his belt and pressed the call button. "Harper. Okay, hang on." He swivelled around slightly in order to catch Blake's eye. "It's Cheng. He says the lab is almost totally destroyed; everything's been eaten right through, and it's almost got to the doors."

"Tell him to get out of there. Tell him to get to the ship."

"Blake says get to Firewalker. No! Leave it! Get out now - aaahh!" Harper tailed off with a cry, dropping the hand-comm.

"Harper, what is it?"

Harper sprang up, away from Samoht, staring down at his foot. "Uuuhh - aaahh - AAAAHHHH!" he wailed.

Blake could see that Harper's boot had been pressed up against Samoht's side, and the infection had spread to the dark leather.

"Your boot!" yelled Blake. "Quick, get your boot off!"

He bent down to grab Harper's leg, to help pull off the boot, but Harper shoved him away, hard.

"It's too laa-AAAHHH-late!" shrieked Harper, as Blake stumbled towards the open Ops room door. Instinctively, he threw out an arm to steady himself, only to realise he was grabbing at the contaminated door. Awkwardly, he stumbled forward a step, righting himself, and pulling his arms in tight.

Behind him, Harper was still screaming. Blake whirled around; Harper fell to the ground silent, the injector pistol he had just used clattering to the floor beside his limp body.

In the Ops room, the ceiling began to cave in. Blake stepped back, and, with a run-up, leapt over the bodies blocking the corridor.

"DEVA! DEVA!"

* * *

Blake skidded to a halt at Deva's office. "What are you still doing here?" he panted. "Haven't you heard what's been going on?"

"No," answered Deva, unperturbed. He had managed to rig a few torches together and was working in the only pool of decent light on the base. "Why, what is happening?"

A groan of tortured metal reverberated somewhere above them.

"The whole building is about to collapse!" yelled Blake.

"Sabotage! I knew it!" shouted Deva, leaping up. He pulled a pistol from his waistband. "Who is it? Where are they?"

"It's not sabotage, but there's no time to explain now! Grab whatever's essential and let's go. You've got one minute."

Deva knew when Blake was deadly serious - when he could argue, and when he couldn't. Without a word, he grabbed a box and started shoving memory modules and papers into it, tossing the pistol in as well. "Blake!" he hissed. "What about destroying all this other information?"

"There's not going to be anything left for the Federation to find!" snapped Blake, grabbing Deva's hand-comm from the desk. "Jenna?"

"Blake! What's happening? Cheng says we're abandoning the base."

"We are. Jenna, I need you to sound the launch alarm on the ship. If anybody's not aboard yet, they'll know to go there immediately. Then get Cheng and Avery started on a roll call, so we can see who's missing. Tell them we've lost Harper, Ogilvie, and Samoht. Deva and I will be there soon. And keep aler- Hell!"

"Blake! What is it?"

Blake stared into the sudden gloom in the corridor. Behind him, Deva's shadow flickered in a small pool of torchlight.

"We've just lost emergency power."

* * *

Having managed to disentangle Deva's torch rig, Blake and Deva made their way to the base entrance, and out into the clearing. The ground was as pitch black as the sky, which was punctuated by shimmering pinpricks of light. Blake shone the torch in front of them as they struggled up the steep incline to the landing pad. Deva gripped his box tightly to his chest, as though it were a shield.

"I think it must have been some kind of weapon gone wrong," explained Blake, as they pushed ahead. "Whatever it was, Ogilvie found some of it, and it spread from there."

"But what would it have been kept in? It ate through everything."

"If there was some kind of container, we never saw it. Perhaps nothing can contain it, though it seems unlikely," Blake speculated. "Perhaps it's been eating through things since it was invented or discovered. It could be eating through the ground underneath us, and we don't know it simply because there's so much for it to eat through. That would explain why the base was abandoned."

"So it came up through the ground, ate into the generator from underneath, then ate through to the outside?" said Deva.

"Could be," agreed Blake, as they made it onto level ground. Ahead, the lights of the ship punctuated the dark. "It did appear to be taking different directions - it didn't simply flow, like a pool of water would have done. And it seemed to change, too. It certainly absorbed everything at a faster rate once it got going."

"Blake! If it's under the ground, we could be walking on it. One wrong step and we could be in a lot of trouble."

"That's why I'm keeping the torch trained on the ground all the time."

"Why?" asked Deva. "What else is there to do but make sure we don't trip over something?"

"You're forgetting about the power," said Blake, as they drew nearer to Firewalker. "There's no fence now, and it won't take those creatures long to work out that they can cross the perimeter without getting a shock. That's why I was glad to see that you had a gun with you."

"Blake," said Deva worriedly, "when you said it wasn't sabotage, I didn't think we'd need it. I packed it into this box somewhere."

As if to emphasise their dilemma, something growled off to their right. Something that sounded to Deva both fierce and hungry; something that was creeping up on them with all its predatory stealth.

"Whatever that was, it's inside the perimeter!" called Deva, scrabbling through the box one-handed.

Blake pulled Deva's hand-comm from his pocket, and called the ship. "Jenna! Sound the launch alarm! Sound it now! Deva, run!"

An enormous wail blasted the air around them, puncturing their ears with its force. As the alarm died away, the silence rang in their ears. As the ringing stopped, they could just make out the sounds of the startled creature bounding across the clearing and vanishing into the jungle with a rustle.

Ahead of them, the airlock to Firewalker cracked open, spilling light out onto the dark ground. Three armed men darted out, taking up positions around the lock, scanning the area through their night-sights.

"I've never been so glad to be deaf before," said Deva, as they stumbled into the airlock.

* * *

Once orbit was established around Perstraika, Blake let himself relax back into the flight seat. Jenna was a brilliant pilot, but with the assistance of a competent co-pilot like Avery, she was even better.

"Orbital posture established," said Jenna.

"Posture established," checked Avery.

"Drift compensators locked in."

"Compensators locked in."

"It's all yours," said Jenna to her co-pilot, swinging her chair around to face Blake. "Now what?" she asked.

"Now we have to do something about Avon," replied Blake from the navigator's chair. "We can't meet him here. We'll have to send a message cancelling the meeting. Avery, ask Deva to come up to the flight deck. He knows all the codes," he added.

Avery paged Deva.

"We could just wait in orbit for them," suggested Jenna. "If they're already on their way, then it won't take any longer for them to get here. And we're as safe here as we were on the ground."

"Safer," corrected Blake. "It's a good idea; we'll do it. We'll still have to contact Avon to let him know that the rendezvous has changed slightly. He's expecting us to be on the surface; a ship in orbit may scare him off."

The door swished open.

"Which means we still need Deva," finished Blake teasingly, as Deva entered the flight deck.

"I should hope so," said Deva. "What am I needed for now? To cancel the rendezvous with Liberator?"

"Not quite," said Blake. "We're going to keep the rendezvous, but we need to let them know that we're meeting in orbit."

"And we won't have to bother with transfer tubes," added Jenna, "because Liberator has teleport."

"No problem," said Deva, sliding into the communications position. He punched a few buttons and the console came to life. "Ah, I take it back. Problem," he said, pointing at a yellow screen. "There's a fault with the communications system."

Jenna swung back around to her console. Avery was already punching buttons.

"The diagnostic check is running now," said Avery. "Here it comes... looks okay... green... green... green, green, green. Ah, and red. Here's the problem. It's the external antenna array. It's been damaged by the lift off somehow."

"Can you see the antenna array through one of the hull-mounted scan-cams?" asked Blake, with a sinking feeling.

As Jenna replied, she entered more commands on her console. "Yes, there's one on that side of the hull with a spotlight; far away enough that we should be able to see the whole thing."

The antenna array swam into view on the main screen. It looked like a giant electronic crab lying on its back, with a differently-shaped antenna for each leg.

"Most of them are navigation probes," explained Jenna. "This is the long-range comms antenna," she said, as the picture zoomed in on one misshapen 'leg'.

"Look at the top of it!" said Avery.

"Is that it? Is that that stuff?" asked Deva, staring at the black lump that crowned the white and silver spar.

"That's it."

"How the hell did it get onto the array?" Avery puzzled.

"Who cares? The question is what the hell can we do about it?"

"Maybe herculaneum will be too tough for it."

"Do you feel like waiting to find out?" asked Jenna.

"We have to get it off the ship before it spreads," said Blake. "We don't have anywhere else to go. Suggestions?"

"Dismantle the antenna," suggested Avery. "Separate it from the ship before that stuff gets down far enough to threaten us."

"No time," said Jenna. "You know how hard it is to dismantle an array while suited up. It would take at least four hours."

"Could it be sawn off somehow?" asked Deva. "The important thing is to split that bit off from the ship before it gets to anything vital. It doesn't matter if we wrench it off; it's junk now anyway."

"We haven't got the equipment," said Avery. "We'd unpacked most of it from the ship so we could make some repairs while we were on the surface. It's all still down there."

"Want to bet?" asked Deva, glumly. "It's probably slag by now. What about heading for the nearest habitable planet at maximum speed?"

"We'd never make it. Who's to say that it's going to leave the drives and crew areas until last? It might burn through to the drive pits in an hour's time, and then we're completely trapped."

"Distress call?"

"We can't risk infecting another ship," Blake declared.

"Not to mention the price on our heads," muttered Jenna. "The time that we're just realising that... that... virus has eaten through our weapons systems could be the same time we realise that the rescuers who have just arrived are Federation."

Blake stared at the screen, watching the antenna twist and blacken as it though gripped by an 'invisible fire', as Cheng had put it. And what do you fight fire with? "Could we burn it off?" asked Blake.

"The heat generated by exiting the atmosphere hasn't affected it at all," noted Deva.

"What about the sun?"

Jenna and Avery shot each other a look. They began punching in commands with renewed vigour. Blast shutters slid across the windows as Firewalker yawed towards Perstraika's sun.

"It's worth a try," said Jenna, punching in maximum power.

"At the very least we may be able to melt the antenna off," added Avery.

Blake stood from his chair. "I'll let the others know what's going on."

* * *

Standing in as close as she dared to the sun, Firewalker really lived up to her name, even though that name had disappeared as the sun scorched the markings from her hull. A series of blister forcewalls protected the habitable parts of the ship from the worst ravages of the heat.

"The ship can't take this much longer," said Avery, wiping the sweat from his eyes. All the gauges before him were red-lining, and the air conditioning had long lost its battle with the intense heat ravaging the ship.

"We're all being roasted alive," rasped Deva. He could imagine every super-heated breath drying out the moisture from his lungs.

"Not much longer," Blake coughed. "Look!"

The harsh sunlight made the master viewscreen almost impossible to look at, despite computer compensation. The antenna was half eaten away, but it still remained, a slightly shorter, silver and white needle with a black point. But it seemed, if it was not a hallucination, that the complicated silver spike was turning into a liquid-like thread; a thread that stretched and turned in the solar current. Without warning, the black and silver tip separated and began floating away.

"Quick!" gasped Jenna. "Fire all retros! If that thing touches the ship..."

Avery began slapping switches, firing the retro boosters, backing Firewalker away from the deadly metal.

"Is the antenna clean? I can't tell!" choked Deva.

"Away, Jenna! Get us away!" Blake shouted hoarsely.

Firewalker wheeled away from the sun, facing back out into the blackness of space. It took a moment for their eyes to adjust, but they could clearly see the remains of the deformed antenna were entirely silver.

"Good thing the sun didn't scorch them all black," coughed Avery. "Then we'd never have been able to tell!"

Without warning, the picture on the screen went black.

"What happened?" demanded Blake, sitting up. "Is it on the camera?"

"It's okay," replied Avery, pulling up a diagnostic. "The camera has died from the heat, that's all. Look, I can see it on the hull through another scan-cam."

The viewscreen came back to life, this time showing another picture; a little camera/spot light combination looking particularly hard done by.

"I'm going to get some water," said Deva, rising shakily to his feet.

"It'll all be hot," said Jenna. "Whatever is left of it."

"Whatever's left?" repeated Deva. "Don't tell me all our drinking water's boiled away!"

"Of course not," croaked Jenna, trying to wet her parched lips. "The ship's a contained system, so any water that's turned to vapour will eventually come back through the environmental systems. But whatever's left will still be hot. I had to maximise the cooling systems in all the areas where people were, otherwise it'd be your blood boiling along with the water."

"I don't care. I need water!" said Deva staggering out.

Jenna turned to Blake. "What about Avon?"

"You tell me," he responded. "I take it we can't communicate at all, now we've scorched all the antennas."

Jenna nodded. "We couldn't talk to him even if Liberator came up and sat hull to hull. Which he wouldn't do anyway. Half the systems are fried, so we really need to land on some planet with refit facilities as soon as possible. There's no way we can safely maintain orbit in this condition."

"Especially not for an extended period," added Avery.

"Alright; what sympathetic or neutral planet is closest?" Blake asked, looking at the navigation console in front of him. The information popped up in front of him as Jenna did some keying from her position.

NEAREST HABITABLE:
DISENTASTRA 711-027
ENVIRONMENTAL OK
GRAVITATIONAL OK
REFIT FACILITIES YES

"Disentastra," read Blake. "Alright, Disentastra it is. We can't contact Avon, and we can't contact anyone to contact Avon, so we'll just have to let him come. When he gets here and finds no one, he'll just assume it was another hoax. When we're in a better position we'll make contact again; let him know what happened."

"Hey, look at this!" said Avery, changing the view on the main screen again.

"What is it?" asked Blake. "It looks like some kind of cloud."

Jenna saw the co-ordinates where Avery had directed the detectors. "That's the remains of our antenna, isn't it?"

Avery nodded. "I wanted to see it fall into the sun and burn up; make sure it was gone - but it seems to have mutated. It changed, and now it's growing!"

"I can see that!" said Blake as the cloud increased in size before their eyes.

"It's become a field of minute fluid particles, somehow," added Jenna, checking the readouts.

"According to this, it's some kind of high energy enzyme."

"Maybe we shouldn't have cooked it," commented Blake.

"Speaking as a pilot," said Avery, "I wouldn't ever want to fly into something like that! If we can't destroy it, we should mark it."

"We'll report it to Space Met when we can," agreed Jenna. "It's pointless leaving a beacon - that enzyme field is drifting away on the solar currents. Even if we could get a beacon to stay with it, it would be destroyed eventually."

"Faster than 'eventually', I would say," said Blake, watching the screen. "That cloud is expanding too quickly for my liking. Get us out of here, Jenna. Set course for Disentastra."



***



Reunion Denied was previously published in Chronicles 67-68 and is reprinted here with permission of the author.

All original fan fiction hosted on Horizon is copyright to the individual authors. No attempt is being made to supersede any copyright held by the estate of Terry Nation, the BBC, B7 Media, Big Finish or any other licensees or holders of copyright on Blake's 7 material.

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