by David Tulley
A prequel to "The Mark of Kane," set in the Blake's 7 universe.
She watched a thin trickle of ichor come out of the wound in her side.
Nerves cut during the conversion process meant she felt no pain. The clear fluid dribbled down over the heavy jump-suit she wore.
She was lying partly in a small brook. The water chilled her left side, flexing her fingers. She watched idly. A face in her mind from another time and place had the form and stability of autumn leaves, floating downstream, swirling breaking shapes. Her hand still clenching about the gun, though it was three feet away.
She pulled the sharp edge of a stone from the left side of her brainpan. Something crackled and part of her face and voice died. Lost in leaves. Vague things crawled over her. Forbidden memories dropping like serum on the forest floor. Blood in water, tears in rain. Another more recent face. The black gleam of surface rock burned off by Pursuit Four's engines. The black gleam of his eye-patch.
Orders always orders.
"I'm going to make contact with the Goths. You stay here - don't go out - unless someone tries to board the ship. In that case, follow standard procedure. Clear?"
"Yes Commander," the two chorused it. The airlock wheezed shut. He was gone.
Ship on low tickover.
One of the mutoids lapsed into a semi-coma - power conservation at its most brutal. They were almost out of blood plasma. The last dose waited like a sentence of death.
The other, known as Valisha before the conversion, waited. Vigilant, alert, aware; following orders.
Minimum scan revealed the intruders before the first dull clang on the hull. She roused her comrade and they conferred, coldly and logically. Then, clasping her handgun, she waited at the airlock.
She killed one as the outer door slid back, his chest gaping comically before his mouth. It was fitful dark, drifting rank mist, poor visibility - then the hands closed round her throat. She broke the hold and the man's neck with one blow, brought the gun round and killed two more before they were on her, lifting her up. An animal sound of triumph. She was conscious of movement, rush of air, falling...
After she'd hit the rocks, she thought she heard plasma fire, beside the roar inside her own head. Then the brittle sound of a laser gunhand. The world acquired nightmare shades for her. For seconds at a time she was blind.
She'd been thrown into a narrow gully close to the ship. Time was glacial now, ice ages crawled. She waited for the last drop of serum.
Once, a white shape leaned over the edge to look at her. Raven black hair cut close to the scalp. Then she slept again without sleeping. The blackouts were getting more frequent.
Later, the ship took off, but the sound had lost its meaning. Her fingers moved in the stream as if in a final parting gesture. Darkness washed over. Her hand no longer had any need of the gun.
There was a dream of walking. Creepers and briars lashing, opening new wounds just acknowledged as peripheral damage. Something held her fast. Almost dead, she barely struggled. Passive, she felt her arm grasped, dimly she felt it lifted.
The first thing was her pulses, still going. The second was her eyes opening to see the man. He was binding her wrist from where his blood had come into her. He slid the extractor needle back into her arm. She spasmed and he grabbed the front of the tunic, balling it in his fist and dragging her face/face. One of his eyes was roughly bandaged, the edges raw and livid. A blade clicked out of his other hand and inscribed an arc under her chin.
"Where is he?" the man demanded. "Where's that bastard Travis?" Something sparked in the head implant. Exist to serve, and her broken voice was saying
"Or-derrs, Com-manderrr... orders?"