Run and Hide
The squadron waited. They had been waiting for weeks. Three class 4 experimental pursuit ships, the only vessels in the Federation which could, theoretically, reach time distort 13 had been positioned in the asteroid belt on the far reaches of the star cluster. Federation tactical control thought it was likely Blake would pass that way. They had seen a pattern. Blake was moving closer, inexorably, towards Earth. Given Liberator's last strike that would mean they would pass the asteroids orbiting Handa. But so far nothing.
Commander Greggs stifled a sigh, "Report." He already knew the result. His eyes glazed over as the response came in - no sign of Blake or his crew.
Greggs had designed these ships and when the Federation had offered him the chance to command them, he'd leapt at the opportunity. He would be the officer to catch Blake. He would demonstrate tactical acuity where Travis had failed. Travis with his barbarism. Travis, who didn't recognise the subtleties of his opponent. There was only so far hatred could take Travis and Greggs felt that point would soon be reached. What was needed was refinement, patience. Or so he told himself.
"Predators 2 and 3 reporting in," his computer announced. They were positioned in a new formation Greggs had developed having studied Blake's tactics carefully. As it turned out, Blake didn't employ strategies as such. He preferred hit and fade attacks relying on the speed of the Liberator to escape if anything went wrong. Well this time, his speed would not prove advantageous. Greggs' prototype UV drive could run pretty much indefinitely, refuelling simply by harvesting ultra violet frequencies from any stars the ship passed. And where he'd stationed his predators would ensure Blake would have to orbit several stars in order to escape, giving Gregg's fleet a speed advantage. In simulations, with a star close by, the ships had reached time distort 15. Now all he needed was Blake.
"Blake," Avon smiled sardonically, "is wrong. He relies on luck and speed. One day his luck will expire and his speed will be matched. His crew, his followers, cannot see that Blake's hubris will be his undoing. I shall not participate in another ill-conceived attempt to "hurt" the federation. The federation will keep hunting and following Blake until he has nowhere left to turn."
"He believes that hitting Handa will be significant and bring a little hope to the colonies on Jupiter and Saturn," replied Jenna.
"Does he now? And what do you say Jenna? Has your fearless leader, who has put our lives on the line many times for the good of those he has never met, convinced you that Handa and then Earth is worth targeting?" he paused. "I've been looking into the planet Handa. Zen's scanners have been monitoring incoming and outgoing craft. One thing struck me as odd. Freighters as they approach Handa disappear for three cycles from Zen's scanners. I had it confirmed that they vanish from the Federation ones too, due to strong solar flares emitted from Handa's star," he paused, "during the blackout, what if someone docked with a freighter and reset some controls?"
"Piracy, Avon? We'd be better off sticking with Blake."
Avon waited before answering, "Do you know, Jenna, what is on Handa? Apart from the political prisoners Blake's after? It's a Federation Data Centre containing information about each and every Federation citizen. It's part of a massive network connected to hundreds of other Data Centres. All information is passed between the centres so that any Federation official, with clearance, can access any records from anywhere in the Federation. It is updated every three cycles.
"I cannot leave the Liberator because I am too well known. Blake's fame has sullied us all. Were it known that we had left we would be hunted down and killed. But, a beam pulse signal, carrying an updated data file, with changed names and occupations, if that were to be beamed into Handa. Well then. I would be able to disappear. The freighters heading to Handa are carrying beam pulse units ready for the annual handover. They are already calibrated to the new frequency. It could take years for the altered records to be discovered. Perhaps, never."
Jenna looked at Avon for a long time. "And you need me to dock with the freighter and get you off before the blackout window closes."
"Then we take as many riches as we want from the Liberator's store room, with Blake's permission, if it will appease your conscience, and I can start anew!"
Avon waited dramatically, curious to see if Jenna would agree to his scheme. However, a different voice answered.
"It's a good plan, Avon. I was planning to use the cycles to get us in. I was wondering how long you would want to stay. You can take as much from the stores as you want. After we have finished this mission."
Avon spun round to see Blake leaning against one of the entrances to the flight deck. He smiled but there was no warmth in his eyes.
"Blake. I am not a member of this mission. You need me to run the computers in the silo and create a diversion while you complete your heroics. I have no desire to be part of your revolution nor risk my life again for no reward."
"Freedom is the reward, Avon. How long will your false ID upload work? You hope it will never be discovered. Imagine living your life never sure if someone will recognise you. That would be no life. I offer you permanent freedom."
"If we keep following your stupid plans I'll be permanently dead and that's not the freedom I had in mind."
"Information. The planet Handa is now in view," interuppted Zen. Instantly, Blake became businesslike.
"We'll finish this later," he muttered, "Zen have they detected us?"
"There is no information."
"Well have they launched any ships or weapons?" he asked irritably.
"Negative. There is no activity from the planet."
"And the asteroid belt?"
"Right, so we proceed as planned," Blake turned to the communicator, "Villa, Gan, Cally, can you head for the teleporter please? Jenna, make sure Liberator remains on station. Right, we're ready. After you, Avon."
Avon glared at Blake and stood firm, "Blake, if we attack Handa the Federation will know we were here. The first thing they will change is the data pulse frequency. I may never get another chance to disappear!"
"The plan is for us to remain undetected, Avon. Trust me. When have I let you down before?"
Blake moved away down the corridor. Avon looked as if he had something to say in reply but thought better of it.
"I will consider helping you with your plan, Avon," said Jenna. "I don't know if I will join you in leaving but I think you would be better off away from Blake."
"He would be better away from me!" growled Avon as he left.
In the teleport section, the crew gathered their teleport bracelets. Cally collected some spares. The timing of the teleport had to be exact. Any deviation from the blackout window would result in the mission being aborted before it even started. As Avon attached his gun belt he wondered about forcing a change of plan by holding Blake at gun point. He knew however, that the crew were too loyal to Blake and would never allow a coup.
They walked to the teleport pad and Blake gave Gan the signal. The count down started and everyone waited nervously.
"Wouldn't it be better just to…" Villa began. But before he could finish a buzzer sounded and Gan quickly activated the teleport.
"Are you sure it's them?" Greggs asked, his pulse quickening. The Liberator had shown up minutes before and after all the waiting, Greggs couldn't quite believe it was true.
"Shall we begin pursuit, Sir?" asked Cooplan, his second in command. Greggs did not use mutoids. He wanted his crew to have ideas and react to situations.
"No," he answered. "Wait for the next cycle to begin and signal the other two ships to begin moving on my command." And so the stage was set. In just a few moments the next cycle would begin and the hunt would commence.
Sure enough, as it had done each time before, the blackout came unannounced. Only if you were looking directly at a scanner would you notice that your readings were frozen. Most of the time it didn't matter –a few cycles were hardly noticeable. However, to a predator those moments were precious. They made you invisible.
Greggs' ships got underway.