Power Play

By Hawk 

EMAIL: Hawk

Rating: FRT

Summary: An old nemesis surfaces, putting a member of the crew in peril. It's up to the others to outsmart him and keep their friend alive.

<><><>

It is said that power corrupts, but actually it's more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power.

David Brin

<><><>

Dylan looked up from the flexis covering his desk as the door chime sounded. "Come," he said.

Beka sauntered in --- looking a little distracted, to Dylan's eye.

"What can I do for you, Beka?" he asked as he leaned back in his chair, cracking the stiffness out of his back that had crept in from sitting in one position too long.

Beka fidgeted for a minute, then sighed loudly and looked at Dylan. "I need a few days --- away."

"Away?" Dylan repeated. "Is everything okay, Beka?"

Beka nodded. "Yeah --- everything is fine." She ran her hands through her hair before continuing. "I just need some time --- by myself."

"A vacation."

Again, Beka nodded. "Yeah --- a vacation --- but just a couple of days."

Dylan stared at her, trying to read her, but failing. He knew she wasn't telling him everything, but he also knew she would clam up if he pressed her for more information than she was willing to part with.

Suddenly he nodded. "Okay --- three days, Beka. I need you back here in three days --- no more."

She stared at him for a minute, defiantly, before dropping her head and nodding. "Three days, Dylan." She turned to go. "Thank you," she said as the doors to his quarters closed on her retreating back.

"You're welcome, Beka," Dylan said softly before dropping his gaze to his work again.

<><><>

An itch at the back of his mind --- a sense of someone watching him, made Dylan look up as he stood at the Command Console. Looking around the bridge, he found everyone on Command quietly working at their assigned stations. Sighing softly, he looked back down at his own console. The itch returned. He ignored it. Suddenly, there was the sound of someone clearing their throat softly and he looked up to find Trance standing at his elbow.

Dylan leaned against the console. "You the one who's been watching me, Trance?"

She smiled shyly and nodded. "Yeah --- sorry."

Dylan smiled and turned back to his console. "Well, at least I'm not going crazy."

Trance stifled her giggle and looked around the Command Deck. Dylan watched her covertly, while appearing to work at the console. Once she was sure no one was paying her and Dylan any mind, Trance leaned closer. "Dylan --- we need to talk," she said softly.

He glanced at her again and raised his eyebrows. "And I'm assuming this isn't a conversation for Command?"

"You'd be correct, Dylan."

"Then walk with me, Trance." Dylan allowed his voice to raise to normal levels as he gave the command and she fell into step beside him as they exited the Command Deck. Once they were clear, and Dylan was sure they were alone, he asked the question that had been on his lips since he'd seen Trance's face. "What's wrong?"

Trance bit the inside of her lip for a moment. "Do you know where Beka went, Dylan?"

He swallowed heavily against the feeling of dread that was beginning to build inside him. "No. She wasn't too forthcoming, Trance and I thought I owed her a little privacy --- why?"

"I --- have this feeling." She stole a quick look at him as they walked, noting the tenseness in his shoulders. "I think Beka is in trouble, Dylan."

"I'm not even going to ask you why you think this, Trance." He continued walking, now heading to his quarters. "Damn --- where do we start looking? Do you have any ideas?"

Trance shook her head.

Captain?

Dylan sighed. "Yes, Andromeda?"

Incoming message for you. It's marked 'confidential'.

"I'll take it in my quarters." He lengthened his stride.

Aye, Captain.

Trance hurried to match Dylan's pace and entered his quarters just a step behind him. Dylan looked up quickly.

"Trance --- this is a confidential message."

"I know, Dylan. I also know that I need to be here --- now."

The only sign of his aggravation manifested as Dylan ran his hands through his hair. "Fine. Sit."

Dylan settled behind his desk. "Andromeda, play message."

Aye, Captain.

Dylan nearly jumped as the holo-image came to life, hovering above his desk. The image was of Beka --- and unconscious Beka. If he squinted just right, he was sure he could see a dark bruise on her cheek. His intake of breath coincided with Trance's audible gasp and he looked to her.

"She's alive, Dylan," the golden-skinned woman whispered.

Dylan nodded as he looked back to the hologram. Just then the image shifted.

"Tyr," Dylan spat.

"Hello, Dylan. I can imagine the look on your face right now --- and sincerely wish I could see it for myself --- but I think we'll be seeing each other quite soon --- that is, if you want to see Rebecca Valentine alive again."

The message paused and Dylan swore at Tyr's knowing leer.

"I think that may have just shut you up, Captain Hunt. The price for the return of Beka --- alive --- is the Engine of Creation. You have forty-eight hours to comply."

The message continued with coordinates and demands, which Dylan listened to but didn't really hear as his mind ran over possible scenarios and the logistics of a fight against the Nietzschean.

Silence descended and Dylan looked up to see the image of Beka floating in mid-air over his desk. He growled softly.

"Andromeda, may I assume you recorded the particulars of Tyr's demands?"

Yes, Captain.

"Good." He sighed. "And may I also assume he told me to 'come alone'?"

He did not specify that, Dylan.

"Really? How interesting." Dylan leaned back in his chair and looked at Trance before speaking again. "Andromeda, please have Harper and Rhade come to my quarters."

Yes, Captain.

<><><>

one day earlier

Beka was walking through the streets of Desperado Drift when it felt like the hair at the nape of her neck was standing up. She slowed slightly, looking around without trying to call attention to herself. Picking up her pace again, she made for the Maru, hoping to shake whomever was stalking her.

After a half-hour of dodging around, she realized her pursuers were Nietzschean --- and very determined. She thought fleetingly of facing them and stating her title --- but, somehow, here on this backwater drift, she wasn't confident that she wouldn't be attacked anyway --- or in spite of her title as Matriarch.

She was nearly to the hangar where she'd landed the Maru when a very large man stepped in front of her. Seeming not to notice him, she swerved to walk around his bulk. He side-stepped directly into her path again. And she made another move to bypass him. Just then, another man stepped out of an alleyway just behind her, pinning her between the two men.

"Rebecca Valentine!" the large one in front of her spoke loudly.

Beka stopped, keeping her eyes on the man who had spoken, while trying to feel where the man behind her actually was. She looked the large man up and down disdainfully. "I don't know you." Moving to the side again, she tried to move around the man.

Again he moved to stand in front of her.

Beka sighed loudly and put her hand on the weapon hanging at her side. "Look --- and listen very carefully, because I'll only say this once. Get --- out --- of --- my --- way."

The large man grinned, showing a mouthful of silver capped teeth. "Now you listen to me, little lady." He leaned forward deliberately. "No."

"No? That's all you have to say to me?"

The big man thought for a moment. "No --- Matriarch." He smiled, seemingly proud of his witty repartee.

"Ah … Matriarch, is it?' She set a scowl on her face and sniffed. Her nose wrinkled at the sour smell rolling off both of her aggressors and she sighed. "Don't you blokes ever wash?"

The large man in front of her blinked slowly as if assimilating her words. "Wash --- what?"

"Yourselves! You stink out loud!"

"We do?" The smaller man behind her added his half-cent worth of thought to the conversation.

"Hey, Sparky." Beka nodded toward the smaller man. "Shut up already."

"I don't have ta shut up! Just tell her, Gyron."

The large man still standing in front of her growled in exasperation. "Tiny, shut your stupid trap!"

Beka smirked, Gyron and Tiny. What a couple of dolts. She reached up and rubbed her neck, activating her com link and hoping someone would hear these things. "So --- Gyron and Tiny --- what the hell do you want with me?"

"We were asked to escort you to our leader. He wants to negotiate with you."

"Great --- some freaking holiday here." She sighed as she activated the rescue beacon her handheld scanner held. "So just who is your leader?"

"Someone who is very anxious to see you."

Beka set her bag at her feet, giving herself ease of movement should this end in what looked to be an unavoidable battle. "And who would that be?"

A door opened in a large warehouse and she noticed that she was being systematically herded back into that place. She was ringed by two more battle-scarred beings, making it more difficult for her to keep track of her enemies. And, even as she struggled to keep to the streets, she was shuffled into the warehouse and the doors closed and locked behind her. It was then that she realized the few thugs on the street were a part of a much larger clan. Beka barely contained her anger as the thugs pulled off jackets, letting their bone blades ruffle open, stretching after their confinement.

Beka turned around slowly, hands at her weapons. "So --- where is the Big Bad?"

The thugs chattered among themselves quietly. Tiny stepped close to her. "I don't think he will like you talking about him like that."

Beka smiled grimly and stepped toward, insinuating herself in Tiny's space more fully and stalking him as he tried to back away. "You seem pretty upset by this man, Tiny." She took another step closer. "Do you know, he probably is the same as the rest of you. Puts his pants on one leg at a time. Wears tight BVDs in loud colors --- chain mail shirts and leather boots to go with those ass-molding pants he favors --- leather greaves to give support to his bone blades. That is, if he figured out how to regrow them. It must hell to be forced to follow a crazy, bladeless Nietzschean Emperor wannabe."

A loud, steady clapping sounded over her left shoulder. She pulled two long daggers from their scabbards and turned around to face her newest tormentor. She growled and stood tall, her knives at her side. "Tyr - you coward. It was you all along, wasn't it? You lured me here on the pretense of helping Rafe."

"Guilty, Beka. I knew you wouldn't come to see me without some kind of incentive."

"Yeah --- and now I'm leaving." She turned to go, only to have her way blocked by a dozen bristling Nietzscheans. She growled and turned back to face Tyr. "Let me out of here, Tyr. I have nothing to say to you."

He stalked closer. "Oh, but I have things to say to you --- Matriarch."

She rolled her eyes. "Like what?"

"Why don't you put the knives down, Beka --- and we can talk."

"Yeah --- you really think I'm that stupid, Tyr?"

He stared for a moment before nodding to someone behind her. She whirled just as she was caught tight in very strong arms. The daggers were pried from her fingers as she struggled against the man holding her.

"Let me go, Tyr."

"Not yet."

"What do you want?" she growled.

Tyr stepped close, staring down at her as she struggled. "The Engine."

Beka went still. "What --- what engine, Tyr?"

The tall Nietzschean threw his head back and laughed heartily. "Oh, how rich, Beka." He wiped at non-existent tears as he watched for her reaction. When there was none forthcoming, he sighed. "I know Dylan assembled the Engine of Creation, Beka. Just as I know he used it. You see, there is a planet floating in space where the rubble of Earth used to be. I'm also told this new planet is being populated by freed slaves. Why --- some are even calling this place 'New Earth'."

"Really --- I hadn't heard."

Tyr growled. "I want the Engine, Beka --- and you are going to get it for me."

"Keep dreaming, Tyr. I wouldn't help you to save my own soul."

"And that may just be what it takes, Beka." Tyr leaned forward, his gloating face mere inches from hers.

Beka saw her chance. She kicked back, catching the Nietzchean holding her in the groin. As his grip on her loosened, she bucked forward, head-butting Tyr and sending him stumbling back a step. In an instant, he recovered his wits and stepped forward again. Pulling his fist back, he let loose, catching Beka high on her cheekbone as she looked up at him. Her eyes rolled back in her head and she fell. Tyr watched her go down with a grimace on his face.

"Pick her up. We have a timetable to meet and a message to send." Turning on his heel, he quickly strode from the building, leaving his minions to clean up and bring their captive.

<><><>

Once the crew had assembled, Dylan had Andromeda replay the message from Tyr. When the message began and Harper saw the image of an unconscious Beka, he shot to his feet. "What the hell?" He turned to Dylan. "Boss?"

Dylan waved him back to his seat. "Just watch, Harper."

And then Tyr's image filled the screen.

"Tyr?" Harper jumped to his feet again. "Tyr has Beka?"

"Mr. Harper! Sit!" Dylan said tersely.

Harper sat down again, perching on the edge of his chair and jiggling one leg in agitation.

When the message was complete and the image had faded, Dylan sat back. "So, at least now we know what Tyr's been up to."

Rhade looked at him sharply. "Not funny, Dylan."

Dylan raised an eyebrow. "I know, Rhade. But it's also true. We now know what is next on Tyr's agenda. He wants the Engine --- and he's willing to kill to get it."

"Doesn't it seem weird that this is happening to Beka right after what happened to you? You were tortured by Nietzscheans less than two weeks ago --- for the Engine, Dylan. It's all about that damned Engine!"

Dylan nodded. "Yes --- it is. Tyr somehow lured Beka to an out of the way location --- in hopes of blackmailing us to hand over the Engine to him. I'm almost positive the two attacks are related and that Tyr went after Beka only after he didn't get any information from me."

"You think Tyr was responsible for your attack also?" Rhade was thoughtful.

"Yes, I do," Dylan answered softly. "Trance? You've been awfully quiet."

Trance looked up, meeting Dylan's eyes. "I think you're right, Dylan. Tyr was behind your capture --- as well as now having taken Beka hostage. He seems to be getting desperate --- and desperate people are dangerous."

Dylan sighed. "Great. As if we need Tyr to be any more dangerous than usual."

Rhade nodded. "But we are forgetting one thing. We are no longer in possession of the Engine --- am I correct?"

"You're correct, Rhade," Dylan agreed. "We dismantled the Engine and scattered its parts. No one of us knows the location of all of the parts."

"And we don't need that Nietzschean Napoleon to get a hold of the Engine anyway!" Harper interjected angrily. "Can you imagine the destruction the Engine could cause in the wrong hands? And Tyr's hands are definitely the wrong hands for all that power!"

"Sit down, Mr. Harper. I have no intention of letting Tyr anywhere near any part of the Engine of Creation. But we do need to come up with a plan. We now have less than forty-eight hours --- less than two days --- to rescue Beka. I have no doubt that Tyr will kill her just to prove his point."

<><><>

Captain, I've traced the Maru to Desperado Drift.

Dylan nodded. "Good job, Andromeda. Do we know how Tyr lured Beka to the drift?"

Well, Beka tried to cover her tracks by deleting her messages, but it looks like she got a message from an anonymous source telling her that her brother was in some kind of difficulty on the drift.

"And we know that, even when she is cursing him, Beka has a soft spot for that brother of hers."

Right, Captain.

"Is it possible that Tyr is holding Rafe as security against Beka coming to him?"

Rafe Valentine was arrested two weeks ago on Sinti --- for disturbing the peace and other various charges. He's doing sixty days in their prison system. I double-checked his whereabouts myself.

"So --- suggestions, people?" Dylan sat back and waited for his crew to think the situation through.

Harper jumped to his feet. "We have to go get her, Boss! Tyr won't keep her alive just because she's the Matriarch."

"I know that, Harper. In fact, Beka being the Matriarch just may put her in more danger from Tyr than if she weren't the Matriarch."

Rhade interjected, "Being Matriarch gives Beka status in the eyes of the Nietzschean Tribes. Tyr would feel diminished by that."

Dylan nodded. "Exactly, Rhade. Beka's DNA won't win her any points in this situation. And don't forget --- Tyr is still upset over losing his son. This rescue won't be easy --- and wouldn't be, even if we had the Engine."

"I think it's important that we follow Tyr's instructions as closely as possible, Dylan," Trance said in a soft voice. "He will be looking for the Engine when you land."

"Right." Dylan thought for a second. "Harper --- can you make a mock-up of the Engine?"

"A mock-up? Don't you think he'll know the difference?"

"Why should he?" Dylan grinned. "It isn't as if he's ever seen it assembled."

"Won't he scan it?"

Dylan nodded. "Probably. Give it some power then --- make it hum. Just give me something so he won't kill me the second I step from the Maru."

"The Maru is still on Desperado Drift --- unless Tyr took it," Rhade reminded him.

"And that's why we're going to Desperado Drift before going to get Beka."

"Why do you need the Maru?" Rhade asked.

"Because Tyr wants the Andromeda almost as much as he wants the Engine and I will not risk him touching her."

Thank you, Dylan.

"You're welcome, Andromeda."

<><><>

They found the Maru on Desperado Drift and, after a sizeable bribe to the manager of the hangar, they flew her back to the Andromeda.

"Rhade, I need you here --- on board the Andromeda. If anything happens --- Tyr will come here. He will try to take over this ship. I trust you can hold out against a direct attack."

Rhade raised an eyebrow. "Yes, Dylan. I can hold off a direct attack from Tyr and his band of ruffians."

Dylan nodded. "Good." He turned to Harper. "You're staying here too, Mr. Harper."

"Me? Boss, I need to help rescue Beka. You need me!"

"Yes, I do. I need you to stay here and make sure Andromeda is in top form to hold off any attack. No one can take care of her like you can, Harper." Dylan put his hand on the young engineer's shoulder. "You're too valuable for me to take on this mission. Now go --- get that mock-up ready. We don't have much time."

"I'm on it, Boss," Harper answered as he hurried out the door.

"Trance and Rommie --- you're with me." Dylan stood. "We're going in and getting Beka back --- no matter what it takes."

"Right, Dylan," Rommie answered.

Trance was quiet.

"Trance? Are you okay with this?"

She looked up. "Hmm? Oh --- right, Dylan."

Dylan frowned. "Okay, people. Get some rest. As soon as Harper has the mock-up of the Engine completed, we'll be heading out." Dylan waited until everyone had stood up to leave before adding, "Trance? Could you stay a minute, please?"

"Huh? Sure, Dylan." She sat again.

Once the door had shut, Dylan sat on the edge of his desk and looked at Trance. "So --- want to tell me what's bothering you?"

"What?"

Dylan smiled. "You're preoccupied. What's bothering you about this mission, Trance?"

Trance bit her lip.

"I need you to tell me anything that will impact this mission."

Trance sighed. "It's nothing specific, Dylan, but I feel there is death here."

"Death."

Trance nodded. "Yes --- someone will die, Dylan --- and, right now, I don't know who that will be. I just feel the --- loss."

"Okay --- we can deal with this, Trance. Thanks for being honest with me."

Trance stood. "You're welcome, Dylan. I'm going to go rest now --- if that's okay."

"Sure, Trance." Dylan was still sitting on the edge of his desk when the door closed behind Trance. Someone will die. Well, isn't that just grand? Damn, it's never easy.

<><><>

Dylan had forced himself to lay down --- to get some semblance of rest, even when he knew there was no way he would actually sleep. He had also told Rommie to let him know when Harper's Engine was complete so he wasn't surprised to hear the chime at his door while he was in the shower a few hours later.

"Who is it, Andromeda?"

My AI is at your door, Captain.

"Rommie? Let her in."

Rommie stepped through the door, looking around as she did. Once she heard the water running in the shower, she stopped, letting the door shut at her back. Looking forward, toward the bathroom, she could see a shadowy outline through the thick glass blocks that made up Dylan's shower enclosure.

"I'll be right out, Rommie."

"Right Dylan." The AI fidgeted for a moment before choosing a chair and sitting. Her eyes strayed to the shower enclosure once again as the water was turned off.

"So, Rommie. What brings you to my quarters? Tell me it's good news."

Rommie knew Dylan had stepped from the shower and was drying off and, somehow, that made it more difficult for her to talk to him than when he was in the shower. How strange, she mused. "Harper has finished his Engine. We are ready to depart as soon as you give the word, Dylan."

"Really? Hmm, that puts us ahead of schedule." Dylan stepped from the bathroom, shrugging into a shirt as he walked. "How far are we from our launch point, Rommie?"

"Two hours, give or take a few minutes. That will put the Andromeda within striking distance of Tyr's lair, but still out of sensor range."

"Very good, Rommie. Where is Trance?"

"Already on board the Maru, Dylan."

Dylan nodded. "Okay then. Have Harper and Rhade meet us in the hangar bay in ten minutes. I want a demonstration of this Engine before we leave."

"Right, Captain." Rommie stood and left Dylan's quarters, leaving him to finish dressing and gather his gear.

<><><>

Ten minutes later found the crew assembled beside the Maru. Dylan was about to ask where Harper was when he heard his voice behind him. Spinning around, he saw the young man entering the hangar bay carrying something long tucked under one arm.

"That's supposed to be the Engine?" Rhade asked sarcastically.

Harper frowned, suddenly looking less sure of himself. "Um --- yeah --- I mean. Look, Tyr doesn't even know what the Engine looked like! I thought this would be okay."

Dylan stepped toward Harper, seeing the young man's uncertainty. "Let me look at that thing, Harper."

Harper walked quickly to Dylan's side and handed the mock-up to him. Dylan hefted it gingerly. It was long and --- sleek, was the word that came to Dylan's mind. It looked more like what they had all thought the Engine was going to be than what the Engine actually wound up looking like. Dylan nodded his head as he looked the piece of metal over.

"I like it, Harper. Now show me how it's going to fool Tyr so I don't get killed the second I step from the Maru."

Harper grinned. "You're gonna love this, Boss. I rigged this baby with a small power generator right here --- up under this front piece. Ya gotta know their gonna scan it and the low level hum from the generator should fool their sensors --- and give you time to get inside. By the time they figure out that this thing doesn't do what they expect it to do, you should already have Beka and be on your way out."

Dylan laughed. "That's when I like about you, Harper. Your total lack of pessimism."

Rhade growled off to his left and Dylan raised his eyebrows. "What, Rhade?"

"You have to know that Tyr isn't just going to let you walk away from his lair with Beka in tow."

Dylan nodded. "I said I liked Harper's optimism --- I didn't say I agreed with it." He sighed. "Tyr isn't just going to walk away from this fight --- I know that. Question is --- will someone have to die this time?"

Trance gasped softly --- finally understanding her feelings of doom. Dylan nodded once in her direction. Now it was just a matter of who was going to die.

<><><>

They were five hours ahead of schedule when they came within sensor range of their destination. Dylan barely had time to reflect on the irony of meeting Tyr on the promontory known as Honor's Ledge when the Maru's computer notified them that they were being scanned. They waited, knowing there was a chance that the scan was showing Tyr the power signature of the fake Engine, and hoping that Harper's genius would save their skins --- again.

When word came from the surface of the planet that they were to land, Dylan sighed. Rommie looked slightly puzzled as Trance laughed softly at their luck. When Dylan tried to explain their reactions, Rommie just shook her head.

"The signature is plausible, Dylan. I double checked it myself."

Dylan and Trance shared a smile over Rommie's head.

The landing was uneventful and the three crewmembers disembarked together, Trance and Rommie flanking Dylan as he exited with the fake Engine in his arms. Looking around, they noted that they were about 100 meters from the mouth of a cave; it's opening taking up much of the face of the mountain they were on. Dylan had wanted to make sure that he wasn't outflanked by the Nietzscheans so the Maru was sitting as close to the edge of Honor's Ledge as he could set her down.

As they approached the cave, Nietzscheans began filing out of the cave, lining up facing them. When they were about twenty meters out, Dylan stopped and put the Engine on the ground in front of him. Trance and Rommie took their places at his side. As it became apparent that Dylan was not moving any closer, Tyr stepped from the cave.

"Dylan --- welcome."

"Tyr. Where's Beka?"

Tyr chuckled. "I don't trust you enough to bring her out before I check out your --- offering to me."

"Offering? I see you still have delusions of grandeur, Tyr."

Tyr frowned. "I want the Engine, Dylan."

"I know you do, Tyr. And I want Beka. Until I see that she is unharmed, you don't even get to breathe on the Engine."

Tyr nodded over his shoulder and Beka was pulled from the cave, struggling between two very large Nietzscheans. Her hands were bound in front of her and they held her by the biceps.

"Hey, Dylan. What brings you to this rock?" Beka quipped as she pulled against the hands holding her.

Dylan smiled. "Heard this is where you took your vacation and thought I'd drop in and see what the attraction was."

Beka smiled.

"Enough of the chatter!" Tyr growled as he stepped forward. "Give me the Engine --- now."

"Give me Beka."

"This isn't a negotiation, Dylan. I'm holding all the cards here. Give me the Engine or she dies."

Dylan leaned on the Engine, using it as a staff for effect. The low hum of the power source vibrated through his hand where he held it and he knew without looking up that there was a tiny play of power around the opening at the end of the staff --- just enough to show Tyr that the supposed Engine was indeed in working order. He could see Tyr straining forward, itching to get his hands on the ultimate power.

Dylan smiled. "No, Tyr. I think I'm holding all the cards. You see --- this here," he gave the Engine a little shake, "is the whole damned deck of cards. And you're not getting your hands on it until Beka is safely in the pilot's chair of the Maru."

Tyr laughed loudly. "That's rich, Dylan. If I let Beka loose, you'll leave and take the Engine with you."

"Well then, it seems as if we're at an impasse."

"Doesn't it."

There was silence for a few minutes, during which Dylan didn't take his eyes off of Tyr for even a nanosecond. He could feel Trance and Rommie at his side and he was grateful for the support.

Tyr snorted in disgust and motioned to the men holding Beka. She was shuffled over to his side and he took her arm, motioning the others to stand back. "Even exchange, Dylan," he stated as he began to walk slowly forward, pulling Beka along with him.

Dylan let him come. They were already closer to the cave --- and Tyr's weapons stash, than he'd like. Tyr finally seemed to notice Dylan's lack of movement and stopped about five meters away.

"What mayhem are you planning, Dylan?"

Dylan shrugged. "I don't know what you're talking about, Tyr. I think I'm already closer to your home base than to my ship --- so I'm staying right where I am."

Tyr grinned. "Looking to make a fast get-away then?"

"I know I can't trust you, Tyr. You've proven that to me on more than one occasion. When you get your hands on the ultimate weapon I fully expect you to take a pot shot at me. So, yeah --- I'm looking to make a fast get-away."

Tyr nodded. "And that makes me wonder just why you are so willing to part with this treasure."

"You just don't get it Tyr, do you? Beka --- my crew --- is the ultimate treasure --- not this piece of metal. Nothing is worth more than the people that make up this universe, Tyr."

Tyr smiled. "And that is what makes you weak, Captain Hunt."

He pushed Beka suddenly, sending her stumbling forward. Trance stepped forward and grabbed onto her, steadying her on her feet.

"Get her to the Maru, Trance," Dylan said softly, never taking his eyes off the man standing in front of him.

Trance pulled Beka away, murmuring to her quietly as Beka fought to stay with Dylan.

Tyr pulled his gun out and pointed it at Dylan. "I expect you'll uphold your end of the bargain."

Dylan nodded and stepped forward, motioning for Rommie to stand her ground, which she did, with her hands lightly resting on her holstered forcelances. When he was standing just in front of Tyr, Dylan held the Engine in both hands, offering it freely. Tyr grinned and took it, hefting it and running his hands over the smooth finish.

"Heavy --- solid construction. And I can feel the power flowing through it." He looked up at Dylan. "You are a fool."

"Right --- so, we'll be leaving you to your delusions of grandeur now, Tyr. Remember --- only the worthy can use the Engine. Have a nice life."

Dylan turned and walked quickly back toward the Maru, Rommie falling in step beside him.

"Oh --- you too, Dylan."

That was when Dylan and Rommie began to run. Dylan could hear the Maru firing up and knew they would be ready to take off as soon as he and Rommie hit the deck. He figured they'd need to be in the air by then because all hell was going to be letting loose on the ledge.

Tyr found the trigger switch and, pointing the end of the Engine toward Dylan that had power playing around its neck, he activated it. A trilling beep sounded and then nothing happened for a full second and then the Engine lit up. Power swarmed along its length, engulfing the man holding it. Tyr screamed as his hands were welded to the metal and his clothes began to smolder. Tyr's men yelled and moved forward in a swarm, rushing to their leader's aid. They soon realized that they were unable to do anything for him, however, as the power continued to crawl over his body for a full three minutes. By the time the Engine powered down again, the Maru was a speck in the sky and the Nietzscheans were left with a mess to clean up.

<><><>

"So --- Mr. Harper. You didn't tell me the Engine was lethal."

Harper gulped visibly before answering. "Um --- I figured that if Tyr got a hold of the Engine he'd try to use it and when it didn't work he'd kill you. I was hoping that by making the Engine lethal it would give you time to get away."

Dylan sighed. He was tired --- and, damn it, Tyr had been a crewmember once upon a time and he was having difficulty knowing he was responsible for his death. "And the line about being worthy?"

"Did you tell him that, Dylan? Like I told ya?"

Dylan smiled. "Yes, Harper. I remembered at the last second and I told him that only the worthy could use the Engine."

"And you think his people heard that?"

Dylan frowned but nodded. "I'm sure of it --- why?"

Harper grinned. "Don't you see, Dylan? The other Nietzscheans are going to be too scared to do anything with the Engine now. They will think that Tyr wasn't worthy --- and if the father of the reincarnated progenitor isn't worthy, who is? You've just created another legend, Dylan. The Nietzscheans have what they think is the Engine, but they will be too afraid to do any more than look at it --- for a long long time. Who knows? It may just take the reincarnated progenitor to activate it successfully --- and Tyr's son is dead. Who knows how long it will be until the next one is born."

"Well done, Mr. Harper. Well done."

"Yeah, well --- if scaring them doesn't work the first time, the Engine has enough power for three more charges --- just in case."

THE END