PROLOGUE - Diedre Macoure


            "Damn it, damn it... WORK!" Diedre Macoure kicked the hyperdrive control panel again and again but it still flashed the same message:






            Finally, Diedre sighed. Running her hands through her hair, she shouted up the ephemeral air, "Computer! Time to intercept!"

            A sickenly sweet feminine voice came over the speaker. "The Jupiter-class destroyer will intercept our vessel in one-five minutes."

            Fifteen minutes. The old vampire bit her lip, trying to think fast. Wait, they wouldn't be in range for an etheral scan. As long as they thought she was human, she still stood a chance. Running to the pilot's seat, she pressed the button quickly, hoping that this gambit would stall them long enough to jump. Finally, the communications camera protracted out... it was show time. "This is the Merchant Ship Velasquez to Federation destroyer. You are closing in on my position. Please explain."

            Actually, she was on the Derision, a ship so old and broken-down she doubted it was on ANY Earth Fleet ship registry. The Velasquez, however, was an actual licensed merchant ship... or it had been until she sucked her crew dry and set the ship on self-destruct. Deidre shed no tears for them; after all, they had tried to hijack her back on Charbydis.

            On the comm screen came the face of a rather young little male lieutenant, noticably stricken by her own image facing him. Macoure always prided herself on her appearence, knowing it to be one more weapon to use against the weak and the mortal. Finally, the lieutenant replied. "Velasquez, this is the EFS Apollo on routine patrol, outer system. We detected your craft on sensors. Request explanation for your current position."

            "Uh, Apollo... my craft has only Class 2 drive engines. I needed to make distance between me and Hobart Station before engaging."

            "Class 2? You should think about upgrading. Why didn't you use the jump gate?"

            "Too far away. Listen, sir, can we make this brief? I need to reach Jennifer's Star soon."

            The lieutenant smiled. "Of course. Transmit ship authorization code."

            Upgrading? Hah! If I had the money to upgrade, Deidre thought, would I be flying THIS crate? She frantically search for her stolen SAC from the Velasquez. Knocking over her cosmetics and a stack of music BLAM's, she finally found the code card. Hooking in the serial cable (off-camera, of course... a SAC was _supposed_ to be hard-wired into your comm system according to regulations. However, the one thing that she didn't follow was regulations) , she got back in the camera and replied, "Transmitting SAC now." The connection clicked and she could see the ship stats filtering across her screen.

            "Received, Velasquez. Please hold."

            "Computer, break comm link." Once the draining whine of power went silenct, Macoure found her way back to the hyperdrive. "A lousy 68%? Merde."

            "Velasquez, this is Apollo." came over the speaker.

            She rushed back to the pilot's seat and activaated the comm camera. "Yes, Apollo, go ahead."

            "SAC confirmed. Have a nice flight, Velasquez."

            "Thanks, Apollo." Deidre switched off the comm unit again and spoke to the computer. "Status report."

            "Hyperdrive at 80% power. Jupiter-class destroyer on intercept. Estimated time, five minutes. Scanning beam detected."

            WHAT?! Macoure panicked until she realized what had happened. The destroyer closed distance while she was talking to them. All that time, they delayed HER in order to scan the Derision. Now an etheral scan would pinpoint her quicker than an solar flare. So any minute now, that idiot lieutenant would be calling for...


            Yep, predictable as ever. "Computer, transfer life support power to hyperdrive."

            The lights flickered for a moment as the energy was shifted, then the entire ship shuddered. "Sensors!" she screamed and the computer brought up the appropriate screen. They were firing at her! A warning shot to be sure... but that might buy her the time she needed.

            "Computer, hyperdrive status?"

            "Full power and functional."

            "About time." Deidre mumbled and punched a dusty little button. Outside the ship, a scientific probe launched and hurtled toward the destroyer. Then she hit the hyperdrive engines.

            The probe set off every weapon system on the Apollo. As the destroyer was distracted by what it assumed was a missle, the Derision hit the dimensional barrier and shimmered into a glow of light. With any luck, the warship's guns would drain their energy reserves so much that the Apollo wouldn't be able to jump for a couple minutes. That's all she needed.

            In the twisting, menacing glow of hyperspace, Macoure quickly flew across the ship's controls, locking down the beacon for Avalon, and enabling a course for the capital. In a burst of thrust, the ship quickly slid towards her destination. Another minute and the Derision would be indecipherable from the other electronic interference of the glowing void.

            Deidre pulled her legs up to her body and relaxed. Macoure let the stresss flow outof her and she knew she was safe. Finally, she reached for her favorite BLAM, Volkskrieg Overdrive, and let the chromium metal music ease her thoughts back into focus.

            Thos damn monks, she thought. Sure, stop by Van Diemen system, pick up some fairy lace... no problem. Now her hyperdrive generator was on the fritz, she got skimped out of 100 grand on Charbydis, and the Derision desperately needed fuel. Deidre didn't care if the Monastic Order of St. Cialt was powerful or not. She's have a chunk of the Reverend Father's flesh if she didn't get some satisfaction.

            Macoure decided to go over her books on the way to Avalon; that way she would know exactly what to charge the monks.

            "Computer, restore life support. It's freezing in here!"




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Text Copyright © 2000 by Marcus Johnston.  All Rights Reserved.