Valuable Asset chapter 11 of 11Author:
Teen and upWord Count:
6,500 (this chapter) 24,800 (total)Summary:
Set after 'Project Avalon'. 'It's your misfortune to be worth a great deal, Blake. The others weren't." Notes:
It took way longer than I thought to tie up everything which is why this chapter is three times longer than the others but here it is finished.(back to start)
Chapter 11: Severance
Chapter 11; Severance
Blake and Avon only stayed a matter of hours on Rainus Three before boarding a huge tourist star liner due to call at Polaris in twenty days time. It was the only cabin available at short notice; tiny, with a pair of bunk beds and not much else, but it still made a significant dent in the money Avon had brought off Liberator. They could have flown there in two days on a scheduled flight much cheaper but they wanted to get off Rainus Three as soon as possible and the liner was probably a safe enough hideout while they waited for the 30 days to be up.
The ship’s luxury facilities and exotic day trips were wasted on the pair of them; they ordered food in their cabin and kept out of sight of everyone else. Avon spent most of his time curled up on the lower bunk with his hand reader. Blake got bored and restless. Being shut in anywhere always reminded him uncomfortably of prisons, Federation and others.
“Why did you choose Jotunheim for a rendezvous?” The question came out of the blue from the bunk underneath him as he was playing his thousandth game of solitaire.
“I don’t know. It was the first name to come to mind, I guess. I had six seconds; there wasn’t time for a discussion. You’d chosen it, so I guessed the Federation couldn’t have much control there.”
“No.” Avon returned to his book.
Blake spent much of the long journey thinking about their time on Liberator, and how things had turned out. He came to the reluctant conclusion that no, he hadn’t behaved well towards Avon. Not badly enough to justify a tenth of what the man had done, but not entirely well either. He had not found it easy to deal with Avon’s lack of social conscience but he need not have been quite so openly scornful. And maybe, just maybe, he had come across as a little bit bossy at times. Not that that had been entirely his fault; the group had needed a leader. But he clearly had not come across as the sort of person that Avon could have talked to about his issues and to that extent he supposed that he was, peripherally, responsible for the escalation.
Blake didn’t like the idea of being at fault. He never had. He felt that it put him under some sort of obligation to put things right, but he didn’t even know what ‘right’ might look like this time. After a while he came to the conclusion that ‘right’ in this case had been what his instincts had told him anyway when Jenna had called; allowing Avon back on Liberator. Not forgiven, exactly, and certainly watched, but back. It wouldn’t be the same without him, anyway and they needed someone to deal with Zen.
Avon ungratefully scuppered this grand gesture by continuing to insist that he had no intention of going anywhere near Liberator ever again.
They were still a week away from Polaris when Blake finally reached what he felt was a momentous decision. He had been lying awake for a while that night; without exercise or much mental stimulation neither of them slept very well. He could hear Avon’s steady breathing from the bunk below but he was fairly sure that the man wasn’t asleep either.
“I’ve been thinking.”
“Seriously. I’ve thought about a lot of things and I think, maybe, we might…”
He bridled at that. “You didn’t know what I was going to say.”
“I knew near enough what it was. You’ve been shifting around for an hour now. If you had something important to say you’d have made sure I was awake first. If it wasn’t important you’d have left it to the morning. The only thing you’re going to deliberately wait until I’m half asleep to bother me about is a proposition. No. Not now, not ever, not negotiable.”
Blake bit his lip and waited a second or two. “Any particular reason?” He hoped it had come across calm and merely curious.
“Do you normally demand a reason when someone turns you down?”
“I suppose not. It just seems a little perverse of you in the circumstances.”
“Appropriate, then. Drop it, Blake, and keep it dropped. I would have thought you moral upstanding types would have the decency to simply take no for an answer.”
Thus put down, Blake could only concede. “Just let me know if you change your mind.”
“I won't. I’m going to sleep now.”
Blake lay awake for a while longer, listening to Avon’s slow snores. That was unexpected. And yes, disappointing. He’d put a lot of thought into how it might work out between them before he’d raised the subject. Now he supposed that he had to put it out of mind again. And he could still offer Avon no good enough reason to come back to Liberator.
They disembarked at Jotunheim a day before the rendezvous was planned, coming down the long gangway with their few possessions amongst the day trippers from the liner.
“We’ll need some sort of accommodation,” Blake said as they walked through the bright silver shopping mall surrounding the terminal building.
Avon rolled his shoulders, pulled a face. “First things first. I’ve been wearing these clothes for months and my skin’s started to crawl every time I put them on. I need to do some shopping.”
“Shopping?” Blake frowned at him. “Is it safe to just wander round in the open here? We could be identified.” Jotunheim was technically Federation, after all.
“We will have been identified as soon as we came out of the ship. This place is soaked in technology; it will have the best face recognition software available.”
That was worrying. “Then shouldn’t we be trying to get away from here before anyone catches up with us?”
“There is no ‘away from here’ on Jotunheim. It doesn’t have an underclass or a wilderness. Besides, I told you that I had friends here. I’d rather meet them in something that hasn’t been worn for a month solid. I’ll see you at that coffee shop in an hour.”
Blake watched Avon stride away. Shopping. The argument was, he had to admit, pretty compelling; he’d been away from Liberator’s storerooms for well over a month and he hadn’t been able to get out to the shops on Earth or on the ships. Avon had been here before. If he wasn’t worried, Blake would do his best to follow suit.
The spaceport’s shops seemed to sell every style worn anywhere in the Galaxy. Blake took a while to find something that didn’t look ridiculous. When he got back to the coffee shop he found Avon deep in conversation with a young lady of about sixteen or seventeen in startling purple. As he joined them he got a smile that he would have sworn was genuine out of Avon “Green leather. Very dashing.”
“Very sinister.” He gestured at Avon’s new shiny black. “Are you going to introduce us?”
“There’s no need. “ The girl stood up, smiling. “Roj Blake. My name is Marriel, and I offer you welcome on behalf of the Six Families of Jotunheim.”
Blake nodded, a little stiffly. He had no idea what allegiances these Six Families might have or what they could want with Avon and him. After spending weeks undercover it was disconcerting to have someone address him by name. Avon didn’t look particularly concerned, but Blake thought he didn’t look entirely pleased either.
Coffee finished, they were clearly expected to accompany this woman. Avon strode off at Marriel’s side without hesitation. Blake considered the matter, decided that he might as well go along as well for now. All he needed was to be on this planet in forty three hours time. He felt the comforting weight of the bracelet around his wrist. It didn’t matter much who he was with.
They took a tiny, beautifully engineered and unbelievably fast gyrocopter away from the spaceport. Marriel piloted it on manual with a great deal of both skill and obvious enjoyment. From her chatter Blake gathered that she was a daughter of the Six Families rather than a servant or employee, and that it wasn’t unusual for her to be asked to meet the Families’ guests at the terminal but he got the impression that apart from being primed with their names and faces she was blithely ignorant of who they were or why they might have been invited.
Their destination turned out to be a sprawling and luxurious estate about a hundred miles east of the spaceport. Blake could make out formal gardens, swimming pools, sports courts and what he thought might possibly be a zoo as they circled in to land.
At the entrance to the main building a polite security detail took their guns but nothing else, before they were escorted through to a room of several people all considerably older and dressed rather more plainly than Marriel. A bearded man about ten years older than Blake stepped forward. “Kerr Avon. It’s been too long.” They touched hands formally. “I thought we’d seen the last of you after that bit of trouble you had.”
“I’m a hard man to keep down for long.”
“So I see. And this must be the notorious Roj Blake. Children, wasn’t it?”
Blake felt the temperature in the room drop several degrees. “Political dissent, actually.”
“Probably both, knowing your sort.” He turned back to Avon, “And where is the ship?”
Blake was getting a very bad feeling about Avon’s friends. “Wait a moment…”
“We need to see it.” The man sounded irritated. “We’re not paying you anything for a description, Kerr.”
“Of course.” Avon said calmly. “Once you’ve brokered this one for me and I have my share of the proceeds, then you can inspect the ship to your heart’s content. Until then it stays out there.”
“Avon! You…” Blake couldn’t think of a word bad enough. “You scoundrel! You Judas! I’m going to kill you this time, absolutely!”
“Do take him away, please.” Avon begged the older man. “I’ve had enough of his abusive language for a lifetime and he’s got an unfortunate tendency to violence.”
Blake would have liked to be able to demonstrate the latter but the security guards were on him before he could reach Avon. Stun sticks left him helpless to resist as they dragged him out of the room.
The clean white detention cell was barely eight feet across, as Blake discovered when he recovered enough to pace up and down furiously. Jotunheim. How could he have been stupid enough to come here? And call the Liberator? No wonder Avon had been surprised at his choice. The man must have been delighted to find his money making deal back on without the need to do anything at all.
It had been too much temptation for a not at all reformed character. Avon was a bastard, through and through. And to think that Blake had nearly…never mind that. He was about to be traded to the Federation. He didn’t have time to waste in self recrimination. A fast ship from the Earth could be here in under a day.
Supper was brought by Marriel, rather to his surprise. She came and sat on the other side of the force screen. “I looked you up. You really were a rebel hero.”
Blake shrugged, came to sit on his side so that they could talk. “I did my best.”
“And you didn’t do anything to those children.”
He smiled. “Kind of you to have faith.”
She frowned. “I broke into the records. Your defence lawyer had found out what really happened.”
Blake stared at her. “You could prove my innocence? From here?”
“Not prove.” She seemed amused at his naivety despite her youth. “Records are changed all the time. A hacker’s word is nothing. But I know.” She frowned. “I told Uncle Aros but he didn’t seem interested. I don’t understand why he’s doing this.”
“Money?” Blake suggested. “It’s the usual culprit.”
Marriel laughed. “We don’t need money.” The confidence of the young and phenomenally rich. “There must be something else going on. Your fr… Kerr Avon gave me a message for you, but I don’t think it’s appropriate.”
What could Avon possibly have to say to him after that? “You’d better let me have it anyway.”
“He suggested that quiet meditation might be your best hope now, with the emphasis on the quiet. It doesn’t sound like a nice thing to say to someone in your situation.” He could tell she was curious as to what his reaction would be.
“No. Tell him back from me that the deepest pits of hell are reserved for those who betray their friends. Would you be prepared to help me get out of here, Marriel?”
She thought about it briefly. “No, I’m afraid not. I don’t think I’d succeed and failing would be embarrassing. I’ll come back tomorrow morning though. I’ve never met a hero before.”
Alone, he paced again. Nothing to be achieved here. Quiet meditation, Avon had jeered. That was odd. Odd for Avon to taunt him with captivity at all, odder to do it via a third party, and it hadn’t even made much sense. Quiet meditation, he repeated to himself. Quiet…
“Zen,” he almost said aloud. Avon was telling him what? To trust in Zen and to keep his mouth shut? But Avon was the one responsible for him being in here. Avon’s plans, set long ago. Avon wanted to sell him to the Federation.
He paced a little more. No. Avon just wanted the money from selling him to the Federation. What happened to him after that… the teleport bracelet was still around his wrist. Not an oversight. Zen wanted its crew back. Blake guessed that Liberator could teleport him back from any ship Earth sent. So was Avon saying don’t worry?
It still wasn’t all of it. Avon would no more waste time on an uplifting message of hope than he would on a jibe at a helpless prisoner. The key point had to be the instruction to keep quiet. Because- he slammed a hand against the unyielding force field- of course! He could sabotage the whole deal. He knew that Avon didn’t have control over Liberator, couldn’t deliver what he was promising. All he had to do was to persuade Marriel’s uncle of that and the Six Families would have no further use for Kerr Avon.
Blake lay face down on the neat bed, closed his eyes and thought about it. Avon had let him walk unwarned into this place before betraying him yet again for money. It would be utter madness to keep quiet, let himself be sold back into captivity just because Kerr Avon asked him to. Wouldn’t it?
By the time Marriel came back with breakfast and news of a Federation delegation just arrived Blake had persuaded himself that he couldn’t possibly place his trust in Avon. Not again. It was up to him to stop this any way he could.
“Can you tell your uncle that I need to talk to him urgently? It’s about the deal he’s doing with Avon.”
“He’s talking to the seriously creepy Federation guy.” She glanced round as a pair of guards arrived. “Apparently they want you there. You can tell him yourself.”
Blake submitted without fuss to having his hands cuffed in front of him. This might be the best chance he had to talk his way out of this. It depended a bit on what the creepy Federation man they’d sent was like, of course.
Unfortunately he came with a black eyepatch and a familiar nasty smile. “Blake. Under these circumstances I can truthfully say it’s nice to see you.” He looked over to the bearded Jotunheimer. “Where’s his ship?”
Aros shook his head. “He arrived on a commercial starliner. His face triggered an automatic alert coming through security and we picked him up at the spaceport.”
“Was he alone?” Travis demanded. Aros nodded. “As far as we can tell, yes.”
“Just you then, Blake. Pity, but I doubt that the rabble will be much trouble to hunt down without you. I’ll have him transferred to my ship straightaway.”
Blake thought fast. He couldn’t say anything about Liberator now; it would put Travis on guard that she was coming. He could tell Travis that Avon was here. That would put the cat among the pigeons, but how would it help him? He couldn’t hand Avon over to the Federation just for revenge; he’d be no better than the other man. Reluctantly he decided to keep quiet for now.
“I believe there is a reward,” the Six Families man said.
“There might be.” Travis sounded indifferent. “You’ll have to apply to the Justice Department.”
“I think you misunderstand me. Let me clarify. There is a reward, it is thirty million credits and it will be transferred to our accounts before you take your prisoner anywhere.”
“I am not an accountant!” Travis snarled. “This man is a fugitive from justice and I will take him whenever and wherever I like!”
There was a small choking sound from Marriel. Blake hadn’t even realised she was there. Her uncle glared at her and she straightened her face obediently. Blake wished that he could find the situation as amusing as she apparently did. Despite the man’s ridiculous histrionics he never found Travis exactly laughable, not after what he’d seen, and particularly not when his own hands were tied.
“I’m sure this can be sorted out with a quick communication to the Justice Department.” Aros said firmly. “In the meantime I have no objection to your guards assisting ours in ensuring that he is kept securely, and perhaps you could join me for some breakfast while we wait for a reply?”
“I don’t eat breakfast. I will arrange for a unit of mutoids to guard his cell.” Travis glared at Blake. “Don’t consider this a reprieve, Blake. You will be enjoying my hospitality soon enough.”
“I think I might have some breakfast first,” Blake told him. “Your hospitality is notoriously dreadful.”
He was back in his cell with no sign yet of the mutoids when Aros came to look down his nose at him from the other side of the force wall. “Marriel tells me you have something important to convey regarding Kerr Avon.”
Travis would bring this place down around his ears rather than let Blake go. It was too late to stop the deal for his life to go through. All he could do was prevent Avon from whatever the man planned next. Was that good or bad?
“What was Avon’s work about, when you knew him?”
“He was a brilliant theoretician, specialising in quantum security systems. No-one anticipated that he would put theory into practice quite so dramatically.”
“Do you know why he did it?” Blake asked.
Aros shrugged. “I imagine that he planned it all along, long before he chose a speciality. Kerr Avon was like that, always cold, calculating, always the long plan ahead. The real surprise is that he didn’t succeed.” He smiled. “Of course he’s making up for it now. Twenty five million credits for you and if this ship is all he says it is he’s going to be a very rich man.”
Blake bristled. “Avon has no right to Liberator.”
“And who does?” Aros asked coldly. “A convicted child molester with a messianic complex? If the builders of that ship want to put a claim in the courts for it they are welcome to do so. We’ll tie them up in litigation for long enough to rip all the new technology out of it. If we don’t end up with your Liberator at the end, who cares? We’ll have teleportation, a super fast drive, instant healing and whatever else Avon is promising. And if he can give it to us, he’s the one who gets the cash.”
“I won’t let you keep my ship,” Blake warned, temper rising now.
“You? You’re going to be in shackles for the rest of your short and uncomfortable life, Roj Blake. If you had any sense you’d be begging, not threatening, though it won’t make any difference either way. That space commander with the appalling reputation for brutality is going to have you in a few hours time. He seems to have a personal grudge against you, too. That’s going to be a nasty trip, I imagine. Now I’m a busy man. What was it that you wanted to tell me?”
Blake promptly decided that if Avon was going to rip these Six Families off over Liberator somehow, good for him. He’d actually rather that Judas had the money than this bastard. “I’ve told you. Avon’s got no right to sell Liberator.”
Aros blinked at him, puzzled. “So? Why would you imagine that anyone except you cares?” and he turned away
The mutoids arrived shortly after. Blake sat on his bed trying to look calm but his chained hand repeatedly fiddled with the teleport bracelet on his wrist. If Liberator arrived early, he could get teleported out of here and his troubles would be over.
The only thing that came after a couple of hours was a servitor with a covered plate. The guards frisked him thoroughly for weapons and poked around in the food, but finally let him through into the cell. He pushed his hood back slightly and Blake blinked.
“You’ve got a nerve. Is this a rescue or a gloating session?”
“Neither.” Avon spoke fast. “Listen carefully. Liberator’s been spotted in the far reaches of the system. I want you to take off the bracelet and not answer any of their calls.”
“And why would I do that?”
“Because if we are to get anything out of this at all you need to be on Travis’s ship before you escape. I’ll give Liberator her instructions.”
“You will? And what makes you think she’ll follow them? Jenna’s piloting that ship and she knows you betrayed all of us.”
“Leave that to me.” Avon sounded confident enough.
“And if Travis takes the bracelet? What happens then?”
“We’ll come and get you. Trust me, Blake.” Avon flashed a thin smile. “The guards are wondering what we’re talking about. I need to leave. Trust me, just this once. Everything is going to plan.”
“Yes, but whose plan, though?”
“Mine, of course.”
He walked out of the cell. Blake stared after him, realising that he’d missed probably his last ever opportunity to strangle him. Damn.
Liberator was coming for him. All he had to do was let them know he was here and they’d teleport him to safety. No Travis, no Aros, no Avon. How could he possibly trust Avon? How often had Kerr Avon lied to him?
Blake thought about that last question for several minutes. Then, slowly and with reluctance so strong that it almost hurt, he slid the bracelet awkwardly off his chained wrist and tucked it away inside his waist band.
The bracelet started humming an hour later, vibrating against his skin every few minutes with increasing urgency. Blake distracted himself by thinking of yet more epithets for Kerr Avon. After the fourth set of vibrations external distraction arrived in the shape of the mutoids entering his cell and marching him at gunpoint off to the Federation space cruiser. He saw no-one on the way and had no clue as to what else might be happening.
Once on Travis’s ship he was, according to his understanding of Avon’s supposed plan, allowed to teleport up. He didn’t know if he was meant to wait for it to take off first, but he didn’t get a chance to put the bracelet on straightaway anyway. Travis appeared as he was shoved through the airlock door.
“Good. I want him in my sight on the bridge and covered by two guns at all times. Shoot to incapacitate. Servalan wants this one alive.”
“Very cautious,” Blake commented. “Been bitten too often, have we?” That was going to make things rather more difficult for him.
“When the interrogators have finished with you I’m going to request permission to kill you personally,” Travis told him. “In the meantime I’m going to be hunting down your friends. Fortunately no-one has ordered that they be taken alive.”
“You won't find them easy to catch,” Blake told him.
“Your interrogation will tell us everything we need to know. Put him over there and ready for take off. Send a message to Supreme Commander Servalan - we have what we came for.”
There was no way that Blake could extract the bracelet and put it on with two guards watching him from six feet away. He needed a distraction.
“It's a bit of an anticlimax, isn't it, Travis? Buying me from someone else? No-one’s going to give you a commendation for that. They're going to laugh.”
“What do I care,” Travis snarled. “You'll be dead.”
“Not necessarily. Once you hand me over the politicos take charge. They might decide I'm more useful to the Federation rehabilitated.” Blake grinned at him. “I could end up living out my life in safety and comfort on Earth while you get nothing but prisoner transport jobs under the constant threat of court martial.”
Blake would never accept rehabilitation as the price of safety but Travis needn't know that. He could see the man wrestling with the notion as the ship took off.
“Put us in orbit and then clear the room,” Travis finally ordered. “You two as well,” to Blake's guards.
There. He'd reduced the problem to just Travis and himself. Or rather Travis and a gun, and himself in restraints. Unfortunately Travis now intended to shoot him.
“They'll know you killed me,” Blake pointed out.
“No direct witnesses and I'm the senior officer. You died trying to escape. No- one will contradict me.”
The bracelet hummed again. Only one chance for it. Blake turned his back on Travis, his neck prickling.
“What are you doing?”
“Making you shoot me in the back.” He was scrabbling for the bracelet with his awkwardly tied hands. “Explain that one to the court martial.”
“You think I won’t do it?” Travis was close up behind him, the gun jabbing into his spine. This was really not good. “Why are your hands down your trousers?”
Click open. Jam his wrist in. Close and pull both hands up to his mouth. “Teleport now!”
He heard the whine of the gun and for a second he thought it was too late. As Liberator materialised around him his knees gave way and he collapsed, unhurt, on the teleport platform.
“Blake! Are you injured?” That was Gan, rushing to his aid. He scrabbled to his feet.
“No, I’m fine. Is Avon onboard?”
“Yes.” Gan sounded dark.
“What about the rest of you?”
“All here. You’d better come up to the bridge, Blake.”
He could feel the ship accelerating away from the cruiser at a speed that wouldn’t possibly be matched. “Can you find something to get these bloody things off me first?” He’d really had enough of restraints.
Everyone else was on the bridge. They had a guest as well; Aros, who glowered at Blake from his position tied up sitting on the floor back to back with Avon. A cold and determined Cally was holding a gun on both of them.
“Blake! Are we glad to see you!” Jenna was at the controls.Crew retrieval complete.
Zen said in what Blake imagined was a satisfied tone.
“I’m extremely glad to be back. Is Zen…?” Blake couldn’t think of a tactful way to ask if the machine was still homicidal in its hearing.
“Zen appears to be at least temporarily co-operative,” Avon said from the floor. “Jenna seems to have a remarkably good influence on it.”
“I just talked to it,” Jenna said, slightly defensively. “We all wanted you back. I explained that destroying planets wasn’t a particularly helpful way to go about it.”
“Simple,” Avon said, with slight sarcasm.” Why didn’t we think of that?”
“Shut up, Avon,” Vila said. “Nobody wants to hear from you. Someone tell me why we aren’t just throwing him out of an airlock?”
“Because we thought we’d wait and see what Blake had to say about it first,” Jenna said.
“Blake is never in favour of throwing people out of airlocks,” Vila grumbled quietly. “We should have done it before he arrived.”
“How did he get here?” Blake asked, gesturing at Aros.
“Avon said two to teleport up. We thought he meant you. I don’t know why he brought that man but we assumed if he was with Avon he was probably bad news.”
“Why on earth did he come alone?” Blake asked Avon.
“He was under the impression that his guards were teleporting up too.”
“Wasn’t he armed anyway?”
Avon’s smile was smug. “Ah, but when I instructed Liberator’s crew via the bracelet to be ready to surrender control of the ship to me as soon as we got aboard, I was fairly sure that our reception was not going to be peaceful. Aros here didn’t have time to pull out his gun before we were both disarmed. Sometimes being unpopular can be useful.”
“Who is he, anyway?” Cally asked. “He kept threatening us until you turned up, then he went quiet.”
“I’m not surprised. He’s the man who just sold me to Travis for thirty million credits. Of course twenty five million of that supposedly went to Avon. Did you get it?”
“Ah, that’s why there’s a huge fortune in Noridium in his bag,” Vila said. “I did wonder.”
“Of course I got it,” Avon said. “That was the entire point. Now we pick up the other hundred million down payment on Liberator. It’s in a cache on the third moon. Aros here is going to give us the co-ordinates.”
“Why should I?” Aros said to Blake. “You won’t kill me, not an idealist like you.”
“Of course Blake won’t kill you,” Avon said. “But if you don’t pay up we’ll leave you on Cygnus Alpha. You’ll have the same chances there that we did.”
“And if I do give you the co-ordinates?”
“We’ll leave you in a life support suit on the moon and let your family know where you are. If they aren’t too annoyed with you losing ninety five million credits I imagine they’ll send someone to get you.”
“I’ll give you the co-ordinates,” Aros said hurriedly.
“Why,” Cally asked, “is Avon calling the shots here when he’s the one who betrayed Blake?”
“Because,” Avon said curtly, “this is my plan. All of it.”
“Including the bit where you sit on the floor and we threaten to shoot you?” Cally was seldom intimidated by Avon.
“Including that, yes.”
She looked over to Blake, who shrugged. “We’ll go along with it for the moment, But don’t let him up.”
The cache was where they were told it was, and recovery was straightforward. They left Aros standing forlornly on the moon’s surface, broadcast the co-ordinates back to Jotunhein and took off out of the Polaris system at full speed before Travis’s cruiser could pick them up again, one hundred and twenty five million credits and a full crew complement better off than when they had arrived.
Which left the problem of Avon, still tied up on the floor of the bridge from where he was issuing the occasional order. Dealing with him really couldn’t be put off any longer, Blake conceded. He positioned himself in front of the man, feet apart. “Now you’re going to answer some questions, Kerr Avon.”
“Yes, I imagine I am.” Avon seemed unconcerned at the prospect. “How much haven’t you worked out for yourself yet?”
“You intended this all along.”
Avon shrugged. “More or less. The details were a little hazy in places, but this was the sort of outcome I was aiming at. It wasn’t meant to be nearly this difficult, though. You and Zen between you managed to royally screw everything up.”
“Why the hell didn’t you tell me?” All that time he’d though Avon had sold him out. All that time. Now he wasn’t sure whether he had or not.
“Firstly because you’d never have gone along with it. All that risk just for mundane profit? No-one got liberated, no consciousness raising, no heroics to stir the masses. Most of the money didn’t even come from the Federation. It wasn’t your kind of operation and you wouldn’t have contemplated lending me Liberator for it.”
Blake digested that for a moment. Avon was probably right. He wouldn’t have risked everything just to turn a profit, even this sized one. “And secondly?”
“Secondly you’re a lousy actor. Safer for both of us if you thought it were genuine.” Avon wriggled an arm free enough from the rope to rub his jaw thoughtfully. “It wasn’t actually safer for me, as it turned out. But that was the idea.”
So that just left the real question. “Why the hell did you do it at all? We didn’t need the money.”
“I did.” Avon shook off the rest of the rope, stood up. Blake held up a hand to stop Cally from reacting. “One hundred and twenty five million credits. You decide how much, if any, of that I earned. If you’re fair, and even under extreme provocation you usually try to be fair, my share should be enough.”
“Enough for what?” Blake demanded.
“Enough to leave, of course. I told you. You’re going to get Liberator destroyed or captured and I don’t intend to be on board when it happens. I need the money- lots of money- to stay safe on my own.”
“How much do you need?”
“You're not going to give him anything!” Vila protested.
Avon was looking back at him, unabashed. “Sixty.”
Sixty million credits was a phenomenal amount of money. Blake nodded. “And where shall we leave you?”
“Karias will do.” It was a bustling independent trading planet in this sector.
“Very well. Zen, time to Karias.”Eighteen standard hours at standard by seven.
“Set course. Leave him alone,” he told the others. “He's got what he wants; he’s not going to try anything else.” Blake didn’t want to talk to anyone else right now. “I'll be in my quarters- have they been repaired yet, Zen?”Confirmed.
“Thank you, Zen.”
After a few hours Blake gave up on trying to sleep and made his way down to the galley. He wasn’t entirely surprised to find Avon there. They’d spent a lot of time in the galley together when he and Avon were the only people on board. When he was Avon’s prisoner.
“Coffee?” Avon offered.
“Yes, thanks.” There was a silence while Avon dialled the order in.
“I’ve been talking to Zen,” Avon finally offered.
Blake had almost forgotten about his other headache. “And?”
“It seems to be a lot more stable with its pilot on board. It appears to be willing to go along with most of what Jenna suggests. Don’t be under the impression that this is your ship, Blake. If it belongs to anyone it’s hers. And it may not be entirely safe even in her hands.”
Blake contemplated that for a moment. “I can live with that. We need Liberator. We’ll take the risk.” He took the coffee. “We need you, too. I’ll take that risk as well.”
Avon shook his head. “I’m leaving.”
“And we both know why.” Blake could feel frustration grow. “It’s a stupid reason to go. Unnecessary. We can work something out.”
Avon sighed. “Too many bridges burned, and not just with you but the others. There’s no reset button on this one, Blake. Let me go with a little grace.”
“What if it doesn’t work out for you, out there? Someone might hit you over the head and takes all your money.”
“They might,” Avon conceded. “Are you offering a bolthole?”
“Yes, I suppose so. You’re Liberator’s family, Avon, however badly you’ve behaved. When you’ve wasted all your money on high living you can always play the prodigal son and return.”
Avon narrowed his eyes at Blake. “I’m never averse to a back up plan. There's a secure underground messaging service used by security specialists. I'll show you how to pick up messages from it. In the unlikely event that I need you I'll call."
He drained his mug. "I have to get back to my quarters now, get some rest. Once I'm on Karias I don't know where or when I'll sleep again."
At the door he turned. "I suppose I ought to say thank you."
"For the bolthole? Or the sixty million credits?"
"For not cutting and running back on Jotunheim. The temptation just to get out of there must have been overwhelming."
"Travis had his gun against my spine. I heard him pull the trigger as the teleport started." Blake told him. "You were that close to getting me killed, Avon, for the sake of a few million credits. If I'd died would it have been worth it?"
Avon paused, apparently thinking about it. "We'd still clear one hundred and twenty five million. You were only worth thirty to the Federation." He managed a brief smile at Blake. "I'm not good with other people's lives. After everything I put you through I ask you to trust me once and I come close to failing. I'll see you when we reach Karias."
Avon didn’t reappear on the bridge until they were moving into high orbit around the independent planet. Then he was all business, giving Blake detailed instructions for picking up any messages on a regular basis. That small link made it feel a little less like he was leaving for good. No-one else seemed at all sorry that he was going. He was right about the bridges burned, Blake thought. He’d antagonised the rest of Liberator’s crew far beyond their tolerance. Blake’s planned last plea to Avon to stay went unspoken; he had obligations to the others. If Avon had stayed on board it was clear that there would have been a great deal of trouble.
Blake thought that Zen at least might complain at losing his crew member but apparently the talk that Avon had had with the ship’s computer the night before had covered that. Avon finished the explanation of the secure network and left the flight deck without fuss or goodbyes to any of them. Blake walked with him down to the teleport room in case there was any more to be said, but it seemed that both men had said all that they were prepared to.
Only when Avon was standing on the platform did he finally speak.
“I might drop back by, in a year or so, if I’m not too busy. See how Zen’s operating, what sort of mess you’ve made of things, who’s dead. That sort of thing.”
Blake nodded. “Send a message and we’ll pick you up.”
“Ready to teleport now.”
Blake watched Kerr Avon shimmer into non-existence. Then he closed the teleport down and walked briskly away. His crew were watching him silently as he came back onto the flight deck.
“Right,” he said to them, a smile slowly creeping back onto his face. “We’ve got the fastest ship in the Galaxy and sixty five million credits to play with. Let’s go and cause some real trouble out there.”