Chapter 6: Like Being Trapped in a Cage

"Laburnum and rhubarb brandy?" Zoe made a face. "Normally, I'd say 'better
out than in', but not when it's my outfit you spilled it on. Well, it had just
better wash out. And when I'm feeling a bit better I'll deal with you

Samantha folded her arms. "Look, I haven't got time to talk about your
stupid skirt now. There's all sorts going on."

"You mean those alarms?"

"Yeah, that was us breaking out after they locked us up."

"Sam, can we start at the beginning? How did you get here?"

"There's this girl called Emmi-- look, it'd take too long to tell you it

"Emmi Sheffield. Lissa said she'd been kidnapped. Did they scoop you up in
the process? That's how I got here."

"That's about it. Just a moment. 'Lissa'? You're on first-name terms with
that two-faced heap of--" Samantha caught herself.

"Go on," Zoe said. "Call her what you like. 'Two-faced' describes her quite
well, in my opinion. I thought she was my friend and then she drugged me and
kidnapped me. And then offered to wipe my memory, as if that would make
things better. As if it *ever* makes *anything* better."

"Ouch. Well, we're--" Samantha put her finger to her lips. Hurried footsteps
were approaching; they stopped outside the door. Samantha, moving as silently
as she could, moved to one side of the door and pressed herself flat against
the wall. The door opened, and a man walked in -- another officer, from his
uniform, maybe the one who'd been present when she'd been searched. He didn't
notice Samantha, concentrating all his attention on Zoe.

"Who are you?" Zoe asked.

"That's no concern of yours. Why wasn't the door locked?"

"How was I supposed to know if it was or not? I can't even stand up, let
alone get anywhere near the door. And if I had got over there and unlocked
it, do you really think I'd still be here?"

The man nodded. "A fair point. But don't let me find it unlocked again."

He turned to leave, and found himself face to face with Samantha. For a
moment, he froze; then he reached for his blaster. Samantha made a grab for
it at the same time. With his left hand, he swept her aside, drawing the
weapon with his right. Before he could draw a bead on Samantha, Zoe had
launched herself from her improvised bed, grabbing onto his legs and pulling
him off balance. Samantha, recovering, grabbed the gun with both hands, and
tugged. The weapon fired, luckily hitting only the mattress, which burst with
a sharp detonation; then Samantha was holding it, aiming firmly at him.

"Right," she said. "Up against the wall and we'll start again. What's your
name and rank?"

"Warren. Chief engineer."

"That's more like it. Now, you took something off us. Little golden things
like coins. Where are they?" She gestured with the gun. "Come on."

Warren shook his head. "You're bluffing. You wouldn't shoot me. And if you
did, you wouldn't learn anything."

"Can you risk that?" Samantha said.

"I think so. Put the gun down. You're in no position to make demands."

"Sam, did you ever read the Telzey books?" Zoe asked, from her position by
Warren's feet.

"Don't think so. Why?"

"Well, when she was in a situation like this, she aimed to miss. But only
just. She wouldn't shoot someone deliberately, you see, but she was prepared
to set up a situation where she could shoot him by mistake."

"Sneaky." Samantha changed her aim. "Right, you heard her."

"You wouldn't--" Warren began. He was cut off by the flare of plasma as the
gun fired, this time leaving a blackened crater in the wall by his ear.

"She would," Zoe said. "Now where have you put our property?"

"In the Captain's quarters," Warren replied sullenly. "There's a locker."

"Take us there," Samantha said. "Now."

"You're wasting your time. It's keyed to the Captain's biodata."

"We'll deal with that when we get there." Samantha looked down at Zoe. "Did
you mean all that stuff about not being able to walk?"

"I exaggerated a bit," Zoe said. "I'm still full of whatever Lissa drugged
me with and I've got a splitting headache, but I think I can stay upright."

"Well, you'll have to cope, 'cos I've got my hands full with this scally."

Zoe pulled herself upright, using the doorframe for support. "Lead on,


Jamie tiptoed down the staircase, then turned and beckoned to Victoria. She
followed, silently.

"I think we've lost them," he whispered to her.

Victoria looked uncertain. "Maybe. But how long before they find us again?
They know we're somewhere on this ship. It's like being trapped in a cage."

"Aye, they're probably gathering their forces." Jamie opened the door at
the bottom of the staircase, and cautiously looked out. "I wonder where the
others are?"

Overhead, there was a brief burst of shouting and running feet.

"Ah, that'll be--" He was cut off, as Victoria put a hand over his mouth.

"Listen!" she whispered.

They listened. Somewhere, quite nearby, they could hear Emmi's voice.

"No!" she was sobbing. "Let me go!"

"Let me think about that," Lieutenant Malmsten's voice replied. "On
reflection: No."

"You're making a big mistake. My father--"

"Will pay our ransom demands. But by the time he gets you back, you won't
be quite the same person. Your mind will be more... suited for our purposes.
Oh, and you needn't expect any help from your witless fiance, either. Not
after he wakes up in his yacht with his entire wardrobe cut to shreds and a
message from you telling him you've found a new lover."

"You didn't... He won't believe it." Emmi sounded as if she was having
difficulty convincing herself, let alone anybody else. "He'll think it's one
of Geoffrey's practical jokes."

"I doubt it. And even if he does, he won't speak to you until you've
completed the treatment. At which point, you'll send him packing yourself."

"I won't!"

"Oh, but you will."

"Get away from me!" A flicker of defiance crept into Emmi's voice. "I'll
have you sent to the alkali plants on Sirius Four--"

Jamie nudged Victoria. "Come on. We've got tae get her out of there."

They made their way along the corridor, in the direction the voices were
coming from. One door was marked with a red diamond; beside it was an
illuminated DO NOT DISTURB indicator. Cautiously, Jamie opened the door.
Inside, he caught a brief glimpse of a sparsely-equipped medical bay.
Strapped to an operating table in the middle was Emmi, most of her head
covered by a silver globe attached to a free-standing machine. Lieutenant
Malmsten was bending over this machine; she turned at the sound of the door
opening and drew her blaster.

"What--" she began. "You!"

Jamie threw himself to one side as she fired. At the same moment, Victoria
screamed; armed men were running down the corridor towards them. Abandoning
the situation as hopeless, Jamie and Victoria took flight, retracing their
steps back to the staircase.


"That's the locker," Warren said. He put his hand on the palm scanner
beside it, to no effect. "See? Nothing."

"Oh, yeah?" Samantha aimed her stolen gun at the locker, and fired. There
was a flash of light, and a black scorch mark appeared on the door, but the
locker remained closed. She hastily changed her aim back to the chief

"Stand against the wall," she said. "Zoe, tie him up."

"With what?" Zoe asked. She was still pale and unsteady on her feet, but had
managed to keep upright so far.

"I dunno. Tear some bits off that dress or something."

"I can't--" Zoe broke off. "Well, I suppose I could. Since it's an

In less than a minute, her skirt was considerably shorter, and the
/Vanguard/'s chief engineer was securely gagged and bound. Then the two
returned to the question of the locker.

"Try it point blank," Zoe suggested.

"Well, OK." Samantha pressed the muzzle of the gun to where the lock
appeared to be, averted her eyes, and held the trigger down. There was a
flare of light, and a hissing sound. The gun became uncomfortably hot in
her hand, but she kept firing until it became painful to hold. The smell
of burning metal filled the air, and once more the distant sound of alarms
could be heard.

"Ow!" Samantha dropped the gun, and turned to see the results of her
handiwork. "Oh."

"I think you might have overdone things," Zoe said.

A ragged hole, its edges still glowing, had been drilled into the front of
the locker. And the back of the locker. And -- Samantha crouched down to
peer through the hole -- the wall behind it as well.

"Well, I couldn't look at it while I was shooting, could I?" she protested.
"Let's be having you."

She kicked at the door, which fell open.

"Jackpot!" she crowed, scooping up the recall discs and shoving them into
such pockets as the Sailor Scout costume provided.

"There's someone coming," Zoe called, from near the door.

"OK. Take these." Samantha dumped a handful of discs into her hands.
"Let's go."

They hurried down the corridor, Zoe leaning on Samantha's arm. There were
shouts from behind them, and the sounds of running feet.

"Wish I'd kept the gun," Samantha muttered.


"They're herding us," Jamie said. "Like sheep."

Victoria leaned against a wall and pressed one hand to her side. "I know."

"Are you all right?"

"Just a stitch, I think." Victoria looked around, trying to get her
breathing under control. "Where do you think we are?"

"No idea. Come on, we've got to keep moving."

He took Victoria by the arm, and the two headed onward, their footsteps
echoing in the corridor. The next bend they rounded brought them to a
junction, with passages leading in all four directions. Jamie listened
briefly, then gestured at the route ahead.

"They're coming that way," he whispered. "And from behind us."

"Left or right, then?" Victoria replied.

Jamie shrugged, and dived into the right-hand passage. To Victoria, it
looked familiar. Surely this was the corridor that led to the bridge,
containing the room where they had been imprisoned. Two figures were
staggering towards them. Victoria's heart skipped a beat; then she recognised
Samantha and Zoe.

"Zoe!" she called. "You're here!"

"I'd noticed," Zoe said, skidding to a halt in front of her and nearly
losing her balance.

"You're going the wrong way," Samantha said. "There's blokes back there
with guns."

"They're chasing us, too," Victoria replied. She looked around, her
expression desperate. "There's nowhere else to go."

Between them, a door opened, and Isobel stuck her head out. "In here,"
she said. "Hurry!"

The four in the corridor lost no time in following her advice. The room
beyond appeared to be used as a workshop or a storeroom; components were
heaped up on racks, and there was a small workbench against one wall. Jamie
and Isobel lost no time in dragging one of the racks across the doorway.

Gia was working at the bench, her salvaged My First Photonics kit spread
out in front of her.

"Zoe!" she said. "Just the person. Can you remember the standard force
field equations?"

"She needs those hangover pills first," Samantha said. "She's not well."

"Here." Jamie tossed her his bottle of Magic Midgets. "How did you get
here, Zoe? We thought you'd gone back to the Round!"

"That Malmsten woman kidnapped her," Samantha explained, while Zoe hastily
gulped down the pills. "She was locked up like we were."

Someone tried to open the door, and found it blocked.

"Come out of there!" a voice called.

"Go and boil your head," Samantha called back.

"We won't ask you again."

"Well, that's good, 'cos I won't have to tell again you where you can stick

There was no answer. But from the sounds of muttered conversation outside,
it didn't seem that the crew were going to take that as their final answer.

"How did you all get on?" Isobel asked.

"We know where Emmi is," Victoria volunteered. "She's downstairs, strapped
into some kind of machine -- I think it does things to your mind. The
Lieutenant was guarding her."

Samantha nonchalantly tossed half-a-dozen recall discs onto the table. "And
we did get hold of these."

"Where are the rest?"

"Zoe's got 'em. Come on, Zoe, out with them."

Zoe briefly looked up from where she and Gia were tinkering. "Left pocket,"
she said.

Isobel reached into Zoe's pocket, retrieved the discs, and distributed them
in pairs.

"That's something," she said. "It means if they do trap us, we can just
vanish away."

"We may have to," Victoria said, pointing at the door. Red, glowing patches
had appeared on its surface, and it was beginning to buckle and distort.

"That doesnae look good," Jamie said. "Is there anything we can do to stop

"Fire extinguisher?" Samantha suggested.

"You'd probably just crack the door," Gia said. "Just hang on a moment."

Samantha pointed at the door. The glowing patches had now melted away,
leaving the door with several fist-sized holes.

"We haven't got a moment!" she protested.

The business ends of blasters were thrust through several of the holes.
Whoever was holding the weapons couldn't have a clear idea of where they
were aiming; but in such a small space, and at this range, they didn't really
need to.

Chapter 7: Under Siege

Back to Contents Page