Valuable Asset chapter 8Author:
Teen and upWord Count:
2,000 (this chapter) 14,500 (total to date)Summary:
Set after 'Project Avalon'. 'It's your misfortune to be worth a great deal, Blake. The others weren't." (back to start)
Chapter 8: Resignation
Chapter 8: Resignation
It was probably the worst plan Blake had ever devised. Though, to be fair, Avon had helped a little.
It sounded reasonable enough, particularly if you were an alien computer with a superiority complex. Liberator would fly at very high speed into low Earth orbit, Avon and Blake would teleport down, and then the ship would lure Earth’s defenders out into deep space, where she would destroy half the fleet and outrun the other half back to the now defenceless Earth. She would pick up her crew including the new pilot, and have plenty of time to complete the planetary bombardment before the remains of the fleet limped back to the wrecked and burning planet.
The battle computer liked it, but then the battle computer was missing a few vital pieces of information about how humans behaved.
Those in control of the Federation were extremely paranoid. Not about aliens, particularly, or about any of the other relatively minor human powers in the Galaxy. Not even about rebels, though rebellion made them seriously uneasy. What truly terrified them was the thought of the generals that they had placed in charge of Federation battlefleets deciding to come home at the head of them. The Home Fleet was designed to protect the President from the ever present risk of a military coup and it was funded, equipped and manned accordingly. Blake estimated that it was roughly five times as big as the one Zen’s calculations took account of and that was before the military satellites were factored in.
The Home Fleet wouldn’t go chasing an unknown ship, or even one known to be Blake’s, into deep space and leave the planet undefended, though it would no doubt send a handful of pursuit ships to track her path. What Liberator would do once the plan had derailed, Blake wasn’t sure. He thought she would almost certainly come back to Earth anyway, for her crew if nothing else, at which point she would be destroyed.
He patted the console gently and rather sadly. He’d loved Liberator when she had been his to command in the name of freedom, fast and powerful and home to his friends and allies. Now he couldn’t wait to leave the empty, echoing, dangerously unpredictable ship.
“Show me the manifest of portable explosives, Zen.”
He didn’t know what Avon intended to do when they teleported down to the space academy on Earth. Run, probably, with as much of Liberator’s remaining wealth as he could stuff into his pockets. Blake was going to cause some trouble. Zen would never get to destroy any of the Earth installations that they had targeted, but Blake could at least sabotage the Academy while he was passing through. Even Avon’s peculiar objections couldn’t hold for that; he wasn’t using Liberator and Zen would never even know. Crew activity incomplete.
“What’s that, Zen?” Blake didn’t look up. He was trying to decide what timings to set for the explosives and Zen’s announcement sounded about as routine as it got.Sex. Consensual. Violence. Activity incomplete.
“What? No, Zen. I’m…your crew is not doing any more of that.” He’d been trying not to think about Avon’s battered and bloody face, how the man had looked lying motionless on that bed. Activity incomplete,
Zen insisted. Data provided indicates completion required.
Blake belatedly realised what sort of completion it was talking about. “No! I don’t care what happens in his bloody porn collection. We are not…”
“We don’t have time, I’m afraid, Zen.” Avon had arrived on the flight deck at last. His face was clean and unmarked again, his voice rich and amused. “We’re too close to Earth. Scratching that particular itch will have to wait.”Itch constitutes discomfort. Crew discomfort reduces efficiency. Confirm efficiency reduced.
“I’ve never found it a particular handicap before. No, Zen, efficiency is not reduced. Crew activity will remain incomplete until current operations are finished.”
“And pigs fly.” Blake muttered.
“Don’t confuse it, Blake. It’s only worried about your level of sexual frustration, after all. Zen clearly has our best interests at heart. How long to Earth orbit?”
Blake could swear that Avon was enjoying this. He hadn’t seen the man this relaxed since before this whole kidnapping thing started. In the circumstances – all the circumstances- it was inexplicable. Thirty nine minutes and seventeen seconds.
Avon came over to look at the heap that Blake was working on. “Looks like you’re planning a small war there. Can you actually move carrying that lot?”
“I don’t intend to carry it far.”
“Have you considered the chemical incendiaries? A little smoke and noise could work wonders in buying you time to set this stuff.”
“I don’t need advice on bomb setting from a crooked computer tech. I was doing this sort of thing while you were sitting in your cushy little office trying to make yourself obscenely rich. Besides, I can’t carry them as well.”
Blake put down the device he was priming, glared at Avon. “But you won’t. Why should you? There’s nothing in it for you.”
“We’re teleporting down inside the security cordon. Getting out might well be easier with a diversion, and will almost certainly be simpler if we stay together. I’ll get the incendiaries. Anything else you need from supplies?”
“I don’t want you at my back, Avon. Not any more.”
There was a flicker of something across the man’s face, before he smiled. “Then I’ll have to go in front. Half a dozen of the incendiaries should do it.” As he straightened up a hand moved involuntarily to his stomach before he pushed it down again and turned to walk out.
Blake watched the limp that Avon was doing his best to disguise, bemused. They were almost certainly going to have to fight their way out of a military installation and go into hiding on Earth with no prospect of a ship to return to. Why on earth would Avon choose to start the mission injured when the med unit could easily have healed all the damage?
He didn’t understand Kerr Avon. Not at all.
By the time his preparation and packing was complete there was still twenty minutes to go. Their time on Liberator shouldn’t end like this, he thought, just the two of them at each other’s throats with the others lost somewhere in space, far behind them. He wouldn’t let Avon win that much. He stood up.
“Zen. Do you remember the rest of the crew?” Crew Kerr Avon, Roj Blake.
“It wasn’t, though. You had the others. Cally, Jenna, Gan, Vila. They were all your crew. They are all your crew, Liberator. Though they were taken away by force they never wanted to leave you. They never wanted to stop being your crew.”
“Don’t.” Avon at the doorway, bag over his shoulder, his voice soft. “Blake. Don’t confuse it, not now.”
“Don’t tell me how to talk to my own damn ship! Liberator remembers. Don’t you?”Crew Kerr Avon, Roj Blake, Cally, Jenna Stannis, Olag Gan, Vila Restal.
That was so much better, even if Avon no longer deserved his place alongside them. “Good, Zen. Don’t forget them again.” Confirmed.
“Delightfully sentimental,” Avon commented. “Undoubtedly worth every bit of the trouble you have yet again dropped us in.”
“What trouble?” Blake demanded. Inconsistent crew data.
Avon laughed. “Of course. Just when we were this close to getting out of here alive, you screw up again. Zen. Crew data are not important to this mission. Crew data will be clarified when we return from Earth. Confirm.”Correct crew data necessary. Priority clarification required.
“What does it want?" Blake demanded.
“It wants to know which one of us has lied to it. Reliable data input is no doubt one of Zen’s main requirements from functional crew. Conflicting stories, like the one I gave it days ago and the one you’ve just given it, upset it.”
“You don’t seem particularly concerned, so I assume you’ve got a fix.”
“Nothing comes to mind right now. How about you? It is after all your ship, apparently.”
Blake shook his head. “I don’t even know what you told it.”Priority clarification required.
“What are you going to do?” Blake demanded of Avon.
Avon shrugged. “Nothing. I’ve given up.”
“What do you mean, given up?”
“Every time I turn my back you do something else to try to get us killed. Or, presumably for light relief, get everyone else killed. If I don’t turn my back you just try to kill me.” His hand went up to smooth his jaw. “If we get past this particular drama you’ll no doubt find some excuse to shoot me in the back as soon as we teleport down. We won’t survive long on Earth anyway with the entire planet looking for us. It feels as if I’ve been fighting both of you for days just to live a few hours longer. I’m tired and I’ve had enough.”Priority clarification required.
“Shut up, Zen. I’m talking. You sort this one out, Blake. You caused it. I warned you yet again and you went ahead anyway. It’s your problem now.”
Avon swung the heavy bag onto one seat of a sofa and threw himself down beside it. “Get coffee,” he said to the little maintenance bot. “And hurry up with it.” He looked dog tired now that the smile had gone.
More than tired. Exhausted, Blake thought. It had been resignation, not relaxation, smoothing the cares earlier. He ought to be figuring out something to say to Zen, as soon as he could drag his attention away from Avon’s weary, defeated face, Correct crew data necessary. Priority clarification required.
He wasn’t the one who had lied. How was he meant to sort this out? The easiest way was to tell Zen the truth, let the computer deal with the traitor. Blake wondered if Avon thought he might even contemplate this. Probably, after the way he’d attacked the man.
Time. He just needed to win them both some time. Blake walked up to the back of the room, so that he could see both Zen’s lights and Avon’s slumped figure. “Zen. What do you calculate the logical purpose of the human emotion of fear to be?”Query impulse towards avoidance of unnecessary damage?
“Not really, no. How about greed?”Query impulse towards securing of scarce resources to maintain function?
“Closer. Still not there. Anger?”
Zen hummed. No satisfactory equivalent.
“Betrayal?” No satisfactory equivalent.
Avon was shifting round to watch him now, face still closed and drawn.
“Physical desire?” No satisfactory equivalent.
“So you do not fully understand the processes by which your human crew function, Zen. Confirm.”Confirmed.
“You cannot therefore accurately judge what our essential requirements are. Confirm.”Confirmed.
“Right now your crew’s need to carry on with their incomplete activity has higher priority than your need for clarification. Confirm.”Data not available.
“I’m telling you. That’s your data. Confirm.”
A pause. Not enough time available for crew activity completion before Earth operation commences,
Zen insisted, parroting Avon.
“How long until we are in teleport distance?”Eleven minutes and three seconds.
“We don’t need to complete anything before Earth operation. We do need to continue uninterrupted for approximately nine minutes. Confirm.” Confirmed.
Zen finally agreed.
Blake wiped a hand across his forehead. On the plus side, he’d got Zen off their backs. On the minus… he spread his hands in mock apology towards Avon. “Best I could do. You did tell me to sort it.”
“I did. I should have known better.” Avon pushed himself reluctantly up onto his feet again, waving away the coffee bearing robot. “I suppose you had better come down here and start hitting me again.”Next chapter