GOSSIPS OF DEATH
- - - Part 1
- Federation Colony Upsilon 371, Planet Roos, Admiral S. Aker, Ret. commanding.
- To any available ships.
- We need assistance. Under attack by hostile aliens. Colonists killed, food and water contaminated. We have no ships. Must evacuate and regroup for counterattack. Twenty-three still alive. Twelve men, eight women, two children.
- Repeat: We need . . . .
- Federation Sub-Fleet 17. Admiral M. Malar, commanding.
- To Colony Upsilon 371
- Distress recieved. En route. Will arrive in 3.6 days your relative time. Send details of your situation. Hang on Seth.
- Repeat: . . .
"Orac, how many ships in Sub-Fleet 17?" Blake asked.
"Four. Three medium cruisers and one supply/hospitol ship."
Blake stood and then glanced up at Zen.
"Well, it couldn't be that one could it?" Jenna speculated.
"Not likely," Avon commented.
After a few more seconds of silence Vila spoke up. "You're not thinking about answering that distress, are you?"
"With four Federation ships on the way? Hardly. Next one, Orac."
- Federation Sub-Fleet 17. Admiral M. Malar commanding.
- To any available ships.
- Arriving, Planet Ross in 6 hours. Still have not recieved any more info on your situation. Answer us Colony Upsilon 371.
-Repeat . . . .
"It's still there," Jenna noted.
"Yes, and it looks like they're going to be a bit late." Avon answered.
- Federation Sub-Fleet 17.
- To: Solomn Base.
- Need assistance. All colonists on Planet Ross perished. Fleet under attack by hostiles . . . .
"Zen, continue with last message," Cally ordered.
**Not possible. Sub-Fleet 17 has ceased transmitting.**
"There's nothing else?"
Cally thought about this new information.
"I'm going to call Blake."
"What?" Vila objected. "A Federation fleet gets itself into trouble and you want to bother Blake about it?"
"It might be important."
"Important to the Federation, not us."
"What could attack four Federation ships that quickly? From the last message we got from them they could have only been on Ross for a few hours."
"Well, whatever it is, I don't want to meet it. If it wants to eat Federation ships, let it, but we don't want it eating us."
"I'm still calling Blake."
"Cally . . ," Vila complained. But to no avail. Cally called and Blake was interested.
Avon thought it was a stupid risk. Vila just didn't want to go. Cally thought it might be important. Jenna, with some reservations, sided with Blake who wanted to see what could take out four Federation ships so effectively. Gan went with the majority and nobody asked Zen or Orac their opinion, though Orac gave it anyway. In the end Blake's superior powers of persuasion won over Avon's objections and insults and nine hours later Liberator was approaching Ross.
**Information,** Zen announced. **Long range scan shows that there are four Federation ships now orbiting the planet Ross.**
"Are we within range of their detectors?" Avon asked.
"Identity and status of the four ships, Zen," Blake ordered.
**Detectors indicate that the four ships are Sub Fleet 17. They are in a slowly deteriorating parking orbit over the planet. There are no power emanations from the ships at all.**
"I knew we shouldn't have come." Vila had a queasy feeling developing in the pit of his stomach.
"Give us visual, Zen," Blake ordered.
**Negative. Planet is not in visual range.**
"Well, then give us visual when we are in range."
The humans had to wait six minutes before they were able to get a look at the four derelict ships. They swung effortlessly over the cloudy, gray-green planet. Several huge holes stared out from the hulls of each ship. In some cases they could actually see the contents of the rooms that were now open to vacuum. Black blast marks shot out from the edges of each of the holes.
Avon was first to catch the significance of the blast marks. "Attacked! Zen, are there any other ships in detector range?"
"Whoever did it seems to have gone," Jenna observed.
"They may not decide to stay away. We've had our look; I think we should get out while we can," Avon suggested with a deadly lack of curiosity.
"I'm all for that," Vila agreed.
"No, I don't think so," Blake said slowly.
"Oh, you don't think so?" Avon noted sarcastically. "Look at those ships, Blake. They were obviously taken completely by surprise. Our detectors just might not give us enough warning to defend ourselves against whatever destroyed them."
"Then we won't take any unnecessary chances," Blake responded coolly. "Zen, put the battle computers on line. I want battle stations immediately upon detecting any type of ship or communication that isn't us. Jenna, take us into orbit. I want us about a hundred meters away from those ships."
Jenna hesitated. "Avon might be right, Blake. Whatever took those ships might be able to hit us faster than we can react."
"Then it could probably pick us off right now," Blake told her. "We'll stand a better chance if we know more about it."
"We wouldn't need to be taking chances with it if you hadn't gotten us here in the first place," came from Avon.
Jenna didn't like the prospect of hanging around with an unknown enemy likely to pounce. But then she didn't like Avon's method of arguing. "Orbit in two minutes."
A closer inspection of the ships revealed some very interesting information.
"Analysis of the close scans of the ships reveal that they were not destroyed by an outside source but were exploded from within," Orac told them.
"How?" Blake asked.
"Evidence suggests that automatic destruct devices on board each ship were selectively activated to cause a maximum amount of damage without destroying the body of the ship."
"So, whoever did it wanted to leave the remains behind as a warning to anyone else coming here," Blake concluded.
"A logical conclusion," Orac answered.
"Then whatever it is wants us to leave. Why are we staying?" Vila asked worriedly.
Everyone turned to the source of the moan. Cally was slumped in her chair, her head hanging down toward her instruments.
"Cally!" Avon leapt up the stairs. Cally shook her head and raised her hand to her temple.
"Something touched me," she told them in a half whispered voice. Nobody had any time to answer before their own worlds became unbalanced. Gan suddenly found his position at the highest level on the flight deck a bit too high. Vila swayed and grabbed for any kind of support, which, unfortunately, turned out to be the controls in front of him. The artificial gravity tilted 11 degrees and several of the recycling units on board reversed themselves thus filling two rooms in another part of the ship with three feet of water. Jenna swayed and wondered what was going to explode first and Blake didn't move at all.
Avon was caught in mid-action. He barely managed to keep from falling, turned abruptly and sat down heavily on the step he'd been climbing. The disorientation passed quickly and Avon realized that it was indeed the fight deck and not himself that was now on a slant. He looked for the ship maintenance controls and saw Vila groaning over them.
"Vila!" he yelled. Vila didn't answer with any meaningful action so Avon went over, pushed Vila out of the way, examined the damage and corrected Liberator's list. He noticed another light on the panel indicating that Zen's automatics were fixing something else that Vila had botched. Already the water was being pumped out of the two rooms, but the ship's crew would later face the mystery of why some of the contents of the rest room and Avon's cabin were water damaged. Knowing that it was being taken care of, Avon ignored the light.
"What was that?" Gan asked.
"Cally?" Avon looked to the person who was first affected. Cally shook her head.
"I don't know. It felt like someone or something trying to contact us. Only it wasn't trying to actually speak, just examining us."
"Looking us over before coming in for the kill. I don't like it already."
Avon ignored Vila's pessimism. "Zen, ship's status."
**Liberator is in stable orbit over the planet Ross. All ship's functions are operating correctly.**
"Have any self-destruct mechanisms been tampered with?"
Avon's interrogation of Zen was interrupted by Cally. The computer expert looked down at her object of interest.
Blake had toppled over into a sitting position when Vila hit the gravity controls. He was still sitting. Mouth open he stared up at them blankly; his eyes were. . . funny. His hands, in his lap, twitched. They all left their stations to go to him.
"Blake!" Avon passed a hand in front of his eyes with no reaction. Then Blake's head fell backwards and he started moaning, hoarsely and continuously. Cally was already up and fetching the medical kit while the others lifted the now convulsing man to one of the flight couches. Once he was lying down the convulsions turned to twitches and he became silent. But his eyes still stared up at them without any sign of recognition.
Cally sat down on the couch next to him and laid the medical kit out in front of her, but her own unique intuition told her that it did not contain anything that would help the sick man. She could feel it.
They were near and they were ignoring her, like being in the center of a large crowd but with all the people around her looking at something else. It wasn't rejection. But she was not their focus of interest. They were concentrating on Blake.
"They've invaded him," she stated.
"Ay?" asked Vila.
"What's wrong with him, Cally?" Gan didn't know how Blake could be so suddenly ill, but he was absolutely certain that the Auron woman could help if only because he trusted her.
"It's something from the planet. But I don't know what they want with Blake," she answered. /Blake./, her mind called. /Blake./ But he was lost somewhere in the crowd and she felt nothing but the weight of their presence.
"He's awfully warm." Vila had put a hand to Blake's forehead. "And he's breathing a bit fast, too."
Cally looked closely. Blake's cheeks were turning pink and sweat was breaking out on his face. The twitch had changed to a constant body shudder and his breathing was shallow and fast. She took his pulse. His heart pounded at twice its normal speed. She reached into the medical kit and took out a tranquilizer pad.
"NO!" Blake said loudly and distinctly. He looked up at the pad, a few inches above his face, then to where he tightly gripped her wrist and then at Cally. She felt no relief from his actions. They were not Blake's eyes that looked at her.
"Do n-not. Y-you wi-ill n-not i-nter-fe-ere." The words were hard and spoken mechanically like someone who had just learned how to speak.
"Blake, what's wrong?" Avon saw Blake's body, and so, only saw Blake. He had no experience with telepathic possession.
"It's not Blake. They're using him to speak through," Cally told him. They all looked down at the man on the couch.
"Who are they?", Avon asked.
"From the planet. I don't know . . ."
"W-we are the Vi-o-ti," Blake's voice interrupted. "W-we w-ait a-nd w-watch a-nd g-row a- nd ch-change. Y-you w-il c-com-me t-to us."
The others looked dumbly at each other, having no immediate response while they took in the idea that the person in charge of Blake's body was no longer Blake.
Abruptly Blake got up. Stiffly, one joint at a time, he released his hold on Cally, rose to his feet and took a few steps. He no longer twitched but his eyes swept back and forth in their sockets, scanning everything and not looking at anything.
"W-we h-have th-isss on-ne a-nd a-ll h-his kn-nowledge. Y-you a-ll w-ill te-le-port-t d- own t-to th-e p-la-net w-ith th-iss on-ne."
"Cally, what's going on?" Jenna asked uncertainly.
"It's just what they say. They want us to go down to them."
"Can't say I like the invitation," Vila remarked.
Blake was moving toward the door. Avon blocked his way.
"We're not . . ," he was cut off by Blake's hands grabbing him by the wrists and crushing them in a tight grip. Avon tried pulling back, hoping to throw Blake but he was unmovable, his hands and arms rigid. Avon twisted to the side, preparing to kick Blake's feet out from under him.
"Avon, no!" Cally interviened. "It's not Blake. He's being controlled." She then addressed the invaders. "We won't go to you unless you release our friend."
"Y-you w-ill c-come. W-we c-can des-troy."
"I think they're threatening us. They don't need to bargain with Blake as a hostage when they can destroy Liberator as easily as those Federation ships," Avon observed. Blake's hands dropped from his wrists.
"C-con-tr-ol isss n-not p-per-ma-nenttt. Ou-rr n-need-ds of y-you ar-re in th-e me-mor-y of th-isss on-ne. All p-part-ts to y-you ar-re innn th-isss on-ne." He took another step toward the door.
"But we can't all leave the ship. Someone's got to stay behind to operate the teleport," Vila objected.
Blake's body turned. "Th-at on-ne w-ill te-le-port-t," he said, pointing at Orac. "B- ring it-t."
"It seems we aren't being given a choice," Jenna noted.
Blake's eyes scanned past her. "N-no."
- - - End Part 1