Traversing the first set of hills, Avon heard Vila's strained breathing behind him as he tried to suppress audible signs of his own increased effort. Blake said the atmosphere was a little light; it would appear that he seriously underestimated it, Avon noted crossly. He sneezed, whether due to the dry dirt that became dust when trod upon or the thigh-high native vegetation he knew not. The air itself was hot and stagnant, and his nose twitched in irritation at the lack of any cool breeze. This unnamed planet, DV-457 according to the star chart, wore mottled colors of grey, taupe, and a moss green and appeared less inviting with each dust covered footstep upon dry and rocky terrain.

Based on the maps he had been provided, the Federation base was little over a mile from the point to which they had teleported but the mile was a direct route and that route covered at least three, perhaps four, sets of hills. They had allowed for 30 minutes to reach the base; it would take something closer to an hour, he gloomily surmised. Pressing through the vegetation, for there was no path, the brush scratched at their trousers and stalks pushed aside sprung back viciously to attack swinging hands with sharp needle-like bristles. Their heavy breathing combined with the crunch of boots upon brush provided the only aural effects; there was no breeze or animal sound. Avon wondered idly if the planet would be silent were he and Vila not there

The relentless sun beat down upon them. Though clothed in lightweight khaki, Avon felt as if he were garbed in his heaviest leather. His hair had been recently trimmed and the pale amount of skin above the top of his back collar was becoming increasingly sensitive with a dry tightness that foreshadowed a burn. Caution is one thing, he muttered darkly within his own head. Sending us across this terrain at this distance seems designed only to inflict the maximum discomfort. He took occasional sips from the bottle of water attached to his gear belt; no need to let Vila know that I'm just as uncomfortable as he is professing, loudly and constantly.

Nearly an hour had passed before they crested the final set of hills and could glance with unobstructed view to the Federation base that sprawled below. Avon dropped to his knees, hidden in the surrounding brush and without a backward glance, waved Vila down. Catching his breath, he felt a tightness in his lungs from the strain of the light atmosphere. As his breathing calmed, his narrow gaze swept the scene below.

Blake's information had said it was lightly defended, and Avon, to his surprise, found that the information overestimated the defense: there was nearly no defense of what appeared to be either a small base, or the surface entry to an underground base. An "L" shaped building constructed of rock and colored to blend into the landscape sat alone. Avon saw no guards patrolling, no evidence of trooper activity at all. All right, we expected defense computers and some type of grid that made human guards superfluous; apparently we projected correctly.

He wiped his forehead as he started a slow descent of the hill; surprised to find he was still perspiring heavily after that short break. The day was hot, and the hills had made the walk more arduous but he had expected less impact because of his conditioning and because they had dressed in lighter garments, accommodating the heat. He heard Vila's near constant murmur that he couldn't walk another step and continued forward through the brush, which was now nearly waist-high, as he had for the last hour, completely ignoring the other man. Eyes scanning the horizon and every inch of ground around his feet looking for telltale signs of a defense perimeter, he heard Vila exhale loudly, demanding a halt.

"Avon, please, we have to stop. I can't catch my breath. I don't know what's wrong, but I have to stop." Vila sank to a sitting position on his heels, arms resting on his thighs, head bowed.

The heat and the hike had steadily eroded Avon's patience, of which he possessed little. He swung about angrily and then noted Vila's red face, heavy perspiration, and shaky breathing. "All right," he said calmly, kneeling near Vila in the trampled brush. "Have you had any water?"

"Yes, I've drank all of mine."

Mutely, Avon handed his water bottle to Vila, whom gratefully accepted and drained it.

They stayed in that position for more than five minutes. Avon's gaze swept the brush, anxiously aware of their proximity to the base and the fact that only the sound of their heavy breathing broke the unnerving silence. He considered continuing on his own but knew he'd require Vila's skill to bypass the doors. He studied Vila's face and respiration, and then grabbed Vila's wrist, his eyes on his own chronometer.

"Liberator this is Avon. We've got a problem." Although the brush provided excellent cover, he dropped his head, and kept his voice just above a whisper.

Vila lifted his head and watched Avon anxiously and in misery.

"Go ahead Avon. What's the problem?" Blake's voice answered in a cautious tone.

"Vila's unwell, possibly sun poisoning or heat stroke. The hike was a bit more arduous than we had predicted. We need to get him to the medical unit now." Avon responded flatly, suppressing his exasperation. Damn it, I am no more than thirty yards from the target.

"We're bringing you up now," Blake replied with concern.

The coolness of the teleport room was a welcome respite from the heat of the planet, and Avon felt a chill run through him as the modulated temperature encountered his perspiration-soaked body. He grabbed Vila's trembling arm and helped him stand before releasing the other man to Gan's helpful and powerful support. Vila leaned heavily on Gan as they walked slowly to the medical unit.

Blake slid out from behind the console, eyeing Vila and then Avon in increasing concern. "Neither of you looks well."

"The atmosphere was lighter than predicted, the hike was more arduous. It was hot," shrugged Avon as he removed his teleport bracelet, and paused, wiping the wet and sticky bracelet on his trousers before placing in its holder. "We were about thirty yards from the target when we teleported. When Vila has recovered, you should be able to place us back in that position." He raised an eyebrow at Blake. "Assuming that you recorded the coordinates."

Blake nodded distractedly as Avon leaned against the teleport console and crossed his arms. He wanted to sit but rejected the idea quickly. The khaki shirt was soaked and firmly plastered to his skin. The idea of encountering a cool artificial surface sent an internal shudder through his body. Better to get clean and shed this grimy and sticky clothing.

"There was no obvious defense by guards. Assuming there is a computer controlled defense perimeter, it is well hidden. It will take some time for me to uncover how it works before I can bypass it."

"I don't understand it. They've kept the location of this base quiet enough, but it's unlike the Federation to leave it uncovered. How much activity did you see?" Blake moved casually to the teleport console and stretched an arm against it so that he could face Avon.

"None at all. No Federation presence. No sign of any other life forms." Avon replied shortly, irritated as another trickle of perspiration ran down his neck.

"Just another mystery about this planet I suppose," grimaced Blake. "I'm going to check on Vila. Are you sure you're all right?"

Avon contorted his lips into what could pass as a flat smile. "Just in desperate need of a shower." He followed Blake wearily from the teleport room.


'I don't think it is sun poisoning. He is running a fever, and he's very fatigued, but there is no rash on his exposed areas. Thankfully he's not dehydrated. I understand he drank all of his water and most of Avon's." Cally's gaze moved between the medical diagnostic computer and Vila while she tossed her words over her shoulders at Blake.

"I'm more concerned about heat stroke. Most of the symptoms match: dizziness, rapid pulse, he's somewhat disoriented. When he came in, his fever was about 101.5, now it's nearly 103 degrees. However, he's continuing to perspire, which is not the case with heat stroke victims, and his pupils remain normal."

Blake stepped towards Cally as he registered Gan's footsteps approaching; the larger man swung round them easily with a large container. The hurried efficiency of the medical unit was both comforting and alarming. Blake was confident in their ability to treat nearly anything, but Cally and Gan's briskness seemed to indicate a concern greater than they admitted.

"If it is heat stroke, then we daren't use any medications to reduce his fever. We're cooling him off as rapidly as possible. There's no way to completely immerse him in cool water, so we're using wet sheets. We're trying to lower his body temperature and maintain circulation." She pulled wet sheets from the container that Gan held at the height of the medical bunk.

Blake noted cool compresses on Vila's head, neck, armpit, and groin areas. Modesty seemed a casualty of Cally's efficiency though Vila didn't seem to mind. He lay quietly; he was conscious but his eyes lacked their quick darting intelligence. Blake jerked back instinctively as a small shower of water splattered into his face. Gan gave an apologetic glance as he hurried to drape Vila with a cooled bed sheet.

"Of course, the diagnostic computer is still running tests to rule out some type of bacterial or viral cause." As she aided Gan in laying the wet sheet in place, Cally turned to Blake grimly, "I'll have a word with Avon about pushing Vila too far. It's a good thing he pulled out when he did. I think we've caught this in time."

"All right, what can I do?"

"Nothing at present, unless you could come up with a container large enough to immerse Vila. We could use a small quantity of ice to keep the water cool for the sheets and compresses."

Blake nodded, gratefully accepting a task, however small. A part of him wanted to oversee Vila's treatment to ensure he would be all right; his more logical nature accepted that he would not only be in the way, he would stand around feeling helpless. "Right, then I'll get you some ice, Cally."

Striding to the kitchen part of their communal dining area, his mind wandered through the Liberator. Could we use one of the large cargo containers to immerse him…no there are holes in those, damn it. No large tubs unfortunately, something Cally and Jenna have occasionally mentioned an interest in acquiring. Perhaps I'll take a walk through the cargo units after I've made some ice. He filled all of their kitchen containers with water and placed them in the small freezer unit.

Waiting for the water to freeze, he wandered up to the flight deck.

"Everything all right, Jenna?" he inquired with a smile.

Jenna, clearly bored, eyed Blake irritably for a moment. "Yes, it's all quiet. There's no traffic at all in the vicinity of this planet. I can't believe the Federation built anything out this far and apparently no else comes here either."

Thoughtfully, he strode around the peaceful flight deck. Jenna seemed in need of company and she was a good sounding board.

"You know this planet could just work as a base because it is so remote. I'm tired of breathing processed air, and I know all of you are too. Yes, it is hot down there, but we could adapt to it. We could build a base on the opposite side of the planet from the Federation base. Wouldn't that be ironic?"

Jenna yawned as she stood and stretched. Blake heard the small popping of tired or tight joints as she extended her arms above her head. Stifling a reactive yawn, Blake dropped onto the comfort of the couches, anticipating a chat.

"Some sun might be nice, but I hear the heat was too much for Vila. It might take more than just adaptation to live down there. How is he doing?"

Before he could answer, Cally's voice trilled through the com-link. "Blake, it's Cally."

He stretched his upper body to avoid rising and tapped the com-link near the couches. "Yes Cally, what is it?"

"We've picked a trace of what might be a virus rather than heat stroke. At least the computers see a virus-like pattern in the blood screening. So far, they haven't been able to identify it."

Blake and Jenna exchanged concerned looks. Cally's voice gave no indication of alarm but he sensed something more than surprise.

"How worried are you? Should we get Orac looking into it?"

"Yes, I'd like that. I'd also like to ask Avon if they encountered anything down there where Vila could have picked this up. Would you bring Orac and collect Avon for me. He's not answering."

"All right Cally. Avon said he'd be showering. I'll fetch him and be down in a few minutes." He signed off sighing and hauled himself to his feet. "See Jenna, it only appears dull. Underneath, it never lets up."


Orac was his own cabin, used to unsuccessfully research the planet that they orbited. He collected it and turned rapidly to briskly walk to Avon's cabin. The door was closed and Blake tapped the panel to open it. He swore under his breath; it was locked, of course. He knocked and then waited. The cabins were fairly soundproof so he didn't expect to hear Avon moving about inside. Impatiently, he pounded on the door.

"Avon, wake up! Cally needs you in the medical unit."

Irritated by a lack of response, Blake kicked at the cabin door and then wondered if Cally had reached Avon. Perhaps he's already in the medical unit. Well, I'll be damned if I head down there and then have to return! The hell with Avon's obsessive need for privacy. "Orac, override the lock and open that door," he ordered testily.

With a hydraulic hiss, the door slid open. From the passageway Blake saw Avon sprawled facedown on the floor, still garbed in the clothing he used for planet-fall. Blake swore again, and placed Orac carefully on the floor, reaching Avon in two quick steps. Kneeling, he could smell the pungent mix of dirt and sweat, stronger now than he remembered from the teleport room. Avon's breathing was audibly strained and rapid. Blake turned him over, observing the sweat-streaked face and dazed eyes. He rested the back of his hand against Avon's cheek and felt the heat of a raging fever.

"Just needed a shower did you?" he grumbled more in frustration than any irritation as he hauled Avon to his feet by wrapping one of Avon's arms around his neck. Avon, semiconscious, muttered something that Blake was unable to understand. Unable to drag Avon and carry Orac, he left the computer on the floor outside Avon's cabin and headed slowly to the medical unit.

You could have saved me this trip, Avon, if you weren't so bloody reluctant to admit you're human and felt unwell. Blake's exasperation mixed unhappily with the first real stirrings of fear. Both down, and so quickly.

Avon was dead weight, apparently incapable of assisting in his transport and Blake's neck and shoulders soon ached from the burden of hauling nearly double his weight. As soon as he was in shouting distance, he halted and caught his breath. Then he called loudly for Gan, who immediately came and relieved him of his burden.

"I'm going back to fetch Orac," Blake panted. "I'll return in a bit."

He moved as quickly as possible and returned minutes later to find the medical unit again a bustle of activity.

"Don't put wet sheets on Avon!" he ordered, immediately arresting the motion. As Cally opened her mouth to protest, he continued. "Wait until after you've removed his clothing. I want to run some tests on it."

Cally nodded, quickly stripped Avon, and tossed the filthy clothing towards Blake. Blake dodged the soiled clothing and let it fall to the floor, then sought a container for it. Cally and Gan began covering Avon with cool sheets, applying compresses to the same key points as they had with Vila. Blake remembered the ice, but glancing at the time, realized it wouldn't yet be ready.

As Gan and Cally worked quickly around Avon, Blake dropped Avon's clothing into a small bin. He heard a low moan. Shooting a gaze in the direction of the moan, he saw Vila moving about on his bed as if uncomfortable. Blake hurried to his bedside, both wanting to help and doubtful of his ability. Nearly all of the time he had spent in this room had been as a patient or a visitor, quite often as a worried, impatient visitor. He smiled slightly; as Avon might say, this is not my field. I much prefer Cally or Gan in charge, but surely I can provide assistance to a man who is uncomfortable. Resting gentle fingers on Vila's arm, Blake was surprised at how quickly Vila's body heat had absorbed the coolness from the sheets. As he replaced the sheets and compresses, he touched Vila and was reminded of carelessly brushing the barrel of a gun that had been fired for a long time.

As Blake smoothed the cool sheet over Vila's chest, the man sighed and seemed to return to sleep, or at least a restful calm. Cally and Gan seemed to have Avon's treatment well in control and Blake sought relief from another form of action. He set Orac upon a nearby table and began the first of what he admitted would likely be many questions.

"Orac, please interface with the medical diagnostic computers to isolate and identify the virus that has been detected in Vila's blood screening."

The diagnostic computers detect a virus-like pattern in the blood screens which does not coincide with any known viruses

"All right Orac, can you search for similar virus-like patterns, or identify its constitutive elements? We need to determine the most effective course of treatment."

A search of immediately available data for a similar pattern has already been accomplished with no matches. A more exhaustive search will take approximately two hours. Analysis of the constitutive elements seen in the virus-like pattern is underway

"Cally, did you hear that?"

Cally was finishing setting up the intravenous drip for Avon; Vila's was already in place.

"Yes. Avon's blood screens show a similar virus-like pattern. As I'm now confident that this is not heat stroke, I'm administering some medication to help control the fevers. We'll use the medical computer to administer as often as necessary. We're using the drip for internal cooling; we've cooled the solutions for that reason."

Blake nodded. Let's recap, he thought. Avon and Vila were on the surface of the planet for an hour, no more. Both came back with fevers and virus- like symptoms. Orac is analyzing the blood. When's he's done, I'll have him analyze Avon's clothes. Perhaps I could do that myself with some scanners. He collected Avon's clothes and left the medical unit.


Blake wondered if Jenna really appreciated his company on the flight deck as he scanned Avon's clothing one more time, trying to find something that would explain the sudden onset of fevers in both men. She glanced at him several times, but he was unable to correctly identify the guarded expression.

"Anything new?" Jenna inquired nonchalantly.

"No. I find trace elements of rocks, decaying organic matter, water, roots, seeds and spores. All this tells me is that they walked on soil, and were probably have been exposed to plant life. Nothing comes up out of the ordinary, and definitely no chemicals or biological agents." Frustrated, Blake tossed the scanner on top of the sweat-stained clothes and leaned back in his chair.

"Chemical or biological agents?" Jenna suddenly became very interested indeed. "What are you looking for? What's on that planet Blake?"

"I don't know what's on that planet, Avon and Vila were there to find out." He rocked his chair back onto two legs, brooding. "All we know is that it's a Federation base that Orac came across in some obscure transmission. No one knows anything about it or has ever heard of it."

"You sent them down thinking there might be chemical or biological agents?" Jenna watched the man in front of her very closely.

"No, of course not!" Blake exhaled loudly. "I had, and have, no idea what's down there. I was looking for something that could have triggered an illness that quickly. It's probably some virus native to this planet that has caused the fevers. I just wanted to rule out worst case scenarios."

"All right," said Jenna carefully. "So you've come up with nothing on Avon's clothing, which means what?"

Good question conceded Blake. "I suppose all it means is that I didn't find anything obvious. Let's hope Orac did better with the blood work."


Cally stood near the entrance of the medical unit, one hand on the back of her neck, the other on her hip. "Well, the fevers have stabilized at just under 103 degrees, meaning only that they aren't rising. It's still high, and we've been unable to bring them down any further. We've run tests on top of tests and neither shows any other symptom right now, nor any determinable cause."

"My scan of Avon's clothing showed absolutely nothing out of the norm," Blake said pensively. "Do you think it's likely that they were exposed to some local virus, for which neither has any immunity?"

Cally turned, and walked about as she considered his answer. "I suppose I can check the medical computers, but I've never heard of a virus attacking this quickly. From exposure to onset of symptoms was less than an hour, Blake. It's highly unusual."

"Would it be too inconvenient to include us in this discussion?" called Avon irritably.

Cally rolled her eyes at Blake, and they turned to Avon and Vila, both of whom were propped up, covered by dry sheets, cold compresses still in position. Blake and Cally related what they knew, which was little, while Vila continued to look miserable and Avon absorbed the information thoughtfully.

"Viruses are usually transferred by physical contact, and we encountered no one. Unless the soil carried this virus, I can't imagine either of us had direct contact with infected material. As far as I know, I wasn't bitten by an insect or any animal, but I suppose it is possible." Avon began examining his hands and arms. Cally checked his face and neck. Neither found any sign of an insect bite.

"Could you have ingested it somehow?" posed Blake, standing casually between the two men.

Vila looked blank, and Avon frowned. "We brought our own water, ate nothing. I don't know if viruses can be spread or survive airborne. I suppose we could check."

Cally accessed the medical computer. "The medical databases say that it is unlikely. You named the most common ways a virus can be spread Avon. It must be one of them."

He shook his head. "I don't see how Cally. We were there an hour, saw no one, touched only the soil, the rocks, and the brush. I suppose we can do a more thorough check for bite marks." He glanced down at his body and shrugged.

"How do you feel?" inquired Blake, with real concern. "You're both running fevers about 103 degrees."

"Awful," moaned Vila. "I ache all over, and I can barely lift my head."

"Hot and weak, except for the chills," Avon lay his head back, and closed his eyes. Keeping them closed, he returned to his questioning. "Has Orac made any sense of this?"

"Not yet. The medical diagnostic computers detected a virus-like pattern in your blood scans, but it doesn't match with any other virus so far. Orac is digging further, and is analyzing the constitutive elements of the pattern." Blake sighed, relaxing a little. "Obviously we'll wait for Orac, but it may be a virus native to this planet you know."

"That strikes this quickly?" Cally repeated her contrary view with continued skepticism.

"We know nothing of the natives of this planet, and Zen registered very few life forms." Avon suddenly sounded very tired. "A virus needs a host to survive. Where's its host?"

"It's a good question Avon," Blake mused. "We'll stay nearby until we answer it and until the two of you have recovered."


An exhaustive search has not uncovered any viruses with similar patterns. An analysis of the constitutive elements in this virus-like pattern is continuing. However, it is worth noting that these elements bear a striking resemblance to those microorganisms that reside in the category of Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers normally found on Earth

Blake and Cally, seated on either side of Orac, exchanged suspicious glances. They had moved the table closer to the medical bunks so that Avon and Vila could listen and participate. Avon lay quietly with his eyes closed, listening intently. Vila, by all appearances, had drifted to sleep.

"Orac, is it likely that a virus native to this unnamed planet, DV-457, would bear such a resemblance to a virus from Earth? Or is it more likely that this virus was introduced from Earth?" Blake snapped.

It is impossible to correctly analyze the probability that a native virus of this planet could bear any resemblance to a virus commonly found on Earth unless more is known about planet DV-457. However, considering the distance from Earth and the little that is known of this planet, it is more likely that the virus was introduced, either deliberately or non- deliberately

Blake sat back absorbing this information, and Cally probed further.

"Orac, what can you tell us about the Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers which this virus resembles?"

Viral hemorrhagic fevers are caused by viruses from four families: filoviruses, arenaviruses, flaviviruses, and bunyaviruses. The usual hosts for most of these viruses are rodents or arthropods such as ticks and mosquitoes on Earth. In some cases, the natural host for the virus is not known. Records indicate that these viruses remained virulent throughout planet Earth until the advent of domed cities provided a controlled environment

"Yes, that's very interesting Orac, but what can you tell us about symptoms and treatment?" Cally said in exasperation.

Symptoms vary by specific virus, but commonalties exist. All forms of viral hemorrhagic fever begin with fever and muscle aches. Depending on the virus, the disease may progress until the patient becomes very ill with breathing problems, hemorrhaging, kidney problems, and shock. There are no proscribed treatments. Medical records indicate that the patients are treated symptomatically. Fatality rates vary from 5% to 90% and are dependent upon virus, severity, and promptness of treatment

Blake sat in apparent absorption, his head turned thoughtfully, eyes distant. "Orac, based on the information you have reviewed, what is the normal time period between exposure to the virus and onset of symptoms?"

The time period can vary but usually falls in a range of 2 to 21 Earth days

Cally looked at Blake. "An hour?" she said horrified. "How could they contract this in an hour?"

He was grim. "Orac, what is the likelihood that the virus you're analyzing could have been manufactured or genetically altered to substantially shorten the time frame between exposure and symptom onset?"

It is true that the gene material of microorganisms can be modified to create new viruses, however I cannot reply with any certainty that this specific virus was manufactured or altered. I will require additional research to investigate all variations of Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers, and potential mutations of all variations, before it can be accurately determined if this virus was manufactured or genetically altered

"How long, Orac?" Blake stood and began pacing.

Impossible to estimate accurately Orac snapped irritably. The minimum requirement is at least 12 hours

"Blake," Cally looked at him anxiously. "If this is a genetically altered virus, the potential exists for more than just a shortened time between exposure or infection and symptom onset."

"Yes, I know Cally," Blake replied, obviously troubled. "But as Orac said, there is no specific treatment for any of the viruses. All are treated symptomatically. We'll just have to watch for the symptoms."

Surprised that Avon had not asked a single question, Blake wondered if the other man was still awake. He turned toward Avon, "Did you get all that?"

His eyes still closed, Avon sighed, "Yes, apparently we got it all right."


Cally reluctantly left the medical unit when Gan came back to relieve her, but as Vila and Avon were essentially stabilized and no other symptoms had appeared, she took advantage of the opportunity to rest.

Blake relieved Jenna on the flight deck, bringing Orac along for further inquiry if he came up with more questions. He sorted through the facts surrounding the day's events. Unless Orac detected a potential mutation of an existing viral pattern that allowed for the rapid onset of symptoms, Blake was prepared to conclude that this virus was genetically altered or manufactured. The who part of the question was not difficult to establish, and he moved onto the what, where, and why.

He preferred bouncing his ideas off others, and with all of the others occupied elsewhere, he spoke aloud to the flight deck. "Orac has not uncovered this particular viral pattern anywhere else, which means it is only associated with DV-457. If it is a manufactured virus, why has the Federation unleashed it on DV-457? Are they using this planet as a testing ground, or is the base the source of the virus?"

"Everything I know about Federation use of chemical or biological weapons has concentrated on nerve agents or toxins that attack the respiratory system. Why would they use viruses as weapons? Their existing bio- chemical weapons are used to quickly immobilize and kill resistance activities or specific groups. Those act immediately and dissipate rapidly."

"Viruses on the other hand take residence in a host, and based on what Orac has told me, use the host's cellular chemical energy and protein- and nucleic acid-synthesizing ability to replicate themselves." He frowned in acknowledgement. "Hmm, depending on the virus and how it is spread, once an infected individual is introduced to a population, the virus may take on a life of its own and continue through the population. It's easy, it's nearly untraceable, and it doesn't even look like a weapon. A particularly virulent and fast-acting virus could decimate a population, and keep government and local officials tied up for weeks. It could be used to destabilize governments or against hostile populations. Who could afford the luxury of opposing the Federation in a plague-like situation? "

In the interest of ensuring your speculation remains somewhat factual, I am obligated to remind you that plague is bacterially based and not viral

"Yes, thank you Orac. It's nice to know someone is listening to me." Blake sat, rubbing tired eyes. "If the Federation is manufacturing this virus, still only a possibility, they'd engineer it for a high fatality rate, unless they just wanted a temporarily very sick population."

"Damn it! We should have implemented quarantine procedures. It's too late now. If that virus can be spread just through physical contact, everyone has been exposed already." He stopped and checked the time. "It's been more than six hours. Avon and Vila showed symptoms within an hour, so it's likely that they haven't transmitted it to us, which means it's not shared just by physical contact. Then how is it useful to the Federation? I need to know exactly how that virus is transmitted and the purpose of that Federation base. We're going to have to go back down to DV-457."


"Why didn't you call me, Gan?" Cally demanded in alarm, pressing a new cold compress on Vila's forehead as she anxiously read the monitor. Vila watched her with dull eyes.

Gan replied patiently, perhaps more than her question deserved, "Cally, it's been a steady increase. I've administered the appropriate medications and have continued with efforts to lower their body temperatures. What else would you have done?"

Nothing else, she admitted reluctantly to herself. "Vila's temperature is 103.2 degrees!"

"And Avon's 103.1. They've been rising about one-tenth of a degree every hour steadily." He sighed, tired and frustrated. "Cally I know I don't know as much as you do, but fever is a natural method for the body to kill off the virus they've acquired, right? It may be that they need a higher temperature to kill it." He tried to get Cally's attention, but she had focused on Vila with real concern.

"Cally, they've been alternating between sweating and shivering. I think their bodies are just trying to reach the right temperature to deal with the virus." This time, Gan touched Cally's shoulder to provoke a response, and she turned.

Ignoring his rational explanation for a worrying situation, she shifted to the next set of expected symptoms. "I see that Vila's respiration and heart rate is up too. Have either of them complained of headaches or body aches?"

He nodded. "Yes, Vila's mentioned both. I asked Avon and he said he was experiencing some minor effects of each. Both are receiving fluids and nutrients intravenously, and I've been trying to get them to drink water and juices." He smiled. "They're not the most cooperative patients you know. I think they might listen better to you about taking fluids orally."

"Yes, I'll bully them all right. I think we'll need to mix up some special concoctions to care for electrolyte loss, and ensure they maintain sufficient vitamin and mineral levels." She met Gan's eyes for the first time since returning to the medical unit. "It probably won't taste good, but they'll drink it anyway." She grinned devilishly. "And I know both of you can hear me perfectly well," she announced loudly.

"Are they awake?"

Cally and Gan turned. Neither had heard Blake's approach and were slightly startled by his sudden presence.

"I think so," Cally responded uncertainly. "Vila was just awake. Avon, are you up?"

Avon opened his eyes and regarded Blake with a curious look. "Anything from Orac?"

"Nothing new," Blake walked past Cally and Gan and stood between Avon and Vila. "Orac said it would take a minimum of 12 hours to determine if this is an engineered virus." He leaned against Avon's bunk and folded his arms. "I've given this some thought. Assuming this is an engineered virus, the Federation is either using this planet for testing or they're working on the virus here. Either way, we need to find out, and we need to find out how it's spread."

"You're not going down there?" Cally asked, appalled.

"There's no other way to answer these questions, Cally." Blake responded gently. "I think we can safely assume that the virus is not transferred through simple personal interaction. Avon and Vila contracted it and began showing symptoms within an hour, yet have been on board for," he glanced at his chronometer, "nine hours without any of us exhibiting symptoms."

"You should do blood screens anyway," Avon muttered.

"Yes, you're right. That's valid. It's possible we're carrying the virus in some kind of dormancy. Gan, let's start that right away." Blake watched as Gan accessed the diagnostic computers, and keyed in instructions.

"How will you get in?"

Blake looked closely at Avon and could see him trembling, visibly shivering. Blake searched Avon's face and saw that it was requiring considerable effort for Avon to remain fully engaged. "You got to about 30 yards from the base without seeing any example of defense computers, right? It occurred to me that maybe they don't have them."

Avon raised an eyebrow in skepticism, and then nodded understanding. "The virus itself is their defense."

"You'll still need to get inside the base," Vila chimed in weakly.

Blake turned to Vila warmly. "It will be difficult to do without you. Any ideas? Did you get a look at the doors or the locks by any chance?"

"Sorry, no," he croaked.

"It resembled an air lock," murmured Avon, resting his head back on the bed.

Blake nodded. "That makes sense. If they are using the virus for defense, they don't want anyone bringing it in and contaminating their base. Just makes it a bit harder to get in for us."

"Who's going and are you wearing some type of environmental suit that will protect you from this virus?" Cally demanded, eyeing Blake with reservation. "You are waiting for Orac to determine that it's engineered, aren't you?" she added suspiciously.

"Well, I thought I'd go, and I'll ask Jenna if she'll accompany me. We'll teleport to the location you left," he nodded at Avon, "which will limit our exposure, but you're right Cally. We should wear some type of protection. Full gear I imagine since we don't know how the virus is transmitted."

Cally moved over to the diagnostic computer for her blood scan. "Well, you surmised that it is not physical proximity. That leaves exposure directly to an infected object, perhaps the soil, or a bite from an insect or other animal, which is the most likely, really."

"Or it's airborne," Avon added dully.

"Unlikely, but if it has been engineered, that makes the most sense for a widespread distribution, assuming it is used as a weapon," Blake conceded. "It's a lot more difficult to treat all of the soil, although I suppose it's not difficult to release infected insects. In any case, we'll bring some equipment with us to do testing of the soil, the brush, and the air. The suits should protect us from bites."

"Cally and I show no signs of the virus, Blake. Step right up and I'll check you too," grinned Gan. As Blake moved toward him, Gan cocked his head. "Didn't you run tests on Avon's clothes? Wouldn't that have picked up if the virus was in the soil?"

"Good point," Blake flinched as the needle jabbed him quickly. "I never got Orac to analyze them. I'll do that before we head down there."

"So you're not waiting for Orac's answer then?" Cally gazed at him disapprovingly from the tops of her eyes. "That's only another seven or eight hours, why can't you wait?"

"Twelve hours was the bare minimum for Orac's analysis," Blake argued as he rolled his sleeve back down. "Anyway, we still know that Avon and Vila were exposed to that virus, and the Federation is likely using the virus as a defense and probably plans to use it as a weapon. Whether or not they engineered the virus, or just recreated something that hasn't been seen in centuries doesn't matter. No one will have natural immunity to an old virus, nor a new one."

"Any chance of an antidote?" Vila asked plaintively.

"It's a virus, not poison," Avon muttered irritably.

Blake smiled gently at Vila's hopeful face. "Sorry Vila, Avon's right. This isn't a bacteria where specific antibiotics could help, or poison where there might be a direct antidote." He saw Vila's face fall. "Generally viruses just run their course, and we treat the symptoms, but while I'm down there I'll see if the Federation has engineered anything curative," he promised and saw Vila's spirits rise just a little.

Cally frowned, checking the monitors. "Vila, 103.4" she murmured. "Avon, 103.3. Two-tenths of a degree in less than 30 minutes." She shook her head in concern and glanced at Blake. "I'll go with you if you want."

Blake, taken aback, opened his mouth to respond but paused first. "All right, Cally. I'd welcome your help. Let's run Avon's clothes by Orac, and then get suited up."


Cally, dressed in an environmental suit, stopped by the medical unit before departing. Gan smiled a greeting, and she moved quietly to each of the two patients.

Avon was sleeping on his side, turned away from the activity of the medical unit. Cally leaned over and carefully straightened his IV line before checking the monitor. "103.4, damn it," she whispered in frustration. She could see him shivering in his sleep, and she covered his shoulders with the sheet.

Vila lay awake, thoroughly miserable as he suffered through another period of heavy sweating. Gan was replacing the soaked sheets with clean dry sheets, and substituting the cold compresses. "We're just about out of sheets," he noted. "Jenna was none too be pleased to be woken. I'm glad Blake asked her to launder more sheets. I think she would have taken my head off."

Cally smiled as she looked over Vila. His face was flushed, eyes red- rimmed, and his hair plastered to his skull. He shifted position regularly as if he couldn't achieve a comfortable one.

"Vila, you must try and sleep. As Blake said, the virus will run its course, and the best way of helping it move quickly is with plenty of rest and fluids." She handed him a juice mixed with ice, and he sipped at it with little interest.

"Sure you wouldn't rather stay?" asked Gan as she looked at Vila's monitor.

It's 103.5 and still rising, damn it, she thought. "No, they're in good hands, Gan. I shan't worry," she replied as an apology for her earlier doubt.


Jenna operated the teleport and Blake and Cally appeared in the exact position Avon and Vila had occupied ten hours earlier. Guns drawn, they glanced around as quickly as their helmeted suits allowed.

Cally removed a scanner from her kit belt, and activated it. She ran the scanner thoroughly through nearby brush, and immediately over the soil. "Jenna, are you getting the readings?" she asked activating the communications channel on her teleport bracelet.

Blake looked carefully for signs of insect life, seeing none.

"Yes Cally. Orac detected a possible presence of the virus, but won't commit to a definite." Jenna's voice sounded very remote, and Cally felt as if her ears were stuffed: the helmet made communication very difficult.

She raised the scanner above her head, keeping it away from the brush, waiting for a response from Jenna.

"Cally, Orac again detected a possible presence of the virus. What were you doing?"

"Holding the scanner in the air, away from the brush or the soil. So is he saying it's airborne or in the soil or brush?" Cally looked at Blake; he shrugged.

"Ah, Orac is unwilling to make any concrete conclusions, but admits to a possibility of it being in the air," Jenna replied with amusement. "Nasty little box."

"All right Jenna, we're going in," Blake stated. "Stay by the teleport if you can. We may need to come out quickly."

"Well, the laundry's done, so I guess I'll just wait here for you," Jenna snapped irascibly.

Blake winced.

"If my assumption about the virus being their main defense is correct, then there will be no defense field," Blake muttered as he sought pebbles of the proper size and weight. Gathering a handful, he began carefully tossing them in increasing distances between their position and the building entrance. Nothing happened. He looked at Cally, and upon her nod, began moving forward slowly and cautiously.

They reached the building without incident, and began examining the door. Avon was correct, it did resemble an airlock. There was a panel to the right of the door, with a narrow horizontal slot obviously used for some type of access card.

Blake pulled out the set of tools Vila had selected as being likely, and began trying them one at a time. Cally moved around cautiously, seeking the camera or other monitoring tool that she was sure would be placed in monitor access to the door. She heard the whoosh of a door opening, and turned alarmed, but saw Blake's look of pride.

They exchanged a glance, and then stepped inside, guns ready, anxiously looking about. As the door behind them closed, they were trapped in the airlock. Lights around them began flashing and Cally looked to Blake in alarm.

He whispered, "I hope that it has detected presence of the virus, not necessarily that we are intruders."

She nodded uncomfortably, still looking around, and wondered what had made Blake whisper

Blake moved forward to the next door and pushed the panel he saw to the right. Immediately a sign above the panel began flashing "Decontamination procedures incomplete." He sighed in some relief and stepped back. After waiting another two nerve-racking minutes, the lights stopped flashing and the door opened.

As soon as the lights stopped, Blake and Cally had split, moving to opposite sides. They now moved through the door, one covering the other, eyes searching for guards, armed or otherwise. They stood at the convergence of two passageways, at the base of an L shaped building. To their right was a short passageway with only two doors, to their left, a long extended passageway, multiple doors. There was no one in sight, nor did either hear any noise directing them towards activity.

Cally nodded her head to the right, and Blake agreed. They moved quietly to the two doors. Cally tested the handle on the first door: it was unlocked. She opened it slightly, looked to ensure Blake was ready, and then pushed it forcefully, dropping into a crouch. She moved slowly into an empty bedroom, obviously in use by a woman based on the scattered clothing on the bed. They searched the room and found nothing of interest.

The second room was also a bedroom; this one apparently used by a man based on the clothing Cally found in a small and narrow closet. As Blake searched the room, Cally picked up a photo of a woman, apparently taken long ago, wondering if that was the woman who utilized the bedroom next door. Blake shook his head, and they exited the room, moving quietly back into the passageway and toward the longer arm of the L.

They had neared the first door, when a door further down the passageway opened, and a woman in her mid-thirties emerged. She glanced at them, and her face shifted from distraction to fury as she darted back into the room. Blake and Cally hurried in her direction, nearing the door when the woman emerged, armed. Blake bolted to the left and Cally hurled herself to the ground as blaster fire ripped through the air over her head. Blake fired twice, and the woman sagged against the door, then fell to the floor.

Cally rolled to her feet. She and Blake stood back-to-back in the passageway, prepared for the next defender. She nudged Blake as an older man appeared in the doorway from which the woman had fired. His leveled his gun at them, his face a mask of fury.

"I'll tell you once. Get out now." He said icily.

Cally and Blake split, moving to either side of the hallway, ensuring that the man could not possibly hit both of them.

Blake raised his left hand, indicating caution, but kept his gun firmly aimed. "We're not looking to harm you. We only want answers to a few questions."

The man raised his gun, prepared to fire and Cally deliberately shifted her position to appear more threatening. "You can't get both of us. You might want to consider what he just said before you act," she threatened.

Blake saw the man's eyes slip to the woman below. "I didn't kill her if that's what you're wondering." He let his voice become warmer. "I meant what I said. I used a stun setting." He could see that the man didn't believe him. "Go ahead and check. We'll hold our fire while you do so."

He saw hatred in the glare the older man shot him before checking for the woman's pulse. A brief nod, and a return to the standoff.

"Ask your questions if you want. I won't promise answers," the man snarled.

"How many of you are here in this building?" Cally asked quickly, concealing her nerves.

The man's eyes narrowed, evaluating her question and its implications.

Cally raised her wrist, "Jenna, are you there?" Receiving an affirmative, she barked. "Have the two squadrons standing ready. I'll give you the go- ahead." She signed off before Jenna could respond, and turned her glare back on the older man. "I just want to know exactly how many squadrons to deploy," she said coolly.

"You're Federation?" the man asked cautiously.

"Who were you expecting?" replied Blake, in a surprised tone.

The man nodded, and dropped his gun slightly. "You're early. My son has not yet returned and I'm not prepared to begin negotiations until his return."

Blake affected the arrogance of a Federation officer, nodding briskly. "We're part of an advance force, sent ahead to establish security to ensure that the negotiators would be protected. You should have been told to expect our arrival."

The older man sighed and stepped forward, dropping his gun to his side. "Of course. I'm Dr. Gorick. This is my daughter-in-law, Sarah." He smiled. "I should say another Dr. Gorick, there are the three of us you know. I was unaware of your arrival. My son has handled all of the contacts with the Federation. However I do see that you were familiar with our exterior defenses," he nodded to the environmental suits.

"I assume it's safe to remove our helmets?" Blake demanded curtly. At the other man's nod, he removed his helmet and stepped forward. "I am Major Rhys. This is Commander Morgan," he nodded to Cally, who also removed her helmet and nodded curtly at Dr. Gorick.

"Why didn't you identify yourselves as Federation immediately?"

Cally stepped forward crisply. "It was unclear who attacked us and why," she inclined her head at Sarah Gorick. "We don't volunteer information to resisters, which is what she appeared to be."

"Well, I suppose that makes sense. Are you sure she'll be all right? Those are unusual guns, I've never seen their like."

"Oh, they're experimental, so I'm afraid we can't really share much information about them." Blake replied conversationally as he walked to Sarah Gorick, and lifted her up. "We've been using them, for what, three months now, Morgan?"

Cally nodded, following Blake as he entered the room from which the Goricks had emerged. She turned to Dr. Gorick. "She should recover within an hour at the outset. Where shall we put her?" She kept her voice curt and unemotional, her eyes narrow and hard.

Gorick looked puzzled, and searched the room with his eyes unhappily, while Blake held Sarah Gorick in his arms.

"Oh, wait. There is a cot in the lab, just next door." Dr. Gorick hurried from the room, Blake following, while Cally used the opportunity to study the laboratory they had entered.

It seemed mostly computer stations, several large storage cabinets, and a cluster of four workstations with eyepieces through which, she supposed, one could examine and work with microorganisms. As Blake and Gorick returned to the room, she turned and eyed Gorick carefully.

"Dr. Gorick, why did your daughter-in-law fire upon us?" she demanded suspiciously.

'You were intruders," he responded defensively.

"Intruders?" she responded with obvious skepticism. "Intruders that made their way to your lab on an unnamed planet, and came through your defense zone?"

Blake remained silent, watching Cally carefully.

Gorick moved to a workstation, toying with a laser probe, obviously unhappy. "Apparently some competitors have learned of my research," he said bitterly. "We've been on guard for months, expecting someone to try to steal all we've worked for, all we've developed. When Sarah saw you, we both assumed you were here to take our research."

Cally nodded, letting the ice melt just a little. "All right," she nodded, as if his answer had passed muster. "The matter is resolved, you have all of the protection you'll ever need." She moved toward Gorick's workstation. "Why don't you tell us about the research that we have to protect." She turned, looked around somewhat obviously. "It is all contained in this room? Is this the primary area to defend?"

Gorick smiled, and his eyes lit up with delight. He raised a small vial. "Actually Commander, it is all here."

Blake raised his eyebrows dramatically, "In that little thing?" he asked with assumed disbelief.

Gorick smiled pedantically. "How much do you know about viruses, Major?"

Blake appeared to search his memories. "The ones I'm familiar with are those you get from other people, Doctor. We knew that a virus was at work in the defense zone, but to tell the truth, none of really knows how it works."

Gorick smiled and sat behind his workstation. "Those are ordinary, everyday viruses. Most of them are descended from the influenza or the herpes strains. No this, this is different." He smiled with pride. "With the exception of some historians, most humans know nothing of earlier times. There were times when viruses swept through Earth, decimating populations. But few today have heard of Dengue fever, Yellow fever, Ebola, Encephalitis, Measles, Meningitis, or Rubella." He looked inquisitively at Blake and Cally, both of whom shook their heads, acknowledging their lack of knowledge.

"Of course, you haven't. The Federation eliminated most of the environments that permitted viruses to thrive. Viruses are pathogens. Their survival depends upon their ability to easily transmit progeny from one host to another. The domes cut off access to the majority of their hosts, and so eliminated most of the viruses. Of course some were kept for research, and there is an occasional outbreak on planets where the environments are not as pure." he smiled.

"Major, you asked how it works. There are two ways a virus can ensure its survival. The first is by taking a long time to disable a host so that the host comes into contact with many other potential hosts, or victims. The second is by surviving a long time outside the human body so that the pathogen can wait for new hosts to find it."

Blake nodded with interest, but raised an eyebrow asking Dr. Gorick to come to the point.

"All right, I realize you are military people, so I'll shift the focus to weapons. What type of virus would be a better weapon?"

Cally smiled coldly. "One that disables its host quickly, but can survive outside the human body long enough to disable as many hosts as possible."

Gorick grinned in her direction. "Yes, you're a sharp one, Commander. Now I'll give you just a little background. There are three fundamental classes of viruses: DNA, retroviruses, and RNA viruses. I won't bore you with the differences, suffice to say that the overwhelming majority of viruses affecting humans are RNA. They have a unique ability to create new RNA virus offspring directly through RNA replication. My research has focused predominantly on single-stranded, positive-sense RNA viruses and single-stranded, negative-sense RNA viruses."

He stood and began walking about the lab excitedly, waving the vial, and raising anxiety levels in Blake and Cally. "Most of my work has focused on the Flaviviridae, Filoviridae, and Coronaviridae families. Now the Filoviridae family viruses were particularly virulent, but have two problems: the strains are destroyed almost at once by sunlight, and even without sunlight, they tend to lose their infectiousness outside the human body within a day."

He paused dramatically, and his eyes glittered with excitement. "But by working carefully for the last twenty years, I've effected a cross between the Filoviridae and Coronaviridae virus families. With careful construction, I've been able to blend the most virulent elements from the Filoviridae family with the survival ability found in the Coronaviridae virus families."

Blake paced, nodding and showing his obvious awe. "That is just incredible. You're saying that you've created a virus that can survive outside the human body and quickly incapacitate its host."

Gorick smiled with real glee. "Oh Major, much more than that! For a virus, a speedy incapacitation means 1 or 2 days. Through manipulation, we've achieved symptom onset in minutes! And it does more than just incapacitate. We'll still testing, but to date we've achieved a nearly 80% fatality rate within 24 hours!"

Cally leaned against the wall, as if thoughtfully considering the application of this virus for suppression. She fought the cold nausea that threatened to give away their game. Glancing sidelong at a computer screen, she noted the time. They were exposed approximately twelve hours ago.

Blake stopped pacing and gazed at Gorick. "An 80% fatality rate you said? That is truly remarkable, Doctor." Blake shook his head in disbelief, fighting the urge to physically attack the older man.

"Dr. Gorick, with an 80% fatality rate, we'd have to create some very careful guidelines for release." Cally smiled with irony. "As you know, our troopers, even the very best of them, are human and can err. What is the method of transmission?" she inquired with real interest.

"Very practical, Commander. Most viruses are transmitted through physical contact, or more historically from rodents or arthropods, both of which are rather unreliable as a weapon. This is my son's area of expertise. His work has focused on transmission. My work has always been in research; his is applied. He immediately saw the applicability of my new virus as a weapon and developed the transmission. I have to admit, I think he did a brilliant job. Let me show you." Gorick walked to one of the large storage cabinets, and opened the door.

Cally's hand strayed to her gun as she saw Gorick reach for a grenade. She moved her right side out of his line of vision, and drew her gun. Blake saw her actions, replicated them, and called out.

"Dr. Gorick!"

The doctor turned in surprise to find his companions with their guns at the ready.

"Place the grenade on the table next to you, very slowly," Blake instructed.

"What?" Stunned, the doctor looked from one to the other. "I don't understand."

"Place the grenade on the table next to you, Dr. Gorick," Blake barked, less patiently.

"Oh, I see. I mean you no harm." Gorick cautiously put the grenade on the table. "I was only trying to show you the transmission method." He backed away from the table and the storage cabinet.

Blake and Cally eased their guns back into their holsters. "Don't be alarmed," Blake said reassuringly. "We are trained to be suspicious of anyone near a potential weapon, and experience has taught both of us the value of that training."

"Yes, I suppose you're right. That never even occurred to me." Gorick shook his head, to clear the panicky feeling from facing two guns. "Anyway, my son's transmission method distributes the virus through the air and allows it to settle into the environment. Distribution can be via grenade, rocket launcher, spraying, or even an environmental system if you wanted to bring it indoors."

"The virus itself is in an ideal environment inside this grenade. When the pin is drawn, or the button pushed depending on the distributor, a specially designed miniature compressor triggers the release of the virus into the air, spraying it for approximately five minutes. The amount contained within one grenade is effective for a square mile, give or take, for nearly five days. Potential hosts pick it up when they come into physical contact with the geography that was exposed. For instance, we use a series of sprinkler heads spread throughout the surrounding area for our defense perimeter."

Blake's head was pounding, and he wondered how long he could maintain the enthusiastic demeanor. "Is there any possibility of a misfire?" he inquired suspiciously. "If one of those things goes off by mistake in a weapons depot, it would wipe out an entire base, or at least 80%."

"Yes, I suppose it would," replied Gorick with surprise. "I guess I never thought of that."

"Is there any remedy, any method of stopping the virus in the event some mishap did happen?" asked Cally carefully.

Gorick shook his head. "You know there's really no such thing as a remedy for a virus." He walked behind his workstation as Blake's stomach dropped. "Of course that was one of the first things your people asked about, so we've been working on it but I admit we haven't made that much progress."

"Who are these people?"

Blake and Cally whirled, and stood still as Sarah Gorick entered the room, rearmed with another weapon.

"Put that gun down!" barked Blake. "Gorick, tell that girl who we are."

"Sarah, it's all right. This is Major Rhys and Commander Morgan. They're an advance team to set up security for the Federation negotiators. Sim forgot to tell me they were coming." Gorick walked smiling to his daughter- in-law.

"I don't know anything about an advance team. How do you know they're who they say they are?" Sarah demanded. "They could be anyone. They could be here to pirate our research. They might be anti-Federation terrorists. Neither of them looks like a Federation officer." She raised her gun challengingly.

"Nor would we be alive if we did." Blake snapped. "Gorick, I don't have time for this, tell her to drop the gun." He glared at Gorick, deliberately ignoring Sarah.

"What do you mean you wouldn't be alive if you looked like a Federation officer?" Sarah contested. "And don't talk to my father-in-law, you talk to me!"

Blake stared at her icily. "We're from Special Operations. Now if we looked like Federation officers, exactly how far do you think we'd get in our investigation of resistance activities?" he asked ominously. "If you want proof, I'll bring down a couple of squadrons. I find they can be rather convincing."

His bluff worked, and Sarah slowly lowered the gun. "You'll think it's funny actually, but I thought you rather resembled that man Blake that we've seen in the wanted holographs."

Blake nodded in forbearance. "Yes, so I've been told." He smiled chillingly. "It has worked for me very well on occasion, so I've done nothing to diminish the resemblance."

Cally glared at Sarah and Gorick, her hand firmly on her gun, the glare covering her panic at Sarah's recognition of Blake. "Before we were interrupted," she eyed Sarah Gorick with disgust; "we were discussing methods of virus containment. Can we return to our discussion, Doctor?"

"As I said earlier, there really is no remedy. I'm afraid that is one of the risks the Federation must take if they want to buy the virus." Gorick returned to his workstation, shaking his head.

"Now, just a minute," interrupted Sarah. "You know the antiviral therapeutic research that Sim and I have been working on inhibits RNA replication." She stormed toward Gorick as if reopening an existing argument.

"Sarah, my dear," he sighed, "I know what you're working on but that's not really a remedy as understood by the military." He nodded at Blake and Cally as if referring to children.

"Help us understand it," Blake requested silkily.

Sarah turned and faced him, blazing serious enthusiasm. "Most viruses affecting humans are RNA, and RNA's unique replication process also provides a potential limiting factor. Stop the replication and you limit the disease. Depending on the drug, you might even be able to prevent a RNA virus from replicating in the first place, like a vaccine."

"So, you and your husband are working on a drug that stops the replication process for this specific RNA virus?" Blake inquired, with keen interest.

She sighed. "Yes, we're working on it. It's fairly far along, but not ready for Federation use. We haven't achieved a full stop, but we've had an impact in slowing the replication."

"And would slowing the replication affect survival statistics?" Blake prowled around Sarah, weaving his voice, mixing prudence with excitement.

"Yes, all of our models predict it would," she answered gravely. "We haven't yet moved to actual experimentation yet."

Blake nodded, and scratched his head. "I think this is going to be a fascinating visit for us Morgan, wouldn't you say?" Cally nodded enthusiastically. "That is, if we don't bore you to death with our questions, Doctors Gorick," he acknowledged. "As much as I'm enjoying this, Morgan and I need to begin coordinating the security arrangements. Morgan, a moment?" Blake nodded toward the door and Cally followed immediately to the passageway.

Voice low, face intent, Blake leaned toward Cally very seriously. "I need you to go up and come back with two more bracelets. Have Jenna and Gan armed and ready." He looked at her to ensure she understood.

She nodded and whispered, "I'll teleport back to this point and then I'll knock. How are you going to get the antiviral drug?"

"No idea, give me five minutes," he smiled.

She swallowed, her eyes showing the strain. "Eighty percent within 24 hours. It's been over 12."

He smiled tightly. "Yes, I know. Five more minutes." He grabbed both of her hands, and shook them encouragingly before he turned back into the room.

He smiled broadly as he entered the room. "The joy of delegation. Morgan sets up the security details and I get to spend some more time with you," he paused suddenly, "that is if you don't mind?" he asked anxiously looking from one to the other.

Sarah Gorick smiled loosely. "We're rather passionate about our work, Major. Asking us to talk about it is no chore, I assure you."

"Wonderful," Blake said expansively. "Now Dr. Gorick," facing Sarah, "this antiviral research you're doing, are you still in the theoretical stages or have you designed an actual formula?"

She walked to a workstation behind and to the left of her father-in-law's. She turned the screen slightly so that Blake could see the chemical equation, and smiled proudly. "We're well beyond theory Major, we've designed a formula, and have even produced one or two batches."

Blake folded his arms, assuming a thoughtful position. "You haven't tested it yet?"

She hesitated. "Yes and no." She glanced at her father-in-law who looked annoyed. "We haven't done controlled, double-blind studies, but we have tested it in the lab just to see if it limited replication on virus cultures. It worked fairly well. When Sim returns, we'll continue our testing, especially seeing how important it is to the Federation."

Blake gave a short laugh, "So do you wave it around in a little vial the way your father-in-law does with the virus?" He turned to Dr. Gorick, smiling. "I don't know whether you noticed sir, but you caused quite a stir in both of us."

Sarah nodded. "Yes my father-in-law can be very enthusiastic." She smiled softly. "It's one of the more charming traits he has and luckily he passed it on to his son."

Blake was momentarily uneasy: he didn't want to like these people. They had designed a weapon that could kill millions, and was slowly killing Vila and Avon right at this very moment. That thought released him from his inner conflict. He looked back at Sarah, turning his head slightly as if awaiting an answer.

She looked at him blankly for a moment. "Oh, yes. No, I keep it in the refrigerator back there," she waved a hand at what looked like a large storage cabinet.

Blake heard Cally's knock then, and adrenaline started pumping, his stomach began to flutter. "Just a second," he raised a hand to the Goricks and turned toward the door. He opened it, and looked at Cally who wore three bracelets on her left arm, and had her gun drawn. He started to ask for an update, and then saw Cally's eyes. He closed his eyes for a second, drew his gun and then turned, walking back to the Goricks.

"I'm going to have to ask you both to come with me, please." Blake spoke politely, and his eyes were steady, but his voice bore no trace of friendship.

"I don't understand," Gorick looked rapidly between Sarah and Blake. "What's wrong, why do we have to go anywhere?"

"It's for security. You were right to worry about intruders. I'd like to get you both to my ship to ensure your continued safety." Blake's voice was soft, but vaguely threatening.

"What's going on?" demanded Sarah. "I'm not going anywhere."

"I'm afraid you will go, conscious or not," Cally snapped, and Blake smiled a moment, thinking it was something Avon might say.

"Sarah, get the antiviral samples out of the refrigerator and bring them here very carefully. Make sure you get the right one."

Blake moved toward her menacingly and she backed away from her terminal. He stood between Sarah and her terminal, and looked at the chemical equation on the screen. He hit the communicator button. "Jenna, I'm going to read a formula to Orac, and then I'll have him analyze a substance we're bringing."

He read the chemical formula aloud, and then had Orac repeat it back to him. He could see Sarah's rage building, and turned to her to defuse it. "I don't want to steal your research," he hissed. "I just want to save the lives of two of my friends. Get. That. Antiviral. Drug. Now!" His voice rose and became more emphatic with each word.

She moved quickly to the refrigerator and back, returning with a vial of something liquid, which she handed to Blake, her eyes infuriated.

Cally put bracelets on the wrists of each of the Goricks and indicated where they should stand by waving her gun. They moved to a position, where Blake stood in front of the Goricks and Cally behind, then Cally ordered Jenna to teleport.

Blake could see how startled Gorick and Sarah were at their arrival in Liberator's teleport room.

Gorick stared at Blake in amazement. "What was that? How did you do that?" he inquired, fascinated by it from a scientific viewpoint.

Blake ignored him, and motioned to Jenna to take over guarding the Goricks. He turned to Sarah.

"I will ask you this once, and you will answer truthfully. What is the proper dosage for an adult male?"

She glared back at him. "It will depend on weight."

"All right, Cally, Jenna, let's escort both Dr. Goricks to the medical unit where they can see some real victims, oh, I'm sorry, I'm meant to says hosts for your pet virus," he growled savagely.

Cally led the way, and the Goricks reluctantly followed. Jenna kept her gun fixed on the pair while Blake carried Orac.

Blake glanced quickly at Jenna. "Fill me in."

She shook her head and exhaled slowly. "Not good. Gan said their temperatures have been rising steadily. They're both about 104 degrees Fahrenheit. They've been vomiting for over an hour and now Gan is seeing diarrhea and some bleeding." She paused, and said with emphasis, "Vila's in bad shape."

Blake grimaced, noticing simultaneously that Jenna had spoken loudly enough for the Goricks to hear, and that the Goricks were listening.

"Well, Sarah, it looks as if you'll get two test cases. Imagine your good fortune," Blake seethed.

Blake could hear the activity in the medical unit before he arrived. The second thing that struck him was the smell, a mixture of sweat, vomit, diarrhea, and blood that physically sickened him. He had Jenna guard the Goricks in the hall, while he entered and placed Orac on the floor inside the entrance. He removed the vial from his pocket and retrieved a scanner from one of the cabinets. Opening the vial and scanning it carefully, he requested Orac's verification of a match with the formula, which he received.

Cally had gone to help Gan, and Blake turned to her, fighting for control as he gazed at Vila and Avon. "Cally, I need their weights," he said quietly.

Vila soaked thoroughly in perspiration, seemed colorless except for the tiny red spots, rash-like, that covered all of the skin on his body. Blake thought if one connected all of those dots, Vila would have seemed totally red in color. His face was gaunt, with dark hollows under both of his red, red eyes. Blake could see how physically weakened Vila appeared, and what devastation the vomiting and diarrhea was wreaking on a body consumed by fever. A fever of 104.3 degrees Blake noted in horror. He watched pained as Vila vomited a dark-colored liquid into a basin that Gan held.

Cally appeared before Blake's eyes, providing a temporary relief from watching Vila suffer.

"Vila's 76 kilograms, Avon's 84." Her voice was flat, and she quickly returned to splitting the tasks with Gan of providing palliative care to Vila and Avon.

Blake turned ferociously to the Goricks. "Do I need to repeat those numbers?" he said through his teeth.

Sarah was watching the medical unit, in apparent horror, and shook her head. "1 cc to the one you called Vila, 1.05 cc's to the one you called Avon."

Blake called Cally back. "We need to try this. It might not work. How do you want to do this?" he asked urgently.

"Gan, come here." Cally quickly explained the antiviral drug to Gan, who absorbed the information grimly.

Gan shook his head in despair. "Vila's in worse shape than Avon, he's very weak. He's had nosebleeds, has vomited blood, and is likely bleeding internally."

Blake swallowed and looked at the floor. "So we'll try it on Vila then," he concluded flatly.

"No," Cally answered forcefully, and Blake glanced at her in astonishment, surprised to see Gan agreeing with Cally. "What Gan is saying is that Vila's too weak. If we're going to try something and we don't know what will happen, it could easily kill Vila. Avon's stronger, he can absorb some side-effects better right now than Vila can."

Blake raised his glance, considering Avon, who was writhing slowly on the bed as if in pain. Avon's eyes were glassy and as hollow and red-rimmed as Vila's. The sweat-soaked dark hair framed a face drained of color and life. Blake watched in anguish as Avon, breathing raggedly, tried to reach the container next to him, but was too weak to raise his arms. Gan scurried back to Avon, and held the container as Avon retched blood. When he had finished, his head fell limply back onto the bed.

Blake turned to Cally, agonizing. "You're sure Avon is stronger? We don't know the side effects: it could be dangerous."

She exhaled through her nose, eyes closed. "Yes, Avon is stronger. It's worth trying." She opened her eyes and looked at Blake dejectedly. "If it doesn't work, it doesn't work. Avon may live without it, but I don't know if Vila can survive unless we have something to stop the virus."

Blake turned back to the Goricks, watching with pained eyes, but obviously evaluative glances. He shook his head in disgust.

"All right Cally, it is 1.05 cc's for Avon." He handed her the vial dubiously and watched as she returned to Avon's side, inserted a syringe, and then turned to Sarah Gorick.

"Inject intravenously?" Cally demanded. Sarah nodded cautiously, and watched as Cally injected the syringe into Avon's IV line.

Blake turned back to Sarah. "How long?"

She shrugged. "It should stop the virus from replicating within minutes." She nodded her head toward Avon. "How long ago was he exposed?"

Blake glanced at the time. "At least thirteen hours ago."

She frowned, and looked sidelong at her father-in-law. "The virus has probably spread throughout much of his body by now. It will take time to reach it all, to stop the replication. It won't do anything to the virus already in his system," she said insistently. "He won't stop being sick, you know, but it should stop progressing."

Blake rubbed his hand over his face in exhaustion, and turned back to the Goricks. "You may want to sit then, because you have a front row seat at a live test of your virus," he said through his teeth at Dr. Gorick, "and your virus replication inhibitor," he said less hostilely to Sarah Gorick.

Blake sat on the floor, leaning against the wall of the medical unit and keeping his gun aimed in the direction of the Goricks who took seats in the doorway. He noted Jenna slide to the ground, still covering the Goricks.

"Cally, Gan, let me know when you need to take a break. We're not going anywhere," he said forcefully.

"So you're obviously not Major Rhys of the Federation?" Sarah Gorick said coolly. "May we ask whom is keeping us prisoner and for how long?"

Blake's head spun. "I am Blake, and those are friends of mine. You will remain here until this is over." His eyes glittered dangerously, and his breathing required control.

Sarah Gorick drew back marginally. "You are Blake, then," she said, nodding. "Fairly convincing actor in addition to terrorist." She leaned forward, hissing, "You can drop the attitude then. My father-in-law's virus is no worse than your guns or your bombs, your moralistic stance aside."

Blake thought for a moment that he might strike her. His hand flew back, and he stopped it only with an effort. "How dare you!"

She laughed. "Did I hit a nerve? Is death different just because it is happening to people you care about?"

Blake was aware he was grinding his teeth. "Your father-in-law's virus does not discriminate whom it kills. It is transmitted through the air, and will kill women and children and men who have nothing to do with the Federation or the resistance, and just happen to walk by."

"And you think that is different from when you and your colleagues bomb a Federation base?" she asked in disdain. "Is human life only valuable when it's not in uniform?"

"Those are soldiers," he growled. "They put on that uniform to defend a government that enslaves and oppresses its people. They use torture and mind-control methods to deal with dissent, and when that fails move straight to murder. My fight is with that government and the men who fight to protect it. I discriminate between combatants and non-combatants," he rebuked.

"I'm sure that's reassuring to the spouses and children of the soldiers you kill," she laughed bitterly. "Do you really think that it is any less murder because you think what you do is important? Any fool can believe in a cause, but he's still a murderer if he kills for it."

"This is war, not murder," he retorted. "I am willing to die for my beliefs in order to achieve freedom for ordinary men and women. Have you any idea of what this government does? When was the last time you were on Earth?"

"I was there six months ago. When was the last time you visited?" Her voice haughty, her eyes mocked Blake, knowing very well that he could not visit it openly.

"The last time I was there the Federation murdered innocent people who were gathering outside the city, brainwashed me, convicted me on trumped up charges, and sentenced me to life in a penal colony. They murdered my entire family. All because they were afraid of me. Afraid of people who see through them. What kind of government is that?" Blake fought to control his voice as his temper rose.

"I suppose there's more than one side to that story. You have the nerve to belittle my father-in-law and me. We're law-abiding citizens, working in science while a convicted criminal kidnaps us and sits in judgement. I've never killed anyone Blake, how does it feel?" she asked scornfully.

He jerked his head to her companion. "Why don't you ask your father-in- law? How did he test this virus? How many people has he killed so far? There are two more dying right behind me." His voice was now soft but ominous. He leaned toward her forbiddingly. "When I kill someone, and I have killed, it is open conflict between individuals who know they are fighting. I don't murder hundreds or thousands or millions of faceless people in seconds. Believe me, killing someone is not pleasant, but I can recall the faces of those I've had to kill to survive. How can you do that when your victims are so many?" As he finished, he turned to stare at Gorick, who met his eyes for a second and turned back to watching the drama behind Blake.

"Murder is murder, Blake. You can justify it to yourself as much as you want, but you've deliberately killed people, many people. I don't think you're in any position to judge my family," Sarah said contemptuously.

He turned away from her, drained, shaking his head. He faced away from the Goricks, and toward Cally, Gan, Avon, and Vila, but his gaze was internal, and he saw little of what was happening in front of him. He stayed in that position for a very long while.

He was awakened from his reverie by loud voices, specifically Cally's. He looked up and saw Cally and Gan hovering over Avon, glancing from monitor to Avon and back again.

"His fever's spiking!" Cally's voice contained all of the dread Blake felt as he watched. "It's nearly 105 degrees and still rising!"

Cally shot a glance at Sarah Gorick, who had no answers. "Damn you! I thought your drug was supposed to stop this from progressing!" Cally shouted.

Blake rose to his feet, unable to remain seated during a crisis. A sense of complete impotence overwhelmed him, and he leaned against the wall. He saw the Goricks rise to their feet, caught up in the rising panic that gripped the medical unit.

Blake watched Avon's agonized agitation. Covered in perspiration, he seemed unable to remain still, the heat that was consuming him forced jerky motion from exhausted limbs and a devastated body. Blake rested his face in one hand, unable to absorb any more pain. He could hear Cally and Gan, he knew they were packing ice and compresses, and administering any medication that might help. Blake waited, waited for the next blow.

The noise of the violent convulsions forced Blake's head from his hand, and he watched transfixed as Gan held a gentle restraining hand just above Avon's chest, keeping him in bed as Avon's body jerked spastically. Blake bit his lip hard, rocking back and forth on his heels, watching Cally prepare a syringe, inject into the IV line, and stand back in despair. He heard the alarm on the monitors and heard Cally's cry of 'cardiac arrest' as he slid back down to the floor, burying his head into his folded arms, hiding his emotionally ravaged face.

He could hear Cally and Gan still working, attempting to stop the internal hemorrhaging, and restore basic life functions in a wasted body. He could hear them in a distance as he sat, feeling nothing, thankful for the numbness. Absorbed in his own despondency, he lost track of noise, of time, of anything but the insensate state that kept the pain away. He felt, rather than heard, someone slide to a seat next to him. He could smell the perspiration and the nauseating stench that had assaulted him when he had first entered the medical unit. He retreated from his asylum and faced Cally.

She squeezed one of his hands, and whispered hoarsely. "That's why we choose Avon instead of Vila, Blake."

Blake peered at her peculiarly.

She attempted a smile, but finally looked at him ruefully. "We were able to get him back. He's unconscious and very weak, but he's still alive and the fever's broken."

Blake nodded, stunned, a small vestige of hope returned from the grave. He attempted to clear his throat, failed, then tried again. "Vila?" he croaked.

Cally shrugged. "I really don't know what to do," she said desolately. "He could never survive what Avon went through. Maybe we're better off not even trying the injection. There is still a 20% survival rate." She gazed at him sadly hoping that Blake would take the decision from her. She had used up everything she had keeping Avon alive.

Blake turned from Cally and looked back at the main part of the medical unit. Gan rested briefly in a chair, before moving again to hold a container for Vila. Avon lay pale and motionless, connected to full life support, but alive nonetheless. Blake's eyes moved back to Gan, seeing Gan's exhaustion and the effort required just packing Vila with ice and replacing the compresses.

Blake stood unsteadily, and stumbled toward Vila and Gan. "Gan," he rasped. "Rest a bit. I'll take care of Vila for a while."

Gan looked at Blake blankly, uncomprehendingly, and Blake, understanding, put his arm around Gan and gently moved him toward Cally, forcing him to sit. Blake returned to Vila, and began manning the ice and compress brigade.

Vila was delirious, plagued by sudden spasms, but moved as if underwater, without the frightening intensity Blake had witnessed in Avon's movements. He packed more ice around Vila's neck, armpits, and groin, and replaced the cold compress on Vila's head. He checked the IV lines feeding fluids and the nutrients to replenish those Vila spent in fighting the virus. Sponging Vila's face, he wiped away the sweat and cooled the still burning skin. Temperature is 104.5, he realized. Accessing the computer, he checked the display for Vila's temperature records. Vila had remained at 104.5 for the last 90 minutes. He felt a small sense of relief that it had stopped rising, tinged with the awareness that it was a vicious level, and could severely damage Vila's internal organs. It probably already has caused damage, he acknowledged somewhat listlessly.

Using a sponge, Blake continued wiping Vila, cleaning and cooling the fiery skin. He glanced round the medical unit, noting that Cally and Gan, heads slumped over their knees appeared to be in exhausted sleep. The Goricks sprawled somewhat uncomfortably in the doorway, watching him. Jenna sat in the passageway beyond, her eyes tired, but clearly aware that she needed to remain alert. She offered Blake a grudging smile.

"Sarah," Blake barked. "Come here."

Sarah Gorick looked at him suspiciously and did not move.

Jenna stood, and prodded Sarah with the gun. "A bit hard of hearing, are you?" she growled.

Sarah, caught between two people she feared, moved away from the gun and toward Blake, glancing constantly over her shoulder at Jenna. She reached Blake, and glared at him, uncertainty showing.

"You're a doctor, Sarah. What shall we do?" Blake turned to look at Vila. "Here is my friend Vila. He is desperately weak, been fighting this fever for," he looked, "nineteen hours now. He's suffered from vomiting, diarrhea, external bleeding, and probable internal bleeding. He's maintained a temperature of 104.5 degrees for the last 90 minutes."

He exhaled slowly and tiredly. "You saw what happened when we gave Avon your drug. There's no way Vila could survive that…that…whatever that was." He closed his eyes, centered his breathing, and focused his attention on Vila. "As a doctor, how would you treat this patient?"

Sarah shook her head rapidly. "I'm not that type of doctor. I'm a researcher, a virologist. I am not a physician. I don't know what to tell you."

Blake sighed. "That's not good enough Sarah. Perhaps your father-in-law can help us." He turned and gazed at Jenna, who stood and prodded Dr. Gorick toward Blake.

"Ah, Dr. Gorick, let me recap for you." Blake's voice was hoarse and spoke of his exhaustion and his powerful emotions. "As I said to your daughter- in-law, this is my friend Vila. He has been fighting your fever for nineteen hours: he's terribly weak. He's gone through bouts of vomiting, diarrhea, external bleeding and probably internal bleeding. Finally, he's maintained a temperature of 104.5 degrees for the last 90 minutes. I am afraid to administer Sarah's drug. It almost killed Avon; I think it will kill Vila. As a doctor, what would you do?"

Gorick looked at Blake, back at Vila, and then again at Blake. "I am not a physician. I am a researcher. I cannot tell you how to treat him," he said in amazement.

Blake grimaced. "It's your virus, Dr. Gorick. How do I treat my friend Vila?" he said between his teeth.

"I…I don't know," Gorick was alarmed.

"All right, Doctors," Blake's voice was a snarl. "Let's say this was your son, your husband. What would you do, doctors? Would you give him Sarah's drug?"

He watched as the two Goricks met eyes, conferred somehow without words, and reached agreement. Gorick shook his head, "No, after nineteen hours, the virus has progressed to a point where Sarah's drug won't make much of a difference."

Sarah sighed, and nodded. "You won't buy that much with it. It's most effective administered within the first four hours."

Blake closed his eyes, barely refraining from strangling her. "Why did you let us administer it to Avon?" he asked very quietly.

"That was different!" Sarah exclaimed. "At thirteen hours, the virus is still spreading. Yes, it was very late in the cycle, but it still had an effect. In that case, the risk was worth the chance to stop it." She paused. "It created a greater healing crisis than I had expected," she admitted.

A healing crisis? Blake fought the urge for laughter, afraid that it would sound hysterical.

"So Sarah, this is Sim, not Vila. How do you treat him?" Blake demanded caustically.

She ran her hands through her hair, thinking frantically. "Maybe more ice, you're doing everything I would do. Let's just use more ice."

Blake nodded and pulled the ice container over, cutting more blocks.

"No," Sarah ordered. "Cut a large block. We'll lay him on top of some ice, surround him with the rest, almost as if he were immersed."

Blake cut ice, and moved it to the bed. He lifted Vila as Sarah and Gorick distributed the ice on the bed, and then Blake gently lay Vila on top of the ice. He continued cutting ice, while Sarah arranged it to her satisfaction.

When they were finished, the Goricks returned to their doorway perch, and Blake kept watch over a now comatose Vila. Hours passed as he changed compresses, and wiped the dripping water from the side of the bed. Blake regularly checked Avon who remained unconscious, his temperature down near 101 degrees.

Cally and Gan woke after another five hours. They were stiff and achy, having slept from sheer emotional and physical exhaustion in uncomfortable positions on the floor. Cally stood up, nearly falling and walked awkwardly to Blake, who regarded her blankly. She looked at the time, looked at Vila, and looked at the monitors.

She leaned toward Blake, her voice rough. "It has been twenty-four hours." She smiled wanly. "His temperature is 102.7 degrees."

Blake nodded at her, having no idea at all of what she said, but aware that she seemed pleased.

Cally turned toward the Goricks, who looked rumpled and fatigued after nearly eleven hours on the floor of the medical unit. "If he has survived the first twenty-four hours, what are his chances?"

Gorick exhaled slowly as he evaluated the possibilities. "Ninety percent of those who have survived for the first twenty-four hours come through the virus."

Cally nearly dissolved in relief, but gave Gorick a simple nod. "That's good."


Cally and Gan attempted to restore some order to the medical unit, cleaning it of the body fluids that had stained the floor, the beds, the caretakers, and the patients in the battle just fought.

Jenna locked the Goricks in a spare cabin, and returned with fatigued eyes to Blake, slumped in a sitting position against the wall of the medical unit. "What do we do with them?" she asked frankly.

"I don't know," he responded listlessly.

"Blake," she leaned forward, gently slapping him on the face until he focused his eyes on her. "Better. The Goricks. What do we do with the Goricks?"

He blinked a few times. "I really don't know, Jenna. What should we do?" he asked honestly.

She paused, and moved away from him. "You want me to do this, don't you?" she asked in disgust.

He gazed at her, voiceless.

"Blake, even if we destroy their base, he'll just recreate that virus somewhere else and give it to the Federation. You know what we have to do." She regarded him impatiently.

He gazed at her, his conflict obvious.

"Cally, Gan, come here!" Jenna called.

She waited for their arrival, and then restated the question. "The question on the floor is what we do with Dr. and Dr. Gorick. Blake is having a hard time reaching a decision. Perhaps your input would help." Jenna stepped back, and looked firmly at Cally.

Cally nodded. "Destroy their base. Teleport them back down to their defense zone. See how they like the virus they created. Maybe they'll be lucky and be one of the 20%," she said bitterly.

Gan sighed deeply, looking at Cally with gentle reproval. "I don't like it either Blake, but if you let them go, that virus will get out. He's a scientist, he could just redo his work, and recreate the virus, or one even worse. You know what will happen if the Federation gets hold of it."

Blake gazed at them, intensely. "But doesn't that descend us to his level? You're saying that we must murder them to prevent them from murdering others."

Jenna shook her head in annoyance. "Blake, come back to reality and work the numbers. It wouldn't be murder anyway: we'll place them on their planet, and let them reap the results of their work. Weigh that against the millions of people whose lives you'll save."

Cally looked hard at Blake. "Blake, come and help us clean up the blood that Vila and Avon vomited as they fought Gorick's fever. They both nearly died. Do you want to ask them what we should do with Dr. Gorick?" Her voice shifted to sarcasm. "Sorry, you can't quite yet. You'll have to wait until Vila's emerged from his coma. Avon's still unconscious. It will be weeks before they're fully recovered, all from Dr. Gorick's little 24-hour virus, with an 80% forecasted fatality rate." She shook her head irritably and returned to her patients.

Jenna snapped her fingers in front of Blake's face. "Would you hesitate like this if you could have prevented Travis and his men from killing your friends on Earth? Just because you spent half a day with these people doesn't remove the stain of blood from their hands. Yes, they are people. So are all of the other murderers in this universe!"

Blake nodded as she stormed away. "So what are we?"


Sim Gorick was the luckiest of them, Blake concluded as Liberator remained in orbit around planet SV-457 for another week awaiting Sim Gorick's return.

After his confrontation with Jenna, Blake postponed making any decisions until he rested. All of them were exhausted, and he took the risk of leaving no one on watch, hoping Zen and Orac could alert them as required. Cally slept in the medical unit, staying near to Vila and Avon in the event she was needed.

After ten hours of rest and a long shower, followed by the first meal he had consumed in at least a day, Blake felt ready to deal with the situation.

"Blake, I honestly cannot understand why you are able to face facts on some occasions, and then naively want to trust in human goodness in others!" Jenna stalked around the dining area table at which Blake sat in front of a cup of coffee, shaking her head in disbelief. "I thought I had figured out your pattern."

He raised his head in surprise, unaware that he had a pattern.

"I thought that when the situation clearly affected the resistance and advantaged the Federation, you were able to take decisive action and could live with your conscience. Yet here we are in a perfect case, and you're still brooding about the situation."

"I'm not brooding," he said defensively, "I just didn't want to rush into a decision."

"It's because of what she said to you isn't it?" Jenna needled.

"Really Jenna, am I that malleable that a little dissent makes me question all that I do?" he rejoined skeptically.

She stopped pacing and gave the question serious thought. "Sometimes." Seeing the offended look on his face, she hastily continued. "Is it that you can't stand the idea that there are citizens in the Federation who know what it does and support it anyway?" He shook his head steadily. "Is it that you can't understand why people like the Goricks oppose what you do?" She took a deep breath and hastily added, "or is that you don't want to believe that what we do is morally equivalent to what Gorick has done?"

By the look on his face she had struck paydirt. "Is it?" he implored. "Do you think it's morally equivalent, Jenna?"

"No, I don't Blake." She paused, and continued more gently. "Sometimes we may lose track of the fact that when we shoot at Federation guards, even though we're defending ourselves, we are taking an individual's life. Someone whom we never knew, who had family and friends we'll never know, and may have been a nice person except for the fact that he or she is defending what we are committed to overthrow. Is that what's bothering you?" She sat next to him, sympathetically.

He nodded. "I suppose I was able to ignore most of Sarah Gorick said, except for the one thing she said early in her diatribe. She asked me if death was different just because it was happening to people that I cared for."

Jenna exhaled. "It's tough when you see them as individuals, isn't it? When you acknowledge that someone cared a lot about that individual?"

"Yes," he breathed. "I suppose I began wondering if I had grown so removed from that fact that there wasn't much difference between what we do and Gorick's engineered virus."

"The 'why' does make the difference you know," she insisted.

"I suppose so," he answered distractedly.

Jenna grinned wryly. "Comfort yourself with the fact that it still bothers you. If it didn't, the question of moral equivalency might well be argued." She touched his shoulder with reassurance and left him alone with his thoughts.

He sought out the medical unit for reinforcement before teleporting back down to the planet. Cally smiled wanly when he entered. He was immediately aware that it had been restored to its clean, medicinal environment, and that the two patients rested under fresh, dry sheets. As if the nightmare had ended and I awoke, he decided.

Cally walked forward to meet him. "They've no fever at all," she sighed with some relief. "I'm running tests on their internal organs to try to isolate the damage." She hesitated and gazed at him frankly. "There will be some damage you know, and not just from the internal hemorrhaging. They won't come away unscarred, but let's hope it is damage that we can treat."

Blake nodded grimly and walked to the beds. Avon's face was pale, but he no longer seemed drained of life.

"His brain waves are synchronized and it doesn't look as if he incurred any brain damage from that fever spike," Cally informed him. "He's sleeping now, but when awake, he's perfectly clear."

Blake shook his head, stupefied. "I hadn't even considered brain damage, Cally."

Her mouth twisted in a tired smirk, and she rested the palm of her hand on Avon's chest as if he were a touchstone before turning toward Vila.

"Vila is still in a coma, but it's not as deep a state of unconsciousness as it was yesterday. He's still pretty weak. We're pumping as many nutrients as possible into both of them intravenously. From what I was able to gather from Orac, viral hemorrhagic fevers often damage the kidneys and liver functions, so I'm focusing most of the testing on those organs."

She sighed deeply. "I have a feeling Vila might show some damage. Avon's fever was more a dramatic spike, with accompanying frightful side effects, while Vila maintained a high fever for a long duration. We're checking both though, and will thoroughly check all organs and systems."

She smiled as she walked him to the door, and Blake had the distinct feeling she had given him a tour of her private domain. "I think the storm is over, and we're assessing how much damage it wreaked."


Jenna accompanied Blake to the base with the Goricks. The Goricks were aloof and skittish, and Blake was uncomfortably aware that they must know their fate.

In the lab, Blake kept the Goricks under guard, while Jenna moved methodically through the computer equipment, destroying all of it along with all of the records, and any communications equipment. Blake wanted nothing related to the virus to survive the base's destruction, and knew the Federation would send teams to recover any means of recreating this weapon of destruction.

"Tell me Sarah, why is it that you so hate me and what I do?"

Sarah remained defiant. "I despise hypocrites, and you're one of the worst."

He paced around them absorbing her remark. "I wondered if someone you cared about had been injured or killed during one of my raids. Is that it?"

She glared at him. "No, I know of no one affected by your activities."

"So it's not personal," he probed. "I suppose I could understand this degree of animosity were it personal."

"Of course it's personal. You dare to assume you and what you do are morally superior to our work. You have the effrontery to sit in judgement. As I said I despise hypocrites." She spat out her words indignantly, and Jenna moving behind Sarah, smiled ironically at Blake.

"You sat in the medical unit and watched my friends fight that virus. When I've killed, it has been clean and quick. I don't kill people with agonizing symptoms that wrench every bit of life from their bodies." Blake became angry again when he allowed himself to remember.

"You might want to reconsider that statement. How many victims have you killed with bombs? When the bomb exploded, and ripped their bodies apart, or ripped limbs away, do you think it was clean and quick?"

"Tell me Sarah," Blake debated, "how is it that you defend murder on the scale you've created? I can fire my gun, and kill you, or your father-in- law, but not both at the same time. But what you've done can kill unlimited numbers of people simultaneously."

"Are you saying that murdering one at a time is less morally repugnant than murdering in mass quantities?" She snapped.

"I won't ever try to defend killing." He sat on the edge of a table and looked at her seriously. "I can look at the people I've killed and know that I've done it in self-defense, or to save the life of a comrade, or to destroy something the Federation used to oppress and kill others. It doesn't justify the deaths, but at least I know why I did it. Do you have a reason – any reason at all besides satisfying your own scientific curiosity or egos-- to kill all of the people who would die from this virus? You said anyone could believe in a cause. Do you? Do you have even one reason that justifies the deaths you'll own?"

Jenna entered in the silence that answered Blake's last set of questions.

"Everything is set," she reported, eyeing the Goricks.

Blake stood. "I'll need those bracelets. Please hand them to Jenna now." He waited while Jenna collected both. "I'm going to tell you what I am doing, and I'm going to tell you why." He emphasized his last word while watching Sarah Gorick.

"I am going to destroy this base completely. A series of explosions will begin in fifteen minutes, and everything in the base will be destroyed. Jenna and I will leave you right here. You will have the option of remaining in the base or going outside. I will not stop you if you want to leave the base."

Sarah Gorick looked at him in horror. "We can't leave. Sim has our only transport. We'd have to go through the defensive zone to go anywhere else."

"Yes, I am aware of that," Blake replied bleakly. "I cannot let this virus fall into the hands of the Federation, or anyone else for that matter. It is a weapon of mass destruction, and would be used against millions of innocent people. I realize that my destruction of the base will not prevent you from reconstructing the virus, so I cannot let you survive. I am allowing you to choose which manner of death you prefer, and I suppose you will learn exactly which is quicker and less agonizing. My bombs or your virus."

"But that is murder!" protested Dr. Gorick.

"Yes, it is." Blake acknowledged with a wintry smile. "But I know why I'm doing it, and I accept that reason as justification." He glanced at Jenna, and she nodded. "Gan, bring us up!"


"So, a good 'why' trumps a bad 'why' and a bad 'why' trumps no 'why' at all? Is that your reasoning?" asked Avon incredulously. "How on earth can you assume that a subjective analysis of a reason can constitute any part of a logical argument?"

"I didn't say it was logical, Avon," Blake sighed. "How do you rationalize the killing we do?"

Avon seemed amused. "Why do you assume I rationalize it or even need to do so?"

Blake stood and began to walk slowly around the flight deck, while Avon remained on the couch in front of the chessboard.

"Is it that easy for you to kill?" Blake asked, troubled.

"Blake, your leaps of logic astound. What has rationalization to do with the difficulty of killing?" Avon replied easily, masking his frustration at his inability to turn around, still sufficiently weakened from the virus that he had required assistance to walk, very slowly, to the flight deck. Cally would have his neck when she discovered he was up, but he was bored and restless.

"Avon, stop using logic as a feint," Blake enjoined, annoyed. "Do you see our actions as morally equivalent to those of the Goricks?"

"No," Avon replied shortly.

"Then explain to me your reasoning in support of that conclusion," Blake demanded, returning to sit opposite Avon.

"I place a high value on my life. I assume others do the same for their lives. I take whatever necessary actions are required to preserve my life."

"That's simply an argument for self-defense," Blake scorned. "How can you apply that to the raids we've performed, the bombs that we've placed. "

Avon smiled grimly. "Necessary actions for self-preservation."

"Your life was not in immediate danger." Blake scoffed, waving a hand at Avon mockingly.

"My life is always in immediate danger," Avon replied fervently, gazed locked firmly on Blake. "And so is yours. Haven't you learned anything from the virus?" he demanded.

Blake gazed at him in confusion, shaking his head slightly in puzzlement.

"We went down with guns against biochemical weapons." Blake blanched and felt a pang of guilt. "We have one ship against thousands. We are six against hundreds of thousands. For every threat we eliminate, hundreds more spring up in its place." Avon raged against the weakness that restrained him to the couch. "We survive because we're faster and because we know every encounter involves self-preservation. You're a fool if you believe otherwise."

Blake sat in serious thought and then shook his head. "I don't see how that constitutes an argument for moral superiority."

"I never claimed moral superiority; I denied equivalency. The Goricks cannot claim self-preservation as justification for creation of the virus." Avon leaned back against the couch, still surprised at how little it took to exhaust him. "Blake," he queried wearily, "is it more important to you to achieve moral superiority or to remain alive?"

Blake considered. "Why must they be mutually exclusive?"

Information. Long-range detectors indicate a Kalivar model starcruiser approaching planet DV-457 on a heading of 250 by 804

"Well here's your chance to decide," Avon drawled, eyes closed, head still resting on the couch. "I think it's safe to assume that is Dr. Sim Gorick returning from negotiations with the Federation. It's your call Blake."

"Zen, take us into intercept range. Put the approaching ship on the screen. Put up the radiation flare shields and clear the main blasters for firing."

Avon opened his eyes and regarded Blake from the couch. "I'll take that as your answer."

The End