ART OF DECEPTION
The small space craft hurtled into the vast empty void of space pursued by the three determined attackers.
No amount of avoiding action could shake the other ships. They fired a constant, endless stream of plasma bolts, yet each shot was neatly sidestepped by the defiant ship.
Then suddenly, the chase ceased.
For incredibly space was not so empty.
Hanging silently before them was the Liberator.
And they all seemed awestruck.
It was the smallest ship, which broke out of its reverie, by firing a spread of missiles and then hurtling off into space again.
The scene was watched impassively by Avon.
Zen had informed him of the oncoming ‘fleet’ and he had watched in quiet amazement as the drama had unfolded.
But he did nothing.
It was of no concern of his.
If two opposing sides wanted to battle it out; then so be it. That was their prerogative.
That was his opinion…until one of the pursuing ships let loose a fusillade of shots towards the Liberator.
Now it was his concern.
“Zen. Deflector shield up. Now.”
+Confirmed. Deflector shield activated. +
Avon depressed a button on his console, “Blake. I think you had better get up here.” He had no sooner finished when one of the shots hit home, smashing into the deflector shield.
The Flight Deck rocked.
Avon steadied himself waiting to see if another shot was unleashed. Thankfully, it wasn’t.
Jenna was the first to arrive. She immediately went to her station, “Whose firing at us?”
“They are,” Avon replied, nodding towards the main screen, “It seems we have found ourselves embroiled in a dispute of some nature.”
“Those three ships and one other, which has since left the area.”
By now, Blake had made his way to the Flight Deck. The urgent call had disturbed his sleep and he wasn’t in any mood for protracted explanations, “What’s going on? Is this something to do with you, Avon?”
Jenna interceded, “It looks as though one of those ships out there is taking pot shots at us.”
“I repeat; is this any thing to do with you, Avon?”
“And I repeat….no.”
“I’m as much in the dark as Avon. Whatever their reason, they are moving off.”
“….In the direction of that first ship. They are chasing it.”
“Why?” Blake asked.
Vila had also arrived at his station, his prolonged quiet rest period totally ruined by the buffeting caused by the random plasma bolt, “Do we really care?”
“Well it certainly got our attention,” Gan observed, joining them all.
“Perhaps,” Avon began, “we should ignore it and see if that is indeed their intention.”
“And if it is?” Blake asked.
“That remains to be seen.”
“Where are those ships now, Gan?”
“About 1000 spacials……no wait. They’re coming back!”
Sure enough, the small ship was hurtling towards the Liberator, once again trying to throw off the stubborn advances of the ensuing three craft.
Vila sat up, “Just what do they think they are doing? Don’t they know who we are?”
“Some people have no respect for celebrities, Vila,” replied Jenna.
“That’s not what I meant. I mean, look at those puny ships and then look at us. They must realise that they don’t stand a chance against…”
“…..They’re children.” Cally was standing quite still. She had arrived on the Flight deck unnoticed during the commotion.
Every one turned to face her.
“There are children on that first ship. And they are scared.”
“Of what? Us?” queried Blake.
“I don’t know…..but they are scared.”
Without any hesitation, Jenna took control of the Liberator and began to turn it to face the oncoming vessels.
Avon could hardly contain his horror, “What are you doing?”
“You heard Cally, didn’t you? There are children on that ship, scared children and I am not going to stand by and watch…”
“I’d like to think that somewhere in that cold hearted, analytical mind of yours, there was an iota of conscience. But obviously there isn’t. You don’t care for anyone, but yourself.”
The words stung Avon, that much was obvious. Blake didn’t say anything, he didn’t need to, all eyes were on Avon, and Blake knew that that was enough, “Jenna, follow those ships. Maybe, just maybe, we can scare off the others and find out exactly who is aboard that first one and why the others are so intent on attacking it.”
The sight of the Liberator bearing down on the small flotilla obviously worried someone. The three attackers suddenly peeled off, but not before firing at and hitting the smaller ship.
All on board the Liberator watched in horror as the ship caught fire and then careered out of control towards a nearby planet.
“Zen, I want a tracker on that ship. I want to know exactly where it lands,” Blake ordered.
“At that speed and with that damage I don’t think anyone could manage to land it,” Jenna pointed out, “Especially if, as Cally says, there are frightened children aboard it……”
“I can sense two young people,” Cally said, “But they are not alone…”
“Hopefully, whoever is with them knows how to land a damaged ship.”
They got their answer a few minutes later.
The ship seemed to make a controlled landing, which worried Avon somewhat.
“Doesn’t it occur to you that that ship made a near perfect landing?”
“They must have a very good pilot aboard,” Blake remarked, “Cally, you seem to have an affinity with whoever is down there; maybe you should come with me. Gan, they may need help to get out. Vila, operate the teleport, and Jenna, make sure those other ships don’t come back and surprise us.”
“And what about me?” Avon asked, noting how he had been completely overlooked in the scheme of things.
“Do what you normally do…keep a cold, detached distance…after all, I’m going against every single creed you hold dear. Besides…I happen to care about those people.”
Avon watched in silence as the three left the Flight Deck.
Jenna looked at him, “What’s the matter? Feeling left out?”
“He’s making a big mistake.”
“Then you can console yourself when you’re proved right, can’t you.”
The two men exchanged nervous glances.
Neither had ever been in this position before; meeting a stranger, in a strange establishment, in an equally strange township, on an outer world planet.
“How will we know him?” the first man asked.
“He said he will know us,” his companion offered, not feeling at all happy about this situation.
With trepidation, they entered the building. Through the gloom they could see a long counter which appeared to be supporting several members of the community. They approached the rather stern man who gave the impression of serving the erstwhile members of the community, none of whom seemed compelled to move or even acknowledge the man or his services.
“Excuse us,” the first man mumbled, “We are supposed to be meeting a gentleman here….”
“A gentleman? Here? Do any of these individuals even remotely resemble a gentleman? Of any sorts?” the stern man glowered back at them.
Not to be intimidated, the first man drew himself up to his full height, “His name is Rakel….”
“Calling him a gentleman is a first. He said to wait in the booth at the back.” He pointed to the rear of the establishment and the two edgy men thanked him, then made their way to the appointed place.
“Are you sure we’re doing the right thing,” the second man whispered, “We don’t even know this person; if he can be trusted or not.”
“Look, all I know is that he came very highly recommended,” the first man replied, “If anyone can get it back, he can.”
All eyes were on the slim, elegant woman with the dark, close cropped hair. With her striking looks and charismatic personality, it was difficult not to notice her and she was totally aware that everyone in the immediate vicinity was watching her every move.
She had glided, so it seemed, along the highly polished marble floor to the dais at the centre of the high ceilinged room. All along the walls of this room there were alcoves and in each alcove there was an impressive work of art; each one appropriated from yet another planet that had fallen under the yoke of the Federation.
Servalan stood patiently by the dais, waiting for her new prize to be delivered….or rather the President’s new prize. Yet another trophy from yet another annexed planet; its wealth now passed to the ever expanding Federation. She had no idea what to expect only that it was highly prized by the inhabitants and that the President would find it an alluring addition to his collection.
She stood quite still, flanked by her two attendant Mutoids, feigning impatience. Within seconds, Space Commander Travis was striding towards her; in his wake, another emotionless Mutoid, this one carrying a wooden casket.
“Well, Space Commander Travis, I trust you haven’t brought me here on a whim. I do have important Federation business to which to attend.”
Travis allowed a thin smile to cross his face; a once handsome face, now partly obscured by a black patch, “I think you will find what I have to your liking and I’m sure the President, too, will find it to his taste.”
The Mutoid presented the casket to Servalan, but she merely gestured to Travis, who then stepped forward and opened the lid. Very carefully, he lifted out the contents, a beautiful golden statuette the like of which Servalan had never seen before.
It was of a woman; tall, slender and serene, on her head a delicately balanced head dress; her arms open, waiting to receive, ready to welcome in a warm embrace.
Servalan was spell bound, “It’s beautiful. To whom did it belong?”
“It was found in a building they called a temple. They were not happy when I removed it. It has been the cornerstone of their lives since their planet was colonised. As I pointed out to their leaders, the Federation does not tolerate the old ways; they must move forward.”
“Quite right, Travis, to hark back to the dark days is a dangerous notion; if the Federation is to grow strong then they must embrace the future. Does this exquisite creature have a name?”
Travis placed the statue on the dais, “There are old markings on the base, as you can see, but their meaning is long lost.”
“You have done well, Travis,” Servalan purred, her elegant finger gently tapping his chest, “The President will be most pleased.”
The young Federation Officer watching the scene felt an inner rage.
Space Commander Travis had returned with a mere statue and he was treated with warm regard and praised to the hilt.
Drost was not best pleased. He had been ordered halfway across the Galaxy to witness this debacle. He had expected to see something far more important that a statue being handed over; he had expected, at least, to see the scourge of the Federation once and for all neutralised and handed over to Servalan and then to the tender mercies of the Federation interrogation squads.
If this was how Servalan reacted to a mere statue, how would she repay him if he brought her Blake?
A thought occurred to him.
Here was a chance to ingratiate himself to those in the upper echelons of the Federation. Perhaps it was time to carry out a plan that had been forming in his mind for the last few months; all he had to do was make sure his own men were happy to join him and achieved that which had so far had eluded Travis. The capture of the rebel leader, Roj Blake. Now that would make Supreme Commander Servalan sit up and take notice.
He waited until everyone in the room was dismissed.
First he had to find something, or someone, that would make Blake come running without any regard to who, or what, was behind the entire subterfuge.
It was time to contact his ‘friend’. The one who moved in circles away from the eclectic mix of Federation high society; the ‘friend’ who knew what was happening beyond the tightly controlled perimeters of Federation jurisdiction.
“If only I could have five minutes,” Vila was saying, mentally calculating the exact total of all the objects he could see in the room on the screen, “I could steal enough to make me a very happy man.”
“You wouldn’t live long enough to enjoy it, Vila,” Blake smiled.
He and Vila were sitting on the Flight Deck of the Liberator, watching the newscast being broadcast from somewhere out in Space, to the ship, courtesy of Zen.
“Really?” asked Vila.
“Really,” replied Blake, watching as the scene shifted from Supreme Commander Servalan to his own personal nemesis, Travis.
“If there is one thing I know, it’s security systems. And this new Museum..”
“…..for the President’s recently acquired works of art, does not have a decent Security system. Anyone could walk in there, help themselves, and be off before anything untoward was noticed.”
“Now who in their right mind would do a thing like that?”
“Me,” replied Vila proudly.
Avon suddenly appeared behind them. If he had been watching the telecast, then he had been doing so from the entrance to the Flight Deck, in silence and alone. He sat down opposite, his gaze still drawn to screen and who was on it. “The operative phrase,” he pointed out, “was ‘who in their right mind?’. What do you find so interesting about this particular broadcast, Blake? Perhaps another target to go after?”
“Another target?” Blake remarked casually, “ No. What would we do with everyone else’s stolen highly prized possessions?”
“Quite a lot, actually,” Vila put in, “On the so called Black Market, a lot of those exhibits could fetch a fair fortune.”
“You want us to steal all those highly prized artefacts from the Federation and sell them on? Vila, we would just be another band of criminals….”
“Yes, but rich ones!”
Avon studied Vila with a distinct air of bemusement, “As if we don’t have enough assets already.”
“Yes, I know, but it’s not the same. The thrill of the chase, whether or not we would be found out…then trying to find potential buyers…..”
“I’m not too sure about the thrill of the chase,” Blake admitted. His gaze wandered back to the main screen. There was Supreme Commander Servalan, happily receiving the contents of the casket.
A gold statue; a planetary system’s most treasured possession and he, Blake, could only sit back and watch. He had hoped that once the news of his and the Liberator’s exploits had reached the rest of the oppressed people under the yoke of the Federation, then they, too, would turn to fight back. As yet, though, nothing had happened; no popular uprising had manifested itself. And as for news; then that was undoubtedly being suppressed. How long could he keep his own crew on his side also worried Blake.
Avon had already made it clear he didn’t share the same objectives. He saw the Liberator as his ticket to a better life, free to live outside the Federation and do what he what wanted without any consideration for anyone else……but having Blake in this life was proving a stumbling block. Blake cast a glance at the seemingly ice-cold man sitting opposite him. How long would Avon wait before he decided to take his chance and rid himself of the one person who stood between him and a life of luxurious freedom?
Almost on cue, Avon returned the glance. There was no warmth, just a stark, emotionless stare. It made Blake want to shudder, but he knew that to do that would invite an even more scornful glare.
The screen faded as the telecast came to an end.
“You do realise, of course, that pride of place in that building will be reserved for you?” Avon pointed out, “Well, at least your head.”
“They’ll have to catch me first,” Blake replied, “Won’t they….Avon?”
He watched from the dark corner; deciding to stay hidden until he was certain that no-one had followed the two men. He realised that the allotted time had passed and that they would start getting jumpy. But in his business, it paid to be certain. Being cautious tended to keep one alive.
And for Brad Rakel, staying alive was of the utmost importance. He casually looked around the darkened room then made his way to his prospective new clients.
“Excuse me, gentlemen, I believe this table is taken.”
The two men whirled around, absolutely petrified. They were out of their depth in this environment, which only made Rakel intrigued as to why they had come here in the first place.
“I’m sorry. We didn’t know…the man, over at the counter, he told us to sit here. If we have caused offence, then please accept our sincere apologies.”
Rakel waved a conciliatory hand and motioned for them to sit down; the last thing he wanted was for attention to be drawn to the small gathering.
“My name is Garon,” the first man stated, “My friend, Telos, and I are waiting for a gentleman called Mr Rakel…a Brad Rakel.”
“And now you’ve found him. The question is, how did you find out about me? You don’t look like the usual clients I deal with.”
“We were given your name by a mutual friend…..”
Garon swallowed hard, “He provides us with a service. We, our people at least, are due to celebrate a very important event and he brings the participants to us…but on this occasion, the most important part of that event is missing. It was stolen by the Federation before we had time to remove it to safety. We need you to retrieve it…..”
“Gentlemen. I have no idea what our mutual friend told you about me, but locating stolen items is not part of my remit. I’m a mercenary....people pay me to fight their battles, and I usually win.”
The man called Telos had been quiet up to now. He decided to speak, “This man said you were good at your job…”
“That was nice of him….”
“…and he said that if anyone could return this sacred item to us, then you could. You like a challenge…and we are prepared to pay half a million credits now, to be followed by another half a million when the item is returned to us and takes its rightful place in the Ceremony.”
Rakel stared at the two men. One million credits for finding and returning a sacred object? It must be important. “What is this item and where do you think it is?”
“It is a golden statue,” Garon replied. He handed Rakel a blue velvet pouch. In it was a beautiful silver frame, surrounding a holographic image that shimmered as Rakel moved it.
“It’s beautiful,” Rakel murmured, completely mesmerised.
“And it now has pride of place in the President of the Federation’s new edifice; his so-called Gallery. The place where he can put on show all of his stolen items and gloat at those his forces have vanquished.”
“Yes……” said Rakel, slowly, realising that these two men were sincere in their beliefs “And when I do get it back?”
Telos answered, his voice firm and even, “Then we can show all those who are oppressed by the Federation that there is hope.”
Commander Drost stood above the quivering man, “You are so predictable, Jason.”
“There’s nothing predictable about this at all,” Jason replied, “You know I do this trip every year; so what’s different this time?”
“We need to borrow your ship.”
Jason was horrified, “I can’t do that! I have to get these two young people to Zinoe. And they can’t be late.”
“Unfortunately, they will be, this time.”
“You don’t understand…..”
“No, Jason, it’s you who don’t understand. I am commandeering your ship in the name of the Federation…and that includes your two passengers. When it is all over, you will receive the necessary remuneration.”
“What about those two young people?”
“Details; details. Once I have completed my mission, which I intend to be very successful, then you will bask in my reflected glory and those two passengers will be of no importance. I may let them live, it depends how things go.”
“Drost; they are only little more than children; they don’t know the way of the World,” Jason pleaded.
“Then it is about time they discovered exactly what the way of the World is. I intend to deliver to Supreme Commander Servalan a great prize and your ship will help me do it…..with, or without, your assistance.”
Jason knew it was useless to argue. Besides, Commander Drost was accompanied by two rather intimidating Federation Guards, “All right. You win. I’ll go and tell them there’s been a slight change of plan and that you are in fact taking them to Zinoe. I’m sure that they will understand.”
“And if they don’t, then you will make them. Do you understand, Jason?”
He resignedly nodded that he did indeed understand. “Do you need me with you? You will need to drop me off on some spaceport or other.”
Drost smiled back, not a very reassuring smile, but it was all Jason knew he was getting. He’d known Drost since they had both attended the Academy, but Jason had decided that the life wasn’t for him. He had dropped out and become a Free Trader, running cargo between the Federation worlds and those beyond its influence. That influence was growing and the space between the Federation’s outer limits and the free planets was growing smaller by the day.
Jason sighed as he made his way to the second cabin of his small freighter. The two young people inside had been nervous when he told them of the approach of the three small ships; he had told them not to worry; it was most probably just the Federation carrying out a routine check to make sure that he wasn’t hauling contraband. Now he had to break the news that their journey was being curtailed, for the moment, and that Commander Drost would be taking over.
Drost cast a cursory glance over the instruments on the cramped Flight Deck. It wouldn’t be long now. Once underway, he would find his target. But first, there was the slight matter of the owner of this ship. It was possible that he would use his contacts to warn Drost’s target of impending trouble.
He turned to the two helmeted men in front of him, “Once our friend Jason has informed our two passengers of the change of itinerary, please feel free to drop him off. We don’t want witnesses. It’s just a shame that we are nowhere near a spaceport…of any kind.”
They left the Flight Deck and Drost allowed himself to sink into the command seat. Outside were his three ships, one connected to this freighter by way of a flimsy connecting tube. It was such a shame, Drost thought, Jason was a good man, you always knew where he was at any set time. But things were different now; to get anywhere in the Federation, one had to be ruthless. It was just a shame that Jason was about to discover just how ruthless his former ‘friend’ had become.
“Down and safe,” Blake said softly into the comms on his bracelet. He, Gan and Cally had teleported down some way from the grounded ship, despite Avon’s continued reluctance about the whole affair.
From the Liberator, they had watched the ship descend rapidly through the atmosphere, apparently aflame and out of control, yet the ship a few metres in front of them seemed remarkably untouched. It had somehow managed to make a controlled landing, leaving the area surrounding it strangely devoid of any wreckage.
Blake was crouched down, trying to get the lay of the land and also feeling a little uneasy about the scene in front of him. A small voice was telling him that something was amiss about the whole thing; maybe Avon was right after all.
“Cally, what do you make of it? Did anyone survive this crash landing?"
The Auron woman nodded, “I can sense them, but they are still scared.”
“So would I be,” Gan put in, “That was quite a battle..”
“Was it?” Cally asked.
“Cally has a point, Gan. I’m going closer to get a better look. You two stay here, just in case any survivors get a bit trigger happy.”
“I think it wise to circle the area first,” Cally suggested, “Gan and I will cover you.”
Blake nodded and set off towards the crash site.
Drost was delighted.
Everything had gone better than planned.
It had proved somewhat daunting to come across the Liberator; even though trying to attract the attention of its occupants had proved to be not as simple as he had first thought. But now, he could see the man who was the reason behind this whole effort coming towards him and his men.
And he would be ready and waiting.
Blake made his way round the ship, his gun ready in his hand. He stopped dead as the main hatch began to open. He motioned to Gan and Cally to get down. A second later, a ramp extended and a figure came into view.
Blake blinked. There in front of him was a young man, barely in his teens, aiming a gun at him.
But it wasn’t a confident young man facing him; it was a young man who was shaking with fear. For a moment Blake was stunned; unable to make sense of what was going on; but when the second figure appeared, equally armed, he knew….
He threw himself to the ground as the weapon held by the second man unleashed a volley of powerful shots. But the shots weren’t aimed at him, they were being fired towards Gan and Cally.
Blake turned around to see the area immediately in the vicinity of his two friends disappearing in a cloud of acrid smoke. He tried to get to his feet, but suddenly found himself pinned face down by a well-placed boot. He tried to reach for his bracelet, but that was snatched from his wrist in a moment.
“I don’t think so…” It wasn’t a voice that Blake recognised. He pushed himself off from the ground, sending the man who was pinning him down flying…but the second man, the owner of the voice, wasn’t in any way perturbed. He caught Blake with a striking kick to the face……
Blake fell back. There was a bitter taste of blood in his mouth and a cloak of darkness was rapidly descending over his vision, but not before he saw the face of the man who had delivered the blow and the two younger, scared people by his side.
In high orbit above the planet, Liberator found itself, once again, the focus of attention from the small fleet of threeships,now bearing down on the stationary space craft.
All three fired plasma bolts at the same time and Jenna found herself hauling on the controls to get the ship out of trouble. As one bolt after another hit home, the Flight Deck turned into a smoke-filled, noisy battle ground; circuits sending out showers of white hot sparks and there were ominous growls from somewhere deep inside the ship.
“Get us out of here!” Avon shouted above the chaos.
“That’s what I’m trying to do….” Jenna responded curtly.
Avon hit the intercom, “Vila, we are under attack, bring them up. Now!”
“Another hit like that and there won’t be anything to bring them back to!” Jenna said pointedly, hitting one of the buttons on her control panel.
Liberator surged forward; in her wake the three ships, determined to do battle.
“If they want a fight, then they’ll going to get one,” Jenna cursed, under her breath.
“I heard you,” said Vila holding onto the Flight Deck wall for all he was worth, “They’re still down there; all of them. I couldn’t……”
“Jenna, bring Liberator about,” Avon said quite steadily, “I’m tired of playing games. Vila, prepare the Neutron Blasters.”
“But what about Blake and the others?”
“As Jenna said, unless we deal with these three ships, they will no longer be our concern.”
The men on the three ships were very pleased with themselves.
They exchanged messages of congratulations with each other and were happily informing the fourth ship, supposedly grounded and out of action, about the turn of events.
“Keep them busy,” Drost ordered, “We need to get away before they realise exactly what is happening.
And so they pressed home their attack, finding it exhilarating as the huge, alien craft sped off.
Feeling buoyed by their apparent success, the three ships gave chase, revelling in the fact that the apparently superior craft was running away; its occupants too overwhelmed by numbers to fight back.
They could not have been more wrong…..
Jenna knew that the Liberator could turn while stationary, but that was a slow manoeuvre. The circumstances required something much faster and much more deadly.
She easily outpaced the smaller ships, leaving them in her wake as the Liberator sped into deepest space apparently trying to escape the unwanted attentions of the attacking fleet. Jenna set the ship onto a returning arc, gathering momentum as it did so.
“They won’t know what’s hit them,” she murmured, “Vila, get ready to fire.”
“Targets identified and locked,” Vila said, gazing at the read-outs on the screen in front of him. He wasn’t too sure what was actually scrolling down, but he knew that he only had to press the button directly in front of him. “Ready on all systems.”
“Now let’s see just what these ships are made of.”
Rakel gently removed the silver frame from its blue velvet pouch and took yet another long look at the hologram; its gentle glow casting a strange, enthral light over his careworn features. He was sitting on the flight deck of his single-manned ship, en-route to the Federation President’s latest monument to excess. Somewhere in that building was this small statue; it didn’t look much, but it meant a great deal to Garon and Telos; whoever they were. He still couldn’t understand why he had agreed to this idiotic mission. Stealing wasn’t his modus-operandus; stirring up trouble and uprisings against the Federation were more his aim in life. Especially as she had died by their hands.
Rakel sighed. It was no use thinking about the what ifs? No, he had to carry on until he had found and confronted those within the Federation he held responsible for her death. But meanwhile, there were some people pinning their hopes on him and the return of their statue.
Those torturers could wait.
The time would come.
He replaced the frame. What was that old saying? Oh yes…he smiled as it came to mind; ‘Revenge is a dish best served cold’.
He could wait.
For as long as it took, he could wait.
Blake surfaced from the deep abyss only to find himself lying on the floor of a darkened room. He could feel the dull vibration under him and realised that he was on a ship, in flight, to goodness knew where. He tried to sit up and then discovered that his hands were tightly bound behind his back.
“I see you’ve decided to join us then?” It was that voice again.
The voice of the man who had caused Blake to fall into that abyss in the first place.
“Here, let me help you…” For all his kind sounding the words, the man roughly hauled Blake to a sitting position and bodily thrust him against the bulkhead. “There isn’t that better?”
Blake didn’t answer.
“Now, now. There’s no need to be embarrassed. It isn’t your fault that you allowed yourself to get caught.”
“Where are my crew?”
“Don’t concern yourself with them. Not anymore. You have other concerns now.”
“If anyone should be concerned…it’s you.”
“We’ll see. My name is Commander Drost, by the way. I think it only fair that you know the name of the man who will hand you over to Supreme Commander Servalan.”
“I’m afraid I’m not familiar with the names of other Federation officers…only Space Commander Travis. I presume he knows about this little scheme of yours?”
Drost seemed to take exception at that remark, “No, he doesn’t.”
“He won’t like that,” Blake informed the man kneeling in front of him.
“That’s just too bad.”
“It will be…for you.”
“Travis has had his chance…and now it’s my turn.”
“And then of course, there’s the other man….”
“Another one? And whom might he be?”
“Oh someone who will take a very dim view of this plan of yours. In fact, I can assure you that he will take great exception to you handing me over to the Supreme Commander. He won’t like it.”
“Yes, really,” Blake replied, finding this Federation officer a little unnerving to say the least, “He will come after you….”
“If you’re trying to scare me, Blake,” Drost murmured, now only inches from his prisoner’s face, “You’re wasting your time. Anyway, who is this man?”
“One of my crew.”
Drost rubbed his chin, “One of your crew? Well, I’d like to say I’m sorry…but all’s fair in love and war. But tell me, why would he even care about you?”
“…….because he was planning to hand me over…. except in his case, he would have done it for a cash reward; and knowing him, it would have been a very substantial amount. And now you have deprived him of not only of that sum of money, but also the satisfaction of seeing the back of me. He won’t be pleased…at all.”
“I’m sorry to hear that….”
“You will be……”
“As I said, Blake, if you’re trying to scare me, it won’t work. We are on our way to rendezvous with the Supreme Commander and your ship is, shall we say, experiencing a few difficulties.”
“Whatever happens to me, he will hunt you down.”
Drost smiled and slowly shook his head, “I don’t think so.”
“That’s the problem with most Federation Officers; they don’t think.”
For a moment, captor and captive stared at each other. Blake knew he shouldn’t have given voice to his own, deeply held opinion, but this over ambitious, over confident man was playing with fire, and he had no idea what that fire could do.
Drost took a deep breath. “Blake, it’s over. You’re going back as the prize exhibit in the President’s Gallery. To prove once and for all that resistance is futile. Now, you really do need to rest. We want you to look your best, don’t we?” As he spoke, Drost’s left hand gripped Blake’s jaw, forcing him to look into the eyes of his captor. There was no compassion, just the depths of brutality that engulfed these men who embraced the Federation’s ethos so completely.
Blake winced as Drost’s fingers found the bruise from their previous encounter.
“I’m sorry. Does that still hurt?”
“I wouldn’t worry about it. I’ve suffered far worse treatment. Treatment that you couldn’t even start to comprehend. Compared to those men, you’re an amateur…..”
Blake knew he shouldn’t have said it; not to an officer who was intent on climbing the ladder with such good effect.
“An amateur am I? Count yourself lucky that I want to present you to Supreme Commander Servalan unscathed……well, almost unscathed.” With that, the hand gripping his chin was suddenly turned into an iron fist. The blow sent Blake sprawling.
“An amateur…..we’ll see.” Drost stood over him, looking down at his victim with undisguised pleasure, “But not now. Once Servalan sees you then I shall ask to personally oversee your punishment…”
It wasn’t a battle; more of a rout. The crews of the three ships had been celebrating their victory when suddenly what they thought was their vanquished enemy came hurtling towards them, neutron blasters firing.
Then just as suddenly as she had appeared, then the Liberator had vanished, leaving one ship totally destroyed; its crew mere atoms. The other two ships crippled; unable to move.
But there was no time for celebrations.
Liberator was on a mission. To get back to the planet and find out just what exactly had transpired down on its surface.
“Still no contact,” Vila announced.
“I presume they are still down there?” Jenna asked nervously.
Avon studied the planet. “I’m going down.”
“But there’s no telling what you’ll find,” Vila implored.
“Would you rather I sent you?”
Gan came too, feeling as if he’d been hit by a meteor storm. All around him lay the debris from the rock that had shattered when the missile had hit home.
He slowly turned over and came face to face with the young man.
“You are hurt,” said the stranger.
“Yes, the woman who was with me…”
“Oh, she is quite safe. My sister is with her. Night is falling and we thought to take her to a shelter. You we could not lift. I am sorry.”
Gan sat up and realised that the ship was gone…as was Blake.
“They left once they had your friend on board. Come, we have made a fire. You will be warm there.”
The stranger didn’t seem a threat, but Gan didn’t want to take any chances, “After you.”
It wasn’t far to walk. A shallow concave in the cliff face, slightly raised above the surface with the overhang keeping out the elements. Sure enough, there was Cally, lying on the ground in front of a small fire, her head resting in the lap of the young girl.
Gan stopped dead.
The young girl looked up, “Please do not be scared. She is asleep.” As she spoke she softly stroked Cally’s hair.
Gan looked at the fire and at Cally, obviously a little more than asleep. There was some warmth, but not enough for the young woman, who despite her best attempts, was shivering. Gan undid his gun and removed his jacket, placing it around the girl’s shoulders.
“Hopefully, my friends will soon be here. I’ll contact them…”
“There were many lights in the sky,” the young man said, “And then they were gone.”
Gan sighed. “Liberator, this is Gan.”
Jenna visibly brightened, “Gan. You’re all right?”
“I think you’d better get down here. We’ve got a problem…and bring some teleport bracelets...”
Avon hit the intercom, “Gan, where’s Blake?”
“That’s the problem…….”
Avon teleported directly to Gan’s position. He was momentarily stunned to see Cally seemingly asleep, with the young girl softly singing to her. Slowly, he crouched down and touched Cally’s face, his fingers searching for a pulse. It was very faint.
Gan was taken by surprise at how soft Avon’s question was.
It was the young boy who answered, “The man who took your friend, he made me point a weapon. I did not want to do it, but he threatened my sister. And then one of his friends shot at this man and this woman. I meant no harm.”
“No harm?” Avon responded, “No harm. This woman…..”
“Will live,” the young girl said, smiling, “She is strong, as is your friend.”
Gan could only shrug, “They got Cally up here, lit the fire and then came and got me. I don’t think they had anything to do with this at all.”
“Apparently, it was an ambush….” Gan started to explain.
“….and the man who took him intends to hand him over to his Supreme Commander.” It was the young man who spoke. His voice lilting, strangely hypnotic.
Avon looked at him, “Really. And who is this man?”
The young man stepped forward in response to Avon’s apparent antagonistic stance. “We do not know his name, but he made our original pilot disappear and then took this ship to ‘lay a trap that Blake would not be able to resist’.”
“And does this man have a name?”
“Avon,” Gan interjected, “I think we ought to get Cally and these young people back to the Liberator. Then we can plan our next course of action.”
“You want to take them aboard the Liberator? Despite the fact that they were part of the plot to ambush Blake?”
“Yes. They are innocent participants.”
Sometimes, it amazed Avon just how easy it was for Gan to trust the innocence of others. Maybe Avon had grown more cynical with time. Despite his misgivings, he knew that he would have to go along with Gan’s suggestion. “All right. Give them a bracelet. The sooner we can get after this stranger the better.”
“But we don’t know who he is….”
“You heard him,” Avon said, motioning towards the young man, “‘His Supreme Commander’. Whoever this man is, he is Federation. At least that narrows down the suspects.”
The teleport section was crowded to say the least.
The moment Avon and Gan materialised, they were subjected to a barrage of questions from both Jenna and Vila. Most notably about Blake.
It was only a few seconds later, that the two inquisitors realised that Gan was carrying an unconscious Cally and that there were two more people present.
“Avon…where is Blake?” Jenna asked urgently.
“It would seem that there was a reception committee waiting for him. And they weren’t exactly welcoming towards Cally and Gan.” He put his bracelet back into the rack, conscious that Vila was watching his every move. “Go with Gan to the sick bay. Cally may need tending to.”
“But what about Blake?”
“…and that is our next problem. It would appear that an ambitious Federation Officer has taken it upon himself to capture Blake and take him to Servalan.”
“And these two?” Jenna asked, pointing at the two young people still standing in the teleport bay, not daring to move.
“According to Gan, they are innocent bystanders…but that remains to be seen. Please,” Avon turned to look at her this time, “get Cally into the medical unit. I have no idea how badly injured she is.”
This time, Jenna didn’t question him. She took Gan’s arm and they went off towards the Medical Unit.
But Avon was still aware that Vila was staring at him, “If you have something to say, say it.”
“A problem you said……not for you, not anymore,” Vila replied.
“Meaning that some eager Federation Officer has finally solved your most overriding problem; how to get rid of Blake.”
“Is that what you think?”
“I’m just wondering how long it will take the others to realise the exact same thing. Nice touch, that…”
“Showing concern for Cally…..and I suppose you are going to introduce me to your two new friends?”
Avon was somewhat taken aback by Vila’s accusations, even more so when he really was concerned about Cally. Did Vila really consider him that cold and indifferent?
“From what Gan was telling me, these two were on that ship. Why? I have no idea. Suffice to say they are, by all accounts, complete innocents.”
Vila studied the two newcomers. The boy seemed to be the older of the two and stood very tall and erect. The girl was younger, barely in her teens and looking slightly bewildered, swathed in Gan’s jacket which came down to below her knees. They were both still in the teleport area; too scared to move, unsure of what to do.
“Please forgive Avon,” Vila began, smiling broadly, “He never was any good at introductions. My name’s Vila. And yours?”
“I am Alpha…this is Omega, my sister…” the boy replied.
“Oh…very nice,” said Vila, finding the names rather strange. But each to their own, “I think we ought to get a cabin sorted out then maybe get you home?”
“No,” the boy replied, “We must finish our journey.”
“And what journey would that be?” Avon asked, finally taking an interest.
“To Zinoe. We are the last of this system, before renewal.”
“That will have to wait, I’m afraid. I…we have to find out where our friend Blake is being taken…..”
“He is being taken to the President’s new edifice, to be handed over in a great ceremony to her, his Supreme Commander.”
“And how do you know that?” Avon asked, finding the young man’s demeanour quite puzzling.
“The man called Drost. The one who took your friend. He was most vocal about it. The thought of such a thing seemed to……”
“……fill him with great satisfaction.”
It was the young girl who spoke.
“But why would he feel so? I do not understand.”
“This Drost,” Avon began, “Where exactly did he acquire you and your sister?”
“Jason was taking us to Zinoe, but his ship was halted and the man called Drost came aboard. He said that we were needed to bait a trap….”
“Jason is gone.”
The young girl, Omega, bit her lip, “He was making his way over to the other ship, when it was disengaged. He is dead.”
Vila looked aghast. He didn’t like the sound of this Drost at all. And it worried him that Blake was now this man’s prisoner. “Avon, we’ve got to go after him, now….”
“No!” the young girl cried. Her hands suddenly found Avon’s arm and gently clasped it, “You must take us to Zinoe. It is almost time. We have been chosen and we must…”
“Chosen? By whom and for what?”
“We have been chosen by those who came after so that we may carry what came before. This is the last time of the old, before the new dawn.”
Avon stared at her. She was speaking in riddles.
“My…friend is in danger, I have to….”
Alpha stepped forward, “My sister speaks the truth. We must be delivered so that the new dawn can commence. We are part of that new dawn.”
“I beg you,” Omega whispered, her voice so soft that Avon was finding it very disturbing. Her hands still clasped his arm; her pale blue eyes strangely compelling.
“What?!” Vila could hardly believe what he was hearing, “Avon, you heard them. Blake is in the hands of some maniac, possibly facing death….and you’re taking these …..these..”
“He will not kill your friend, Blake,” Alpha said, “He wishes to present him alive and well to the woman called Servalan. He was most vehement about that. Once you have taken my sister and I to the place of initiates, then you may leave us and rescue your friend.”
Vila was not at all convinced, “Avon, you’re not being taken in by all this nonsense, are you?”
“We need to find out from Zen where this planet is,” Avon replied, almost as if he hadn’t heard Vila’s question.
But Avon seemed to be in the thrall of something that Vila couldn’t comprehend. The young girl had slipped her hand into Avon’s and was now following him out of the teleport towards the Flight Deck.
“Avon……” Vila implored.
“He is making the right decision,” Alpha explained, his voice just as soft and calming.
Vila watched as the trio walked off, “Oh no….oh no. What will the others say?”
“He’s doing what?”
Just as Vila had feared, Jenna hadn’t taken the news at all well.”
“I told you, he said he would take those two to this planet for a new dawn….I’m as confused as you are.”
“We’ll soon see about this. Vila stay here with Cally..”
Gan could only shrug, “I think it best we both stay here. I have an idea that things on the Flight Deck are going to get a bit ugly.”
By the time Jenna had made her way to the Flight Deck, Avon was already getting the Liberator moving and on a new course. He was standing in front of the huge Orb that dominated the Flight deck, hands interlocked behind his back listening intently as Zen provided the information he had requested.
+…..Kepler 22b in the constellation of Cygnus. One of the earliest planets colonised in that system. Now renamed as Zinoe by the settlers.+
“And have the Federation shown any interest in this planet?”
+The Federation have sent a delegation on several occasions and the most recent one was regarded as hostile. An artefact was removed….+
“Thank you Zen. Set course for Zinoe, standard by 6.” Avon turned to look at the young girl who was standing resolutely beside him, “It won’t be long now. May I suggest that you and your brother rest.”
“Thank you,” she replied, “You are most kind.”
That was something that Avon never thought he would hear, someone telling him he was most kind.
And Jenna was just as shocked to hear it. "Avon, just what do you think you are doing?”
“These young people need to get to Zinoe. Apparently it is most vital…”
“And what about Blake?”
“What about Blake?”
“He is in trouble…possibly facing death…and you’re going to leave him…”
“No-one is leaving Blake anywhere.” Avon slowly turned to face her, “Whatever this man who has him has planned, he wants Blake alive. These two young people have been aboard that ship. They know its lay out…..”
“What does that have to do with Blake?”
“This ship is the fastest, most powerful ship in the Galaxy….”
“You’re going after him then?”
“After him? Oh no. Once we have taken Alpha and Omega ‘home’ we will do more than go after this Federation officer who thinks he has pulled of the coup of a lifetime. I…..we know exactly where he is going. No…we won’t chase him…we will be waiting for him. And then he will regret he ever crossed me.”
Rakel sifted through his numerous IDs wondering which one to select. He’d forgotten the thrill of this. Since becoming a mercenary, he had never had any reason to have to choose any other identity…except this time; for those people. Well, they had asked for him by that name and it made it easier to go along with it. But now, as his ship neared the planet on which the Terran President had decided to locate his new edifice designed to flaunt his subjugation of new territories, Rakel decided to slip back into his old ways.
He reflected on the building somewhere below; how every planet that was succumbing to the ever increasing reach of the Federation was having a very important artefact put on show, just to spite them; just to prove that their planet was now occupied. Rakel thought of all those people who saw their beloved, highly prized items being put on show and wondered how it made them feel. Not that feelings ever came into his line of work…but he still couldn’t understand how he had been talked into this undertaking.
Telos and Garon had seemed nice enough. A little eccentric, maybe, but yet they had persuaded him to undertake a mission more suited to one of the others in his circle. He still couldn’t understand how he had agreed, although the promise of one million credits may have had something to do with it.
But right now, there were other things to consider; how to get inside that building and locate that statue…and then how to get it, and him, out again.
How much time had passed, Blake didn’t know. He had been left in this cold, dark place for so long that his muscles were beginning to ache. The cords that bound his wrists were now starting to bite. Lying on the hard floor didn’t help either. He had tried to sleep, but the thought that the Liberator and its crew would never come for him was haunting him…he knew the others would try and mount a rescue, but it was Avon and his agenda that they would have to overcome. Blake knew he had to remain positive. If there was a rescue attempt, he had to stay alert.
Then there was Drost.
So far he had maintained the normal Federation stance of being all powerful and delighting in inflicting casual violence; it was what would happen if Drost suddenly began to feel that he could get away with anything that worried Blake. He was completely helpless…and Drost knew it.
The ‘cell’ door opened, casting a shard of light into the darkness. Blake didn’t turn to look; he knew who was there. Sure enough a shadowy figure stepped into the light and then entered the room.
“Do you know, Blake, I have been most derelict in my hospitality? Do I take it that you are thirsty?”
“Go to hell.”
“…and even hungry. Maybe I should make sure that you are fit to meet our illustrious Supreme Commander. Here, let me help you to your feet.”
Drost pulled Blake up.
“There, isn’t that so much better? Now a few ground rules…well one actually. You do anything stupid and I blow your head off. Do you understand?”
The barrel of a weapon was thrust into Blake’s side. He understood all right.
They walked along the corridor towards one of the two cabins. Drost stopped, depressed a button and the door of the first cabin slid open. Inside was a small table, on it there were various containers of food and a bottle of, Blake hoped, water.
“Just a little something I put together. Not much, I’m afraid; these free traders don’t go for excess. Now why don’t you go and freshen up? And I’ll even cut the cords on your hands…just to make things easier. Just don’t go and get any ideas….there, is that better?”
Blake felt the cords fall away, even though the blade of Drost’s knife had managed to cut him in the process, but he decided not to make a fuss, “Thank you.”
“At least say it as though you mean it.”
The muzzle of the gun gently pushed Blake towards the small en-suite cubicle.
“And remember…..I’ll be right outside.”
Blake found the light switch and came face to face with himself in the small mirror set in the wall. He looked awful. He quickly cast a look around the small room; no weapons, of any kind.
There had to be a way.
Drost was one man….maybe there were others on board; Blake didn’t know. But he knew one thing; he wasn’t going to let any gung-ho Federation Officer hand him over to Servalan. If he was going to go down, then he would go down fighting.
Both Avon and Jenna marvelled at how precise Alpha had drawn the detailed diagram of the ship on which Blake was now being held prisoner.
“Well, Jenna?” Avon asked.
“It’s a small personal carrier; the sort used by Free Traders and…others. But this is remarkable. How long were you on that ship?”
Alpha smiled back, that strange languid smile that seemed to quell any concerns, “For two days.”
“But you must have been on it before? These diagrams are so intricate.”
“No,” Alpha replied, “Only two days.”
Avon leant forward, “But these are so precise. How can we be sure….”
“Of their accuracy? That is the ship; its lay out, its capabilities. There is no error. My memory is never wrong. That is why my sister and I have been chosen.”
“Chosen?” Jenna asked.
“To receive all that has gone before so that it will be there for all that is yet to come.”
“But there are computers that can do all that,” Jenna said, “Why entrust everything to a human mind?”
“Because,” Avon suggested, “If the technology no longer survives then neither does the past information. You’ve been chosen because of your memory capacity, haven’t you? You and your sister were going to Zinoe because of your ability to memorise…..”
“And because our people are leaving this place, to go far away from the oncoming evil. Just as they have done before. That is why you must take my sister and me to Zinoe, where the others wait, so that we can learn all that is known and then go with our people to their new home.”
“And I take it you in turn will impart your memories to others later on…”
“When the time comes, yes.” Alpha turned to look at Avon, “All can have the same ability, it is a matter of knowing how to use that gift.”
Avon had memories and he had no wish to remember them. But they were there, painful at times, but still part of him, “Jenna. Using these diagrams and your own knowledge of such craft, when the time comes could you teleport some of us over to that ship without the occupants knowing?”
“We should be making planet fall soon. Once we have delivered you, then we will go after this Drost.” Avon reached for a discarded piece of paper and slowly crumpled it in his hand, “He won’t forget us in a hurry. I’ll make sure of that.”
Drost slowly dabbed the corners of his mouth with the paper napkin. He found it hard to believe that a mere Free Trader would have bothered with such niceties, but this one, Jason, seemed to value the better things in life. Even his drink of choice, Brandy, was a particular fine vintage. But that wasn’t why Drost was deep in thought; no. This time it was the news that had just been conveyed to him by one of his men on the Flight Deck.
His three ships meant to delay the Liberator had found themselves engulfed. What should have been an exercise in merely keeping that ship and its crew occupied had become something of nightmares. One ship completely destroyed; the other two disabled; unable to move, their crews calling for help until their communicators had ceased operating.
Drost knew that only one thing would quell the anger that his two remaining men felt.
Slowly, he crumpled the napkin in his hand and then threw it angrily aside.
It was Blake.
Standing in the doorway.
“Your ship,” Drost replied.
“What about it?”
“It has effectively destroyed my ships and possibly killed my men.”
“What did you expect?”
“Maybe I underestimated your ship and your crew, but not as much as you are overestimating them. They’re not coming, Blake. I’ve had the long range scanners at full capacity…and your crew are not coming. Even that one you warned me about.”
“Does anyone on that ship care about you, Blake? Because I don’t think he does.”
“So you said…however, he is not the problem.” Drost drew in a deep breath as the door to the cabin opened and the two remaining men under his command stepped in. “These two gentlemen are not happy Blake. Your ship and crew have killed their friends.”
“You did that,” Blake countered.
Drost got to his feet. He waved the gun in Blake’s direction. “Such a shame, you’ll never get a chance to sample the delights so thoughtfully provided by Jason; the former owner of this craft.” He motioned for Blake to move. “My men would like to…have a word with you.”
Blake did as he was told and walked towards the two men who momentarily stepped aside. But once he was out in the corridor they roughly took him by the arms. Blake was fully capable of looking after himself, but even he knew that he wouldn’t stand a chance, not against these two powerfully built men.
“Take him back to his ‘cell’,” Drost began, “and do what you want to him, but make sure you don’t kill him…not yet anyway.”
Drost watched as his two men literally hauled Blake back to the cargo hold; his temporary ‘cell’. He smiled coldly and made his way to the Flight Deck, a small glass in his hand, almost filled to the brim with the vintage Brandy. There he would check the scanners again, and make a toast to his forthcoming triumph.
Rakel had landed his ship in the designated compound and was now joining the small throng of interested parties all making their way towards the impressive edifice that was the President’s very own Gallery. A building designed to let those who had not yet succumbed to the might of the Federation that their time would come and meanwhile, here in this structure to excess, was an example to all those who had now ‘accepted’ their fate, that what was once theirs now belonged to the President and he was determined to gloat over their loss.
But Rakel wasn’t thinking about those poor souls; he was more concerned as to why he was here in the first place. He still couldn’t understand how those two men, complete strangers, had talked him into coming here and liberating their statue. But at one million credits it must be one very special statue.
The one thing that did appeal to Rakel was the fact that he had to adopt a different persona this time. He hadn’t done that in…..a long time. To him it had been a second nature until he discovered his other talent for getting involved in other people’s rebellions. Maybe it had to do with her…a strike at the power which had eradicated her, taken her from him.
The small group of people began to move forward, climbing the marble stairs towards the grand entrance. No-one had asked to see his ID or even inquire what his reasons for coming to view the collection. Such was the Federation’s desire to let everyone see just how useless it was to resist.
He followed his fellow viewers in, expecting an official tour complete with a loyal Federation guide; but there was just one young woman, obviously an Officer judging by her curt manner, but they were allowed cart blanche to wander at will.
“This is just too easy,” thought Rakel.
He was snapped out of his reverie by the sharp tones of the ‘guide’.
“I’m sorry. I was under the impression that one could…..”
“Indeed one can, sir. You are at liberty to explore the entire collection. Is there any particular item that interests you? Although all the exhibits are of great value.”
Rakel fixed his blue eyes on her. “Yes. There is one thing. A statue. I have an interest in ancient artefacts from the pre new calendar. It was recently presented to our illustrious Supreme Commander Servalan.”
“Ah yes, the statue. It has yet to be catalogued by the President’s curators, but is indeed a fine example of that long gone culture. It is only right that it rests here.”
“Indeed it is. I assume that its previous owners were most grateful for that opportunity.”
“They should just be grateful. This way, sir.”
It was a short walk. A few minutes later, Rakel was standing in front of the statue. He stared at it.
“Will there be anything more, sir?”
“No…..no. You have been most helpful. Thank you.”
The young woman left him to stand and stare at the statue. Rakel dare not risk removing the frame to compare the image against what he was facing at this moment. But something wasn’t right. Not right at all.
Despite Cally’s protestations that she was fully recovered, Avon decided that just he and Gan would teleport down to the surface of Zinoe with Alpha and Omega. However, Vila insisted that he come along, especially as Alpha had assured him that there was no danger.
“Just once I’d like to pay somewhere a visit knowing that I’m not about to face mortal danger. Is that too much to ask?”
“Do you have the co-ordinates, Jenna?”
“I checked them myself. Whoever is down there seems to have some very outdated equipment.”
“Still want to come?” Avon asked Vila.
“Absolutely,” Vila replied putting a bracelet around his wrist and taking up his position in the teleport area.
“Put us down.”
They materialised in the middle of an expanse of flat grassland. All around were towering mountain peaks, some snow covered, others shrouded in mist. But the most immediate observation was the small, yet beautifully constructed, structure immediately in front of them. It was a semi-circular stone wall rising from the ground in graduated steps to a carved centrepiece, beneath which was a small platform and on the platform was a statue; a very familiar statue.
All three of the Liberator crew were transfixed, but not so distracted to see the two men walking towards them.
Avon draw his gun, only to have Omega gently lower its barrel.
“No,” she said, smiling at him, “They have been waiting for us.”
“Us in general or just you two?”
“For Alpha and I.” Her voice was soft and lilting. It’s melodic resonance strangely calming.
One of the men approached, his hand held out, but he knew from Avon’s stance that the gesture was, to put it mildly, being treated with suspicion. And Gan wasn’t feeling particularly trusting of these men either. He joined Avon, gun in hand.
It was an incongruous sight, the slender Omega flanked by the two strangers who towered over her. But she still smiled, as did Alpha.
The man stopped, his hands in a gesture of appeasement, “Welcome. We were worried that our two final initiates wouldn’t get here in time…….but you are not with Jason, are you?”
“Jason?” Gan queried.
“The man charged with bringing Alpha and Omega to this place.”
“I’m afraid Jason met with an accident,” Avon explained, holstering his gun, “And who might you be?”
“I am Garon and this is Telos. We are the Elders. Come, it is almost time.”
“Time?” Vila asked.
“The final celebration.”
“Final…in what way?” Gan asked as they moved off, following the two men towards the stone edifice.
“Before we leave to start anew.”
“I hope you don’t mind me saying,” whispered Vila to Avon, “But I’m finding all this talk about endings and final events very confusing…and just a bit worrying.”
“Are you regretting coming now?”
“No....no, but why can’t they just speak plainly, not all mumbo jumbo…”
The man called Telos laughed, “It is only here, at this time and in the presence of the initiates that we speak in that manner. Normally, we are just as erudite as you.”
“Oh, I see, I think.”
As they reached the building, several other young people appeared carrying torches of flame. And one stepped forward to light a small brazier.
“Now what?” Gan murmured.
“We wait for the sun to set,” Garon said, “And then we shall see the miracle of nature in the sky.”
Even as he spoke, the sun disappeared behind the distant mountains and the air began to chill. That explained the brazier and the flaming torches, thought Vila.
All the young people present turned their gaze up to the darkening skies; each had a look of expectation on their faces.
“Avon, what the hell is going on?” Vila whispered urgently.
“I don’t know but I don’t think you need to be frightened.”
Garon indicated for them to draw closer to the fire, for which Vila was grateful, and then smiled, again. “You are all most welcome to stay for the main ceremony. A ceremony whose meaning is lost in the mists of time, but which our ancestors brought with them from Earth in the beginning. The young people are here to become a bridge and Alpha and Omega will be the two who shall cross that bridge and honour the Goddess. This evening when the Milky Way is at its Zenith, that which took place so many aeons ago on Earth is re-enacted here for the last time.”
“Milky Way?” Gan murmured.
“It’s the name our ancestors used for the spiral arm of our Galaxy which is visible in the night sky,” Garon explained.
“That term hasn’t been in use for centuries,” Avon remarked, totally unaware that Omega was still at his side, still holding his arm.
Garon realised that the stranger was oblivious to her presence. He looked at Omega, “Perhaps it is time for you and your brother to join the others?”
Omega nodded. She released her hold on Avon’s arm and looked up at him, “Thank you for bringing Alpha and me to this place. We know that you are worried about your friend….but we are most grateful. Goodbye.”
They watched as Alpha and Omega made their way towards the other young people.
“As Omega has said, our friend is in danger and will need our help,” Avon said.
“And yet you still came here. Do you not wonder why?”
“As a matter of fact,” Vila put in, “I’m a bit puzzled about that.”
“All these young people are here for one reason. They all have exceptional memories. They are here to carry on the tradition of our people, to take our past with them out to our new home among the stars. And as most people will know, to memorise it is easier to use a rhythm, a specific speech pattern….I’m afraid neither Alpha nor Omega have mastered the art of not speaking in that way to outsiders…it’s not exactly hypnotism, but more of implanting a suggestion….”
Avon looked at him, aghast. He was wandering why he had been so adamant about bringing those two young people to Zinoe. He seemed to remember just how calming Omega’s voice had been…and Vila was literally grinning at him as the news sank in that Avon hadn’t exactly been operating under his own free will.
“That explains a lot….” The thief said, obviously enjoying Avon’s discomfort.
“And…,” Garon continued, “I’m afraid both Telos and I are guilty of the same thing. We sought out a friend of Jason’s; a man he said would be able to return one of our most prized possessions to us. A statue; taken by the man who called himself Travis…..”
“That was your statue? The one we saw being presented to Supreme Commander Servalan?” Vila asked. As he spoke he looked up at the statue on the stone plinth a little above his head, “I hope you don’t mind me saying, but the statue that Travis took doesn’t even start to compare with this one. This one is….priceless.”
“No, a thief who knows his business,” Avon explained, “Does Travis know that he has presented a fake to Supreme Commander Servalan?”
“Not yet,” Telos replied, “The man who we employed to take back what is ours should, hopefully, succeed in his mission before the deception is uncovered.”
“He’s taking a big risk.”
“At one million credits it was a risk he was prepared to take….with a little encouragement from Garon and I.”
“Once he realises just how much of a risk he has taken for something of no value, I don’t think he’ll be too pleased. You’re taking an even greater risk; he may not take too kindly to how you have deceived him.”
Garon smiled that same reassuring smile, “He will understand.”
Gan stepped forward; something on his mind. He pointed to the numerous torches and the brazier which was offering some respite from the encroaching chill. “When I first met Alpha, he took me too where Omega was. She was with my friend Cally....by a fire. I never really gave it much thought….but, how did they manage that? They had no means.”
“One of the benefits of memorising the past. One learns of the old ways,” Garon said, “How can you understand your future if you do not know your past?”
Avon looked up as the night sky. Above him the wonders of this part of the Galaxy were beginning to make themselves known and there, against the glittering star-scape was the Liberator, the last rays of the sun catching its hull.
Even as he watched, a ribbon of stars began to appear and wend its way across the black velvet sky. Nebulas; super novae; distant galaxies, as yet untouched by the brutality that was the Federation, burst into view. It was breathtakingly beautiful, but Avon knew that neither he nor the others could afford the luxury of watching the majesty that was Space unfold before their world weary eyes.
“We must go. My…our friend is being taken to the same place as your statue. But he won’t be put on show….I’m sure there will be something far worse in store for him.”
“Thank you again,” Garon began, “It is a great pity that you cannot stay….but I’m sure both Alpha and Omega will understand. Farewell.”
It was somewhat puzzling at how lax the security systems seemed to be in the Gallery. Considering just how many priceless treasures there were within these walls, it seemed strange to Rakel that the state of the art options available were nowhere to be seen. Was the President of the Terran Federation really that arrogant to presume that no-one would dare attempt such a daring feat as stealing the prized exhibits so openly on display?
Rakel thought for a moment. He had once been part of the upper elite, an Alpha grade, and yes he was arrogant, so he could understand, in part, the President’s thinking. No one would dare to stage a robbery; no one would have the audacity to steal a precious artefact from the collection now open for all to see…which brought Rakel back to the statue.
He was no expert, but it was plain to see that this item was not of a very high standard, it may have a golden gleam but it wasn’t gold and the workmanship was of a very low quality. Yet there was something about it that echoed back to an older time. Rakel thought for a moment, if this was a copy then the original must have been a beautiful sight to behold. But it was none the less a statue held in high regard by Garon and Telos and they were prepared to pay him a great deal of money. So it wasn’t his to reason why.
He looked around. The crowds were thinning and time was getting on. He had thoroughly checked the security systems and knew what he had to do. He had to find a nice, safe hiding place and wait.
Servalan reread the message. She was aboard her own personal cruiser en route to that hideous, gaudy excuse of a building. She had been grateful to see the back of it, despite Travis’ gift. It was a cold, draughty building, the sort that had been consigned to the history files so very long ago and yet, the President was determined to press ahead with his plan to humiliate all those who fell under the relentless spread of the Federation and strengthen his own ambitions for power.
And now, here was a message from a little known Officer, insisting on her return to the Gallery so that he could present her with a great gift, one that would justify the whole exercise. Servalan sighed. Once she was in power, then all these grandiose schemes to intimidate people and construct totally unnecessary and worthless edifices such as that Gallery, would fall by the wayside; she would not fall for the same, all-encompassing allure of power as her soon to be predecessor.
Drost leant back in his seat feeling very pleased with himself. His two remaining men had returned to the small Flight Deck, likewise in a very good mood. It wouldn’t be long now; just a matter of hours and Blake, or what was left of him, would soon be presented to Supreme Commander Servalan. He was now a cowed and battered man, but still alive. His men had promised that much.
And still no sign of the Liberator or the one member of Blake’s crew who would be very upset about the events that had transpired so far.
They were but hours away from completing their mission and soon Servalan’s heartfelt thanks would be their reward. Drost wasn’t interested in a monetary reward, although that would not go amiss, but he wanted to know that he had Servalan’s support and patronage. That would show the others in the Officer Corps that he was no longer to be ridiculed; in fact he looked forward to making them pay for their insults.
He checked the aft sensors.
And still no sign of the Liberator.
He had outrun and out maneuvered the supposedly most powerful ship in the Galaxy. And soon, the most potent symbol of rebellion would be laid at the feet of the Supreme Commander. That one act would, in itself, be enough to render the growing discontent impotent.
And still no sign of the Liberator.
Drost joined his men in a toast. The vintage brandy was all but gone, but they were determined to drain the bottle to the dregs.
And then it was there.
Directly in front of the small ship.
It took a few seconds to come to terms with the realisation that Blake’s ship had indeed tracked him.
“Get back to the hold,” Drost ordered one of his men, “If they try and dock….kill him.”
His minion left to do his bidding.
“They wouldn’t dare….” Drost murmured, just a little uneasy.
“Actually,” Cally said, stepping in from the corridor, “We would.”
Drost’s man edged back into the flight deck, staring down the barrel of the Auron woman’s gun.
“You weren’t seriously thinking of going somewhere. Were you?” It was a man’s voice this time and he certainly was not expecting an answer to that question. The owner of the voice came into view.
He didn’t look like a rebel, Drost thought, but it was obvious that this man didn’t suffer fools lightly. “Where is he?” It was a softly spoken question and this time he wanted it answered.
“He’s in our guest suite,” Drost replied, just a little too sarcastically for Avon’s taste. “And you are?.....”
“Does it matter?”
“I’d like to know the name of the man who may kill me,” Drost explained.
“If it concerns you so much, my name is Avon. Now….if you don’t mind……..”
The two guns waved in his direction and Drost felt compelled to oblige. He made his way towards the flight deck door. Just beyond he could see another man, this one much taller and he realised where he had seen him before…on that planet where they had lain in wait for Blake.
“So,” Drost began “You survived, did you?”
“No thanks to you,” Gan replied, “Another metre or so and…..”
Avon stopped at the door to the first cabin, and realised that there were just too many unwanted hangers on, “Tell your men to come here.” As he spoke, he opened the door. There was no Blake, so this obviously wasn’t the ‘guest suite’. The two men looked at their commanding officer for guidance; he could only shrug.
“Please don’t make things any more difficult,” Avon advised motioning for them to get in the cabin. They complied, grateful for getting away with their lives.
Once the door slid shut, Avon made sure it couldn’t be opened from the inside.
They went to the next cabin.
Still no Blake.
“I told you,” Drost began in a mocking tone that Avon was beginning to find tiresome, “He’s in the ‘guest suite’.”
“So you said.” Avon pushed the other man into the cabin, “You don’t mind, do you?”
Drost smiled at him and went inside the cabin, watching unflinchingly as the door slowly shut and Avon once again made sure that no-one could get out.
“That leaves the cargo hold,” Gan pointed out.
“So it would seem.”
Cally led the way. She operated the cargo bay doors and they slowly creaked open. It was dark inside; very dark. She reached inside for a light switch.
The sight that met their eyes froze them to the spot.
For a moment all three were stunned.
Blake was there, as they had suspected.
But he was hanging limply, suspended by his rope-tied wrists, from one of the stanchions which lined the cargo hold.
Cally was the first to react.
“Gan, take his weight; I’ll get the rope.”
Gan didn’t need to be told twice; he crossed the deck and hefted Blake’s body in his arms, alleviating the strain which must have been tearing his arms almost from their sockets.
Avon watched as Cally produced a knife and got to work on the crudely tied knot, and then turned his attention to Blake.
“How is he?”
“Alive….that’s one thing.”
Avon hit the comms button on his bracelet, “Jenna get over here, now and bring a medi kit with you. Use these co-ordinates.” It was a terse request which required no answer.
Gently, Gan lowered Blake to the deck. Avon quickly took charge, feeling for a pulse, “Look after him…I’m going to have a few words with our friend back there...”
“Avon, that won’t achieve anything,” Cally insisted. But he wasn’t listening.
Gan shook his head, “Don’t worry. Avon’s obviously angry about something. Give me that knife; let’s get this rope off.”
Drost didn’t seem at all surprised as the door of the cabin opened to reveal Avon aiming his gun directly at him.
“You really are a mindless thug aren’t you?” Avon stated matter-of-factly.
“It comes with the uniform. That’s what they pay me for. Anyway, you’re hardly in a position to talk….not after what you did to my ships and my men.”
“Is this what it’s all about…revenge?”
“Not on my part, you understand. But my two men lost good friends and they weren’t best pleased.”
“So you let them loose on Blake?”
“Not very sporting, I know. But good for morale. Besides, I don’t know why you’re so concerned. After all, I’ve saved you a great deal of trouble.”
“Meaning, I have solved your problem.”
Avon remained silent.
“He said you’d come…and here you are. Blake and I had a most interesting talk…about you. He knows, Avon.”
“Don’t look so surprised. He knows that you are planning to hand him over to the Federation…. sometime soon.”
“And why would I do that?”
“For the money and besides, this isn’t your fight. No, he said that you would be very upset that I have achieved what you have been seriously considering for quite some time now, but the opportunity has never presented itself….until now. You should grasp it, willingly, because you’ll never get a better chance than now, to get Blake out of your life.”
“And he told you that?”
Drost smiled at him, “But of course he did, amongst other things. The question is, Avon, can you bring yourself to make good that threat?”
Avon was pensive. Here, indeed, was a chance, but somehow it didn’t seem right. And there was another problem. One that Avon had foreseen, but wasn’t too sure how to overcome. “Unfortunately, the others might not like it.”
“Couldn’t you persuade them?”
Avon slowly shook his head. He knew that the others seemed to have faith in Blake; an unswerving loyalty. Misguided, perhaps, but entrenched, unlike him.
“Why did you come here Avon?”
Why, indeed, had he come?
“……. You’re not angry just because I’ve beaten you to it….. no you’re angry….. because you care, don’t you?” Drost leant back and examined the fingers of his left hand. “He’s got to you, hasn’t he?”
Avon didn’t answer
Drost took a deep breath and fixed his eyes on Avon, “You know, the longer you leave it, Avon, the more difficult it will get. You don’t strike me as a man who can be manipulated, but it seems that in your case, appearances can be deceptive. So…what are you going to do? Kill me? You may as well....because after this debacle I can see my future career seriously curtailed. You’ll be doing me a great favour…so go on, pull the trigger; send me to oblivion.”
“Well now…that thought had crossed my mind, briefly.”
“Why don’t I make it easier for you?” Drost slowly got to his feet, straightened his uniform and began to walk slowly towards Avon and the unwavering gun.
“You really do believe in taking risks, don’t you?”
“What makes you think I won’t shoot?”
“Surprise me. Prove me wrong. You’re not a killer……You are….were an Alpha Grade Federation citizen; living a soft life never going without….”
Dross stopped dead.
There was a strange, blank look on the other man’s face and then a slow unflinching smile, “You said it yourself…appearences can be deceptive.”
For a moment the two exchanged looks.
Avon was totally unfazed by the Federation Officer’s deliberate goading, but Drost was determined to push this rebel to the very limit.
“Go on then…do it.”
And then there was a blonde woman, gun in hand, standing right in front of him.
“Well, if Avon won’t...I most certainly will.”
Drost cast a questioning glance in Avon’s direction. He merely shrugged, “I have absolutely no idea if she will carry out that threat,” he admitted, “But there is one certain way to find out.”
With Cally’s help, Gan laid a semi-conscious Blake on the bunk in the cabin and then announced his intention to escort Drost to the comforts of the ‘guest suite’. No-one argued with that, least of all Drost who was unceremoniously hoisted off his feet and removed from the cramped quarters.
“Go with him, Cally, would you….just in case?” Jenna asked, mindful of Gan’s limiter. She knew that someone like Drost could easily realise that the man ‘mountain’ he was with couldn’t fight back too well should the occasion arise.
Cally disappeared, gun in hand.
“How bad is he?” Avon asked.
“Bad enough to warrant an immediate teleport to the Liberator.”
“Well why didn’t you?”
“Because he insisted on making sure that Drost kept his appointment with Servalan.”
Avon stared down at Blake, whose eyes were half closed. He looked unconscious.
“Blake, if you can hear me, we’re teleporting you over to the Lib….”
Blake’s right hand grabbed Avon’s arm, “No….he’s made an appointment and I intend for him to keep it.”
“You’re in no fit state to intend anything. You’re going back…”
Even Jenna was shocked at the ferocity of Blake’s refusal, “Blake, we need to get you into the medical unit, now.”
“That can wait.” His voice was rasping, each breath obviously causing him pain, “Drost has an appointment with Servalan and its only right he keeps it.”
“You want to go to this so called Gallery and keep the rendezvous?” Avon asked incredulously.
“Whatever’s got into you Blake? We could just leave Drost and his two men on this ship and get the hell out of here. There’s no need to take him, or them, anywhere.”
“I believe that’s the same argument used when you insisted on taking those two young people on to their rendezvous in Zinoe.”
“That was different,” Avon maintained, “And anyway, you would have done the exact same thing.”
“Without hesitation…that’s why I couldn’t believe it when Jenna told me just how insistent you were. What’s wrong, Avon, that’s so unlike you?”
“I had my reasons.”
“And I’d love to hear them….”
Jenna decided to intervene, “But not now. If this really means so much to you, I can take this ship to that Gallery while you stay in the Liberator’s medical unit. Even just a few hours would make a difference. Once there, we can teleport down and leave before anyone suspects anything. Agreed?”
There was silence from both men.
“Agreed?” Jenna repeated, this time in a tone which warned them both not to even think about arguing about the rights and wrongs, “There, that wasn’t so difficult, was it?”
From his hiding place, Rakel had watched in growing amazement at just how many people were drawn to this gallery. At first he thought it was perhaps just an opportunity to gloat, but most seemed to genuinely find the objects on display worthy of a long, admiring study. Maybe many of them were saddened that the previous owners had had their most prized possessions ripped from the heart of their society. But there were a few others, obviously in the employ of the Federation hierarchy, who had come here to openly ridicule those societies for failing to embrace the new way. Rakel listened in silence as they laughed at the hopelessness of all those people who were now under the yoke of the all-embracing Federation.
And it made Rakel just a little angry that he had once been part of that hierarchy…just as she had been.
But the crowds were thinning now; soon the lights would dim and then he could get to work on the security systems. Until then, he had to come up with a distraction; one that would enable him to leave unnoticed with the statue.
Even to his untrained eyes it was nowhere near as beautiful as the image on the screen, yet he knew he had to take it and return it to its rightful owners.
After all, one million credits was worth the risk....wasn’t it?
“Now let me get this straight,” Vila was saying, “You want Cally and I to teleport down to the front door of that Gallery, get in and disable the security system and then Blake and Jenna teleport in with our friend.”
“Precisely,” Avon said.
“Well, you had better be…I don’t want to end up on one side of the door with a Federation guard without Cally there to explain exactly what we are doing breaking in.”
“Now that you’ve been able to study the recording of that Viscast, what do you make of the security systems?”
Vila stroked his chin, “Well, those pictures weren’t the best I’ve seen…but, it wouldn’t take a genius to disable what they have, just that I would do it quicker.”
Much later, Liberator was in orbit above the planet which housed the President’s Gallery. There had been a cursory scan, but no-one had challenged them or even enquired as to their reasons for being there.
That worried them, even more so when Jenna revealed that she had landed Jason’s ship in a relatively empty area, devoid of officials or even overzealous security guards. There were a couple of ships there, but neither of their occupants had even bothered to look to see who it was joining them.
In the teleport area, Avon set the co-ordinates.
“Now, are you sure that we will end up right outside that place?” Vila asked, still not happy.
“Yes,” Avon replied flatly.
“And at the first sign of trouble, you’ll bring Cally and I back?”
“At the first whimper.”
Avon operated the controls and both of them shimmered out of existence. Then he turned to Drost, who was sitting on the bottom step, head bowed, watched over by Gan, “Next.”
Vila had the door open in a millisecond. He motioned for Cally to go in first. “After you. Well, you know what they say, ladies first.”
They both slipped into a darkened corridor. It was empty.
“Now, somewhere around here, is the main security section. And if they are true to form, it’s down here.”
They found the small, automated room.
While Vila found the Closed Circuit surveillance control, Cally cast a glance over the flickering screens. Nothing was moving on any of them. Just an occasional shadow and then everything was as before….a few minutes later, the same shadow…
“Vila?.....” Cally whispered.
But Vila was already aware of the problem. He was shining a small torch into the cabinet set on the wall.
“Someone’s beaten us to it,” Vila murmured, “There is already a loop in place.”
“How long has it been doing that?”
“More to the point. Is he still here? I don’t think this a good idea, at all.” Vila hit his comms button, “Avon, we need to leave, now.”
Unfortunately, Blake refused to be deterred.
He looked a lot better although the bruises on his face were a reminder of what he had suffered at the hands of Drost’s men.
“Do you still insist on going through with this?” Avon asked.
“Oh yes,” Blake replied, “I most certainly do.”
“Very well. I’ll bring Cally and Vila up and then set you, Jenna and our guest down. Just do what you have to do. Don’t waste your time on heroics, Blake.”
“Heroics?” Blake said, “I thought that was more in your line now?”
Avon favoured him with a disdainful look. Someone had obviously found great pleasure in telling Blake all about Alpha and Omega. “Vila, Cally, stand by.”
Drost hadn’t enjoyed his first teleport experience; the second one wasn’t any better. He was still feeling dizzy as Blake marched off down the corridor to the large room with the dais; the one where Drost had first decided on his plan of action.
It was eerily silent; the only light came from the red emergency system set low in the wall to help people find their way out should a problem occur.
Occasionally a strange sound reached their ears, but they put that down to the air conditioning.
Blake stopped and looked at Jenna.
They had found the central dais, but something was missing.
Jenna shrugged, “Maybe they decided to take it away and have a good look at it. It’s possible that someone here has reached the same conclusion…that’s it’s not all it’s supposed to be.”
“Hmm…I’ll make our guest comfortable and then we can leave.”
Blake roughly pushed Drost to the floor, against the dais, “I think Supreme Commander Servalan will really appreciate this.”
Then there came that sound again.
This time Jenna decided to take a look. She left Blake with Drost and made her away towards one of the side galleries.
The side gallery was just as dark as the main building and even the red emergency lights afforded precious illumination. She stood at the entrance, her eyes trying to pierce the gloom, trying to make out shapes. Something or someone was in there. She momentarily thought about getting Blake, but decided against it. He was busy, making sure that Drost was comfortable.
She returned to looking into the gloom then saw something on the floor. Taking her gun from its holster, she quietly edged in, her nerves tingling.
Blake fastened the rope around the dais and checked his handiwork. Then it was his turn to face his prisoner. He crouched down in front of the cowed Commander.
“You know that you are finished don’t you?”
Drost allowed himself a small laugh, “Why don’t you kill me?”
“After what you’ve done to me, I think it only fair that you suffer whatever fate Servalan chooses for you. You may be lucky and be court-martialled…..what happens after that, well, who knows.”
“I expect a summary execution is waiting for me. But your concern should be what awaits you. Your friend? He gives the impression that he can’t kill; but I looked into his eyes. I would be very careful, Blake, very careful indeed.”
“I know. But while he is on my side, then I’m safe.”
“And how long will that be?”
Jenna bent down and picked the object up off the floor. It was a well-worn leather wallet containing various ID cards. She moved over to one of the wall lights and quickly inspected them. Each one was in a different name, but it was the same face on each card. Then it occurred to her that possibly they had been dropped deliberately, to let her know that whoever was there was on her side. She looked at each one.
Brad Rakel; Neva Paulan; Del Grant; Loran Keil…she didn’t look at the others. None of the names meant anything to her, but no doubt she would have recognised at least one if she had continued looking through them.
Smiling, she put the wallet back on the floor. He was here, somewhere in this room, maybe in the dark shadows in the corner. But she decided not to press it. Flicking her hair, she turned on her heel and made her way back to Blake.
From the shadows, Rakel breathed a sigh of relieve. He hadn’t meant to drop that wallet. It was obvious that the woman wasn’t any threat to him; she had merely looked at the cards and made no effort to go to her colleague and alert him…whoever he was. He had heard the whispers but couldn’t make out who was speaking to whom.
But who was she?
In that dim light he had made out the features of a stunning beauty. And the fact that she had replaced the wallet where it had fallen meant that she was on his side; maybe a fellow free trader; contraband runner; a rebel fighter. Whoever she was, Rakel hoped that their paths would cross again…some time.
“Well?” Blake asked.
“Let’s just say another free spirit is with us.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to divulge any more information; it’s the unwritten code, you see.”
“But who is it?”
“Possibly a friend. But I don’t want to hang around and see. We’ve been here long enough and I expect he’ll want to be leaving too.”
Blake looked in the direction of the side gallery but couldn’t see anything or anyone. He then turned his attention to Drost.
“I would say the same to you,” Drost sneered defiantly, “But your luck will run out one day and I hope I’m allowed to live to see it.”
Blake thumbed the comms button, “Ready to come up.”
“We’ve got company,” Avon pointed out, “Zen picked up three ships closing in on this location.”
“Federation?” Blake asked, placing his bracelet back in the rack.
“Quite honestly, I’d rather not wait and find out.”
Jenna was already moving towards the Flight Deck, leaving Blake and Avon in her wake.
“Did something happen down there?” Avon asked.
“Apparently we had a friend down there, whether he is a friend of Drost’s remains to be seen. I think it’s time we left.”
Rakel came out of hiding just after the strange static sound had vanished. Instead of the woman and her friend, he found a Federation Officer tied to the dais that had once held the statue he now had safely in a holdall. They exchange glances. But before he could ask what the man was doing there, the alarms sounded and Rakel knew he had to leave.
He got to the front door and was faced by a tide of security men led by the young female officer who had happily assisted him. Feigning concern, he quickly pointed towards the inner sanctum of the gallery. “There were two of them. They threatened me.”
The young woman looked at him, about to ask what he was doing in the Gallery after it had shut for the night. But the excited voices of the security men pulled her away.
He waited a few seconds then quickly descended the steps and made his way to the compound and his ship. The fact that he was going against the tide of people all making their way to the Gallery to see what the fuss was about, appealed to his sense of humour. Whoever those intruders were, they had done him a favour. Now to get to his ship and return this overrated object to its waiting owners and, hopefully, extract an explanation from them about exactly what this artefact was.
Space Commander Travis stared contemptuously down at the forlorn figure of Drost. There was no doubting that he was enjoying this moment; for here was a young officer so eager to ingratiate himself to Servalan that he had totally underestimated the man he had set out to ensnare.
“What were you thinking of, Drost? Blake isn’t some run of the mill rebel with a rag tag group of followers. He’s a man with a mission…one that I, myself, intend to make sure he never fulfils.”
“It could have worked….sir.”
“So what went wrong?”
“I didn’t take everything into account….sir.”
“And the statue? Why would he take that and leave you? A strange sense of humour perhaps?”
“It wasn’t Blake who took it?”
Drost realised that Travis was suddenly very interested what had transpired. “No, sir, it had already gone when he arrived, but whoever took it was still in the building…..and I saw him.”
“Did Blake know the man?”
“No. I do not think so.”
“This statue is obviously more valuable than I thought?”
“That is the problem, sir. It isn’t. It’s a fake. The woman with Blake said as much…. ‘not as it seems’.”
“Yes sir. It would only be a matter of time before it was revealed as such. The President would have been most disappointed to find that out.”
Travis lowered his voice, “Have you told anyone else of this….deception?”
“Why would those people pass it off as a valuable?” Travis’ mind raced as he realised how foolish he would appear if the news that the centre piece of the President’s ‘collection’ was in fact a fake and that he, Travis, had been the one to present it with great ceremony to his Supreme Commander. He fastened his one good eye on the man before him, “You will tell no one of this, do you understand?”
“And the statue? How do you intend to explain its disappearance?”
“I will lay the blame on Blake.”
“An inexperienced officer trying to perform his duty. You were not to know of Blake, or his crew; his strengths and weaknesses.”
“But I know something of them now, sir. I spoke with Blake and one of his crew, the one called Avon. Only briefly, you understand?”
Travis smiled. Here was a chance, perhaps, to gain an insight into his avowed enemy’s mind-set. “Perhaps your usefulness to me outweighs the need for a court martial and a summary execution.”
“Your faith in me will not go unrewarded, sir.”
“You can count on it. But meanwhile, we have Supreme Commander Servalan with whom to contend. She will not be happy that you have summoned her….for no good reason.”
In fact, Servalan was more than just unhappy about being dragged across space to see an empty dais where once a fine statue had been and instead finding a Federation officer in its place.
For Travis, it was an opportunity to voice his concern at the entire exercise.
“…..I did warn the President that exhibiting all the valuable artefacts obtained from his loyal subjects would prove an irresistible draw to his enemies.”
“So you did, Travis,” Servalan replied, “And you have been proved right. And who is this?”
She was standing in front of Drost; her elegant finger pointing at him.
“An officer who thought he could achieve, on his own, what the Federation as a whole could not. The capture of Blake.”
“And I suppose he is now fully aware of his mistake in believing that?”
“He is. And I will deal with him in due course. But may I make a suggestion concerning this Gallery? One that the President will take on board?”
“Travis. I have already informed the President that this facility has been compromised. I have people already preparing to remove the exhibits and return them to the safety of Earth. It does not suit the President, as he wishes to show off his acquisitions. But I have told him that the Federation is under threat from many forces that see this Gallery as a challenge.” Servalan smiled, “I did tell him that flaunting such treasure in a somewhat unsecured facility would invite such a challenge.”
“And your concerns have been substantiated.”
“Indeed, Travis. Indeed. Now if there is nothing more, I have urgent business. I trust you to see that everything is in order.”
With that, Supreme Commander Servalan took her leave.
Travis watched her and then turned his attention to Drost. He ordered his guards to release the downhearted officer who knew that he had escaped a fate worse than death.
“And now, Drost, I trust that you, too, will prove that I have not misplaced my faith in you.”
Blake was back in the Liberator’s Medical unit.
Both Jenna and Cally had insisted on that. Finding himself outnumbered on such a matter made him realise that discretion was the better part of valour. Now he was back in the bed, Liberator’s instruments softly humming and finding himself at the mercy of Vila, who had decided that Blake should join him in a celebratory toast; he wasn’t too sure exactly what they were celebrating, but Blake went along with it.
At least it was quiet now…for a moment anyway; Vila had gone to find the Adrenalin and Soma.
“Excuse me, I hope I’m not intruding?”
It was Avon. Being his irritating polite self.
“If you’ve come to say ‘I told you so’, then I’m not interested.”
“Now why would I do that?…Besides, it’s not done to kick a man when he’s down, if you get my meaning?”
“And when has that ever stopped you?”
Avon smiled, “Quite.”
“So why have you torn yourself away from the intricacies of the Liberator’s systems, Avon? Surely not to ask after my health?”
Avon was walking slowly around the room, idly checking the instruments. These long pauses irritated Blake, which Avon knew only too well.
“Well?” Blake asked eventually.
“You could have got yourself killed. Then what would your crusade have been worth?”
“But I didn’t. Did I?”
“Not this time, no.”
“Do you know, I told Drost that you would come…”
“….what, to rescue you?”
“No, because you would be so annoyed that someone else had beaten you to it.”
“Beaten me to it?” Avon was just a little perplexed.
“Handing me over to the Federation. I told him for the money….”
“Now why would I do that? There are ample supplies of currency on board.”
“I know that…but he didn’t. I had to find a reason that he would understand. And most people understand monetary rewards.”
There was an uneasy silence.
“So….you don’t think I would hand you over just for a monetary reward?”
“No,” Blake replied, fixing his eyes on Avon, “But I don’t want to embarrass you with the real reason…do I?”
It was Avon who broke eye contact first. He didn’t like Blake doing that, saying to him out loud the inner reasons that Avon preferred to keep quiet.
“So,” Avon said eventually, “Who do you think was there, in the Gallery?”
“Whoever it was, took that statue?”
“That must have been the man employed by Garon and Telos to retrieve their statue. Somehow, I think he will be a little annoyed that he has been deceived. That the statue is virtually worthless. But to Garon’s people it is worth its weight in gold…….”
“Speaking of being deceived….. Vila told me that you were, shall we say, requested to take Alpha and Omega to Zinoe. And much against everyone else advice, you insisted. Now that goes against everything I know about you….”
“……Vila likened it to being almost hypnotised.”
“So what was it, Avon? It couldn’t have been out of the kindness of your heart?”
Avon ignored Blake’s probing stare. It was times like this, when his actual nature was called into question, which made Avon feel very uncomfortable.
“Not so much hypnotised. Garon said it was more akin to auto-suggestion.”
“Somehow, I don’t think the man they employed to retrieve that statue will ‘see’ it at all. In fact, I think he will be very annoyed. And rightly so.”
Almost on cue, Vila returned, two glasses in his hands. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realise that you had company. I’ve only brought two.”
“Not to worry,” Blake said, directing his gaze at Avon,” We’ve finished…..”
“…….for the moment anyway. I wouldn’t have too much of that, Blake. In fact, in your condition, I think it most unwise.”
Vila looked at one glass and then the other, “You really think so?”
“….as I said, Blake, auto suggestion.” With that, Avon excused himself and left Blake to the tender mercies of Vila.
“He could have a point,” Vila said, pulling up a chair, “We’d better not risk it. Still, more for me. Cheers.”
Blake sank back onto the bed, knowing that he was in for a long evening with Vila recounting his exploits. Sighing, he stared up at the ceiling then said quietly, “Thank you, Avon.”
He sat in the booth, set back towards the rear of the dreary establishment, awaiting his ‘guests’. He had had time to compare the two statues; the one in his holdall, the other on the small screen. And he was not happy.
Not happy at all.
In fact, he felt angry.
Angry that two obviously out of their depths strangers could have persuaded him to do something so foolish. If anyone was naive, it was him. After all, he was an experienced, hard bitten operator and yet he was taken in by these two…..two softly spoken men who were now seated opposite him.
He looked at each in turn.
“Gentlemen….you deceived me.”
“Really? In what way?” Garon asked.
“The statue in the Gallery? And this image you were so kind to give me. They are not the same…in fact, the one in this holdall here, is nothing more than a cheap facsimile.”
“So where is this one?” He angrily pushed the silver edged screen towards them across the table.
“It is with our people, on its way to a new life.”
“You made me risk my life for a cheap copy…and not a good one at that.”
Telos spoke, “It is a cheap copy. We grant you that. It was fashioned many centuries ago by an unknown artisan who tried to equal the unique craftsmanship of the original artist. Unfortunately, that skill is lost, but we decided to imbue it with the same reverence so as to keep the original safe and out of harm’s way. But by the same reasoning…you haven’t exactly been honest with us. Have you?”
Rakel swallowed. There was something quite unsettling about these two. “In what way?”
“When we asked for you just now? The gentleman at the counter,well,….. he inadvertently let slip your actual name.”
“It does not concern us,” Garon continued, “All that we require is the statue. We have your agreed fee here.” A large bag was placed on the table, “There is actually more than agreed. Because where we are going, this currency will not be of use to us. Don’t you want to count it? It is all there.”
“No…I trust you. Although I don’t see why I should. Why ask me to do this anyway?”
“Because we knew that once the Federation discovered that the statue so reverently given to the Supreme Commander was in fact a fake, then they would most certainly come after us and we would not be able to get our people away in time. As it is, we were almost late because two of the initiates were delayed. But they were brought to us in time.”
“I hope you don’t mind me asking, but I have a distinct feeling that when I offered to carry out this mission, it wasn’t entirely my own decision.”
Garon smiled. “It wasn’t.”
Rakel stared at him.
“In fact, the man who brought our two initiates to us; he too, wondered about that.”
“I’m sure he did. I’ve no idea how you managed it…but it’s most disconcerting.”
Garon smiled. A warm smile; one which worried Rakel no end.
“As we explained to Avon…..”
“Who did you say?”
“The man who brought our two initiates to us…Avon.”
Rakel shook his head, “It can’t be. He’s dead.”
“There must be a simple explanation,” Telos began, “Maybe there is another man who goes by that name…just as you go by many different alias. But why does this man...Avon...incur your wrath?”
“He and I have matters that need settling. I once said that if I ever saw him again…I’d kill him. His greed caused the death of someone very close to me...and I’ll never forgive him.”
“But you said he was dead.”
“That’s what I was told….and I felt cheated.”
Garon was quite taken aback by Rakel’s anger, “The man who came to us does not sound like the man of whom you speak.”
“Then I hope for his sake he isn’t the man who I have promised to kill…that would be most unfortunate for him.” Rakel placed the holdall on the table. “Here is your so called precious statue, gentlemen.”
Garon took it and then got to his feet, “With regards to that other gentleman’s slip of the tongue. Do not harangue him. It was a genuine mistake. Your secret will be safe with us…..”
“I sincerely hope so.”
“It was a pleasure doing business with you.” Garon lowered his voice to a whisper, “Mr Del Grant.”
He watched them leave; the dark gloom of the establishment swallowing them up.
For a moment, he was pensive.
Was he indeed still alive? The man who had left her to die at the hands of the Federation. Rakel was so sure that the information he had received had come from a most reputable source. But was that source to be trusted?
He had been duped into risking his life to retrieve a mundane statue. Could the information concerning Avon also be a deception? And if so, who was behind it?
Rakel drank up the last of his glass; picked up his money and began to stroll out of the less than fragrant bar. Suddenly he caught sight of a bedraggled, unshaven man; staring at him.
He blinked and then gradually realised that the man staring at him was his own reflection; momentarily caught in the pitted mirror behind the bar. Rakel studied it. He was getting older, but he was also getting richer.
He had no restraints upon him; he was a free man. At least as free as he could possibly be with her memory. One day he would find the man who had tortured her to death; even if the man who she had refused to give up was supposedly dead. He would have his revenge.
But if Avon was actually alive? That changed everything. Rakel realised that he had had the opportunity to ask Garon what the man who had called himself Avon actually looked like. But it was an opportunity missed. It was best not to think of what could have been.
Rakel snapped out of his reverie. The bar tender was standing opposite him, a folded piece of paper in his hand.
“I told him to take a seat over there.”
“And what does he want?”
“He’s looking for someone to organise a small war. You come highly recommended.”
Rakel laughed slightly, “I always do…..that’s the problem.”
He picked up another glass containing a somewhat innocuous liquid and made his way to yet another booth in the far corner.
Sitting in the booth was yet another nervous soul. He was visibly shaking.
Rakel extended his right hand, “I believe you’re looking for me? My name is Grant; Del Grant.”
Avon sat quite still on the dimly lit Flight Deck of the Liberator.
He was alone, despite Gan’s insistence that as it was his turn to keep watch, then he should stay. Avon had assured him otherwise. So a grateful Gan had taken his leave and gone to a welcoming unscheduled rest in his cabin.
Avon should have been in his cabin; but it’s claustrophobic atmosphere and all enveloping silence was not the best place to think or reflect upon everything that had occurred these last few days. In his cabin the memories came back; always. And they were memories that he would much sooner forget.
He smiled to himself.
Alpha and Omega had the ability to memorise everything they heard or read and they saw it as a blessing; Avon just saw it as a burden.
But both those young people had another gift; one shared by Garon and Telos. Avon still couldn’t understand how he had been coerced so easily; made to do something totally against type.
He smiled, again.
He wondered how that stranger was feeling. Had he, too, been confronted by the revelation that he had been coerced into ‘stealing’ a worthless statue? It was strange that both of them had been deceived in such a manner. If only Blake had seen him; or more to the point, if only Jenna would tell them all what she knew about the stranger. But she was most insistent; it was an unwritten code between Free Traders and others of a more dubious occupation. She wouldn’t reveal who it was.
And then there was Drost.
What had he said? ‘He’s got to you, hasn’t he?’
Avon tried to dismiss that out of hand.
‘…..the longer you leave it, the more difficult it will get…’
What did Drost know? A small cog in the mechanism of the Federation. How could he even start to understand or comprehend exactly what was going on in Avon’s mind?
So why did it anger him?
Avon suddenly realised that his right hand was clenched in a fist. This was all down to Blake.
And his totally unrealistic crusade to bring down the Federation. Avon knew Blake couldn’t win and yet, here he was, on the Flight Deck of the most powerful ship in the known Galaxy keeping watch while the one man who stood between him and a life of complete freedom with untold wealth, recovered in the Medical Unit.
He should have left him to his fate.
So why didn’t he?
It was pointless trying to fathom that out. Possibly it had something to do with how Alpha and Omega had ‘persuaded’ him to go to Zinoe.
Was he so susceptible?
And if he was, then what did that say about Garon and Telos’ stranger?
Was this stranger just as susceptible?
Were the both of them so open to deception?
© 2013 LaraSue-Lectori Salutem