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Blake's 7 Novelisations

Script by Jim Follett

"Friends! Space Rats! There's no such thing as a friend of a Space Rat. They even hate each other... They're maniacs - psychopaths. All they live for is sex and violence - booze and speed. And the fellas are just as bad."

With her main drive unit damaged beyond repair, the Scorpio and the crew will be stranded on the base unless they can find a replacement. Dr. Plaxton and her drive prototype provide a dream solution, except there's one problem - she's working for the Space Rats...

Novelised by David C


They didn't want to find what they were looking for.

"I have it," said Tarrant intently focussed on the screen.

At least, most of them didn't want: "Sector Eight?" asked Avon, referring to a local grid referencing system.

"Sector Eight."

When Soolin asked: "That is the asteroid?" she realised she was tense.

Scorpio had approached a couple of planets and sailed past them. Inside Scorpio, Avon was too pre-occupied with one of Vila's ideas to feel tension. He alone was standing; Tarrant was in the pilot's chair at the back right, Soolin was on his left; Dayna was in the middle of the three front seats, with Vila on her right. The front left was vacant.

Avon just needed an opening, which was now given him: "That asteroid is our passport into the Altern system and out again when we have finished, right under the noses of the Federation."

The asteroid described a chalice as it spun in its vertical axis but if it were stationary relative to Scorpio, the irregular shape would have emphatically shown itself. It wasn't balanced; For a huge chunk was missing at the rim of the cup shape. As it got closer Tarrant altered Scorpio's speed relative to the asteroid to suit. It was getting yet closer.

"Converging velocity: Standard by One," said Tarrant, referring to the standard speed of Scorpio.

"Avon, what is the mass of that asteroid?" asked Dayna

"About two billion tonnes, I would say."

Tarrant reduced speed some more. "Range: One hundred thousand and closing."

"Well, then I say the whole scheme is crazy," said Dayna standing beside Avon.

"Why?" asked Avon.

Vila knew the standard answer: "Two billion. Training manual rule one: Never play with asteroids. They are what Murphy's Law is all about."

When someone asked about Murphy's Law, a disturbed Soolin responded with the abbreviated version: "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong."

But Avon had a counter: "The crews of any Federation patrols will have been taught the same lesson." He was adamant.

"Range: Ninety thousand." Tarrant did not dare take his eyes off the screen.

As the asteroid closed, the ship's computer, an AI called Slave, entered the discussion. "I, uh, don't wish to speak out of turn but we are on a converging collision course with a large ..."

Avon was standing solo right beside Slave. He interrupted him: "- We know."

"I am sorry, Master, but as asteroids go ..."

"- Don't be sorry," Avon interrupted again. "Be quiet." He wanted everyone, not just Slave, to be quiet. He crossed to stand more or less in the midst of the seated others. This was it. Now was the time to persuade. "If we want to keep this heap of ironmongery operational, we have to visit Altern Five in order to recover Selsium ore to make fuel crystals." So far, so good. "Hitching a ride into the Altern system on that asteroid is the only way we are going to get past any Federation patrols and within teleport distance of Altern Five." They were silent. "Now if anyone has a better idea, I would like to hear it."

Still silence. No, that is not true. Vila had something to say: "I wish I had kept my mouth shut."

The asteroid closed within 'doing-something' distance, some sixty thousand, according to Tarrant.

Slave gave the requisite instructions: "Thirty seconds thrust at maximum power, vectored @ 370 will match our course and velocity through the Altern system with the asteroid."

"Thrust vector six," confirmed Tarrant, adjusting the controls. "Stand by on over-ride monitor."

"Standing by," said Avon after looking at Vila's screen over his shoulder.

Soolin raised the next problem: "Just how close are you planning to get to that thing, Avon?"

"Fifty yards."

Vila shot out of his chair. "Fifty yards?" he moved in on Avon. "Oh, come on, Avon ..."

Avon was ready for the objection. "- Near enough to be in its radar shadow without the risk of being damaged by its spin. Slave, we shall need the Precision Guidance sub-systems on-line for the final approach."

"Yes, Master," said Slave. "Precision Guidance on-line and standing by. Main drive thrust condition green for activation on your command.

"Do we have to go that near?" Vila urged. "That spin won't just damage us if we overshoot, it will tear the ship apart."

Tarrant stood and joined them. "Vila is right. We need a safer stand-off distance ..."

Avon interrupted Tarrant too: "- The closer we get, the less risk there is of our being detected by a Federation patrol."

When Tarrant asked Soolin for the range she said, "Five thousand."

Dayna stood and faced them. "There won't be anything left of us to detect unless we match velocity and course now."

"Sit down. Thirty seconds." She sat.

"We can't risk leaving it that long," said Tarrant. "Maximum thrust will wreck the main drive."

"He is right," said Vila.

Avon returned to his theme of escaping detection: "We can't risk a patrol detecting plasma radiation from sustained thrust." Then he appended a strange rider: "There are times when even the most cynical must trust in luck." He was shouting.

So, this huge rock, looming large, spinning around, came to the rendezvous point.

"Now," Avon cried.

Tarrant pressed the button igniting the main drive. The hauler lurched away from the asteroid and for a brief second or two valiantly kept the requisite distance. But the Precision Guidance, that which Soolin called the Fine Guidance, was not so precise, and immediately exploded in the bulkwall behind the pilot's chair. Sparks danced all around Tarrant but he stayed put. He wasn't surprised: "Precision Guidance lost."

Avon went to plan C: "Slave, initiate the backup system."

"I am very sorry about this," said Slave honestly, "but that was the backup system."

Scorpio returned to its relative converging course. With a buffeting from below, a grazing from behind and a crunching at port-side, the hauler contacted with the rock. As it slid along the eastern or starboard side of the rock, a shower of sparks screamed from Scorpio's rear innards. All heck was breaking loose on the flight deck: Avon fell on his forehead, Soolin rolled off her seat, followed by Dayna and it was all Vila could do to manage to stay in his seat but Tarrant kept himself in position, fingers holding tenaciously on to the controls. Vila and Dayna screamed their vindication simultaneously: I tried to explain to you, Avon, the latter said. It is coming apart, Avon, I told you, the former said.

Chinks of iron many tonnes in weight came off the asteroid as Scorpio slid along. A cloud of dust enveloped the ship before it finally lost contact with its 'cover' as Avon had called it. As it returned to a trajectory through the Altern system, there could be seen a hull breach, a gash of several square metres near the plasma chamber of the main drive, and also the thrust tube of the main drive. Tarrant said, and quite calmly too, given the circumstances, that the flight level redundancy programs were blown. "There is nothing left," he added. The lights did not disagree. They began flickering, giving off an eerie glow.

Avon punched the floor, picked himself up, "Slave, damage report."

"Main drive lost," he said plainly.

"We know that. What about the outer hull?"

Vila came up to him, "Look, Avon, I know I suggested it, but I told you it wouldn't work, not under these conditions ..."

"- Be quiet." At Avon's wave Vila moved away; For Slave had important information to deliver

"No external or internal sensors are functioning in the main drive plasma chamber or the main thrust tube, therefore damage to the ship's stern must be considerable. I am sorry, Master."

Soolin had known Slave much longer than the others had. "He is sorry?" she queried.

"Check the dark side," Avon ordered.

But the outer hull was not the main problem: "The chances are," said Tarrant, as he came up to Avon, "we have wrecked the main drive's focusing coil."

"We carry a spare," said Avon. (That would have been plan D.)

"What use will that be?" asked Tarrant. "The main drive chamber can't be pressurized. How do you carry out a delicate repair operation wearing a spacesuit and gauntlets?

Vila predicted: "I don't."

"Nobody does," said Dayna who had come up to Avon, too. "It is impossible. It is like using an asteroid as cover to enter the Altern planetary system. Maybe next time you will listen to reason, if there is a next time, which seems unlikely."

Avon stood silent in the pulsing light, his sullen features alternating with his silhouette. He sprang back to command: "Slave, what is our life support capability?"

"One hundred and fifty-five hours, Master."

Soolin said a Vila-n-esque line: "Oh, by the time the oxygen runs out, we will be bored as well as dead."

"Look, Tarrant, I told him it wouldn't ..."

Avon interrupted Vila, and Dayna too, who had begun to speak soon after Vila began: "- Be quiet. Let us check all the systems. I would prefer to be sure that dying is the best option we have."


The asteroid had long since gone; Scorpio, a solitary flashing light on its starboard upper section, was hanging limply in dark space. On the flight deck, Avon had one foot on the front left seat, Tarrant was despairingly walking behind him; Dayna and Soolin, left and right, were towards the rear of the deck; and Vila, well, Vila was acting like Vila. He came stumbling from the mess area behind Slave, a near empty bottle of some clear liquid - vodka maybe - in his hand. "Hello there," he addressed no-one in particular. "Anyone for a party? I am afraid you will have to bring your own booze 'cause I have already drunk my own. Anyone got any booze? Huh?"

His speech was slurred, and he listed to one side. When he arrived at the rear, Dayna moved to front. He stumbled before addressing the lone Soolin, "And how about my cold, calculating Soolin? I'd like to see you unbend just a little before we are all - all ..." His voice trailed off because Soolin had already got up and sat down at Vila's earlier seat, the front right.

"Sometimes, Vila," said Dayna, "you can be quite disgusting."

Vila drunkenly ambled towards Avon. "Not so, my lovely. I can be disgusting all the time. It is easy, easy as colliding with an asteroid, eh, Avon?" As he came to Avon, Avon jerked his head and clenched his fist a couple of times but remained where he was. Soolin went to the back left work station. "You know, they say all your life passes in front of you when you are about to," he ambled towards his playstation, "about to, you know." He sat. "It is what is happening to me now - all my past life."

Avon gave standard barb which actually was a mitigation: "That is one misfortune we don't have to share."

"Fourteen I was," Vila continued his slurred spiel, "when I was first sent to a penal colony. Ship was hit in the main drive by a meteoroid. Bang," he mimed. At this point, all four crewmates were in the rear. "Do you know what they did to repair it?" Avon and Tarrant began to show an interest in what Vila was saying. "They activated the force wall and generated an atmosphere inside the force wall so the repair team could work in a vacuum without spacesuits" - Tarrant and Avon continued to move towards him, listening intently - "because it wasn't a vacuum any more, if you see what I mean. Very clever, those old prison hulk skippers." He had given them an amazing idea.

Avon ordered, "Slave, activate force wall. Pressurise it with our air reserve."

Vila took a swig. He couldn't see the others, and they couldn't see his face, but he knew they were watching.

"That would be most inadvisable, Master. I am terribly sorry but our force wall generator is in a poor condition."

"Slave is right," said Tarrant. "We would lose the lot."

Vila's face wore a frown until Avon threatened the ship's computer: "It is a great pity we didn't bring Orac."

Slave responded quickly. "But I could manage a small force wall, a blister force wall, around the damaged part of the hull."

Vila's face betrayed a smile.

"Then do it," said Avon. "Let's go," said Tarrant. They headed towards the rear as Vila clapped and cheered a drunken hooray.

After the pair had gone, Soolin said, "Out of the mouths of drunks."

Vila stood bolt upright. "Drunk? Who is drunk?"

"You are," said Dayna.

"Show me how to get drunk on plain water," he held up the flask of clear liquid, "and I won't waste time."

Dayna was taken aback. "Well, then, why pretend?"

"Because," said Vila cheerfully, "my lovely Dayna and Soolin," he stroked Dayna's chin and pointed to Soolin's eyes, "no one ever tells someone who is drunk to volunteer." They giggled. "I don't like to work in main drive chambers, especially main drive chambers that are separated from space by one of Slave's force walls.


Jutting out into space from Scorpio's stern were two parallel tubes, a metre apart and a metre & a half each in diameter. When the pilot of Scorpio called for thrust, these tubes were plasmaed, that is, irradiated with plasma, the preferred fuel of the times. Due to the heat, brightness and vibration obtaining even at low speed, the thrust tubes made no contact with the wall of the ship. Neither did they touch eachother. Through the gap thus provided, the main thrust tubes were visible from outside, and not only the MTT but also, beyond the tubeware, the MDC, the main drive chamber.

The chamber door slid open. Avon gestured to Tarrant to enter. Tarrant offered Avon first digs. Avon entered; Tarrant followed him in. "We are in the main drive chamber," said Tarrant to no-one in particular. "It is going to take about an hour."

Soolin's voice was heard over the comm: "Right. We will stand watch."

"See if you can sober up Vila." If Tarrant hadn't been pre-occupied with the sight before him he would have realised Soolin was done giggling.

"We will try," she added.

From space, through Slave's blister force wall, Tarrant could be seen standing between and beyond the thrust tubes, and Avon too, further beyond and beside him. The breach in the hull to port that they faced was a sizeable rip in the rusty iron wall. "It is weird," said Tarrant as the stars stared back at them, "like being in space without a spacesuit." He put on his safety goggles when Avon did. Orange waves splayed outwards from the beamer Avon pointed breachwards. Like the accelerated healing of a fleshwound, the hole's edges knitted together in seconds under the Orange.

Avon turned off the Orange and removed his goggles. "Regeneration will take about twenty minutes," he said, "while we deal with the coil."

While they so dealt, Slave alerted the crew on the flight deck: "I am very sorry to disturb you, but I think I have detected a patrol." Soolin piped the image of three ships in formation to the forward screen.

"If they detect us," said Vila, "I have this feeling that the last thing they will do is surrender."

Soolin consulted the other menfolk: "Avon, Tarrant, we have got company: Three ships, possibly interceptors, range: Two hundred thousand and closing fast."

Avon was screwing in a bolt. "Have they detected us?"

"It doesn't look like it," said Dayna. "They are not on an interception course."

"What class are they?" asked Avon.

"That is just it," said Soolin. "None of us are sure."

"But they are maintaining a standard Federation patrol pattern," Vila offered.

Avon said, more to Tarrant than the flight deck, "We can't leave what we are doing." He ordered them to make a recording of them. "We will look at it later," he planned.

"Right," said Dayna as she switched on the recorder. "Hologram recorder rolling. Slave, keep the recorder sensors zeroed on those ships." As they watched, one of the ships exploded.

The light from it flooded the main drive chamber. Whereas Tarrant remained motionless, Avon threw himself backwards against the wall, still sitting on his heels. The second and third ships exploded almost immediately after the first. The light having subsided, Avon asked urgently: "Soolin, Dayna, what is happening?"

"The three ships just exploded," said Soolin because Dayna was dumbstruck, and Vila was sober.

Avon began to rush the repairs. Tarrant asked, "They what?"

"I know it sounds crazy," said Dayna, "but they just blew up by themselves."

Avon handed Tarrant the final bolt, which he screwed in. He replaced the cap. "Well, it should get us back to base, anyway."

"Sounds good to me."


Scorpio was safely docked at Xenon base. Orac had been dragged from its warm spot and was now present. Dayna sat between Soolin and Vila; Tarrant and Avon stood behind Dayna. The humans were watching the recording of three red craft blowing up for no visible reason. "Well, Orac," asked Avon. "What do you think?"

"I think you have brought back a most fascinating recording." That was the correct answer but Soolin gave a look at Dayna that meant English was a terse language.

"We are looking for conclusions," Avon insisted, "not critical acclaim."

"Two conclusions: First, the Federation have re-established their shipbuilding program ahead of my prediction; Second, the early design of the main drives indicates that they have lost their top designer."

Tarrant waited patiently for Orac to finish saying what he, Tarrant, already knew. He referred to Orac's startling admission concerning its wrongful prediction: "Orac, we had worked that out already. What we want to know is how three ships can suddenly blow up by themselves."

"If that had happened, I would want an answer to the same question."

"So what you are trying to tell us, Orac," said Avon, "is that those ships did not blow up by themselves."

"I am not trying to tell you anything. I am simply not interested in attempting to compensate for your amazing lack of observation."

Avon grimaced, thinking Orac could scan the recording in a few seconds and save the humans alot of time and effort. He said, "Alright, Dayna, play the recording again, this time at half speed."

She adjusted the controls in front of Soolin. The three red craft were facing the camera. On the right of the screen flew one below what traditionally was the lead ship. The third was on the left of the lead, and also below it. The lead ship was above and behind both its sub-ordinates. The craft on the right skewed of its yaw axis, exploded in the region of its port wing, rolled the lead ship with its blast wave, canonned into the third ship with some of its debris, which then pitched away, then smothered the whole area with fire and smoke.

Vila was still confused. "So what is that supposed to tell us?"

"That recording told Orac something," said Avon. "If we want to know what it is, we have to check every frame."

Dayna sputtered a disbelieving laugh. "What? At ten thousand frames per second? It will take us hours."

When Avon asked her to elaborate, Soolin suggested patching a link through to the crewroom. "And do it in comfort," Dayna completed Soolin's thought.

"A waste of time and effort," said Avon. "We will do it here, and we will do it now."

"All of us?" asked Vila.

"We will take it in shifts. You may as well start, Dayna."

"Thanks a lot," she said sarcastically.

Dayna watched and watched alone. Soolin watched and watched some more and rested her chin on her fist and slumped in her seat, the front left. She realised was looking at the thing they were looking for. She straightened, then operated the comm to inform Avon that she had found something. "Look," she said to the others now gathered behind her, "There, at the bottom of the screen." There appeared in the lower left region of the frame an object like a fly. Two frames later the fly was in the middle of the lower half of the screen, and the first craft was alight. Two frames later the fly was three-quarters the way along, and the blast was much bigger. Two frames later the fly could not be seen because the blast engulfed the whole screen.

"From its movement across the frames," said Avon, "it is possible to calculate its velocity."

"About Standard by twelve at a guess," Tarrant referred to Scorpio's standard speed.

Vila was incredulous. "In real time? That is not possible."

"Standard by twelve decimal six, to be precise," said Orac.

Dayna doubted too. "Well, as Vila says, nothing can travel at that speed in real time. It is impossible."

"Nothing could and it was impossible. It is necessary for your statement to be rephrased using the past tense."

"So whatever it is," said Soolin, "it fired three bolts at those ships before it passed in front of our sensors."

"And at Standard by twelve," said Vila, "They never knew what hit them."

"It is just as well it left us alone. So what is it?"

"Single-seater Space-Chopper," Tarrant informed them. "They were a teenagers' craze two centuries back, until the Federation outlawed them."

Dayna snorted. "Not surprising if they could do Standard by twelve."

"They couldn't," said Avon. "Which means that that one has been fitted with a new form of main drive unit."

"Which also means that the photonic space drive has been finally perfected by Doctor Plaxton."

When Vila asked "Who?", Tarrant didn't answer directly but included the answer in another issue he raised with Orac: "But Orac, Doctor Plaxton was head of the Federation Space Drive Research Centre."

"At the time of the Federation's collapse," Orac said, "The doctor was developing a new space drive system that used light to exert thrust instead of plasma: the photonic drive or the StarDrive machine, as it is known."

"Was the prototype small enough to be fitted into a Space-Chopper?" asked Avon.


"Hey, just think," said Vila," if we can get hold of one of those drives and swap it for the clapped out unit on our ship ..."

Avon completed Vila's thought, which was really originally his own thought: "... That will be our immediate objective." He spoke to Orac: "Where is Doctor Plaxton now?"

"Presumably with the owners of that Space-Chopper. It is all a matter of observation."

Avon ordered the image of the chopper be magnified, which Soolin caused.

The chopper was largely tubular, about four metres long, two high, with a solitary modified fin at the rear. At the rear protruded a single pipe. Its primary colour was gold and glass, gold on the left - it faced left to right - and a glas bulb on the right. The pilot's helmet was now visibile. "Closer," said Avon. "Concentrate on the pilot. I want a close-up of his helmet." The shot of the purple helmet was clear and detailed. A portrayal of a green rat it revealed.

Vila was alarmed: "It is a Space Rat."

"Friends of yours?" asked Soolin.

"Friends? Space Rats? There is no such thing as a friend of a Space Rat. They even hate each other."

Tarrant saw Vila wanted to be asked for more information. "What else do you know about them?"

"They are maniacs, psychopaths. All they live for is sex and violence, booze and speed. And the fellows are just as bad. We had a couple in the penal colony once. They were always trying to frighten me."

Dayna was laughing, not so much at Vila, but at all her crew-mates. "And they never succeeded, of course. What were they imprisoned for?"

"Breaking into transport museums. When the Federation banned all leisure transport, they went in for stealing anything on wheels or could fly. They were speed crazy, and I do mean crazy."

Vila was enjoying the interrogation until Avon's voice brought Vila back down to earth. "Speed is the key. Find the Space Rats and we find Doctor Plaxton. That is exactly what we are going to do."

"Now look, I have tangled with just about every ugly in the book since I got involved with you lot, but I draw the line at Space Rats."

"Go on," Tarrant said.

"Well, they have no respect for life. They are based on an ancient Earth sect of unbelievable viciousness."

Avon asked Orac: "Where can we find these Space Rats?"

"Their last known base was Caspar - an Earth-type planet - in Sector Five."

"Sector Five?"

Soolin was the last to catch on. "We will never make it with the state the ship is in."

"What are our chances," Dayna asked of Orac.

Orac gave one of its classic say-nothing, say-too-much lines: "One hundred percent better than your chances of getting anywhere else if you don't obtain a new space drive for the ship within three months."

"Thank you, Orac, that is a great help."

Tarrant said, "It will take time to get the ship ready."

"We had better get on with it then."

Soolin volunteered, "I will get the lights on for a start." The lights had been half-dark since the collision with the asteroid.

Vila asked Avon after they were alone, "Can't we think about this?"

Avon gave one of his classic answer-yes answer-no lines: "As much as you like, once we are underway." Then he addressed Slave, "set a course for Caspar in Sector Five."


Scorpio slowly made orbit. "Synchronous orbit around Caspar established and locked."

Vila had been soberly bellyaching for most of the trip. He presented a legitimate complaint: "Supposing they come at us with one of their Space-Choppers?"

"There is no point in worrying about that," said Avon.

"No? After what happened to those Federation ships?"

"Because we won't know anything about it. Try again, Soolin."

Soolin spoke into the comm: "Caspar, Caspar, this is civilian freighter Scorpio calling Caspar. We are not hostile, repeat, not hostile. We wish to negotiate an alliance against the Federation. Caspar, Caspar, this is Scorpio. Do you copy?"

"You are wasting your time," said Vila after a pause. "They won't have radio. The only technology they are interested in is on wheels or flies or goes bang. You know what they are up to right now?"

"What?" asked Dayna.

"Right now they are trying to make up their minds which piece of nastiness they are going to send up to zap us with."

"Oh, surely they won't risk an attack without finding out first what it is they are going to attack."

"Oh, that is the logical way of thinking. But those psychopaths down there are Space Rats. Their philosophy is simple: If it moves, zap it."

"As you know so much about their philosophy," said Avon, "you would seem to be the ideal person to teleport down to talk to them."

"Me? But I have just told you what they are like."

Tarrant chimed in. "Get permission for us to land Scorpio."

"Dayna will go down with you," Avon suggested, "just to keep an eye on you."

Dayna nodded. "Yes, alright."

"You don't seriously expect us to talk to them?"

"Just check the place out," said Avon. "Make sure we are right."

Tarrant approached Vila. "Scorpio is in no condition to make unnecessary landings, Vila." He put his wrists under Vila's armpits and lifted Vila out of his chair.

"Soolin," said Avon, "set teleport coordinates."

As Dayna and he were donning guns, Vila said, "And set them properly, not in the middle of a lake or something."

"The state the Fine Guidance is in you will be lucky not to end up in space on a reciprocal co-ordinate."

Dayna looked at, and said ready on behalf of, Vila. They were both teleported down to the surface of Caspar - one of them safely. Dayna, handgun at ready, found herself alone in a clearing, spun around slowly, ran to the nearest cover, a ramp in the bare chalk, and called Vila's name.

Vila called back from on high, attempting in vain to pull his arm free. "Dayna, I am stuck. I am stuck."

Dayna climbed some thirty metres uphill to join him. She saw his arm was wedged in a fork. She felt the same as Vila: "So am I, Vila, with you."

When she pulled him free he found another pain to groan about. "Oh, my back, my back." He was making alot of noise.

"Shut up. Be quiet." She strained to hear a noise. It was the sound of old style engines. "What is it?"

"How should I know?"

It was a pair of All-Terrain Vehicles, three wheeled machines that produced and glorified speed. A garishly dressed individual sat on each. "Dayna What are they?"

Vila knew: "They are the Space Rats." He also knew that if he hadn't materialised uphill, and got Dayna to run up to him, that they would both be ratkill by now.

"What are they riding?"

"Oh, I don't know. If it moves on wheels, they steal it, and if it doesn't move on wheels, they zap it. They don't like complications." The noise stopped, the Rats dismounted. While they looked around using binoculars, Vila drew his gun. He fumbled it, not once nor twice but four times, It was almost as if the darn thing wouldn't fall. Then he dropped it down the hill, thanks to much effort on his part. Had it not been for the noise of the engines the Rats had re-started, the gun's clatter would not have been masked. Confident they were alone again, they scrambled downhill. Dayna covered him while he retrieved his weapon. "It seems like luck is on our side today."

Dayna indicated a security camera pointed in their direction. "Think so?"

Their image was displayed on a large viewscreen, being watched by three Rats in a room that had dark-painted walls, a range of soft furnishing, and some metallic cushions. The Rats were colorfully attired, wearing also big hair and face-paint. Vila's voice came through the speakers: "That is one of the most ancient closed circuit television cameras I have ever seen. The chances are it hasn't been working for years."

Landing preparations on Scorpio were complete, all systems good to go. "Descent from orbit begins in forty-five seconds and counting," said Tarrant.

Co-conspirator Avon said, "Check."

Soolin turned angrily on them: "You never intended to wait for Vila and Dayna to report back, did you? You are just using them."

Avon replied coolly, "Vila and Dayna are useful diversions."

"If they get caught."

"Which is fairly likely," said Tarrant.

"I wouldn't count too heavily on that," said Soolin, probably missing out the "If I were you" part. "Dayna is sharp and she handles a gun quite well, considering her sheltered upbringing."

Tarrant suggested: "Tune the detectors to the radio spectrum and you will discover about fifty radiation sources dotted around that area, caused by leakages from badly maintained TV surveillance cameras."

Avon did more than suggest: "That is in addition to the radiation from the cliff face itself, which is at a level you would expect from a high energy research laboratory or a test chamber for a new space drive."

"So, you have let Dayna and Vila walk into a trap."

"We need the space drive," Avon replied with deadpan face.


Plaxton was alive and healthy. She was, at this very moment, running through the checklist prior to conducting a test of her StarDrive. The test-laboratory was really merely a sizeable room in the maze, the main items of furniture in which were three tables arranged in the form of a crescent. Plaxton sat at the larger, middle table. On her far right was the thrust tube, pointing upwards; at her near right was the injector, which delivered the particles to the thrust tube. Below her fingertips was the governor, with sliders that regulated the speed and pressure of the particles; during test runs Plaxton would keep her fingers on all eight sliders.

On Plaxton's near right was an isolating unit that insulated the afore-mentioned components against overload; on her far left was the particle driver control, the photonic drive, the key component of the star drive; and finally, in the room through the door on her far left, beyond the PDC, was the Photon Generator. Since the Ph.G. created a miniature sun, the Brightness was way too dangerous for humans to get too near to, and so the Ph.G was parked out of the way.

In summary, then, the equipment was arranged to perform like this:

The Ph.G. generated photons, particles of light; - which particles were directed by the driver controller; - through the isolator; through the injector; - at the speed and Brightness determined by the throttle. The injector then 'ignited' the particles, for want of a better word, - and they were thrust upwards out the tube.

Without a Photon Shield, the raw energy generated by the Ph.G. would blind. Without the governor, the engine would race to maximum in short order. Without the isolator, the throttle would be exposed to dangerous levels of radiation. The PDC was the main component. Without it the fuel would have to be plasma - electrons, ions, etc. The other components were easily obtainable from many sources, but the PDC was Doctor Plaxton's unique contribution. The connections between the components were made through fibre optic cabling.

With Plaxton today were Rats Bomber and Brigg. They didn't want to be there - testing was boring; speed was the play. The ever faithful, if a little distant, Napier was punching in the keys on the photonic drive. Plaxton was nearing the end of the checklist: "Particle Driver Control?" she asked.

"Particle Driver right," he said non-committally.

Plaxton looked slightly anxious at him, "Well, you had better double check. I am going to take the drive up to twenty-five percent today."

"In here, Doctor?"

"Don't argue with me, Napier."

Napier punched in the same combination he had punched on numerous occasions, "Particle driver satisfactory, Doctor."

Plaxton mumbled, said, "Place the photon shield in position." Bomber patted Brigg on the belly. They began rolling the photon shield across in front of Plaxton. Out of the corner of her eye she felt something wrong. She glanced up from her checklist, "Stop" - she got up, grabbed some handwear - "How many times do I have to tell you: you wear gloves in here." She handed them to Bomber.

"No worry. We are only moving a flagging shield, ain't we?"

"I don't care," said Plaxton. "I am not going to have three thousand hours of work put at risk by a couple of freaks who never take a bath."

Bomber waved off the mitts, "Don't need a baf. Sweats regular." He thought that was quite funny and invited Brigg to feel likewise.

She dropped the gloves on the table, "Out."

"Now look ..."

" - Go on, get out."

Napier interceded: "I will do it," he said to his boss, then to Rats II and I: "You had better go." After they had sloped out, he added, "they will complain to Atlan."

"What the hell do I care? How I ever came to be mixed up with a bunch of psychopathic killers ..." Her voice trailed off.

"It was your decision, Doctor Plaxton, and one you were happy enough to make at the time, as I recall."

Plaxton looked saddened and relieved. "It was three years ago, Napier."

Napier looked at the valuable component: "Everything is ready for the test. Do you fetch him or shall I?"

"I will go." She grabbed her cloak and left, to Napier's relief.

Dayna and Vila ran along the hard grey ground and up a small rise where Dayna scanned the horizon. They climbed a small cliff, and she scanned the horizon again. "We have made a mistake," said Vila. "There is nothing here."

Dayna was triumphant: "They must hope that everybody thinks as you do, including the Federation." She handed a puzzled Vila the seers.

He spied with some effort two or three doors - they blended into the cliff face - the entrances and exits of a maze. "Concealed entrances."


"Well, at least we have got the advantage of surprise," Vila said as a rat studied them through binoculars from high above and off to one side of the concealed entrances. The Rat mounted his vehicle and rode off.

The viewscreen still showed Dayna and Vila, making their way towards the entrance. Rats were lounging around scoffing some local vermin. Chief Rat Atlan, or Chief of the Rats Atlan, was watering a girl-rat. Plaxton, enveloped in gorgeous cloak, entered the lounge, ankled around the far side to address head-rat. Bomber spat at her feet as she passed him. She ignored it and was offended at it at the same time. "Atlan, I am ready to begin the test on the Mark Two drive now."

Atlan indicated the viewscreen, "Brigg, watch that." Brigg obeyed. Atlan turned to his second in command. "Bomber, Bomber." Getting no reaction he gripped the dead reptile Bomber was gnawing on. "Two gooks outside, fetch, but don't bend. I might want to talk with them." Bomber left, obedient and reptileless. Atlan knew Plaxton had been waiting but pretended he had dismissed her. "Well? What are you doing hanging around?" He held the tasty snack out to her. "Do you wish to join us?" Atlan bit off a mouthful after Plaxton had left.

Dayna and Vila carefully raced towards the entrances using the western cliff above them for cover. Vila didn't open one; rather, Dayna opened one as Vila stood guard. They entered and closed the entrance just in time to avoid seeing Bomber and two other Rats approaching. He urged them inside. Together Vila and Dayna silently made their way along a corridor or two, through a room, came into another room where spherical objects concealed themselves under gold-coloured tarpaulins "Vila, this place is like some kind of underground maze."

"We seem to have hit on some sort of a hangar. This is not a good place to be, Dayna."

Dayna indicated a large draping: "See what is under there." when Vila asked why she raised her voice. "Just do it - I will cover for you - and very quickly. We haven't much time." Vila pulled back the tarp., and Dayna did too. "This is a Space-Chopper."

"So is this," echoed Vila.

She holstered her gun. "I think we have seen enough." She raised her wrist. "We will report back to the ship and then get out of here." Vila didn't disagree as she spoke into the bracelet comm: "Avon."

Avon's voice came through much clearer than previously on Helotrix: "Go ahead, Dayna."

"Orac was right. This is where the new space drives come from. We have found two Space-Choppers and we think the main workshop is in the west cliff. We are now ready for teleport."

The voice of Avon responded, "Teleport is out of commission." There was no static at all.

Vila grabbed her wrist after she queried Avon and himself queried Avon. "What do you mean, "Out of commission"?"

Avon was speaking from the planet. "Not working, Vila," he said as Soolin and Tarrant, crouching behind him, listened in. "Keep your heads down. We will be in touch. Out." Avon looked at the others then moved off. Tarrant carried in his left hand a scanner tuned to the radio spectrum. Thanks to Plaxton's test run, the scanner honed directly on her whereabouts. Avon led them with a wave along a dried river-bed then between two hillocks up to a large rock.

Tarrant ducked, "There is another one." the others ducked before a security camera on a spike turned in its routine sweep to pan them. This was a valid target for their grenades. Or if they chose not to detonate immediately, they could knock out any pursuers on the retreat and flight along this route back to Scorpio. "Well, that is useful," Tarrant added. "it saves having to find a marker for the grenade." He held out a grenade as Avon adjusted the controls on the priming device. Avon pressed the black button. "Right. It is primed," Tarrant said before tossing the grenade near camera. Having waited until the camera wasn't pointed in their direction, Avon led them off. Up and up they climbed, guns at the ready.

Dayna and Vila were temporarily at a loose end. "We have got to find somewhere safe to wait," she said,

"Well, perhaps we could hide under here." He began pulling off the tarp. When he spied a tiny green box sitting on the bulb he held it up. "I wonder what this thing does?"

A voice came behind them. Vila froze. "Tell you what this does, gook." Bomber was pointing a gun at them. "It goes bang and you go splat."

Bomber marched them out of the exit they had come in, past the middle door, and over to the right-side entrance. This time it was the Rats' turn to be observed from afar - Avon, Tarrant and Soolin had arrived at the rim overlooking the entrances. "We will be attacking by the time Vila tells them we are still on the ship," said Avon.

Bomber force-marched his captives along a corridor, up a ramp, through a door or two. Then he pushed them some more. When, in one of the locales, Dayna noticed a triangular design on the wall, she realised she had seen another downward-pointing triangle but painted a different colour. This latest one was red and had the words Door Control written inside it. Dayna thought to herself, +Perhaps they point to ducts and pipes and wiring.+ She mentally tucked the info away for later use. Bomber pushed them one more time.

Atlan was impatient: "More. More." He pounded the table beside the Doctor. "Come on, more."

A worried Plaxton looked at the shield out of the corner of her eye. She was grimly hanging on to the controls at her fingers. "There is no point in overloading the Mark Two prototype."

Atlan went behind her as he called her name. He kicked Napier's chair away. "Out of my way, idiot." Napier backed off, feigning ignorance. Atlan addressed Plaxton: "Without my Space Rats scouring a dozen worlds for your raw materials there would be no Mark One nor Mark Two."

"And without my brains you would have no ..."

Atlan interrupted her, grabbed her by the back of the neck, " - Which I might decide I can now do without. So, let's see what it can do, hunh?" Her fingers were still on the controls when Atlan reched for the far sliders. She blocked his hands. He put his fingers around her neck, violently placed his mouth on hers. She pushed him in the ribs, and rubbed her lips when free. He leered yellow-teethed at Napier. He urged her for more.

Napier sat back down and she and Napier returned to the controls. The noise came on louder. The framework of the thrust tube gradually filled with yellow. Then the tube threw off a green beam up to the roof and beyond. Green it was, like the colour of the liberator's bulb, like the colour of the Rats' uniform.

Vila stumbled into the ratlounge as he was hurled. Dayna was pushed as well but she kept her balance. She wheeled around, elbowing Bomber and throwing off his gun. She kicked him in the belly, double-punched the back of his neck when he doubled over, grabbed his ear and neck thus lifting him, karate chopped his throat. He fell forward onto the cushions and pushed the advancing Dayna to one side and down, hauled her up by the neck and ears. Dayna thrust her arms up breaking Bomber's hold, thrust a fist at him but he ducked to one side, caused her to spin around, and elbowed her in the small of her back. She fell defeated onto the cushions.

Avon, Soolin and Tarrant were advancing along the cliffs, guns ever at the ready. Their image was on the viewscreen. "What is the noise?" asked Vila.

"Nothing," Bomber was heaving and puffing, "To the noise you gooks will soon be making."

Dayna, focussed on the viewscreen, saw her buddies were on-planet and coming to the west cliff. At length they arrived at the entrances. +No, not that entrance,+ thought Dayna, +open the one on the right.+ Tarrant opened the wrong door as the others stood guard. They entered.

In the Research lab the green light was several times wider and much more substantial. The noise was not so much heard in the ear as felt on the skin and face. "What is it now?" asked Atlan worshipping the column.

"Seventy-five percent," Plaxton was alarmed. She looked at the buckling photonic shield. "We must close down now, Atlan, the shield is melting." At Atlan's nods Plaxton eased back the sliders and Napier turned off the drive.

"What was the simulated speed?"

Plaxton rose from her chair, walked behind a less anxious Napier and checked the PDC. "Fifteen."

"Fifteen. Fifteen. TD fifteen in real time." Atlan returned to the thrust tube in ecstasy. "My Space Rats will be knocking out Federation heavy cruisers next."

"If they have any left."

"Oh yes, they have," he said keenly, "but not for long. How soon can this be fitted to our Space-Choppers?"

Plaxton had known Atlan for a while now. He was a pretty boy - who preferred yellow makeup - clean-shaven with long vertical hair on top. +It is time,+ she thought, +to attempt to discover Atlan's true intentions, and if possible, turn things to advantage.+ This required some dancing around. She gestured to Napier, who exited the lab and the story.

"Well?" Atlan insisted.

"What is wrong with the Mark One? It gives your Space-Choppers DT twelve." The initial inversion was deliberate. She went to the tube.

"Not as good as fifteen." He went to the PDC. "No Space Rat likes to put up with second best." He went to the tube.

Plaxton went to the other side from Atlan. "Speed and violence. That is all you Space Rats think about." She poked at the tube with a probe.

"As you well know, I am not a Space Rat..."

Plaxton thought, +Skellerian.+

"...But so long as I give them what they want, they accept me as their leader."

She held the probe in both hands and confronted him "Mindless destruction of Federation ships. It is mindless. You don't have a plan."

"Maybe the Space Rats haven't got a plan, Doctor Plaxton. But we could have: Total control over all the space trade routes."

+Marauder,+ she thought before setting down the probe. "I want no part of that. All I want to do is to develop my space drive."

"Fine. So how soon can this be fitted to our Space-Choppers?"

"It can't."

"Why not?"

"Because this is the only one." She went to the PDC.

"So build more." Atlan pounded the table beneath the PDC. "We have provided you with enough raw material to build five hundred."

"I am a scientist, not a production engineer. And the other reason why this can't be fitted to your Space-Choppers is quite simply it won't fit."

"Why not?"

"Because the only way to increase the power was to increase the size of the photon generator chambers. This drive was intended to be installed in a real space craft, not in toys driven by a bunch of murderous psychopaths."

"Our agreement ..."

Plaxton loudly interrupted him: " - Our agreement was that you provide me with the resources to continue with my work. Well, that is exactly what I have done." She faced away from him.

Atlan grabbed her, spun her around, held a gun to her head. "You will start modification work on the space drive now, Doctor Plaxton..."

Plaxton thought, +I just told you, stupid, it can't be modified to work.+

"... If you refuse, I will tell the Space Rats that you are depriving them of speed, and I will let them deal with you in their own fashion."

She knew what she needed to know: her prospects were dimishing as fast as her options. She needed some good luck.

Avon, Soolin and Tarrant entered the room in which Bomber had arrested Dayna and Vila, the room with the chopper chasses and bulbs under the gold-coloured tarpaulins. Eagle-eyed, they saw no rats anywhere. Avon panned around with his gadget, reading the radiation levels on its gauge. He found the highest levels. "If the readings are anything like accurate," he said, "This should be connecting wall. You had better get on with it." Tarrant placed the beamer on his left elbow like the arrow on a bow and pulled the trigger. Blue waves splayed outwards towards the connecting wall. Gradually the wall began to shimmer and shake.

In the ratlounge Atlan issued an invitation: "Hey, Bomber, Jonz, we are going to the hills for some hunting. What is this?" Bomber stood behind "The gooks." Atlan checked he had heard correctly, looked the gooks over. "Don't look like Federation to me."

As soon as Dayna spoke, Bomber applied pressure to her shoulder. "We are not," was all she could manage to get out.

"Ok, bend them." Bomber started to lead them away.

"What does that mean?" asked Vila anxiously.

Atlan, sitting on the couch, said, "You will find out."

Tarrant's work continued apace. "Talk amongst yourselves. This could take some time."

"Wait," cried a struggling Dayna. "Wait." She played her only card: "Before you kill us, you might let us see Doctor Plaxton."

"Stop." Atlan gestured to Bomber who forced them to kneel in front of him. "You know Doctor Plaxton?"

"Of course we do."

"Old friend," said Vila.

Atlan asked him, "From where, gook?"

Vila was forming the next lie in his story - "Oh, uh" - Atlan grabbed his collar and twisted - "way back."

"We were students of the doctor once."

"Studying what?"

"Space drives," said Dayna, "The photonic drive in particular."

Atlan asked Vila: "You too, gook?" - Vila nodded - "Clever student? - Vila nodded quicklier - "In that case, we had better take you both to see the doctor."

"Thank you." Dayna's gratitude was strangely out of place.

Tarrant just kept on beaming the wall.

Plaxton was checking for photon radiation leakage by holding a light meter to the thrust tube when Atlan entered and took a silent macho pose on the left side of the photonic drive. When she questioned him non-verbally, Atlan simply called Bomber's name. Vila and Dayna were marched in to Plaxton's presence. The latter talked fast, "Doctor Plaxton, how marvellous to see you again. Do you remember us, Dayna and Vila, your best students. We thought we would never see you again after you left the academy." By this time firstly Dayna and then Vila had shaken her hand.

"Is this some sort of trick?" she asked Atlan. "I have never seen these people before in my life."

Dayna blabbed on with a laugh: "Your memory hasn't improved. Do you remember the time when you, you lost your ground car and reported it to the police as having been stolen?" When Plaxton didn't answer, Dayna moved over to the drive. +Perhaps that panel with the zigzag design on it is an access panel.+ "Oh, and this must be your new ..."

" - I don't know you," Plaxton insisted to Atlan.

" ... Photonic space drive. Why, it doesn't look anything like as sophisticated as the prototype you were working on at the academy, but that is only to be expected having to work under these conditions." Having convinced Atlan, Dayna became quiet.

"I, I do not know these people," Plaxton repeated.

Atlan looked up from the particle drive control unit: "Do not or Will not?"

Plaxton gave no verbal reply: +You stupid, marauding Skellerian.+

Tarrant was seconds away from breaking through the wall.

Atlan asked the two strangers: "Could you two work on the development of the photonic drive?"

"Of course," said Dayna.

"This is my project."

"Not for much longer it seems."

"How dare you take away my authority on this project. It ..."

" - I will do a lot more than that, Dr. Plaxton, if you prove to be of no further use to me."

While this contest was being fought, Vila noticed the wall was becoming transparent. The effect was the reverse to that which occurred in the hull of the Scorpio - whereas the hull was holed and Avon was patching it, here the wall was intact and Tarrant was holing it. When Vila touched Dayna's hand she followed his eyes to the glowing patch of wall.

As a faint noise was emanating therefrom, Dayna jumped to attention: "I am sure we will be able to help you, Atlan, but first we had better see if this thing is up to standard." She moved back to the position behind the drive and made to turn it on. "How do I start it?"

"Leave it alone." Plaxton was possessive that she didn't hear the slight increase in noise decibels.

"We have to see how it performs."

Atlan obliged by commanding Plaxton to start it up. From her seated position she could have seen the wall behind Atlan changing, were it not for the fact that Atlan was in the way. Directly the noise of Tarrant's beamer was subsumed in the noise of the StarDrive. But then the proportions were reversed. Vila asked for more power to disguise it.

"Why?" Atlan asked.

"Uh, well, if, if we are to make a proper assessment ..." his voice dropped off.

Atlan was so focussed on the speed maker he didn't know his back was exposed. "Well, what do you think of it?"

Avon was through the hole in the wall in a flash. He pointed his gun at Atlan. "Very nice. It will be even nicer if you stand absolutely still." As Avon moved across the lab, Soolin sneaked through the hole and covered Atlan before he could execute a manoeuvre to escape. "Hold it," she urged.

Avon pointed to the drive and asked Vila: "Is this it?" Having received the affirmative Avon referred to the drive: "We will take it with us."

As Tarrant entered through the wall, Atlan tripped him, then grabbed Soolin whose voice he had recognised, and used her as a shield. Backing his way to the door he made good his escape, during which Avon was standing in a macho pose cross-armed on the left side of the drive, and Tarrant was aiming his weapon at Soolin in an attempt to acquire a clear target at Atlan. Dayna remembered the door control, raced off to work it, thus effecting a barrier between Atlan, Bomber and other rats on the one side; and Dayna, her colleagues, Plaxton and the drive on the other. Avon now ordered Tarrant to give Vila a hand with the drive, which he did.

Atlan went to his plan B. "Space Rats, we are under attack." He snatched a couple of weapons - they were the hand-guns from Scorpio via Dayna and Vila - tossed one to Bomber and yelled, "Follow me." but before he could get far he found himself engulfed in the gas that Dayna had thrown into the room. He saw the door closing but couldn't stop it, nor force it open with Bomber's help.

Dayna reported to the group: "I have done it."

Plaxton thought, +You are my passport out of here.+ She also executed her plan B. She urged Avon to take her: "Whoever you are, take me with you. I am dead if I stay here." She was most relieved to hear his answer.

"We take you," said Avon, "and your photonic drive. Let's go." Tarrant and Vila picked up the drive, Dayna helped Plaxton pick up her cloak. They made their way to the outside while Atlan and Bomber, discharging their new guns at it, attempted to force open the controlled door, and to return through it to the lab.

Avon emerged from the maze and called the others: Soolin second, then Vila and Tarrant carrying the drive, then Dayna and Plaxton wearing a cape. "Over there." Avon pointed left. From behind a low ridge an eight-wheeled vehicle came racing up to Avon. It swerved out of the way but Avon killed the driver before he or she could escape. "We will cover you." He pointed to the eight-wheeler. "Take that."

Three Rats in succession approached on All-Terrain-Vehicles. Soolin made them deadrat before they could even acquire a target. Plaxton was now in the driver's seat of the eight-wheeler, Dayna in the front right, nursing the drive over the back-rest under her arm. Tarrant and Vila sat behind them. Soolin killed a rat on the crest of the hill above the entrances. He fell all the way down. Tarrant urged them with a come on to partake of this particular ancient conveyance.

Atlan pushed his way into the research lab. Seeing it empty of humans and Mark II prototypes, he called Bomber after him and went through the hole in the wall. In seconds they would be through to the outside, threatening Plaxton and the escaping group. In a mass of smoke, Atlan was outside, followed by Brigg and Bomber. They jumped onto single-seater ATV's. Much faster than a single eight-wheeler weighed down with six people and a StarDrive, they soon gained ground on their prey.

Plaxton drove hard and fast as she could, partly uphill, partly across plain, towards Scorpio, along the route Avon, Tarrant and Soolin had earlier taken. +That whole scheme with the Space Rats was crazy,+ thought Plaxton. +If I hitch a ride with these other five, they might get me past the Rats. I have the speed for it.+ She thought and drove fast simultaneously.

The grenades that had been primed and deposited now served their purpose. For Atlan, Bomber and Brigg on three-wheelers now pursued them. When they passed each grenade, Avon detonated them. There exploded a grenade for each Rat. Atlan had swerved but not enough out of the way; he was last of the three to die. Avon non-chalantly tossed the detonator away. Hammer down did Plaxton haul until a rat shot out one of their tyres. For his trouble he was dispatched. "There it is," yelled Avon immediately after firing, indicating Scorpio perched at the top of the hill. Everyone ran towards the ship which they entered through a hatch at the bow.

+Napier had no other idea. It is the best I can think of now.+


Avon directed Plaxton to the front left seat before ordering Tarrant and Vila to secure the StarDrive. He added, "Let's get the hell out of here."

Vila suggested: "Put it on the back of the counter." They stowed it on the bench in front of the front three seats, before themselves taking their seats. With one exception each crew member sat in their assigned seats - Avon remained standing.

Avon, satisfied Plaxton was sat safe, rattled off the list which each checked: "Emergency lift station. Check functions. Dayna?" she was in between Plaxton and Vila. "Vila? Soolin? "she was at the rear and on Tarrant's left. "Tarrant? All right, go." With a roar Scorpio lifted off. "Slave, activate all sensory systems. Set course 390 @ maximum drive. We will give you a navigational program once we are clear of this planetary system."

"At once, Master."

Within minutes there arose three ships in formation out in space. Slave was on to the problem: "I am sorry to have to report, Master, that three Federation ships are approaching on an intercept course of zero three zero zero seven." Avon requested Dayna put them on the rear screen. As they turned around to look, Dayna gave the range: Two hundred thousand. "Their signals traffic indicates they think we are from Caspar."

Avon raised the second doubt: "The state our main drive is in we will be within their canon range within an hour."

"What is the matter with your main drive?" Plaxton asked, edging towards them.

"It is a museum piece," said Tarrant.

"Standard fibre optic control connections?" she asked them.

"Very standard," said Avon, meaning below average.

Plaxton executed plan C. "Then why not let me install this" - she indicated the StarDrive - "now? One burst from this and we would put a lot of distance between us and those ships."

"How long will it take?" asked Avon of Plaxton.

"Fifty minutes," she said.

"If it is to be done," said Dayna, eying Slave's calculations, "it will have to be done in forty-five."

"Alright. You can pressurise your main drive tube so I can work in there?"

"Yes, come with me," Avon said quickly before handing her some goggles and picking up the drive.


Dayna began keeping a weather-eye on the clock: "Forty-four minutes, fifty-five seconds, and counting."

As they passed Tarrant, he turned off the main drive - Scorpio was now gliding through the blackness of space - and Dayna asked Slave to re-generate the blister force-wall, which was done.

Nearly an hour later, the five were comfortably seated on the flight deck, Plaxton was nearly done connecting. Dayna innocently told her over the ship-wide comm: "Two minutes, ten seconds."

She was unrewarded with Plaxton's steady voice: "Just the main ignition controls now."

"One minute precisely, Doctor," said Avon, now more worried.

"Two more connections," was the response to him. "Not long now."

"They are in range," cried Tarrant.

Avon gave notice: "Time is up, Doctor."

"Almost done."

"Plasma bolt fired," said Vila.

Soolin began a second countdown: "Thirty seconds to impact."

"One more connection to ..."

Avon cut off Plaxton's comm link - both Receive and Send - whilest simultaneously punching a second control.

"What are you doing?" Tarrant recognised what he was doing.

Dayna wasn't happy. Soolin, well back and out of the way, was unhappy. Vila, sitting with the tiny green box just in font of him, nestled snugly in his hand, he wasn't happy, but then he never was happy when things were fixing to get nasty. "Programing in the main circuit drive," Avon mis-said, meaning the circuit of the main drive, the circuit that ignites the drive.

"You can't do that," said Dayna. "That main drive will fire as soon as she makes the final connection."

"Fifteen seconds," said Soolin.

"We can outrun that bolt," Avon insisted. "She is dead either way."

The patrol ships drew closer, the plasma bolt closer still.

"Ten seconds and counting. Nine, eight, seven, six ..."

Soolin's count was interrupted by a burst of speed by Scorpio. The flight deck jiggered up and down. The ship mates on the flight deck were pushed back into their seats. The patrol was nowhere to be seen when the acceleration eased off.

"Good enough. At least now we can outrun the opposition. That should make you happy." He was speaking to Vila, whose idea started this whole fiasco off.

"What about Dr. Plaxton?" asked Dayna.

When Avon asked the only question he could - Who? - the answer was eminently obvious - She of the StarDrive.

End Programme


An hour earlier, she of the StarDrive was thinking: +Napier had no other idea. It is the best I can think of now.+

Avon directed Plaxton to the front left seat before ordering Tarrant and Vila: "Secure that, and let's get the hell out of here."

Vila suggested: "Put it on the back of the counter." They stowed it.

Avon rattled off the list which each checked in turn: "Emergency lift station. Check functions. Dayna? Vila? Soolin? Tarrant? All right, go." Scorpio lifted off. "Slave, activate all sensory systems. Set course 390 @ maximum drive. We will give you a navigational program once we are clear of this planetary system."

+Slave?+ thought Plaxton. +What kind of a name is that to give an artificial intelligence?+ she pondered.

"At once, Master."

+There is my baby - fifty inches in front of me. I shouldn't be this close when it fires.+

Avon punched up a scan pattern on the main screen and studied it. His question wasn't asked by him but by someone else: "Do you think they will come after us in those Space-Choppers?" Tarrant queried.

+Yes, they certainly will,+ thought Plaxton.

"I don't think, I know," Avon answered briefly.

Soolin held up a couple of small green boxes in her hands. "That depends on how important these are."

Plaxton stepped across to examine them. "Where did you get those?"

"Souvenirs from those Space-Choppers," Soolin said honestly. "Well, Tarrant took so long to hole the wall. Remember?"

Plaxton chuckled, "Yes, I do. Those are the Chopper ignition circuits. The Rats won't be able to move a spatial without them."

Within minutes there arose three ships in formation out in space. Slave was on to the problem: "I am sorry to have to report, Master, that three Federation ships are approaching on an intercept course of zero three zero zero seven." Avon requested Dayna put them on the rear screen. As they turned around to look, Dayna gave the range: Two hundred thousand. "Their signals traffic indicates they think we are from Caspar."

+Well, that is alright, then,+ thought Plaxton. +The Federation never come to Caspar.+

Avon raised the second doubt: "The state our main drive is in we will be within their canon range within an hour."

Her ears pricked up: +Main drive,+ thought Plaxton to herself. "What is the matter with your main drive?" she asked, edging towards them.

"It is a museum piece," said Tarrant.

+Museums? You too? What is it with transport museums?+ "Standard fibre optic control connections?" she asked them. +Can I connect it?+

"Very standard," said Avon, meaning below average.

+I can. What an amazing piece of luck. This is an opportunity to try out my baby on a proper ship.+ "Then why not let me install this now? One burst from this" - +installation requires Drive Off; I had better keep my distance because maximum drive will kill me; Drive Off reduces speed twenty percent,+ - "and we would put a lot of distance between us and those ships."

Slave calculated, at Dayna's request, how soon the three ships would rendezvous with Scorpio if the main drive was turned off and Scorpio sailed on inertia, glided on momentum.

"How long will it take?" asked Avon of Plaxton.

Plaxton ran through the cold calculations in her mind: +Parameters: Drive On equals, say, fifty-eight minutes. Drive Off means fifty-eight minutes less 20 percent, what is that: forty-six, 47 minutes? What ship am I on: Wanderer, Class Two, Planet-Hopper? right. There are: - 7 injection controls, - 1 throttle control, - 1 safety control, and - 2 ignition controls; eleven circuits in total.

+I have to remove the focussing coil, strip down the connectors, then re-connect the photonic drive. That is a fifteen minute removal plus three minutes per injector-stripping plus one minute to meld each one. What is that: forty-seven, 48 minutes? Fifty minutes ought to do it.+ "Fifty minutes," she said. +Drat. I should have asked for Sixty+

"If it is to be done," said Dayna, eying Scorpio's calculations, "it will have to be done in forty-five."

+Not enough, not nearly enough. Even if you can pressurise the tube and help me strip down the former controls, I will still need fifty. But what can be done? The Mark II is my and their only hope to out-run that patrol.+ "Alright. You can pressurise your main drive tube so I can work in there?"

"Yes, come with me," Avon said quickly before handing her some goggles and picking up the drive.

"Fine." +I will need help to get the photonic drive in position and then you can leave me to it. It should be ok.+

Dayna began keeping a weather-eye on the clock: "Forty-four minutes, fifty-five seconds, and counting."

+Oh, well, just sit there, girl, and count, then,+ thought Plaxton.

As they passed Tarrant, he turned off the main drive - Scorpio was now gliding through the blackness of space - and Dayna asked Slave to re-generate the blister force-wall, which was done.

Avon led Plaxton into the MDC. He placed the PDC to one side before starting stripping down the focussing coil. Tarrant came a few minutes later and took over from him, allowing Avon to strip down the injector, which was the shorter task. Plaxton got her tools ready, and took stock of the main drive chamber meanwhile. +Let's see, the Plasma Generator must be directly below my feet,+ she thought. +There the plasma fuel is generated from the Selsium crystals, shunted into that focussing coil,+ she pointed in her mind's eye to the unit at waist level that Tarrant was stripping down, +governed by the throttle controlled at the pilot's console. From the particle controller where it is focussed by the coil the fuel is injected,+ she noted the unit on the floor that Avon was working on, +into the main thrust tubes. That is a nice view,+ she thought as she looked between and above the thrust tubes. She remembered the image of the patrol Dayna placed on the rear screen. +That is where the patrol will come.+

Plaxton talked with Avon as he exposed the various connections. They laid them out ready for re-connection to the StarDrive. When Tarrant had finished removing the focussing coil unit, fourteen minutes into the Changeover Project, Plaxton saw the nine connectors, just as she had predicted to herself. Under her instructions he began exposing the connectors. They weren't designed to be exposed, and they were rusty so it required medium-duty pliers and some muscle to remove the stiff plastic left behind, and bend them upwards. +Bend them,+ thought Plaxton. She remembered a few times Atlan had used that word. +Thank heavens I am away from those Rats.+

Before Tarrant finished, Avon finished exposing the two ignition controls. He watched for a brief moment as Tarrant continued - it was a one man job, each connector covered the one beside it such that the job could proceed only one disconnection, one exposure, at a time. Avon turned to helping Plaxton lay the fibre-optic cabling out on the floor and himself got out of the way by standing behind Tarrant. It was done. Tarrant positioned the photonic drive where the focussing coil had been and was dismissed by her, but he refused to leave. Again she dismissed Tarrant and again he refused. The connecting had to be done in a particular order, she informed him, and needed to be done one at a time; one person or three, it would still take eighteen minutes for nine connections. Avon said that he, Tarrant, would demand the same if the situation were reversed. So the menfolk left, eleven minutes before the zero minute.

Alone, Plaxton joined the first two wires. They were the fourth pair, the one in the middle. With a large fork-like device she melded the join, made it conductive and semi-permanent. The melding took one minute exactly. Scorpio's antiquated technology meant that it couldn't be hurried. Grabbing the second pair of wires she immediately realised, +This delicate operation is going to take longer than I thought.+ she came up with a solution: +I will connect the drive without throttle control, and without basic safety measures. Let it be set on maximum for now, and that nice Tarrant can fix it up properly later. That should buy me two minutes, one for each connect.+ Two minutes twenty seconds after she had become solo, Plaxton began the third join. +Connections four and one are done, and now it is seven. Next is number two.+ She reached nearby for number two male connect and the female connect. She joined them, held the join in her left hand, melded with the tool in her right.

She did likewise to number six, which when finished meant six minutes were gone; only six minutes more were needed. She heard the countdown from Dayna. +Five minutes,+ she thought as she began join three. While it was melding she realised that safety or not was not the issue. The realisation came home to her. She requested the time more frequently. +I won't finish it in time. It is impossible. I may have been mistaken trying to use this bunch to get away from the Space Rats. They are just as bad. This main drive chamber is not a friendly environment. I should have said fifty-five minutes. There must be an alternative to dying in here. Surely? What am I thinking? I must have been getting light-headed.+ She remembered Atlan and Napier. +"Bend them, twenty-five percent - what a look on his face. Where is Napier now, I wonder. It all seemed so clear when I left the Federation three years ago. Forty-six I was. I wonder if Atlan would ever sober up.+

The fifth and final of the seven injection circuits - fifth in position, seventh in order of connect - was nearly finished when Plaxton spied the patrol between and above the thrust tubes. +Wait. That is a patrol. They may stop and rescue me. No they won't do that. That was a silly thought. I wonder what they are. Standard Federation patrol pattern, is it? Modified fin. Hmm, nice-looking craft. I can't leave what I am doing.+ She was pleasantly surprised to find that she had finished all the inject connects. +There, that is the main part done. It will propel the ship. Fascinating thing that formation. I haven't seen Pursuit Ships in action before. So the Federation are back, are they? Their ships aren't so fast without my StarDrive.+ She spoke in her mind to the patrol: +"Just you wait til I turn this drive on. You Federation won't believe it. I will look at you later in a more comfortable environment." Meanwhile, Plaxton, my dear, focus, focus on the task at hand.+

She put her head down and worked on until she heard over the comm: "Two minutes, ten seconds."

"Just the main ignition controls now," she said.

"One minute precisely, Doctor," Avon urged. She wasn't worried. Avon was worried but she wasn't.

"Two more connections," she informed them. "Not long now." She connected and melded the penultimate. While it was melding she pondered: +Ok, Plaxton, my dear, you have been single-minded, dedicated to The Drive. I admit that. Giving such a powerful device to the Rats was wrong. Here is a chance to make amends.+ She pondered and was satisfied.

Plaxton got the fatal notice: "Time is up, Doctor."

"Almost done," she said calmly. "One more connection to go." Plaxton held the final two wires in her hands and waited. The light from one wire was bright. She saw it. She looked astern, through the blister force wall, between the thrust tubes, at the approaching pursuit ships. They were getting closer and closer. +Just a little more. Come closer and get a good view.+ She deliberately, staunchly joined the wires and melded them. +The Final Join. Those pursuit ships will see my ignition.+