THE MARISSA COMPLEX by Ilene Schneider and David S. Raley Marissa sat on the beach, her ba

---
Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

THE MARISSA COMPLEX by Ilene Schneider and David S. Raley Marissa sat on the beach, her back leaning against a sand dune, her arms wrapped around her bent knees, and stared at the waves. The water on this uninhabited planet, on the edge of the 11th sector, was more green than she was used to from her native Earth. She sat and stared and thought ... and remembered.... ....Another beach .... a burly man, with unruly curls, was staring at another ocean, this one the familiar blue of Earth. He was leaning with his back against a sand dune. Marissa came up to him. "There you are. I thought as much. You're needed back at the base." "They always need me," he grumbled. "_I need_ some time to myself." He grinned up at her, patted the sand next to him, and said, "Here, sit down. Five more minutes won't make a difference." Marissa relaxed her grim expression and returned his smile. "I'll tell them that I couldn't find you." She sat down and he put his arm around her shoulders. They both sat and stared at the waves in silence. Finally, he said, as though continuing an on-going conversation, "Why won't you let me tell them about our feelings for each other?" She took a deep breath. "I told you -- it would be divisive. They _have_ to have complete confidence in us; they _have_ to feel that our first concern is for the Freedom Party and not for each other." "You're right, of course, as always. Always logic before feelings." They stood and brushed the sand off their battle fatigues. As they left the beach, he turned and looked at the ocean again. "You really love the ocean, don't you?" Marissa asked. He stood straighter and said stonily, "It's the one thing on Earth even the Federation can't control." ....... ....Marissa shook her head to clear it of these memories. As she looked at the alien waters, she suddenly cradled her head in her arms and sobbed, "Oh, Roj. Why did you have to die?" ******* On the Liberator, it was that most dreaded of all hazards -- boredom. The crew were engaged in desultory systems checks, they had no definite plans to work on, and no one felt like playing Galactic Monopoly. They were bored. Suddenly, Avon sat up straight. Cally looked up from the communications console she was checking. "What is it, Avon? Have you found something?" "Something puzzling," Avon answered, with a slight frown. "Ah, good," grinned Vila. "I love puzzles." "I would be greatly surprised if you would find your way around this one," Avon retorted. "It's real life. Not a game." "You're the expert on games," said Blake, "so stop playing this one and tell us what you've found." Avon glanced at Blake and quickly decided that the rebuke wasn't worth a rebuttal. "Yes, Avon, tell us," said Gan placidly, folding his arms across his massive chest. Only Jenna remained silent, merely exchanging a barely concealed smirk of amusement with Cally. "As you know," Avon began in the pedantic tone he used when lecturing the crew, "I've had Zen checking out possible unihabited planets which we could use as a base. I've also had ORAC screening all Federation communications and keeping a log of unusual traffic. I've been doing some cross tabulations and found this -- a message from a Federation freighter to Space Command Headquarters: 'Returning from Marissa Complex. No change. Full report to follow.'" "Well, that doesn't sound strange," said Gan. "No," said Jenna. "It doesn't. What's your point?" "Let me finish," said Avon. "A return message from Space Command Headquarters ordered the freighter to maintain silence and to report -- under arrest for having broken silence -- after docking. ORAC was able to track the freighter's course -- it was coming from an uninhabited planet on the edge of the 11th sector, mostly water, with a breathable atmosphere, one small land mass in the temperate zone, no natural resources of any interest to the Federation -- and no complexes named Marissa or anything else. In fact, there are no mentions anywhere in the Federation data banks either of the planet or of a Marissa." Blake just stared at Avon, a stunned expression on his face. "What is it, Blake?" asked Cally. "What is it that is bothering you?" Blake shook his head and ran his hand through his curls. "I'm not sure. There are portions of my memory that still haven't fully come back since the treatments. I....I....think I know the name Marissa....but I can't...." He stopped. Avon looked at Blake appraisingly. "When I was training at the Institute," Avon said, "I knew a woman named Marissa Tyler. She was absolutely brilliant -- the only other person in the Advanced Logic course who it was even worth my time to debate. And, one day, she disappeared." "Disappeared!" exclaimed Vila. "And how had she managed that?" "She hadn't _managed_ it," said Avon distainfully. "The rumors were that the Federation had assigned her to some top-secret project and shipped her off to a remote planet where she could work on her research in peace." "What was she working on?" asked Jenna. "She was combining psychology and computers," Avon answered. "Your limiter, Gan, was the result of some of her research." "Then that's the meaning of the message," said Gan, nodding. "It looks as though we've found her then," Jenna agreed. "NO," shouted Blake. "I remember now. What you heard, Avon, was the _official_ story." "Meaning, I suppose," said Avon, "that what you know is the _true_ story?" "Yes," said Blake, refusing to be riled by Avon's obvious sarcasm. "You'd heard that she'd been assigned to a top-secret Federation project. But she hadn't. When she disappeared, it was because she'd joined the Freedom Party." "But that's unlikely," challenged Avon. "She was completely apolitical." "Yes, she was -- at first. But then she found out that the Federation were using her research not to help the ill but to punish and torture dissidents. That's when she refused to continue to do any work which would benefit the Federation, and she joined the resistence." "Yes," said Avon laconically, "she always did have an unfortunate streak of morality." "And that's how you met her, Blake, in the Freedom Party?" asked Jenna. "Yes," said Blake. "She was our chief strategist." "Impossible," Avon scoffed. "If she'd been your strategist you would have won. You certainly wouldn't have walked into Travis's trap." "We were a democracy," Blake answered. "Marissa advised; we didn't always listen." ("Like here," Vila muttered.) "I don't understand," said Gan. ("Not surprising," Avon muttered.) "If she was a dissident, why did the Federation want everyone to think she was working for them?" Gan continued, ignoring Avon. "She was too important in academic and scientific circles," Blake explained. "If it were known that she had joined the rebel forces, it would have damaged the Federation's credibility." "What happened to her after Travis's trap?" Cally asked. "I don't know," said Blake. "I thought she was dead. I thought I was the only survivor. There's only one way we'll find out what happened." "We're going to look for her, right?" asked Vila. "Why?" demanded Avon. "Why is it so important to look for her?" Blake just stared at Avon without saying a word. Avon was the first to look away. "Well, why not?" Gan shrugged. We've nothing else to do." "And Avon hates a mystery," Vila grinned. "That's right, Avon," said Jenna. "You do hate a mystery. So why don't you want to look for Marissa?" Avon got the frowning puzzled look on his face again. "Don't any of you find it strange that both Blake and I knew the same woman?" "Coincidence?" said Jenna. "Unlikely." Blake shrugged. "You said once yourself that it's a small world, Avon." "Yes," Avon said, "but it's not a small galaxy." "Meaning?" "Meaning that I find it more than strange that not only did we know the same woman, but that her name was used on an open channel, and that the open channel was obviously a punishable offense." "You think it's a trap, don't you?" asked Cally. "I think that it's possible. But, knowing Blake, if it is a trap, he'll lead us into it as soon as he can." ******* "There is no hidden meaning, Supreme Commander." "Oh, how foolish of me to assume the sender was competent," she replied with one of her evil smiles. That is when Richards felt the worse--when Servalan gave one of those smiles that shouted that she was anything but pleased, unless she really enjoyed summoning a court martial. "Well now, there was no change in the status and there was no emergency, yet you broke radio silence against orders. Worse than that, you broadcasted to the entire galaxy your position and the location of Marissa." "I'm sure nobody heard, Supreme Commander." "And I'm sure the most important person not to hear it did. Space Command has known for some time that Blake monitors our signals, and we try to use that knowledge to our advantage. To transmit a message worthless to us and useful for Blake can ruin everything we have been striving for. What good is bait when the trap is not ready? "You will immediately report yourself to security and undergo an official investigation." Servalan then raised her finger to signal that she had a better plan. Actually, it was what she had planned since she had first received the message. "On second thought, perhaps I can put you to good use. You are obviously a man of action, and I happen to need one at this moment. I will put you in command of three patrol ships, and all you have to do is return to Marissa Complex and capture the Liberator. I want that ship intact, and I want Blake alive. Report to docking bay three immediately and I will give the orders for the ships to be prepared." "Yes, Supreme Commander." When she was alone, Servalan said to herself, "No Travis, this time I'm sending someone else. Blake's life can be worth something." ******* The Liberator was in orbit around the unnamed planet, far enough away to be out of scanning range of any Federation patrols, but close enough for the more powerful Zen to reconnoiter. "No Federation patrol ships within range of scanners," Zen intoned in its machine voice that was both monotone and melodious at the same time. "Bring us into teleport range, Zen." Blake threw off the order while staring at Avon to see if he would object. "I still don't like it," said Avon. "Something doesn't feel right." "Feelings are my area, not yours," said Cally, "and I'm not uneasy about this rescue mission." "Then you go down to the planet," Avon shot back. "I think I will," Cally gave one of her half smiles and went to get kitted up. "Avon, I want you to go, too, with Cally," said Blake. "What about you?" Avon challenged. "If I thought Marissa had died, then chances are that she'd heard the same about me. It may be better if someone prepare her." "Why should I go? Send Jenna or Gan." "What about me?" Vila jumped up, stung at being excluded. "Are you volunteering?" "No," said Vila, slumping back in his seat dejectedly. "I thought not." Even Avon allowed himself a slight grin at Vila's posturing, while Gan, Jenna, and Blake laughed outright at him. "You are the only other person here who has met Marissa," Blake explained with utmost patience. "So you are the only other person who can tell if it is indeed Marissa." "Like when I went down with Blake and Vila to find Avalon," Jenna added. "I understand the logic," said Avon impatiently. He disliked lectures, unless he were the one giving them. "I just think that her surprise at seeing me suddenly show up here would be as great as her surprise at seeing you, Blake. What is the real reason you don't want to go?" Blake shrugged. "I guess it's my own emotions I'm worried about, not hers." Cally had returned to the control room, and was buckling on her gun belt. "Marissa was a lot more to you than a comrade, wasn't she?" "Yes," said Blake. "She was." The expression on his face indicated that the subject was not open for further discussion. "What else is bothering you?" "Avon touched on it when he said that with Marissa as our chief strategician, we should not have walked into Travis's trap. He's right; we shouldn't have." "You're afraid she betrayed you, aren't you?" "Let's just say that I don't know where her loyalties lie. Why is she now working for the Federation? I have to be sure she wasn't a traitor before I see her again. She may have been responsible for the deaths of 20 of my friends. I have to know -- but I can't trust myself to find out alone. "That's why I want Cally and Avon to see her first. "Avon, you knew her before, you can assess if and how she's changed. "Cally, I know you can't read minds, but you can pick up emotions; your intuition is seldom wrong. I want you to report back to me your senses about her." Avon looked thoughtful for a moment. "I suppose that there's nothing really wrong with your reasoning, so I'll go. Let me get kitted up, and I'll meet you in the teleport room." ******* Lieutenant Bello marched through the door of Space Command to deliver his message. Actually, he had two messages, but one was not official. It was his first opportunity to deliver the second message, and he was pleased that he could do it under the guise of official business. He stood before the guard at the door and barked, "I have a message for Space Commander Travis." "Please leave it here; he will get it," replied the bored guard. "I must deliver it personally." There was an edge on his voice that told the guard to immediately snap to attention. "Yes, sir, I'll tell him right away." After a few moments of waiting, the guard returned, "He will see you now, Lieutenant." Bello entered the spartan quarters used by Travis. He had worked under Travis on several occasions, and was willing to face even death under him. It was for that reason that he had agreed to monitor Servalan's messages for him. "Yes Lieutenant," said Travis in that voice that irritated so many people. It was a voice that spoke of obsession, and Bello shared that obsession. "I have a message from Supreme Commander Servalan, sir. She commands you to set off to the Fourth Sector. There is word that Blake is operating in that area." A wicked gleam came into Travis's bored eyes, visible even through the eyepatch he wore as a reminder of Blake's beating him. "Give me that." He read the message and said, "We will leave right away." "Sir, I also have another message that I was not meant to deliver. Somehow, I think it may be more urgent." "Nothing is more urgent than Blake." "How about Marissa Tyler?" Travis stopped in the middle of his rebuke. "Are you sure?" "There is no doubt, sir. Servalan has been hiding her somewhere in the Eleventh Sector. There was a message transmitted from there that Servalan was very upset about. She wanted total radio silence in that region. The commander of that ship was just ordered to return to that area with patrol ships." "If someone broke silence, then Blake will be going there, not to the other side of the galaxy." Travis read the first report again and crumpled it. He threw it against the wall and growled. "Servalan does not want me near those two. I'll bet she knows that Blake is nowhere near the Fourth Sector. We will leave right away, but not to where the Supreme Commander asked. Prepare to go to the Eleventh Sector." "Yes sir," said Bello with a salute. He marched out and headed for the docking bay. "So Marissa did survive. I don't know what Servalan wants with her, but there won't be much left after I get through with her and Blake." ******* Captain Richards had lost a great deal of time travelling to and from Space Command. That would make his job more difficult. Blake would get there before him, and he could not send a radio signal without alerting Blake. Sure there were codes that not even Blake had deciphered yet, but the very presence of a coded message would alert him. Richards was in no mood to make the same mistake twice. His orders were already sent to the pilots of the other pursuit ships, to discount any chance that the Liberator was able to monitor short range communication. The orders were simple. Ships Alpha and Beta would enter the system at full speed to catch the Liberator off its guard. If they were lucky, Blake and his crew would be on the planet when Richards arrived. Gamma was ordered to circle about and block the Liberator's retreat. The captain's reverie was interrupted by his ship's pilot. "Captain, I'm picking up two ships on the screen. They are also approaching the system." "Two other ships? What class are they?" "Standard pursuit ships, sir." "The Supreme Commander said there will be no other ships in the area. Who will arrive first?" "They will, sir." "Damn, that ruins everything. Perform code maneuver twenty-seven and head for those ships at flank speed. If we can't catch them before they reach detector range of the planet, shoot them down. They have no business violating this territory." "Yes sir," and the patrol turned to intercept the intruders. ******* Travis nervously tapped his fingers as they moved at maximum speed toward the target planet. As they flew on, he cursed Servalan. She had gotten into his way one time too often. This time he would not be stopped. As he was thinking of how he would finally get rid of Blake and Marissa, he was interrupted by the pilot. "We will be in detector range of the planet in five minutes, sir." "Our range, or the Liberator's?" "The Liberator's, sir." "I'll assume it has gotten here first. Order ships into attack plan Delta. Approach at full speed." "Sir, I just picked up another group of pursuit ships approaching at flank speed. They are heading directly toward us." "That must be that freighter captain. He may have the larger patrol, but I'll bet the fool has no concept of tactics. Reduce speed and maneuver to intercept. I won't let this fool keep me from Blake." ******* Avon materialized on the slope of a sand dune. Cally, a few seconds behind him, was on the only slightly more firm sand below. She barely stifled a giggle as she saw Avon struggle to regain his balance and composure. "Damn that Vila. I bet he did that on purpose." "Unlikely," grinned Cally. "He's not good enough with the teleport controls to have been so precise." Avon pushed the communicator button on his bracelet. "Down and safe," he spoke into the bracelet. "No thanks to you." "Why?" came back Vila's whining voice. "What did I do?" "Nothing, per usual. Don't go compounding matters by falling asleep. We're going to take a look around. If there are a lot of guards, human or robotic, we may have to get out of here -- and fast." "Don't worry," said Vila. "I'm here." "That is precisely what I _am_ worried about." Avon broke communications before Vila could reply. Cally had already begun to check out the area. She was crouched low, using the sand dune for cover. The sea was behind her; several hundred yards away was a low concrete building. "Avon, I don't see any guards around. Why would they leave this area unprotected?" "Why, indeed? Probably because they have kept the existence of this place so secret that they don't feel that there is a need for extra protection. Let's get closer, and take a better look at the building." "Is it a prison?" Cally asked. "Probably a laboratory. But any place can be a prison, if one doesn't want to be there." Avon's words, as was often the case, seemed to carry a double meaning. They drew their weapons and ran to the building, hiding in the shadows that were cast by the midday sun. They still saw no guards. Avon gestured toward the door and Cally nodded her comprehension of his plan. Avon ran to the door, Cally covering him; much to their surprise, it was not secured. Avon ducked inside, with Cally following a moment later. They hugged the walls of the corridor just inside the doorway. "There are voices from that room down the hall," Cally said. They slowly and quietly made their way down the hall, and stopped outside the closed door. The murmur of voices was louder now. "These results make no sense at all," said a woman's voice impatiently. "Run the figures through the computer again." "But, Doctor, I've recomputed these figures four times already," an aggrieved male voice, sounding very young and subservient, answered. "Then do them a fifth time." Avon gestured for Cally to move off further down the hall, where they could talk without being overheard from inside the room. "That's Marissa's voice," said Avon. "Are you sure?" Cally asked. "Of course I am," Avon replied in a voice that would admit of no error. "Do you think you can project a message to her telepathically?" "I don't know," said Cally. "I've never seen her, she has no reason to expect a telepathic message, and, it is possible, I could transmit the message to the wrong person. I really need to know someone to send a telepathic message without looking right at them." "Try. The worst that happens is that the assistant gets the message. And he doesn't sound difficult to deal with." Cally moved back toward the closed door. She concentrated as hard as she could. "Marissa. Don't be frightened. I am a friend. If you hear me, please indicate in some way." From inside the room, they heard Marissa's voice: "I must be more tired than I thought. I'm hearing voices now." Cally grinned triumphantly at Avon. She concentrated again, "This is not an hallucination. I am an Auronar. I am here with some friends of yours from the Freedom Party. We need to speak with you. Please indicate if you can get away. We will meet you behind the large sand dune in back of the building." Again, they heard Marissa's voice: "I think I'd better take a break." "Where are you going?" asked the assistant. "Outside. I am allowed outside whenever I want, remember? I do my best thinking on the beach. And you're my assistant, not my guard. Or do you include all my personal movements in your weekly reports to the Federation?" "That's not fair!" protested the male voice. "I only report on our laboratory findings and research progress." "Or lack of progress. Run those figures again. I expect to see them when I return." The door to the room suddenly opened. A non-descript woman, medium height, short blond hair fading to grey, with tired-looking eyes, stepped out. She turned immediately to the door, and headed for the sand dune. Cally and Avon were waiting for her. Cally stepped out from their hiding place. "Hello, Marissa, my name is Cally. I believe you know my companion." Avon stepped out from the shadows, where he had been covering Cally. "Hello, it's been a long time." Marissa stared at Avon. "What is this? Some kind of Federation trick? Trying to test my loyalty? Well, it's a particularly bad trap, because there is no way I would believe that the great Kerr Avon, supreme hedonist and egoist, would be a member of the Freedom Party." "I'm not," said Avon, grinning; "there is no more Freedom Party. But I do seem to have found myself joined with a group of rebels. It's a long story; perhaps we'll have time later for me to tell it. But first, I need to know some things about you." "Oh, an interrogation? Well, this is a new technique. Go ahead. I've nothing to hide." "How did you survive the ambush?" Cally asked. Marissa looked at her suspiciously. "Either I am becoming slow, and don't see where such a question is leading, or else you are who you claim to be." Cally used the calm, convincing voice that so often defused tense situations on the Liberator. "Please, believe me, we are not here from the Federation." Marissa stared back at Cally just as levelly. "But how do you know that I'm not?" "We don't," Avon barked. "And that's why we need some answers." Marissa shrugged and sat on the sand. "I've answered enough questions in the past; a few more won't hurt. I almost didn't survive the ambush. I was severely injured, but the Federation medics patched me up and kept me alive to answer _their_ questions. Afterwards, they decided that I would be more useful doing research than dead." "But how did they convince you to cooperate?" "They were very thorough in their methods," Marissa said grimly. "They even found my weak spot, my greatest fear, and they used it." "The fear of having a functioning brain in a useless body." Avon's remark was a statement, not a question. "You remember our discussion, then, Avon? Yes, I am terrified of having my brain still be active, but of being unable to do anything, to move or feel or see or hear. And so they gave me a sampling of what it would be like; they placed me in a sensory deprivation machine. Oh, not long enough to make me go crazy, but just long enough for me to know what it would be like. It was enough; after that, I would have done anything they asked." "Including betraying your comrades?" Cally asked. Marissa looked puzzled for a moment. "Oh, I see. You think that I deliberately led the rebels into the trap. Well, I didn't. This little demonstration of the Federation's power to destroy my sanity took place _after_ our defeat, not before." "What happened to the others?" Avon asked. Marissa took a deep breath. "They were killed. All of them, all my friends, 20 of them, and one in particular...." Avon and Cally looked at each other. "No, not all," said Cally gently. "One is still alive, and we can take you to him, if you'd like." ******* In the teleport room, Blake paced restlessly. Vila tried to hold back a yawn. Gan and Jenna were on the bridge, maintaining a constant scan of the area for patrol ships. "Why don't they report?" Blake snapped. Vila had never seen him so nervous and tense. As if to answer, the communications bell rang. "Avon here. We're about to teleport up. With Marissa. Stand by." Vila sat up. "Ready when you are," he answered. Jenna had come into the teleport area. "I heard," she said, looking at Blake. "How do you think she'll react when she sees you?" "Knowing Marissa," said Blake, "she'll probably scold me for taking so long to rescue her." "Now," came Avon's voice. The three materialized in the Liberator. Cally and Avon immediately moved off, removed their bracelets, and began to take off their weapons belts. Marissa and Blake stood absolutely still and stared at each other. At the same moment, they held out their arms, and embraced. Half laughing, half crying, Marissa pulled herself away, looked up at Blake, and said, "Damn you, Blake. What took you so long?" Blake held her close again and could not stop laughing. ******* "Captain Richards, the intruders are slowing down and changing course." "Which way are they headed, ensign?" "Sir, they're coming toward us." "Maintain course and prepare to fire plasma bolts." "Yes, sir." Travis gave the weapons officer an evil smile. "The fool hasn't slowed down even to full speed. This is going to be too easy. Fire two plasma bolts at the command ship." "But sir, we are barely within range." "And by the time we are in effective range, our weapons will be recharged." "Yes, sir." The weapons officer complied. Each ship fired two plasma bolts at Richard's ship. Three missed and the fourth barely touched it. Travis wasn't disappointed, as that was no better than he expected. "Now let's see how foolish that freighter captain is." As if in reply to that statement, four plasma bolts were fired from each of the flanking ships, which Travis's pilots easily avoided. "He's a bigger idiot than I thought. Now two of his ships are unarmed." "He can reload too, sir." "Not at flank speed. Why do you think it's only used in emergencies? Get into a parallel course with the flanking ships, but get in front of them. We will fire after they pass us. And remember to stay out of the fire area of the command ship." The pilot decided not to ask why, and complied. Travis's ships peeled off and circled to a position just in front of the flanking ships. Richards was so confused by the maneuver that he failed to change course in time. A few seconds later, the flanking ships passed Travis's group. "Fire, now!" ordered Travis. A moment later, the flanking ships were nothing but space debris. Richards turned and headed away from Travis's ships. "He's running, sir," said the pilot. "That's the first intelligent thing he's done today. Resume attack plan Delta and set course for the planet." Captain Richard's voice came over the communicator. "Travis, you will pay when Servalan hears about this." "Ah, Captain Richards, I see you figured out who you were against. I don't think you should worry about me too much. You will have enough of your own problems when you return empty-handed. This should teach Servalan to send a fool to do a man's work. I'm entering radio silence, so good-bye." ******* Captain Richards's face was lined with an angry scowl. "Are we returning to Space Command, sir?" asked the pilot. "No. The bastard was right about one thing -- Servalan will not be pleased with us returning with nothing but a report of two lost ships. Circle out of Travis's range and head toward the asteroid field in the system. We will wait and pick up whatever pieces may fall our way." "Sir, the field isn't mapped." "All the better. With our scanners off, they won't notice another chunk of iron. I'm not through yet." ******* In Space Command Headquarters, Servalan was speaking with one of her top research scientists. "Are you sure it's ready?" asked Servalan. "Supreme Commander, you do realize that I had to rush the completion of the project. Without proper care..." "Yes, I know Dr. Gardner, but circumstances have forced us to act prematurely. I hope our hard work hasn't been a waste of time." "No, Supreme Commander." Dr. Gardner took out a small box and showed it to Servalan. "Here you have the perfect tracer. It can track the subject anywhere in the galaxy, yet is totally undetectable because it directly traces the subject's own brain pattern." "You called it the 'perfect' tracer. Do you expect me to believe that it has no weaknesses?" "No, Supreme Commander. It has two. First, it takes several months to key it to the subject; and second, it has a narrow range, so it must know where a subject is to begin tracking, and cannot regain the subject once lost. That is one reason we chose Marissa as our first subject. We knew where she was going to be for some time, and she was available for gaining complete data on her brain pattern." "And finally, she will lead us to Blake. Blake will leave the planet thinking that that fool Richards was the trap, while instead it was Marissa." "What if Richards wins?" "I'll accept Blake any way I can get him. Now activate the read-out and see where she is." Gardner turned on the device and read the coordinates. "She is now located in orbit above the planet. It looks like Blake has got her." "And in time, we will have Blake. We'll give him time to get away from Richards. When we do strike, I want hiwas needed to help the Liberator escape the patrol ships. ******* When Travis spotted the first hint of movement from the Liberator, he ordered the ships into combat mode. He knew it was a gamble to hope Blake was unwary, but against the Liberator, there was little else that could be done. "Accelerate to maximum speed and prepare to fire." He had to strike quickly, as the Liberator would give him only one chance. ******* Blake and Marissa entered the bridge and Blake asked, "Zen, what is the status?" "Two Federation pursuit ships are rapidly approaching our position. We are currently taking evasive maneuvers." "Clear Neutron Blasters." "Confirmed." "Can we get away before they catch us?" "Negative." "Then raise the shield and maneuver behind them." The Liberator made a wide arc and maneuvered behind the two ships. Travis's ship reacted quickly and turned toward the Liberator. The Liberator fired first and Travis's ship shook violently. The ship spun around and its engines shut off. The ship then began to plunge directly toward the planet. As soon as he had seen the Liberator maneuver, Travis had known he was in trouble. Blake's tactic was similar to the one he used against Richards, and he cursed himself for setting himself up for it. "Damn Servalan for giving me too small a force." He then jumped from his chair and headed for the life capsule. As his ship plunged to a fiery death on the planet, a single life capsule carried with it a single survivor. ******* On the Liberator, Zen said, "The other ship is attempting to flee." "Pursue it," ordered Blake. "Clear Neutron Blasters for another shot." The Liberator quickly narrowed the gap between the two ships. Too late, the ship decided to turn around and engage the Liberator. Before it could complete its maneuver, it was nothing but space debris. The Liberator then changed course and left the system. ******* Richards saw what had transpired. "So I see, Travis, that you are not omnipotent." "What are your orders, Captain?" asked the pilot. "We wait. If Travis survived, we will pick him up." After a brief pause, he added, "after an appropriate time interval." ******* The Liberator was cruising at standard-by-four in a random itinerary pattern. Blake needed time to talk with Marissa, to figure out what was going on, to understand what had happened during the previous years since the defeat of the Freedom Party at the hands of Travis. And Marissa needed to hear what had happened to Blake and Avon, how these two men from her past had become unlikely allies, and how they and the others, also unlikely allies, had come into possession of the Liberator. And they all needed to plan what their next move against the Federation would be. "Were you really cooperating with the Federation?" Gan asked, gingerly touching his limiter, after Marissa had retold the part of her story which she had related to Avon and Cally on the planet. They were sitting on the bridge of the Liberator, sipping drinks. Blake was watching Marissa carefully, still unsure of his feelings. Jenna was at the main controls, trying hard not to watch Blake watching Marissa. Avon was working on some computer computations, pretending not to listen. "Well, yes and no," Marissa laughed derisively. "They _thought_ I was cooperating. Every now and then, I'd come up with some new development, some device that _looked_ like it would work. But each one had some flaw that I could see but they couldn't. I would steer the research down a blind alley, but they were too stupid to realize that it was a dead end until we had wasted time and resources." "Wasn't that risky?" Cally asked. "Didn't they begin to suspect that you were sabotaging the research?" "No. You see, I have the ability to perceive the consequences of actions several steps ahead of other people -- I'm almost unbeatable at chess -- so I would tell my assistants that a certain research direction was going to fail. They couldn't see it yet, would decide that the research was about to lead to some major breakthrough that I was trying to prevent, and would insist that we continue. Eventually, of course, they would realize that I had been correct, and so my motives were never questioned. It was a perfect way for me to continue to undermine the Federation while still staying alive." She gave a short laugh, "I'm not sure I can say the same for my assistants. "And occassionally," she continued, "I would give them some almost completed device, one which had potential but was too flawed to work well. There was one, for example...." Her voice trailed off. Blake looked up from his silent reverie. "What's the matter?" "I've figured out what's happening," Marissa said grimly. "It's the Brain Scan Tracer. How stupid of me! How could I have not realized this before!" Marissa stood up and began pacing. Avon looked up from his work. "What are you talking about?" Marissa explained. "I began to toy around with the idea of a tracer that could be keyed to the subject's brain wave patterns, making it virtually undetectable to the subject. There were too many problems with it, though, and I recommended that the project be abandoned. I thought they had done so, but now I'm not sure." "Why aren't you sure?" Blake demanded. "It would make sense -- why they let you find me, why they let me go so easily, why you got away from the pursuit ships. Don't you understand? They know where I am -- where you are -- they can find us any time they want. They must not have abandoned the BST device, but have finished developing it and keyed it to my brain wave patterns. They certainly had enough time and data to do so, and they knew where I was, so they were able to trace me while I was still on the planet. And they're still tracking me now." "Can the tracer be disconnected?" Avon asked. Marissa shook her head. "Only the destruction of the instrument or my death would disable it. If I could get back to my laboratory, I may be able to find some way to counteract it. There's a distortion field generator I've been developing which may work." Marissa became pale. She turned to Blake, "Oh, Roj, I have done it. I have betrayed you." Blake looked at Marissa's distress, and realized that his former suspicions had been baseless. "No," he said, "now that we know what they are planning, we are in control; we can set a trap for them." "How?" Vila asked. "What do they want? Or, more specifically, what does Servalan want?" "The Liberator," said Gan. "Precisely. We would be an extra bonus, dead or alive. So why don't we make it easy for her to capture us -- on a planet." "Which planet?" Avon demanded. "We're not exactly welcome guests." "Why not Marissa's planet?" said Blake. "They wouldn't expect us to return there, so when we do, they will have no reason to suspect that we're on to their plot. They'll think we're being devious, but not realize just how devious. And Marissa can use her laboratory resources to find a way to throw the tracker off course, so that we can escape afterwards." "It may work," said Cally thoughtfully. "But we'd have to be very careful, or they may succeed." ******* Servalan sat at her all white desk and toyed with the small box which was the Brain Scan Tracer. She smiled one of her secret smiles, but it quickly turned to a frown when she saw the coordinates on the read-out. She double-checked the figures on her desk computer and then pushed the button that connected her with underlings who would do her every bidding. "Yes, Supreme Commander?" "Get me, Dr. Gardner. Tell him to report to me immediately." She disconnected and stood to pour herself a glass of the green liquor that she favored. A worried looking Gardner entered her office. "What is the meaning of this?" Servalan demanded, holding out the device to him. Gardner took it and looked; he was puzzled. "I don't understand, Supreme Commander. It seems to be functioning perfectly." "Those coordinates -- they are heading back to the planet. Why?" "I don't know. Perhaps they think they will be safe there. Or perhaps there is something she needs from her laboratory....." Gardner stopped, realizing the implications of what he had said. "And is there anything at her laboratory that would turn off the tracker?" "I don't know," Gardner thought hard about how he could get out of this dilemma. "Besides, there is no reason to think that she knows that we are tracking her." "There is every reason to think so. She is a highly intelligent woman; she must have been wondering why we let her go. And if she has figured out what we are doing, would she be able to undo it?" Servalan was rapidly losing patience, and an impatient Servalan was even more dangerous that a patient one. "There was a report a few months ago about a field distortion generator, but I doubt that she has gotten far enough into its development to be able to use it." Gardner was beginning to sweat; he had told Servalan that the device was not "perfect," but he had not told her just how imperfect it really was. "Well, I do _not_ doubt it. And we are going to find out." Servalan keyed her communicator again. "Get me docking bay four." "Docking bay four," came a bored sounding voice. "This is Supreme Commander Servalan." "Yes, mum!" The voice snapped to attention. "Have the trial runs of the Star Burst Class Cruiser been completed?" "We are still running more tests, Supreme Commander." "What is the fastest it has been tested at?" "Time Distort Ten, Supreme Commander." "Can it go faster?" "Theoretically, Supreme Commander. But it has yet to be field tested at higher speeds, Supreme Commander." "Well, it is to be tested now. By me personally. Have it ready for launching in 10 minutes." She disconnected before the junior officer could protest the impossibility of having the craft ready in time. She looked at Gardner, who was practically cringing in fear by now. "And you are coming with me." ******* The Liberator was in orbit around the planet. Blake, Marissa, Cally, and Gan prepared to teleport down. Vila was going to control the teleport, while Jenna and Avon maintained a constant search for patrol ships. "Do you think you can return to your laboratory without arousing your assistant's suspicions?" Avon asked Marissa. "Yes," she replied. I've been gone longer than usual, but I doubt if he's contacted the Federation yet. He's has too much to lose. I can handle him." "Good," said Blake. "We'll stand guard outside the area. If you _are_ correct, Servalan will send out a patrol to try to capture us. I wouldn't be surprised if Travis himself shows up. But this time we'll be prepared for _him_." "And in the meantime," Jenna interjected "you can see if there isn't some way to disconnect the BST. Then we can leave and be sure that they are not still tracking us." Jenna thought she was doing a better job of hiding her jealousy and resentment than she was. Blake, Cally, and Gan were completed kitted; Marissa wore only a teleport bracelet and the clothes she had arrived in. "We're ready, Vila," said Blake. As they dematerialized, Jenna whispered a soft, "Good luck." ******* Richards was still hiding in the asteroid field. Unlike Travis, he had maintained an orbit similar to the field's, and so was hidden from Zen's scanners. But he could still monitor what was happening around the planet. "So, Blake has returned. I wonder why? Perhaps this would be a good time to 'rescue' Travis." As Richards was debating how to leave the safety of the asteroid field without being detected by the Liberator, he suddenly noticed the much larger ship leaving the orbit of the planet. Unknownst to iim,eAvo anm Jenna had also decided to use the asteroid field as a shield. "Now's my chance," Richards thought. "While they are maneuvering, they won't pay attention to my small ship." That was his second major mistake (his first having been to think that he could outwit Travis). He was used to freighters, not patrol ships, and had assumed that the large Liberator would not have the same sophisticated equiment as a small, easily steered fighting ship. Zen spotted Richards' ship as soon as it began to move. Avon and Jenna destroyed the ship before Richards knew what had happened. ******* Blake, Cally, and Gan were using the same large sand dune as cover. They were watching Marissa approaching the building when Blake's bracelet dinged. He keyed the button. "Blake," he whispered. "Avon," came the reply. "We just shot down a Federation patrol ship hiding in the asteroid field. Be careful; there may be more ships, or guards on the surface." "Thank you, Avon. We had planned to be careless." Blake's mood had not been improved by the stress of the past several hours. ******* Marissa entered her laboratory; she had removed her bracelet so that her assistant,Zanda, wouldn't notice anything different in her appearance. But she noticed something different about him. Zanda was standing with his back to a wall of equipment, and he looked even more ill at ease than usual. "Where were you, Doctor?" he stammered. "Getting nervous, Zanda? Afraid I'd left the planet and you'd have to explain my disappearance to the Federation? Well, I'm here now. So let's get back to work. I want to see all the data on the Field Distortion Generator; I've a new theory I want to try out." "Actually, I'm the one who would like to know where you were, Marissa." Travis stepped out from behind the equipment, where he had been hiding. His left arm was pointed at Zanda. "After all, it doesn't seem possible that you could not hOve heard the crash of my life support capsule; your assistant did. And when he came to investigate, we couldn't find you. Strange that you didn't come investigate, too." Marissa tried not to show her surprise, or her fear. "Hello, Travis. I wish I could welcome you to my home, but you are not welcome here. I did hear the crash, but I was too far away. I figured it was a meteorite." Travis sneered. "Yes, you were too far away. In fact, you were on the Liberator with Blake, weren't you? Oh, don't try to deny it, Marissa. It was my ship that the Liberator destroyed. I know Blake wouldn't have left here without you. So, now that we've established where you were, what I really want to know is why you're here." Marissa just stared at him stonily without replying. "So that's how you want to play it. Fine. You," Travis turned to the hapless Zanda, "what is a Field Distortion Generator? What can it be used for? Does it have military applications?" Zanda was almost in tears from nervousness. "It sets up a temporary electrical barrier, blocking other equipment from scanning brain wave patterns. At least, that's the theory. We've been working on it off and on, but it hasn't been perfected." "And you want it now, Marissa? I wonder why." Marissa maintained her silence. ******* Outside the building, Blake was beginning to get nervous. "She's been gone too long." "Shall I go find her?" Gan asked. "No, you stay here and maintain a guard. I'll go. Cally, show me where the laboratory is, and then cover me." Blake knew that he would have to go himself. As they approached the room, Blake motioned Cally to stand back. "Travis's voice," Cally sent Blake a telepathic message. Blake nodded. Blake and Cally rejoined Gan. Blake keyed the communication button on his bracelet. "Jenna," came the reply. "Blake. It looks as if you and Avon were correct. Travis is here, and he has Marissa. We're going in. Tell Vila to stay alert; we'll have to get out of here, and fast. Jenna, have Zen set an escape course for as soon as we're back on board." Blake turned to his companions. "Our only hope is that Travis doesn't know we're also here. Gan, keep an eye out for other guards; I'm sure Travis isn't alone. Be prepared to teleport at the first sign of danger. Cally, come with me. As soon as I give Marissa her bracelet, you'll give Vila the signal to bring us aboard." Blake and Cally reentered the building. As they got closer, they could hear Travis's voice taking on an edge of hysteria. "You want me to kill you, don't you, Marissa. Well, I won't. I'll make sure that when you die it will be slowly and painfully, and Blake will be by your side." He spat out the name "Blake" as though it were poison. "Now, Cally," Blake broke into the room, and quickly fired his weapon, aiming for Travis's modified arm. Travis grasped his left arm, now a mass of wires and conductors, in agony. "Blake," he said through gritted teeth. "I should have been more careful." "Yes, you should have. Marissa, here, put on the bracelet." He kept his gun on Travis. "Once again, Travis, I think I'll keep you alive for Servalan to deal with in her own way. It will be my version of a slow and painful death for you." Cally gave the signal to Vila to teleport them to the Liberator. They didn't notice Zanda pull out a small gun. He aimed at Marissa and shot her just before they dematerialized. "NOOOOOOO!!!!!!" The echo of Blake's cry of anguish could be heard in the room long after he left. It was heard on the Liberator as he materialized there. ******* Zanda was feeling proud of himself for having destroyed at least one enemy of the Federation. Travis was sitting in a deep funk, nursing his ruined arm. They were still like that, with Marissa's dead body at their feet, when Servalan entered. She took one look at the carnage, knew what had happened, and, with a cold gleam in her eyes, motioned to her guard to kill Zanda. Then she turned to Travis and said, "Travis, you have ruined everything for the last time. Now you will have to deal with me. THE END

---

E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank