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Hope Against Hope

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Blake sent Vila to distract the guard with tricks and asked Gan and Nova to cover him, just to prevent the guard from seeing the service compartment manhole, even if Vila fails.
Jenna waited for Blake to squeeze into the service compartment and closed the door behind him. She only got a glimpse of wires and cables running along the narrow duct where one could only pass on all fours. She wished Blake good luck and hoped the duct didn’t become too narrow to crawl over in some place. Jenna turned away from the manhole and started waiting.
At that very moment a disgusting rasp was heard and a strong impact made both the prisoners and the guard watching the tricks fall on the floor. When Nova managed to get up nursing his injured elbow, he looked back at the service compartment manhole and saw some white foam coming out of the gap between the door and the wall.
“What's that?” Nova asked.
Jenna grew pale and took some of the sticky viscous substance into her hand.
“Sealing gel. If the outer hull gets punctured this stuff floods into the section and blocks it up. It goes solid in seconds.”
Jenna threw away the solid piece of the sealing gel and for a long while stood staring at the manhole door.

***
Captain Leylan sat back in his chair and ordered:
“Damage report!”
The voice from the intercom answered him:
“All sections report damage, sir. Section Two. Port deflector shields buckled, sir. Section Four. The outer hull has been punctured astern. Auto-repair system is activated. Section Four is isolated and sealed, the works in Section Two are in progress.
The captain turned to his first officer:
“Mr. Artix?”
“Vision panels have cut out, sir. We are getting blind readings, and an echo from something big... and pretty far off. I can't identify it without a scan.”
“Repair the scanners then!”
“Aye, sir!”

***
They managed to repair the scanners just in time to avoid the collision with a giant spaceship of an unknown type. When the dazzling white liner appeared on the screen the London’s crew gave a gasp of surprise and admiration. Even the Federation Fleet Supreme Commander’s flagship was not so powerful and huge.
All the attempts to contact the magical liner were in vain. Bioscanners showed no living matter on board the ship. However, when the London tried to dock the enigmatic vehicle, it suddenly turned and disappeared in the depths of space. The second pilot only managed to determine the speed.
“Standard by 12! This ship needs minutes to cover the distance we would fly a month.”
The security officer rushed into the flight deck.
“Sir, one of the prisoners has disappeared.”
“What do you mean ‘disappeared’” captain Leylan failed to understand. The prisoners’ compartment consisted of two rooms – a cabin with several rows of seats and the recreation area. There was no place to disappear there.
“When the alarm sounded, we sent the prisoners to their places. One was missing. We looked everywhere, sir. He had just disappeared.
“The prisoner’s name.”
“Roj Blake.”
The captain made a long face.
But Raiker who was standing behind him following the conversation smiled for some reason. The security officer looked at Raiker in surprise, but the latter was quite serious already. He even made a suggestion:
“Examine the whole ship with a bioscanner.”
The captain approved:
“Do it.”
“Aye, sir!”

***
The bioscanner didn’t help. It did show the presence of living organisms, but it gave no information about their number. The second examination of the prisoners’ compartment gave no results either, nor did the search in the other sections of the ship. The most dangerous prisoner of those being sent to Sygnus Alpha, the one Leylan had orders to guard more than others, seemed to have evaporated.
The next morning another prisoner disappeared. It was Jenna Stannis. And again the search gave no results. The guards turned the ship inside out and upside down, and Raiker even examined the airlocks himself and reported:
“Nothing, sir.”
The captain just nodded in silence. Then he looked up and asked:
“And what’s happened to your face?”
Raiker’s cheek looked as if a wild animal had cut it with claws.
“I fell down when I was checking the airlocks. Cut it with the control panel arms.”
Captain Leylan nodded again. And made up a decision:
“Stop searching. Close the prisoners’ recreation area. All the prisoners will stay confined in their launch seats till the end of the flight. Feed them there, too. Double the suppressants dose.”
“And the… call of nature, sir?”
“Let them go one at a time under constant control. And strengthen the security.”
The security officer only afforded one more question:
“How will they sleep, sir?”
“Seated!”

***
Despite the measures taken there was one emergency situation more. When the ship approached the penal colony prisoner Kerr Avon attacked his guard on his way back from the washroom, took the guard’s weapon, shot another guard, dragged the body to the door, put its palm to the scanner, got out into the corridor and tried to penetrate the computer compartment, but Raiker managed to shoot him and threw his body out into space.
All the other prisoners were successfully left on the dark inhospitable planet of Cygnus Alpha, and the London went back to Earth.

***
When his friend Gan was sacrificed on the holy altar, Vila Restal ran away from the cursed castle of Vargas, but very soon he was caught and spent his last long hours crucified on two crossed poles. There was a sign on his chest: “So perish unbelievers”.

***
The ring off sounded in Beta sector of London dome. The corridors were empty already Failure to observe curfew restrictions meant declassification. The infringer and his or her family were sent to the Delta level for the term of their life.
Tel Dallan got sure his children were fast asleep and closed silently the door of the tiny closet the little ones had for their bedroom. Then he switched off the lights in the “big” room, where they only had a bad and a small table. No chairs, of course. The chairs would encumber the place and were of no use. You can seat on the bed with the same comfort, can’t you? The wardrobe? No! Those flats had a niche in one of the walls you could use to keep your clothes. Ah, no again! No window, of course. It was too expensive for a Beta to have a flat in the outer part of the dome. But it is safer in the inner sections, isn’t it? When the aliens attack the Earth, and they say they are going to, they are the outer sectors that will be destroyed first and the Beta sector may stay untouched… Anyway, it was their own separate flat! Dallan’s new position gave them hope they would forget about the sleeping barracks for 150 berths for ever. If they did nothing foolish.
And Dallan wouldn’t, be sure. It was not foolish to gossip with your own wife, was it? Well, of course you had to switch on the relaxing music and put the player next to the eavesdropping device. Dallan was a technician, and he knew for certain there was only one of them in such flats. And Ganna would tell no one. She loved the children too much to risk their fate.
Dallan moved to the farthest corner, put the blanket on their heads and whispered into his wife’s ear:
“Can you imagine, my classmate Con Seiran now works in my department! He used to serve in the spaceport and was one of the technicians who worked with the London when it returned to Earth.”
“The ship that took prisoners to Cygnus Alpha about two years ago?”
“Sh! If we speak louder the music won’t cover our voices. Yes. The captain and the whole crew were convicted to work in uranium mines.”
“I remember the story. They lost dead a lot of prisoners on their way to the penal colony. That very Roj Blake was among them.”
“Well, Con told me confidentially, that it was not the prisoners’ death the captain was arrested for. He found out that Roj Blake had managed to escape from the London!”
“Bullshit! Where can one run from a prisoners’ ship?”
“First listen, they give me your opinion, woman! On their way to the colony they got into a space combat. An enigmatic alien spaceship took place in it. The whole crew of the ship was destroyed, and Blake took his chance and possessed the ship. And he wasn’t alone. A smuggler Jenna Stannis and a computer genius Kerr Avon ran away with him. Then they visited Sygnus Alpha and took two more people from there. Olag Gan, a murderer, and Vila Restal, a thief. The other prisoners liked the colony and didn’t want to join Blake.
“And they weren’t caught?”
“They won’t. That ship, they called her the Liberator, is faster than any vehicle of the Federation fleet.”
“And where are they now?”
“They go from one planet to another and fight against the Federation.”
Ganna cuddled up to her husband.
“But they can’t attack Earth, can they?”
“Don’t be afraid, darling.” Dallan hugged Ganna. “When their army grows big enough, they are sure to come to Earth. But they won’t touch the peaceful populace. They will fight against the oppressors and will liberate all the honest people.”