It cost the rebels much to re-initialize the com unit. So much that, for the fear of EC tracking them, they made ready to leave Saturn Dark. Dr.Bruna Fedli and a handful of her staff were among the last of them. They had appropriated a small but hardy space voyager- Ripper, so they could travel for months without making port. The Ripper traveled silent for a million miles away from the Earth and the elliptical plane of the solar system before Dr. Bruna switched the com unit and calibrated it to match the Phoenix's frequency. Even after knowing the general location of the target it took five hours for the unit to find and tag the Phoenix. Dr.Bruna sent a small message disguised as a travel warning for ships:
"Call back. Shira-One Arm is on her way with EC weaponry."
She waited at the com, settling down to wait for a reply. Not a minute later the tech officer reported.
"The Claw and The Blacker have tunneled."
An uneasiness crept over Bruna as she willed with all her heart for the Phoenix to reply before the two ships reached across time and space to capture it. Minutes went by without any reply from the Phoenix but Dr. Bruna stubbornly refused to move; sitting there, refusing to let go of the slim hope of getting Phoenix back. Then as if in response to her intensity of emotion the com unit came to life.
Maaz had cried freely, not being able to stop once he started. As a sense being lost and helplessness combined with the fear of capture had stopped his mind. Maaz had never felt such welling up of emotion and so shrinked into himself to avoid reality. A whole day went by when he did nothing but drink a few glasses of water and the nutrient pills. And then most of the second day had passed in this limbo when Tank announced.
"A long range message."
Maaz sat up and had Tank bring up the message.
"This is Dr. Fedli. Shira-One Arm has reached Sirius A ahead of you, turn back if you want to avoid capture. I am sending an escort to help you. Call back for instructions."
She will take the ship. He had begun to think as the ship as "his own". At least I have Tank cloned and maybe I can convince her to transport me to the Belt in lieu of the new batteries. Thinking of no other way out Maaz called Dr. Fedli."
"We are turning back towards the Tunnel."
"OK Phoenix, the escort is already tunneling towards you. Wait for them and allow boarding. How many are you?"
"Two." Maaz replied without thought, counting Tank as a person.
"Fine, they have courier ship in the hold. You can take it but only if you forget about the Phoenix. No mention anywhere, anytime. Remember, I have a long reach."
"Fine." Maaz cut the com and asked Tank to turn around. Maaz soon fell into a fitful sleep for a few hours. On Waking he forced himself to the pantry and made a coffee. Before he could take a sip of the dark, hot beverage, Tank announced.
"A long range message. A travel warning"
"What now. Put it up Tank."
The message read: "Call back. Shira-One Arm is on her way with EC weaponry."
EC weaponry? Maaz was puzzled. "What is Dr. Fedli saying?" He mumbled. Tank answered.
"This message is not from Dr. Fedli."
"What in the Galaxies is going on Tank? Who sent this?"
"I can trace it to the Saturn relay."
The possibility of EC involvement was crazy. Maaz's head was spinning with questions. If EC was after him, he was as good as dead. But who had sent the message? Who knew of the Phoenix? If Shira was behind them and not at Sirius A, he would not be able to turn around this time. Shira would kill him? Or worse. Should he call this anonymous warner? What if it was EC? But without the engines what could he do? Finally he decided to call the second person, it could do no harm. When the call went through he was more than surprised.
"This is Dr. Bruna Fedli. You don't have much time. Shira will reach you in a few hours. Or can you detect the Claw already?"
Maaz took a few moments to check with Tank and then replied.
"Claw is still not in detection range."
"The signature will be scrummed. Are you sure?"
"No ships in half MM range."
"The best way would be to fly to the Free Zone at max speed and to the other side. The Worm Hole there will take you to the Polar Junction."
"Shira is damn fast, and we may not get this ship to fly away in time if she can get a missile lock. So thanks but no thanks."
Shira was at her Captain's seat as soon as The Claw exited the Tunnel and decelerated to bearable acceleration. She ordered the targeting systems online and scan the space ahead of them. She ordered the shields at full capacity so anyone screening her would only see the scrummed signature the ship put out. She also ordered The Blacker to shield up and stay near but behind The Claw.
In less than a day they tagged the runaway Jovian ship. Though they could not detect any fusion exhaust, the wave-tag Dr. Nora had supplied was enough. Shira could see that they were almost at a standstill in the middle of nowhere. But she discounted any sort of engine failure, that would be too easy and therefore it was better to ignore that possibility. Dr. Nora had probably subverted the ship, or stopped it temporarily- that was one scary lady Shira thought absently touching the back of her neck right at the scar where the bomb was inserted into her body.
As soon as the runaway was in range Shira ordered a laser shot, a warning for them to stay put. The next moment there was an explosion and The Claw screens whited out due to radiation. The passive scans showed no sign of the runaway. Remote scanners were launched immediately as getting the regular backups would take a few minutes. Still no ship. Shira ordered The Blacker up front, to the spot where the explosion had occurred. No ship and very little debris was found.
Shira replayed the ships records to make sure that her warning laser had not touched the target ship. Though she found no mistake or error on her part she dreaded to make her report, of another failure, to Dr. Nora Fisher