It was so dark.
Impossible to see what, or who, was there, beyond the all-enveloping cloak.
“Who are you?”
That voice again; a woman’s voice; soft, but demanding.
“What is your name?” she asked again.
He was so tired. The relentless questioning. The dark and then the brilliant light and then the welcoming darkness...
“You know my name…” His voice was ragged.
“Indeed I do, but I want you to tell me.”
He couldn’t see his interrogators; they were both hidden from sight, in the blackness.
“Why should I tell you if you already know?” he rasped.
“Because we want to make sure that you know exactly who you are. Now please, who are you and the pain will go away.”
He bit his lip; the pain was dull; his head
did ache, but the woman’s voice sounded promising enough.
Would it really hurt to tell them?
“Now…who are you? What is your name?”
“Avon, my name is Kerr Avon. Can I sleep now?”
“Of course you can……”
“This won’t work,” Travis said flatly.
“Admittedly not in the way you mean,” Servalan replied, watching the black clad Space Commander as he prowled her office. It was obvious that the events that had occurred on Centero still plagued him; and the orchestrator of those events, Blake, even more so.
Only a short time had passed since then and her meeting with Rontane
and Bercol, and even during that short time span, the ‘legend’ of Blake and his
loyal crew had grown.
Something needed to be done; something quite drastic,
And that something was being created within the closely guarded security of her very own Space Command Headquarters.
How this particular idea would eventually pan out, she had no idea and neither did she foresee exactly when this plan would come to fruition. It could take a matter of months; possibly even more.
But eventually, its outcome would benefit both her and the still
unconvinced man pacing her office.
She smiled, but it wasn’t a warm, inviting smile. It was cold and calculating.
“But it will, no doubt, create a schism...” Servalan continued.
“A schism?” Travis turned on his heels and looked at her.
“Divide and conquer, Travis. All we need to do is sit back and wait….it is a great shame that we will not be able to watch.”
He folded his arms, savouring the thought, “Do you have a timescale for this plan of yours?”
“It could take months; years. It all depends on how long our protégé takes to discover the reality of his circumstances. Then it begins.”
“Do you know, Supreme Commander, you can be quite devious?”
“Exhilarating, isn’t it?”
The Liberator surged ever onward into the far flung relative safety of the outer galaxy, as Blake determined to put as much distance between him and the combined forces of the Terra Nostra and the Federation.
The journey to Space City had not been entirely a lost cause, but
its aftermath had ruffled quite a few feathers, not least of all those of the all-powerful
President of the Federation.
No doubt he would be demanding answers as to how long he would have to endure the disruption caused by one man and his crew of ill-assorted colleagues whose exploits were now gaining ground and drawing the voluble attention of the masses.
For one man, though, this enforced idleness was a boon, and he was more than content to let Blake be derailed from any further incursions into Federation Territory.
Avon was deep inside yet another of the Liberator’s control panels, deliberately breaking a connection and then watching in silent wonder as the damaged section slowly, but surely, ‘repaired’ itself.
He silently counted off the seconds.
A small, induced break took a millisecond.
A more vigorous ‘attack’ required a little longer.
It never failed to amaze him, although the others were not so keen on his intensive study. His apparent need to increase his knowledge of the inner workings of this strange, mysterious ship tended to create havoc in other parts of the vessel as lights and entire areas shut down without warning.
But as far as Avon was concerned it was necessary.
The information garnered from these ‘experiments’ would enable him to calculate just how long it would take for the Liberator’s auto-repair systems to put right any amount of damage.
He was fully aware that this tampering was, to say the least,
annoying the others on the Liberator.
However, Blake’s need to put as much distance between the Liberator and its enemies, had afforded Avon the luxury of conducting his own research. And as Blake didn’t seem in any hurry to implement another ill thought out scheme against the Federation, then Avon would fill the monotonous hours with a useful purpose.
But he knew that sooner, or later, his private experiments would incur someone’s wrath and that someone would soon be hunting him down.
It was just a matter if time.
Once again the long, enforced period of inactivity had caused problems; from Vila not being able to obtain a liquid refreshment to Jenna suddenly losing contact with an unknown target on the long range scanners.
And the cause of all the problems was Avon; intent on finding out everything he could about this ship, its functions and its capabilities.
Blake realised that this research was more than just idle curiosity; it was an insurance policy for when the time came and Avon would decide that he no longer required any of the crew and take the Liberator for himself. Or even be able to barter with the Federation in exchange for…
A cold shiver went down his spine. It worried Blake that Avon could still be thinking of his own future, one that didn’t include Blake, or for that matter, any of the others.
It was at times like this that he wished he knew more about the man.
Taking a deep breath, he stepped into the control room.
“The more we know about this ship and its capabilities, the better.”
“I agree,” Blake replied, unable to deter Avon from his investigation of the open control panel, “but not when it interferes with the running of the ship and the wellbeing of the rest of the crew.”
“No major systems have been affected…..”
“….then why the concern?”
“Because if this continues you may well find yourself facing a mutiny.”
Avon smiled, still averting his gaze, “Isn’t that more in your line?”
Blake wasn’t amused by that remark, but decided against rising to the bait, “Perhaps you could leave it until the others have retired for the ‘night’; as it is, Jenna is worried about an unknown target which was on the long distance scanners….”
“May I remind you that the last time we went to the aid of a ship we ended up being boarded by some of Jenna’s old friends.”
“But this time, we have Orac, don’t we?”
“And what does Orac say about that ship?”
“Quite honestly, I haven’t had time to ask it.”
“Then I suggest you do so at the first opportunity. As it is, I have nearly finished here.” Avon deigned to look at him this time. “I have just one, or two, minor issues that need addressing. You don’t mind…do you?”
Jenna’s tone of voice caught Blake unawares. She was obviously very unhappy with the still inactive scanners and the continuing interruption of the other circuits.
“He says he has almost finished.”
The main screen burst into life, and Blake whispered a silent word of thanks. At least Jenna’s fears about the unknown target would now be allayed.
There on the screen was a rather dilapidated space craft and it appeared to be drifting.
“Orac,” Jenna began, “Do you have any information about that ship?”
+It is a commercial freighter in bound from the Pladen System and it is in need of a serious overhaul. It has one passenger on its manifest in addition to a standard crew. +
“So why has it come to a halt?” Blake asked.
+From my observation the ship is experiencing serious computer malfunctions. +
Blake studied the ship on the main screen, “Do you think they need help, Jenna?”
“From our own computer expert? It might give us a rest and something for Avon to do.”
“It wouldn’t hurt to contact them. What harm could it do?”
In the semi-darkness afforded by the emergency lighting, the captain of the commercial freighter tried to make sense of the read outs on the instruments before him.
The normally bustling bridge was strangely silent, and that worried him, especially as he knew that just before the systems went down, again, his long range sensors had picked up the echo of a large vessel.
It was out there, somewhere.
But he didn’t know if it was a threat.
“Tragon…how much longer?”
It was an urgent request, but the recipient of the question didn’t seem in any hurry to reply. The intercom stayed resolutely quiet.
“I heard.” That unmistakable voice; the one that had positively announced that anything was possible, when the computer systems had begun to malfunction.
Was it a deliberate act? The captain had asked.
Or was it just plain, simple lack of due diligence?
Anything is possible, the passenger had replied, before descending into the morass that was the main computer system. His last comment before radio silence had been, “Whoever is responsible for this mess should, by rights, be shot.”
The captain didn’t like to say that he had been at fault, but the owners of this freighter demanded fast a turnaround and quick profits, and that meant that the overhaul of the computer system had been put off…frequently.
And now, the whole success of this latest haulage enterprise rested in the hands of the quiet, unassuming passenger who had stepped forward when everyone else had begun to panic.
“It’s just that…there’s a ship out there. I…we need to know who or what it is. Pirates..Federation…” the captain babbled.
“Then I suggest that you allow me to continue in peace. You don’t mind, do you?”
“Well, here goes nothing,” Jenna murmured, “This is the Civilian Cruiser Liberator outward bound from Earth. Do you require assistance?”
No reply, just the crackling of an open comm link.
“Maybe they don’t need any help,” Blake suggested.
“Out here in the middle of nowhere is not a good place to lose power. I’ll try again.”
‘Well’, the captain thought to himself, as Jenna’s voice drifted for the umpteenth time over the intercom, ‘they are persistent’. He reached for his own intercom and tried to contact Tragon.
“They are offering assistance,” the captain informed the somewhat tetchy technician.
“Did you say, ‘The Liberator’?”
“Does it mean anything to you? I’ve never heard of it. Should I…”
Just then the lights came on and every system powered up, “I’m coming up to the bridge, sir, if that’s acceptable to you, of course.”
“From what I’ve heard, that is the Liberator,” Tragon murmured. Both he and the captain were staring at the main view screen now fully restored to working condition.
“And should I be worried?” the captain asked.
“Only if you are inclined to support the Terran Federation.”
“I was part of it, once. But not now. They and I parted company a few years ago. I’ve been busy making a living out here away from prying eyes, but something has happened since my leaving, and I need to speak to the man who commands that ship.”
“Is that wise?”
“For me? No. But for him, it is crucial. I will need to speak to him in private. If they offer assistance again, tell them I need to speak to Roj Blake as a matter of urgency. May I use your cabin? I’d rather no-one else hears what I have to impart.”
“By all means. Who shall I say requests a meeting?”
“Someone with his interest at heart.”
“And what does he mean by that?” Blake asked, “My interest at heart….”
Jenna shrugged. She was just as confused as Blake, “Do you think it wise?”
“According to Orac everyone on that ship is who they claim to be….”
“But he’s only run a cursory check…”
“If he had found an anomaly, I’m sure that would have flagged up straight away. Besides, I’m intrigued….”
“Being intrigued about a ship that’s just broken down here, in the middle of nowhere, and just happens to have someone on board who wants to speak to you, doesn’t really justify the risk” Jenna said, obviously unhappy about the whole affair. “Are you going?”
“Of course he is going,” Avon announced.
“I see that you’ve finished with your investigations?” Jenna said, with a hint of sarcasm evident in her tone.
“For the moment.”
“Perhaps you should come with me, Avon?” Blake suggested, “They seem to be having computer problems.”
+It would appear that any computer malfunctions have now been eradicated. However, I would suggest that all their systems have a major overhaul at the earliest opportunity and in the confines of a facility with all the appropriate equipment. +
“It’s you they want to see. Obviously, I’m not considered that important…”
“That must come as a major surprise to you,” Blake countered, helping himself to a gun from the rack.
“……yet,” Avon enjoined.
Jenna pursed her lips, “I think I shall join you. A change of atmosphere would do me good.”
Blake studied the rather nervous man in front of him.
“So, this person wants to see me?”
The captain nodded, his eyes never straying from the gun sitting on Blake’s hip, or the hand casually laid upon the grip. If it was a trap, then Blake wasn’t going to take any chances and it seemed that Jenna also had the same idea, except that her gun was firmly in her hand and aimed at the edgy man before her.
“He was very insistant.”
“So, who is he?”
“He is our passenger, a man called Tragon; at least, that’s what’s on the manifest.”
“You don’t seem too sure about that.”
“Look, he’s obviously a Federation Citizen…”
“How do you know that?” Jenna asked.
“His attitude. I’ve met a few high status Federation citizens; and he is definitely one. Arrogant, sarcastic…..”
“We get the picture,” Blake interrupted, “So what is he doing on your ship, out here beyond the grasp of the Federation?”
“All I know is that if it hadn’t been for him, I would have lost my crew, my ship…..I don’t care what he is doing out here; if he is on the run from your Terran Federation; his actions saved us and I’m grateful. But he seemed most relieved to see your ship. Recognised it straight away.”
“Did he now?” Jenna murmured.
“Where is this angel of mercy?” Blake asked politely, intrigued about this stranger.
“He’s in my cabin. He wanted somewhere private. He was most insistent.”
“I believe you wanted to see me?”
“That,” the man began, “depends if you are Roj Blake.”
Blake cast a look at Jenna. She shook her head slightly.
Whoever this Tragon was, he didn’t seem too bothered about the two guns being aimed squarely at his back; he seemed more interested in looking out of the porthole at the distant star field and the Liberator.
“What if I am?”
“She’s a beautiful ship. I’m surprised you’re so eager to leave her. You must really trust your crew.”
“Why shouldn’t I?”
This time the man turned to face them. He was in his late thirties, his features framed by a mass of dark blonde hair; his blue eyes glinting in the half-light afforded by the single table lamp. He smiled.
“Because there is a member of your crew who is not who they claim to be.”
“I find that hard to believe.”
“Believe it. I didn’t, at first, until I discovered that my brother had been arrested and sent to a slave planet...where he was executed on arrival. I was too far away to do anything about it…and then I found out why he had been summarily executed. As a matter of fact, I found it expedient to change my name; create a new identity as it were.”
“That takes a lot of skill and talent,” Jenna pointed out.
“Both of which I have in abundance. Being a top line technician does have its advantages. But then I discovered that the man who had been the reason for my brother’s death was now a prisoner…on the run with Roj Blake. I knew then that I had to warn you…”
“Warn me? Look, just who are you?”
“Surely the captain told you.”
“I’d like to hear it from you.”
“My name is Tragon, Vin Tragon…at least, that is what the computer records say.”
“I’m not one to play games, Tragon…”
“Of course not.”
“So why did you insist on meeting me? Who is it you need to warn me about?” Blake was beginning to find the man opposite him just a little irritating. Tragon seemed to be finding this moment highly amusing, but that feeling was not being reciprocated.
Tragon made himself comfortable in one of the cabin’s chairs, studied the fingers of his left hand and then smiled up at two people still standing in front of him. He took in a deep breath, almost relishing what he was about to impart.
“You have an imposter with you, Blake, an imposter who has taken my life, my past and my future and who will destroy you.”
“An imposter and I don’t know about it?”
“That’s because he’s been set up by the Federation. To keep an eye on you, I expect. And he’s doing a good job, I take it. Why don’t you contact your ship. Let them know that everything is fine. I presume you did say that if they didn’t hear from you in five minutes, to attack.”
“As a matter of fact….”
The man smiled, a disarming smile that Jenna found directed at her, “I would have done the same thing.”
“How much longer are you going to be?” asked Vila.
“That depends,” Blake replied, his voice echoing around the teleport section.
“Depends on what?”
“How long this gentleman intends to prevaricate…”
“Just keep an eye on the time. Out.”
“Oh fine,” Vila mumbled, “I’ll just sit here. Don’t mind me.”
“He sounds nervous,” the man said.
“He normally is. Now, you were going to tell me about this imposter I’m supposed to have on my ship?”
“I don’t expect you to believe me…”
“Try us,” Jenna suggested.
Tragon resumed the study of his left hand and then looked at Blake, then Jenna.
“As I said, this man has taken my past, my future…and I would like both back. But somehow I can’t see that happening. So I thought I should warn you…it’s the least I can do.”
“Who is it?”
“He’s taken my whole life from me as well as my name.”
“And what is your name? Your real name?” Jenna asked.
He smiled up at them, enjoying the moment, “Why….it’s Avon; Kerr Avon.”
Blake just stared at him; lost for words.
And the man just stared back at him, obviously savouring every moment of this dilemma.
It was Jenna who found her voice, “You don’t look anything like him.” It was a statement of fact.
“No,” he began slowly, “I think you’ll find he doesn’t look anything like me; after all, I am, so to speak, the original. So, Blake, what do you intend to do about it? There is an imposter on your ship; a doppelganger for want of a better word and he is waiting his moment. I’m surprised he hasn’t done it already. I would, for a ship like that. I would have handed you over at the first opportunity…”
“Well he hasn’t,” Blake replied.
Jenna thought back to her conversation with Avon when they had found themselves alone on the Liberator. She recalled how urgently he had tried to get her to leave Blake on Cygnus Alpha and strike out, alone.
“He wouldn’t do that,” Blake continued.
“I think you’ll find that your colleague doesn’t share that opinion. Do you Jenna?” The man was looking at her, again, his piercing blue eyes catching the light from the one lamp in the cabin, “Tell me, when did you first meet this man who calls himself Kerr Avon?”
“On the prison ship, London. We were introduced by….Vila Restal.” Blake’s voice trailed off.
“So, you only know that he is Avon because he was introduced as such. How does this Vila know him?”
“I presume from the holding cell…”
“No,” Jenna interceded, “Avon wasn’t in that cell with us. He joined us aboard the London.”
Tragon could see that doubt had now descended upon Blake, “It’s entirely up to you if you choose not to believe me. I can live with it, but can you? You need to reappraise who is your friend and who isn’t.”
“Maybe you should return with us to the Liberator and confront this so called doppelganger?”
“Oh no, that would be foolish, to say the least. He would deny everything and then find some reason to, shall we say, dispose of me. I’ve done what I set out to do and now I shall go back to being Vin Tragon, a somewhat dissolute Alpha Grade Federation Citizen who has chosen to wander the outer reaches of the Federation and beyond. There’s a good living to be had as computer systems break down, just like this ship’s, but I thought I ought to warn you. I’ve done that. What you do with that little snippet of information is entirely up to you. But you have been warned.”
Blake was pensive.
He stood in the Teleport bay, pondering his next move. He even failed to respond to Vila’s question as to everything being all right.
“So what happened?” Vila asked Jenna.
“We met someone,” she replied, her gaze firmly on Blake.
“Was it someone we know?”
“In a way.”
Blake looked up and stared at the man behind the console. Could he really be implicated in this deception?
“Where’s Avon?” he asked, his voice strangely ominous.
“On the Flight deck…where you left him. Why….?”
“There’s something we need to discuss.” Blake depressed the intercom button on the teleport console, his eyes firmly on Vila, “Avon…”
“Yes.” The other man’s voice drifted lazily over the speaker, as if he wasn’t paying too much attention.
“I need to speak to you….”
“I presume your meeting went well…?
“Now, Avon, in your quarters.”
The line went dead. Avon detested being ordered around, especially by Blake. Cutting of contact abruptly was his way of showing it.
Blake could see that Vila was a little perturb by his attitude, “I think you’d better come with us…as well, Vila.”
“All right, if you insist,” Vila replied. He wasn’t too sure about Blake’s mood. What on earth had happened on that other ship and just who had Blake and Jenna met?
Something about Blake’s tone of voice had caused some concern to Avon, who was now making his way to his quarters, as requested. That tone was still troubling him as he rounded the corridor and saw Blake standing quite still outside his, Avon’s, door.
For a very brief second, Avon stopped, but it wasn’t brief enough, Blake had seen him falter and was now staring directly at him.
“I see that you have returned,” Avon said, acutely aware that Blake’s demeanour wasn’t entirely friendly, “So, who was this person who was so desperate to meet you?”
There was no reply. Avon sensed that something was wrong; very wrong indeed.
“We need to talk,” Blake’s said, his voice very calm and level.
“If you insist.”
“Oh, I do.”
Avon studied him for a moment, then looked at Jenna and Vila; the latter was visibly shaking.
Very slowly, Avon walked towards them. If he was anxious he certainly wasn’t going to let Blake, or the others see it.
“Is there a problem?” Avon asked
“I’m not entirely sure. I need to ask Orac first, but meanwhile,” Blake opened the door to Avon’s cabin, “I would much rather that you were confined to your quarters.”
“I see. May I ask why?”
“No….and the same goes for you, Vila.”
“What? Why?” Vila blustered
“Guilt by association, I imagine,” Avon replied, “But as he isn’t prepared to tell either of us why he feels such action is necessary, I think it wise to go along with his request. Although, I am most intrigued exactly what has brought this about.”
“You will,” Blake said, his face a stony mask, “All in good time. Now, if you don’t mind…”
Avon hesitated, briefly, but decided to do as Blake had requested, and stepped into his quarters.
“You’re making a big mistake,” Avon said over his shoulder.
“We’ll see.” Blake replied.
“Don’t I even get a chance to hear the charges?”
“You will, in due course.”
“So how am I supposed to make a defence...?”
“As I said, in due course.”
Avon entered his cabin, then turned on his heels to face his accuser, “Just tell me.”
“No, not until I am sure.”
The door slid shut.
And then Blake became acutely aware that Cally was standing right beside him.
“What are you doing?”
“I’ll explain later,” Blake said, opening the door control panel and making sure that the imprisoned Avon stayed exactly that…imprisoned, “And now you, Vila.”
“What?” Cally asked, “Vila, too?”
“This all happened before we met you, Cally,” Jenna explained, “It doesn’t concern you.”
Vila pursed his lips and smiled dejectedly at the Auron woman, “I’ve no idea either, but it must be serious.”
Blake motioned for Vila to walk towards his cabin, “I’ll explain everything on the Flight Deck. Meet me there in five minutes.”
Cally watched as the strange party moved off, then turned her attention to the locked door. She could sense that Avon was very agitated, and very worried.
The atmosphere on the Flight Deck was tense, to say the least. By now, Gan had joined the remainder of the crew, and had so far remained steadily unconvinced of the whole scenario.
“Not Vila. He wouldn’t do anything like this.”
“Are you sure that this man is telling the truth?” Cally asked.
“I’m not sure about any of it,” Blake replied, “But it does explain one or two things. His disagreements, his open hostility…”
“But he has also saved your life,” Cally pointed out.
“That’s just his way of ingratiating himself,” Jenna announced.
“This man, Vin Tragon, he is convinced that he is the real Kerr Avon?” Cally continued, “Did you ask him any questions?”
“Cally, I don’t know anything about the Avon we have on this ship,” Blake admitted, “Besides, how would we know who is telling the truth? Orac, what have you come up with?”
+There is indeed a record of one Vin Tragon, but it is quite obviously a recently created one. From my analysis of the record, there are clear indications of tampering and that it hides another, older record. +
“Can you find out which older record?” Blake asked.
+Of course I can. +
Orac began to hum away to itself, leaving Blake to think about the course of the last hour or so, “I think it’s time to speak to Vila.”
Supreme Commander Servalan leaned back in her chair and twirled the red flower in her right hand.
It had taken time, longer than she could have possibly imagined, but it seemed as though her plan was about to bear fruit. The report from intelligence was quite clear; someone or something was accessing the record of Vin Tragon and being most thorough about it.
So, the seed had been sown. Soon the doubt would manifest itself.
She leant forward and lightly pressed the communication button on the console before her. It was a direct line to Travis.
“It is time, Travis,” she purred.
“Time, Supreme Commander?”
“It looks as though my scheme is about to hatch. Someone has shown interest in the record of Vin Tragon.”
“Indeed, I was beginning to lose faith in that pet project of yours.”
“I know. Once I know his location, then you can see for yourself.”
“Did you really think I would send our Kerr Avon out there without having the where withal to locate him should this moment arrive? Someone is trying to access Tragon’s record, which means that someone has a good reason to do so, which means….”
“….that Blake has met up with him?”
“Someone from the Liberator has obviously come into contact with Vin Tragon and has no doubt heard his story. How ironic, it would be, if that someone was Kerr Avon.”
“Look, I’ve told you. I was in that holding cell when they brought him in?” Vila was saying.
“Brought him in?” Blake queried.
“Yes, into the complex. He was very quiet. They took him to a private cell. That’s when I asked one of the guards about him.”
“And this guard told you?” Cally asked.
“After he thumped me for being insolent. Neither Jenna or you, Blake, were there at the time, which is why you never saw him.”
“So what exactly did this guard say?”
Vila looked at Blake, “He said, ‘You know who that is? That’s a man who thought he could defraud the Federation Banking System. His name is Kerr Avon and he’s just discovered that being an Alpha Grade is of no use when you get found out. How the mighty are fallen. He won’t last five minutes where he, and you, are going.’ Well, he certainly didn’t look like a criminal to me. In fact, I thought considering he liked to steal things…we’d get on famously!”
Blake studied Vila for a moment, “Hmm, so you had never met him before then?”
“Could this be an elaborate deception?” Cally pondered, “Is Avon really an imposter who has so far evaded detection? Or has someone gone through a lot of trouble to make YOU think that is what he is?”
“Either way,” Jenna began, “It’s taken some planning…”
“….And some time,” Blake said.
“Well, either way, you need to ask the one person who would know for sure,” Gan put in, “And I have an idea that somehow, after being shut up in his cabin without any explanation, he may not be very co-operative.”
Avon stared steadfastly at the ceiling of his cabin.
At least it focussed his mind, laying on his bunk in the semi-darkness, but it was becoming increasingly difficult to stay focussed as his thoughts tumbled around his head trying to fathom just exactly who it was that Blake had met on that ship. He began to wonder if he should have taken up Blake’s offer and accompanied him over to the stricken vessel; at least he would have had a chance to meet this stranger.
What could this person have said?
Obviously it was something that concerned him; and it was something quite serious. That much was evident by Blake’s whole demeanour.
The ‘cell’ door slid open. He’d been in a similar situation before. That time, it had been a Federation interrogator coming to ‘ask’ a few questions, but this time, it was different. This time it was a man who he had considered a friend.
Not a friend, as such. An equal? Perhaps?
Avon didn’t have any friends; he had always considered them an encumbrance. Acquaintances, maybe, people who were useful to him. But even those rare commodities had proven ill-fated. He had faced that Federation interrogator alone; the only consolation had been another memory, a memory of someone who was more than a casual acquaintance; more than a friend…..
“Well?” Avon said evenly.
Blake stood in the doorway.
“We need to talk.”
“As long as it’s about something sensible…”
“…For instance. Why have you locked me in here without a word of explanation? It is usual to at least inform the condemned man exactly what charges he is facing. Or have you decided to go down the Federation road?….Guilty without recourse to a trial….”
“Somehow, I had thought you different in that respect. It just goes to show that you never really know a person until….”
“He said that you are an imposter.”
Avon was momentarily stunned and it was enough for Blake to continue.
“He claims that he is the real Kerr Avon; that you have stolen his identity, his life and he wants both back.”
Avon continued to stare at the ceiling, his breathing calm and even. “And what do you believe?”
“It could be true.”
Avon laughed slightly.
“You haven’t exactly made it easy for me, Avon. Questioning my motives; arguing with me every step of the way.”
“I can see how that would give you cause for concern. But I would like to point out that I have also saved your life...on numerous occasions.”
“Yes, I know, that’s what Cally said.”
“At least, someone doesn’t share your doubts.”
“I have to be sure, Avon. Orac is…. investigating.”
“So, my fate is in the hands of a computer. How apt.”
“Don’t make this any more difficult than it already is. It has already found several anomalies in your records and that of the man who claims to be you.”
“You know that this has all the marks of Servalan, don’t you? I wonder how long ago she put this plan into motion?”
“And what plan would that be?”
“Sow the seeds of doubt. And now she will reap the rewards.”
“Avon…,” Blake began, but found himself staring into a pair of hostile eyes.
“Shut the door behind you,” Avon said, coldly, “I don’t plan to go anywhere.”
“He’s not being very co-operative,” Blake said, slumping down onto a forward couch.
“Can you blame him?” Cally asked pointedly, “On the say-so of one man, you have judged him and found him guilty.”
“I have to be sure, Cally, and he isn’t helping.”
“Maybe not, but if this is what the Federation wanted then they have achieved their objective.”
“Cally, you don’t understand….”
+Their objective may well change, however. + Orac intoned.
“In what way?” Blake asked.
+This scheme of theirs to produce a schism between yourself and Kerr Avon was conceived before they were aware of my existence. +
“So?” Vila said.
+So, they are most probably aware of my researches and may well decide to change tack, as it were. +
“Don’t talk in riddles,” Gan chided.
“Exactly what are you saying, Orac?” Blake demanded.
+That their attention will now turn to this doppelganger who insists that he is Kerr Avon, track him down and arrest him…..+
“…And put him on trial as Avon.”
+The repercussions of such an act would be many fold. People would lose faith. +
“And hope,” Jenna murmured.
Blake was thoughtful, but only for a moment, “We have to get to him, before they do.”
“How would they know where to find him?” Vila asked.
“Oh, they’d know. There’s no way that they would let such a valuable asset loose like that and not know where he was at any given time. And I expect that as we are in the vicinity, then they will just ‘check-in’…..”
“And put two and two together?” Gan suggested.
“Orac, I presume you know where that freighter was headed?”
“Then we have to get there first and then find him, won’t we Jenna?”
Jenna stared at him.
“Well, only two of us actually met him and I somehow think he would be more delighted to see you…than me.”
“You want me to arrest this…this man?”
“Yes, Travis, and I want you to make it as public as possible,” Servalan purred back. On the screen was the one Space Commander she could rely on to get something done. Although, of late, he had begun to question her methods. Perhaps the time was coming to cut him loose.
“On what charge?”
“It is plainly evident. He claims to be Kerr Avon, albeit under a pseudonym, therefore it is you duty to arrest this rebel even though he will claim that it is a case of mistaken identity. A public trial and a very public execution will undermine Blake’s ‘power’ over the masses who see him as some sort of hero.”
“But what of the original idea; to have Blake believe that Avon is not who he claims to be?”
“Look upon this as a trump card. Either way, Blake will be finished.”
“So where is this man?”
“He is under surveillance on a Neutral Space Port. I have, of course, informed the authorities that they have someone there who could be about to subvert their way of life and they are being most co-operative. This Vin Tragon is currently trying to find someone who will return him to the outer worlds where he can carry on as if nothing has changed. Well, it has, for him.
“You will arrest him Travis, in as public a fashion as you can. I do not want anyone to miss this…..especially Blake.”
“Consider it done, Supreme Commander.”
Vin Tragon bit his lip; another rejection. No-one, so it seemed, was leaving that morning. In fact, no-one was leaving at all. Each captain he had approached had shaken their head and said, ‘Sorry’.
It was almost as if someone was determined to keep him here. The question was…who?
Then he saw her.
Suddenly, it began to make sense……
The first that Jenna knew of his presence was when he caught her arm and pulled her into a dark alcove.
“Well now, just look who it is. Not that I’m surprised. Somehow, I didn’t think Blake would take that warning lying down.”
“As a matter of fact, he didn’t,” Jenna replied, “He acted upon your warning and took immediate action.”
“So why is he doing this? I can’t get passage off this place. And I want to know why?”
“It’s nothing to do with us…and I’d be grateful if you would let go of my arm.”
He studied her for a moment, “Not you? Then who?”
“One of our crew, Orac, has determined that whoever is behind this deception, is about to change the game plan. You see, when this plan was conceived, Orac wasn’t known about. Unfortunately, his actions in determining the veracity of your claims have alerted those who are behind this scheme. He maintains that they will keep you here and then move in; arrest you….”
“Arrest me? Why?”
“They will announce that Kerr Avon has been apprehended and a rather public show trial will ensue. We decided we couldn’t let that happen.”
“How thoughtful. And what does that interloper think to that?”
“Let’s just say...he hasn’t exactly been told, yet….”
Vin Tragon smiled, “He will not greet me with open arms. You know that, don’t you? So when do you intend to take me to your ship, the Liberator? A ship like that will make an entrance, one that will not go unnoticed.”
Jenna handed him a teleport bracelet, “They will be back soon. I just need to confirm that I have you.”
Tragon turned the bracelet over in his hand, “Matter transmission…”
“You know about that?”
“Of course. I was a top line technician on Earth and I handled the computer analysis for a research project into it. It was based on an alloy called…”
“Aquitar?” Jenna put in.
“You worked on it?” Tragon asked, genuinely impressed.
“No, but I know someone who did,” Jemma admitted truthfully, finding it just a little uncanny that Tragon had announced his participation it that project in exactly the same way as Avon.
“So, how long do we have to wait?” Tragon asked, putting the bracelet round his wrist.
Jenna ventured a glance out onto the concourse which had suddenly taken on a sense of urgency as base security were stopping everyone and checking their credentials.
“Not too long, I hope,” she whispered, watching as yet another innocent citizen was stopped and questioned, “For both our sakes.”
“Have you finally taken leave of your senses?” Avon asked as Blake explained exactly what Jenna was doing, “You’re bringing the man who claims to be me on board and then ask if I am happy about it?”
“I don’t expect you to greet him with open arms.”
“Well, that much is obvious.”
“We don’t have any choice in the matter.”
“Really. And who has decided this?”
“Once again, you are putting your faith it that computer….”
“If the Federation get this Vin Tragon, they will put him on trial as you. Can you imagine the damage that will do to us?”
“To you, yes. Don’t bring me into it,” Avon snapped back.
Blake was taken aback by such an abrasive attitude, “Avon…will you help me find out what they’ve done to this man?”
“Of course, if they put him on trial, then that would clear the way for me. I could start anew; have a fresh identity…”
“…and then all I have to do is get you out of the way.”
Blake looked at the other man, horrified that even now, he was plotting his future.
Avon smiled at him, “...but it seems, however, that plan of action has been thwarted. Just think, though, in a few minutes, you’ll have two of us to contend with. Somehow it seems all worthwhile. Shall we go?”
Servalan leaned back in her deeply upholstered chair.
It had taken time; a lot of time. In fact the original intention had now changed. What had begun as a simple plan to drive a wedge between Blake and Avon had now become something quite different. She wondered how this plan would eventually culminate.
Either way, Blake’s confidence would be shaken.
All it needed now was for Travis to reach that unruly Neutral Port and find the unsuspecting catalyst. And once arrested the very public trial and even more public execution would take place.
Kerr Avon would be Blake’s downfall…it didn’t really matter which one.
“I would like to say that it is good to meet you…except that it isn’t.” Avon stood quite still, waiting to see if his remarks had elicited a reaction from his alter-ego.
Vin Tragon looked at the man standing a few feet away from him. He was still slightly disorientated from the teleport, but he was aware enough to know exactly who it was facing him.
“Normally,” he replied, “it would be polite to say that the pleasure is all mine, but as you have so rightly pointed out, that is not the case.”
Blake coughed, hoping to stifle any further war of words.
“I think you’re needed on the Flight Deck, Jenna.”
“I think I’d much rather stay here, if you don’t mind.”
“There’s no need,” Avon assured her, “I’m sure this gentleman won’t cause any trouble.”
“It’s not him I’m worried about.”
“I think it wise that you do as Blake requests. If the Federation are on their way…..” Tragon began.
“Which is why I need to run a scan,” Avon interrupted. He stepped forward, a hand held scanner at the ready.
“Why?” Tragon asked.
The shrill alarm from the scanner supplied the answer.
“And it would seem that they would know exactly where to find us,” Avon said softly.
“A tracker?” Blake asked.
“Evidently...and the sooner we remove it, the better.” Avon looked up at Tragon, “Don’t you think?”
“Are you qualified?” Tragon asked nervously.
They had moved to the Medical Unit, and Tragon was watching as his
alter-ego gazed at the instruments lying in a tray on the work top.
Avon turned to face him, smiling quite broadly, “No.”
“And neither am I.” It was another man who spoke. Tragon hadn’t seen him enter; his concentration had been firmly fixed on Avon.
This other man was taller, bulkier than the other two; a virtual giant, “But if anyone is going to do this….My name is Gan.”
Tragon tried a weak smile, but failed. He was in the hands of a group of known rebels, one of whom most probably didn’t mean him well. The others? Well that was a contentious issue.
“What do you want me to do?” Blake enquired.
“Sedating our patient might prove useful...” Gan murmured, selecting one of the instruments.
“We don’t have time,” Avon informed them.
“Very well.” Gan tried a reassuring smile, but could see that Tragon was not impressed at all. “This may be painful….”
It proved too much for Tragon.
As Gan had delicately sliced into his forearm, he had passed out.
“Got it,” Gan whispered triumphantly, holding the minute device between his thumb and forefinger. Avon took it from him as Blake began to apply a thermo dressing to the unconscious Tragon’s arm.
“I think, “Blake said, “that you may have enjoyed that just a little too much.”
Avon held the small tracker in his hand, marvelling at its ingenuity, “Possibly.” He dropped the device to the floor and crushed it beneath his boot.
“However,” Avon continued,” Now is not the time to discuss it, both you and Gan need to get to the Flight Deck. Any Federation Pursuit ships could well be on their way here.”
“But this is Neutral Territory.”
“Maybe so…but considering who or what is at stake here, I don’t think they will bother too much with political niceties.”
“And what about you?” Blake asked.
“Me? Well, I shall stay here and make sure our guest is comfortable. It could turn out to be a bumpy ride.”
“Somehow, I thought you would want to stay close by.”
Avon ignored Blake’s comment, “If you do find yourself requiring my assistance, you know where to find me.”
“We have two Pursuit ships trailing us,” Jenna announced.
Blake stood alongside her. He looked at the scanner himself.
“What do you think?” he asked.
“There is no indication that they intend to attack.”
“They wouldn’t dare…Would they?” Vila said, his voice tinged with concern.
“Unless they are merely watching us, to see where we go,” Gan put in.
“Or watching us and waiting until they have re-enforcements,” Cally suggested.
“They wouldn’t risk starting a war, out here, would they?” Jenna said, her eyes fixed on the two images almost on the edge of the scanner’s range.
“As Avon said, ‘Considering who or what is at stake here, they won’t be too bothered about political niceties’. I have an idea they are biding their time,” Blake replied.
“Biding their time for what?”
“Servalan has put a lot of time and, no doubt, resources into this scheme. It hasn’t turned out exactly how she had planned, but she will want to see a good return on her outlay.”
“And that means us, doesn’t it?” Vila moaned.
“I’m afraid so. Her pet project has just become expendable.”
“Does Tragon know, do you think?” Jenna asked.
“I expect Avon will have great pleasure in telling him.”
+INFORMATION+ Zen’s announcement curtailed any further conversation on the topic, +SCANNERS HAVE DETECTED A THIRD FEDERATION PURSUIT SHIP APPROACHING ON A RECIPROCAL BEARING.”
“I think Travis has just found out that Servalan’s subterfuge has gone AWOL,” Blake said, “Zen. Battle Computers on line.”
“Well at least he’s going for a straight fight this time. I leave it up to you, Jenna, to get us out of this.”
“It’s more than making sure that I’m comfortable, isn’t it?”
Avon didn’t answer.
Tragon quietly observed the man leaning against the wall opposite him, “If I were you, I would be planning how to kill me and make it look like an accident.”
Avon drew in a deep breath, “Well, you are not me, despite your protestations to that effect.”
“They conditioned you well.”
“The people who set you up.”
“No-one has ‘set me up’.”
“Maybe we should compare notes.”
Tragon nodded, “Yes, and see if they told you everything about me. Whether our memories are identical…to see if we have experienced the same things. Now that would interest the others; just imagine what I could let slip about you.”
“Let slip about me? Somehow I don’t think the deranged ramblings of a delusional man will be of concern to anyone on this ship.”
“You seem very positive about that.”
“That’s because I am.”
“Aren’t you worried about what I may or may not say?”
“Not in the slightest.”
“Then you should be. If, as you have convinced Blake, you are correct in saying that I am the actual interloper and you are indeed the real Kerr Avon, then what I have here, in my head, is all an illusion.”
“Quite honestly, I’m not concerned about the lies they have planted inside your mind.”
Tragon laughed slightly, his right hand slowly caressing his left arm, now encased in the thermal bandage. “Lies? If only they were. But you won’t talk about it, so how do we know who has the lies and who has the truth? Let us conjecture that my life and experiences have indeed been transferred into your mind…would you answer me one question?”
“That depends on the question.”
Tragon put his hand to his head and closed his eyes, “Tell me…how do you sleep at night?”
Avon remained unmoved.
Tragon opened his eyes and cast a sideways glance at Avon, but no answer was forthcoming. “From your expression, sleep does not come easily. Why should it? When one considers everything that I have done or caused to happen, then it is easy to understand why you find no peace.”
Avon still didn’t move, but Tragon detected a very slight change in his attitude.
“Of course, there are some things you won’t have experienced. For instance, my brother…”
“My brother, you mean.”
“…that’s when I first found out about you. I received the news from a very old friend who informed me that my brother had been arrested because of some fraud that I was supposed to have been responsible for. But how could that have been me?”
“And who was this old friend?”
“I’m hardly likely to tell you, am I? You would merely inform your runners and that friend would be dead.”
“I do not have any runners…”
“So you say, but the fact remains that because of them and you, my brother was arrested and sent to a slave planet. He was butchered on arrival.”
“To the best of my knowledge, my brother is still alive. And he no doubt intends to stay that way, because I can find no trace of him…..”
“I was too far away and then the rumours began to circulate that Kerr Avon was running with Blake. The Federation must have done a very good job on you; convincing you that you were Kerr Avon. And now you have convinced Blake. When exactly do you intend to hand him in and complete your mission?”
“I’m not on any mission…”
“Everyone who meant something to me is now dead because of you,” Tragon continued, “Everyone; arrested; tortured and then executed, and all because the Federation had to make it look so convincing.”
Avon had been silent during that outpouring. This man was opening old wounds; wounds that were painful.
“And I do mean everyone and all because of my apparent greed. But why me? Why choose me? Why put my life, my memories, into your head…?”
But Tragon wasn’t listening, “Just so they could have someone close to Blake, someone he could trust…”
“And he does trust me,” Avon said, “Just as you must believe me when I tell you that you are in fact the imposter. And I will prove it. Orac believes he has found who you really are. It’s buried, deep beneath cleverly doctored records, but it’s there.”
“Of course it’s there. I put it there. After I discovered what Kerr Avon was supposed to have done, I had to create an identity for myself; to move freely about this galaxy until I found Blake and could warn him about you.”
“Why? What is it to you?”
Tragon was silent. It was his turn to think deeply about his reasons. He drew in a deep breath, “Because it was the right thing to do. I’ve done many selfish things, but Blake was bringing hope to those who did not have the same chances as me. To have him brought down by…me…I had to do something.”
“How very commendable…”
“I don’t care if you believe me or not…..”
“And I believe you. You, or someone, did create an identity for Vin Tragon, and has successfully made it look as if there is another record beneath it…my record. But once this little emergency is over, Orac will tell us what will be required to return your memories and restore you to your true identity.”
“Orac does not lie.”
“Then why don’t you undergo whatever treatment it has in mind?”
“Because I am not a doppelganger, a fraud, an imposter…you are.”
Tragon looked up at the featureless ceiling, “You really are so convincing. I suppose Blake will go along with this notion of yours?”
“And is there a risk with whatever you have in mind?”
“There’s always a risk.”
“What sort of a risk?”
“When one is dealing with the function of the brain….”
“I could end up a vegetable, a mindless husk…and you’re prepared to risk that?”
“To bring this charade to a halt, yes. I will do anything…”
“To protect your little secrets?”
Tragon smiled and then slowly turned his head to face Avon who was still leaning against the far wall in the medical unit, “I may not be an easy man to kill.”
“Then we do have something in common,” Avon smiled back.
The intercom on the wall chimed. Slowly, Avon depressed the call button, his eyes never leaving the man lying prone on the medi-couch.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to leave the patient and get up here…” It was Blake.
“May I ask why?”
“Travis appears to have become impatient and has decided to launch an all-out attack. I will need you up here…”
“I’m sure the others are quite capable….”
The intercom went dead.
“It must be so nice to be wanted,” Tragon wondered out loud, “I think you had better run along. You don’t want to keep him waiting.”
“I shouldn’t really leave you…”
“I have no intention of going anywhere. Besides, your friend’s surgical technique does leave a lot to be desired.”
Avon studied the man. He did appear to be quite pale.
“We can continue this discussion later.”
“Oh yes,” Tragon sighed, “I look forward to it.”
He watched as Avon left the medical unit and allowed the door to shut behind him. There was the distinct sound of a lock being activated.
“In fact, our little discussion will be over sooner than you think.”
The first plasma bolt found its mark.
The Liberator shook violently in response.
From deep inside one of the secondary control rooms an explosion erupted as circuits reacted angrily to being overloaded by a sudden energy surge.
Avon reached the door to the room and quickly looked inside. It was a mass of smoke and flames, and electrical currents sliced through the air.
Blake’s urgent voice came over the intercom again, “Avon, we’ve lost our forward sensors...”
“I’m down here now. Try and keep this side of the ship away from any more plasma bolts…”
“That may be easier said than done….”
The intercom went dead.
Avon thought about thumping the device, but knew it would be a thankless task. With the ship wide communications proving useless, he would have to play it by ear.
He looked inside the control room again. The inferno was even worse. He knew from experience that the Liberator’s auto-repair systems would cut in soon, but meanwhile the ship was virtually blind. He could see the culprit, a high voltage electrical cable dancing dangerously around the floor.
“Is there a problem?”
Avon spun round.
Tragon was right behind him, “Did you really think a simple electrostatic lock would be beyond my capabilities?”
“You would need to be a top line technician to bypass that.”
“And I am.”
“I suppose it makes sense. If the Federation were going to have someone impersonate me, then he would need to be of equal intellect.”
“Indeed. Now, I asked, is there a problem?”
“Nothing the Liberator’s technology can’t handle, but it will take time.”
“Time Blake doesn’t have, I take it?”
“Show me,” Tragon asked.
For a moment Avon hesitated. The Liberator and its system were very personal to him. He tended to keep its secrets to himself.
“Maybe I can help,” Tragon said very slowly.
“It is a high voltage cable…I’ll show you.”
Avon turned and went towards the partially open door.
The smoke was thicker now, surging out into the corridor.
The lights flickered; another system was failing.
“With two of us, it should be a simple procedure…”
The word caught in Avon’s throat as Tragon’s left arm snaked around his neck. The thermo-dressing designed to support the injured arm was pressed firmly against his wind-pipe and crushing it.
Instinctively, Avon pushed his full body weight backwards hoping to break Tragon’s grip as they smashed against the corridor wall.
“Oh, you’ll have to do better than that,” Tragon whispered, “In fact, a lot better.” As he spoke, he violently twisted his body. Avon could see the wall hurtling towards him, but in the steel grip of Tragon’s arm he could do nothing.
“Avon!” Blake was exasperated.
Travis, with the aid of his two ships, was now pressing home the attack. It was obvious that he knew that the constant bombardment by his ships was wearing the Liberator’s defences down.
“Zen. Status report!”
+LONG AND SHORT RANGE SCANNERS STILL INOPERATIVE. MAIN POWER SYSTEM STILL BELOW OPERATIONAL CAPACITY. +
“We need that power. Jenna, buy us time. Vila, direct one full salvo from the Neutron Blasters in the direction of that last Plasma bolt…”
Vila did as he was told, even though he had no idea if he would hit anything.
“… and then shut down everything but life support…Hopefully Travis will think he’s crippled us.”
“Quite honestly he wouldn’t be far wrong,” Jenna said.
“Gan, work with Cally. See if you can figure out where those pursuit ships are. It’s time we played dead. I’m going to see if Avon needs any help. Vila, stand by those Neuron Blasters. ”
“And do what?” Vila asked
“When that power comes back, you’ll all have seconds. I don’t want any of the crews on those ships to miss this.”
Blake had barely rounded the last corner when the darkened corridor burst into the life.
He stopped dead.
Avon was on the deck, unmoving.
Suddenly, the ship heaved and Blake knew that it was fighting back. But he didn’t know how. The Liberator’s auto repair systems were a formidable asset, but he knew that even they weren’t capable of such a speedy turn around.
Blake slowly approached Avon. He could see
that he was breathing, but there didn’t seem to be any other outward sign of
injury, apart from a darkening bruise on his forehead...
He crouched down, “Avon.”
Nothing. Whatever had transpired in this corridor had knocked his friend out cold.
But there was another sound; coming from the secondary control room.
Slowly Blake walked towards the open door and the pall of smoke which hung like a curtain between him and whatever was inside.
The sound was whimpering. Like that of an animal in pain. And then he saw him; Tragon grasping the high voltage cable in his bare hands; too scared to let go in case the desperately needed power gave way.
“Tragon…what the hell do you….?”
His pain etched face turned towards Blake.
“…had to. Only option…no other way….”
“You have to let go…”
“Can’t….I’d much rather die a hero than live as a mindless, jabbering carcass.”
“I won’t let that happen.”
“Try telling him that….”
Blake took a deep breath. He looked back through the open door to see Avon still lying unconscious, “Avon,” he murmured, “What have you done?”
Travis was in a rage.
He had the Liberator; the three ships had pounded it; it had hung there, unmoving and then as his two companion ships had approached she had launched an array of Neutron Blasts and then hurtled away. It had almost seemed as though he and his ship had been brushed aside like a bothersome insect.
Now he was not only facing the anger of the indignant resident authorities whom held sway over this neutral area of Space, but also the threat of an inferno within his own ship as damaged circuits angrily retaliated.
The authorities were demanding answers.
And he had none.
To make matters worse, he knew he would have to face the wrath of Servalan.
She had laid the foundations of this scheme so long ago.
A scheme designed to cause a schism between two men.
But it would seem that time had changed the dynamics; two totally opposing personalities were now working as one.
Even the sudden change of plan had not materialised. The imposter who was to have stood trial was now with Blake. Whether he was causing the ructions envisaged would remain unknown.
But Travis did know one thing. His time was running out. Soon, Servalan would tire of his ineffectual attempts to tame Blake. And he knew that when she tired of an ineffectual officer then their fate was sealed. It was a fate that Travis was determined to avoid at all costs.
But he had other concerns at that moment. His ship was threatening to erupt around him; his only hope was to get back to a Federation facility before the flames totally engulfed it and him.
The exhilaration on the Flight Deck had come
to a sudden halt as Blake’s urgent voice demanding an immediate cut in power came
over the intercom.
“Blake, we have to put as much space between….” Jenna began.
“Just do it, Jenna, or we’ll lose him….”
“…and I need help down here, now!”
Without any hesitation, Gan and Cally left their stations.
“What now?” Vila asked, as Jenna brought the Liberator to a sudden halt.
“We sit here and wait until we are able to move again.”
“But what about ‘him’? Who’s he talking about?”
“We’ll find out; soon enough.”
It was a rasping question, asked by Avon as he slowly opened his eyes and came face to face with Blake.
“He may just keep his hands…”
“Well maybe he didn’t want to face what you had in mind for him. Maybe it was the lesser of two evils. Gan carried him to the medical unit…just in case you’re interested.”
“Should I be?”
“Well, you never know, he might just let slip some interesting fact about you…”
Avon was slowly getting to his feet as Blake spoke, “….and that’s one thing that really worries you. Doesn’t it?”
“It should concern you,” Avon stated, rubbing his throat, “This ship is not big enough for the both of us. He’s already made it quite clear what he intends for me. You could well be next.”
“Perhaps we should ask him why he took the action he did. Just to clarify the situation. We wouldn’t want to reach a hasty decision.”
“You do that.”
“Where are you going?”
“Orac will no doubt have garnered the information that I requested,” Avon said as he walked off in the direction of the Flight Deck, “and then I can bring this unfortunate business to a satisfactory conclusion.”
Jenna stared at Avon as he entered the Flight Deck and went straight to Orac. It was an icy stare, one that didn’t go unnoticed by him.
“So,” she began,” It wasn’t you then?”
“Obviously,” he replied pointedly.
“What happened?” Vila asked.
“Oh, Tragon tried to kill himself, but he was doing it for all the best intentions. I’m sure you’ll be pleased to hear that.”
“And you just stood by?” Jenna murmured
“As a matter of fact, I had no say in the matter…”
“Where is he?”
“In the Medical Unit. Now, if you don’t mind, I have several questions to ask Orac…”
“You must be very pleased with yourself,” Jenna said, leaving her station.
Jenna bit her lip and then turned towards Avon whose attention was still on Orac. The frosty reception he had encountered had become even colder. He chose to ignore it, but it wouldn’t go away.
“He would have saved you a great deal of trouble,” she said evenly, her voice laced with accusation.
He didn’t reply, that would have only invited more condemnation.
“Vila,” Jenna began, her eyes firmly on Avon, “once the auto-repairs have finished, instruct Zen to get the Liberator moving.”
“As far away as possible from any threat to us.”
“And where are you going?” Vila asked, feeling decidedly uncomfortable.
“To get as far away as possible from him!”
Travis had failed again.
Not only that, but the repercussions of his encroachment into Neutral Space and subsequent battle with Blake and his ship, had caused a great deal of anger from the authorities who liked to keep that area of space neutral for a reason; keeping the Terran Federation in check and away from those people who viewed the totalitarian government as an all-encompassing evil.
Servalan didn’t see it that way.
The Federation stood for order; everything and everyone in its place for the good of all citizens who accepted their position in society. For Supreme Commander Servalan, that meant obtaining power and keeping it, while destroying anyone who stood in her way as she sought to claim the ultimate prize. Absolute power.
“I did warn you, Supreme Commander.”
His voice broke her mood.
A man so at ease with himself and his abilities, that she found him quite attractive.
“You did indeed, but only after I had told you the full extent of the plan.”
“Too complicated, Ma’am. I mean no disrespect, but such a scheme was doomed to failure. To have succeeded, you would have needed that doppelganger to have sown the seed within months of Blake beginning his crusade. He has had time to trust those around him. No Ma’am, a good idea, but not at the right time and perhaps not with the right person.”
“You have another plan?”
“I suspect you do, or you would not have called me here.”
“True,” Servalan smiled.
“But, the one stumbling block is Travis.”
“That all depends if the medics can save him.”
“Ah yes, how unfortunate. However I have absolute faith in the abilities of the medical team. When they have finished their work, he will be like a new man and then a little re-educating would do him the power of good. He is too good a man to destroy, but this fixation that he has about Blake, to the exclusion of all else? Well I think we will need to curb that desire.”
“And once my re-educators have done their task?”
Carnell smiled back at her, “Then you can turn your attention to that rumour you have heard. A powerful weapon which could make you invincible.”
“Yes, Supreme Commander Servalan and one which will make me very rich.”
“Perhaps you presume too much, Carnell?”
“Please, do not begrudge me, Ma’am. I find it terribly wearisome, don’t you?”
Blake was in the corridor outside the Medical Unit, listening as Avon explained, what to him was a simple procedure, but to Blake it sounded decidedly risky.
“Could he die?” Blake asked quietly.
“There is that possibility…” Avon replied, his voice nowhere near as hushed as Blake’s.
“I don’t think I could have another death on my conscience, Avon.”
“I doubt if his will be the last…”
“You do realise they can hear every word in there?”
Avon continued, unfazed, “It is Orac’s opinion that the procedure Tragon underwent was a similar procedure to the one to which you were subjected. Except that they then added information via ‘false’ memories relating to me and consequently made him believe that he was, in fact, me.”
“So, somewhere inside his mind, the real Tragon still exists, but it’s been overwritten, so to speak.”
“In a sense, yes, but Tragon is not his real name. Orac has uncovered that in the records.”
“And no doubt Orac’s research has alerted whoever did this that we know the truth. You know they will track him down? We can’t just drop him off and hope that’ll he’ll adapt.”
“I wasn’t suggesting that. He will need someone to look after him until he has recovered from his injuries and until he is able to fend for himself, albeit a long way from the Federation and the person responsible for this.”
“It is highly likely. She does have access to the necessary equipment.”
“So who do you suggest takes on this role of nurse maid? You? Somehow, I can’t quite see that happening.”
Avon folded his arms, refusing to rise to Blake’s somewhat humorous repost.
“As a matter of fact, it was Gan’s idea. And it doesn’t involve me.”
“Well, that’s one thing Tragon should be grateful for. The sedative Cally gave him should be wearing off by now. Maybe we should let him decide.”
“Do you have any recollection, what so ever, of events leading to you believing that you were Kerr Avon?”
Tragon was laying on the medi-couch, his hands swathed in thermo-bandages, his thoughts still reeling. He studied the man who bore his name, so he believed, who was standing at the foot of the bed asking so many needless questions.
“They told me there had been an accident.”
“I never found out. But I remember the bright light and her voice. Asking, demanding, to know my name. It was so painful…I had to talk in the end; I had to tell her and then the pain stopped. Don’t put me through that again.”
“We won’t,” Blake said calmly, “Will we Avon?”
“And then,” Avon continued, ignoring Blake’s question, “you heard that Blake was on the run with another Kerr Avon and you felt duty bound to tell him.”
“I was angry. My entire life had been turned upside down. How did you expect me to feel?”
“In what way was your life turned upside down?” Blake asked innocently. It seemed an innocuous question but the blank stare from both men directed at him, made him feel that perhaps he had intruded just a little too far.
“May I remind you,” Avon said, “that we only agreed to you being here on the condition that you didn’t ask any questions of a personal nature.”
“I’m sorry,” Blake replied, suitably chastised.
“People very close to me were arrested and then murdered,” Tragon explained, aware that Avon was now staring at him.
“They did that to me,” Blake whispered.
“Except it wasn’t HIS family, Blake,” Avon pointed out.
Blake looked at him. If Avon was feeling anything then he certainly wasn’t showing it.
“Blake, can you remove those memories?” Tragon asked, “Can you put right what they did to me? Can I go back to being me? Whoever I originally was?”
“We don’t have the facilities to do that. Only the Federation have that ability and as you and I both well know, that is an option we do not want.”
“But you can recall who you really were, can’t you, everything that you learned, experienced…?”
“Not all of it, no. As it is, Avon considers it too dangerous for you to know exactly who you originally were. An unguarded moment; an official who decides to be very efficient; anything like that could endanger your life. To that end, Orac has literally created a new persona from scratch. Anyone checking your record should you or the Federation ever encounter each other again, will find a complete life history of Samuel Blaine. Vin Tragon, your own, well-constructed identity will vanish; missing believed dead in one of the many ‘accidents’ that happen out here; a casualty amongst several well documented incidents.”
“But surely, they will know? The people who set me up?”
Avon stepped forward into the light, “Supreme Commander Servalan most certainly knows that you have met us, but to all intents and purposes you will have delivered your message and then gone back to being a top line technician who unfortunately took passage on an outward bound cargo ship that found itself caught up in a battle between Space Commander Travis and the Liberator.”
“And she will believe it?”
“Of course not, but the evidence will be there for all to see…..actually, she may be more inclined to think that I killed you,” Avon smiled, “I would certainly believe that.”
“Orac, are you ready?” Blake asked.
The box of lights resting on the floor bedside the medical couch seemed to be humming away to itself and had now been rudely interrupted; at least the tone of voice emanating from somewhere inside the transparent array of self-contained circuitry gave that impression.
+Of course I am. Please attach the sensors to the patient’s temple and forehead. And I must insist on complete silence. Any noise could have serious repercussions. +
Tragon bit his lip as Blake attached the sensors and trailed the wires safely away.
“I have one last request,” Tragon murmured, “I do not intend any disrespect, but would it be possible for Jenna to be here with me?”
“Jenna?” Blake said, surprised.
“I’d like my last memory to be beautiful.”
The lush green foliage was shrouded in a fine mist and the slithers of sunlight that penetrated formed small, delicate arches of colour. An occasional bright pink flower caught a stray beam and seemed to infuse the entire scene with a magical quality.
Marie Page was seated on a large smooth granite boulder, its form shot through with veins of white quartz.
She often came here to bask in the beauty and tranquillity. The moment she had visited this place, she knew that this was where she wanted to stay. She had made the previous owner an offer he couldn’t refuse, but he preferred to gamble.
One hand of cards.
Winner takes all…including her.
Marie Page had met such men before and she had acquired a skill that meant those men never got what they had thought so easily could be won.
The previous owner of this verdant paradise had made that mistake and now, Marie Page was the mistress of all this planet possessed…and she was no-one’s mistress. She was an independent spirit, bound to no man.
“Well now, you’ve certainly landed on your feet.”
Marie Page had heard the distinct sound and felt the surge of static, so it came as no surprise to her that she was no longer alone. She smiled to herself, knowing that at least one of the strangers was standing right behind her. She wondered if the other man; the tall, gentle giant, was there too.
“Checking up on me?” she enquired, mischievously.
“Should I be?”
“Maybe you should.” This time she deigned to turn and found herself facing two very familiar faces.
Gan smiled a welcoming smile, returned by Marie Page.
“It’s so nice to see you again, Gan, and I see you’ve brought your friend with you.”
“He insisted,” Gan replied.
“One of your….. colleagues suggested we would find you here...” Avon continued.
“Really. And to what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?”
“We have a favour to ask you,” Gan replied.
“Yes,” Avon said, his voice suddenly taking on a more serious tone, “A victim, much like you, requires help. And I believe that you are in a better position to provide that help than we are.”
“I see.” Marie held out her hand and Gan helped her to her feet. For a moment, Gan stared out at the waterfall, finding the sight and sound strangely relaxing.
“I can see why you come here.”
“I found that I missed the one thing that kept me sane while in Mr Culver’s employ, the mesmerising sound of a waterfall.”
“And I take it you own this?”
Avon smiled to himself, “I don’t think I even want to know how you managed to persuade the previous owner to part with this delightful place.”
“I gave him a chance,” Marie smiled back, “a game of cards….”
“Did he have any idea what he was up against?”
“No…of course not.”
“Another benefit of being in Mr Culver’s employ?”
“Oh yes…I’m good, at everything…….”
“Speaking of Mr Culver, how is the gentleman?”
“As far as I’m aware, he is alive and well, but that will change, one day. I have other interests to follow, at the moment.”
“Other interests?” Gan asked.
“This sanctuary, for one. Hopefully, when the time comes, I shall find Mr Culver and release the others. But now, there are lost souls here and I believe that their welfare comes first.”
“I think so. Now, this victim of whom you speak…”
“He had the misfortune to fall into the hands of the Federation,” Avon began.
“And then he fell into the Avon’s hands…”Gan continued.
“I can’t even begin to imagine what would be worse…”
“They convinced him that he was in fact, me,” Avon explained, trying to maintain some form of composure.
“How terrible for the poor man,” Marie smiled, “But no doubt you endeavoured to correct his misapprehension.”
“Really,” Marie said, with a distinct air of not actually believing Avon’s sincerity.
“It was a necessary evil,” he explained.
“Necessary for you, no doubt.”
“Yes,” Avon admitted bluntly.
“I see. And what now?”
“Orac has almost replicated the process, but instead of wiping whatever memories he had implanted, they have been suppressed, but the risk to him if he were to be allowed to wander the galaxy as a free man would be too great.”
“And to you, as well, I would imagine. After all, you wouldn’t want Orac’s dubious process to fail…that could be very embarrassing, for you…wouldn’t it?”
Avon didn’t answer. He found it just a little unnerving that this woman seemed to know more about him than he could ever have thought possible. It both worried him and intrigued him in equal measure.
Marie Page was obviously a woman with many skills, honed to perfection over the years; skills that had no doubt served her well when mixing with the likes of the ‘Culvers’ of this galaxy.
She sensed his discomfort. Perhaps now was not the time to indulge her mischievous streak.
“Well,” she said quietly, “are we to stand here and discuss the merits of my new venture, or shall we keep the new arrival waiting?”
As Marie made to move past him, Avon stopped her, “One more thing, this man must not know our names, so it would be prudent not to mention them.”
“I am the soul of discretion,” Marie smiled. She allowed her forefinger to trace the outline of Avon’s face, “And that’s something else I am good at.”
Gan coughed. He found the verbal sparring between Avon and Marie rather amusing. He wondered if Avon felt the same way. Smiling, Gan continued, “Perhaps we could discuss this later?”
“Quite,” Marie said demurely, “Shall we go?”
She slipped her arm through Gan’s and they moved off towards the main building in the sprawling complex that made up this sanctuary.
Avon stood quite still for a moment. He
watched them walk away arm in arm, finding it surreal that two such opposite
souls should find comfort in each other’s company. For his part, he found
Marie’s repartee strangely enjoyable. She obviously had feelings for Gan, but
that didn’t stop her teasing Avon in a somewhat flirtatious manner. He
considered his own feelings on the matter…and then smiled.
Blake was studying a life size statue in white marble of a female with what appeared to be wings sprouting out of her back. The woman’s face had a serene look and he found it strangely reassuring.
On the other side of the vast entrance hall was Tragon, with Jenna by his side, staring out of a vast picture window to the vista beyond.
All three turned to face the owner of this residence as she entered.
“I’m told that you wish me to give someone sanctuary,” Marie almost purred.
Blake had forgotten just how unsettling it was to be in this woman’s company. For some reason, knowing her past didn’t lessen the effect even her voice could have. He managed to compose himself.
“We do. His name is Samuel Blaine, as far as you and the rest of the galaxy are concerned…”
“And why do you wish him to stay here?”
“Because he needs to be somewhere quiet to help him recover,” Jenna said, “and it is too dangerous to stay with us.”
“I see. And the injuries to his hands?”
Tragon stepped forward, “My own fault…so I have been told. But they are healing quickly. I can understand your reluctance. You don’t know anything about me…as a matter of fact, neither do I; not now. I’m afraid the attempts, by that man, to undo the damage inflicted upon my memory by the Federation have, unfortunately, rendered me totally amnesiac.”
Marie slowly turned round and looked at Avon, “Yes, I understand that he had something to do with your predicament…”
Blake stepped into the fray, “Whatever he did was right. As it is, this man has been used and abused by the Federation, rather like you. They took him and made him into something he wasn’t. He tried to do something about it, but they were watching his every move. What we have done is to hide him from those abusers; just like you. But he cannot be allowed to return to his previous life; that would prove impossible.”
Marie turned to face Gan, “So I’ve been told.”
“In fact,” Gan said, “it was me who suggested we bring him to you….”
“I forgot to ask…how did you know where to find me?”
Avon smiled, “We have the facilities for that, as you well know.”
“And you trust me not to divulge his whereabouts?”
“Oh yes; completely.”
“I really do admire your faith in me. Very well, he may stay, for as long as it takes. He will be just one more amongst many.”
“Amongst many?” Jenna queried, “I don’t understand.”
“I heard about this place from the pilot who was kind enough to give me passage from that Spaceport. He said his brother had found peace and solace after suffering horrendous injuries and torment after a battle with the Federation in a border dispute. And he was right, it is a sanctuary from the terrors that man inflicts upon man. The moment I stepped onto this planet and into this place, I knew I had to own it; after all, what is a recently widowed woman supposed to do with all her new found wealth…”
“So you bought it?” Jenna asked innocently.
“Oh, that would be far too boring. As I explained to…your friends, I used my mis-gotten skills. It was so much more fun.”
Tragon laughed, “You know, I think I’m going to enjoy recuperating here. Maybe you could teach me a thing or two.”
“It would be my pleasure. In fact, all of you are more than welcome to stay awhile.”
“As much as we would like to take up your offer,” Blake replied regretfully, “I’m afraid we can’t. Already our presence in this sector has, shall we say, raised a few eyebrows and you could find yourself facing difficult questions.”
“I’m used to that.”
“I’m sure you are,” Avon remarked, “But we must leave….”
Blake couldn’t believe that Avon was actually agreeing with him on this occasion, but he thought best not to dwell upon it. “Thank you, we will bear your offer in mind. Maybe another time..”
“If there is one,” Avon said.
“I’m sure there will be,” Gan countered.
Marie smiled at him, “You know that you are more than welcome. After all, if it hadn’t been for you, I wouldn’t be here now.”
“To the next time,” Gan replied.
“I think,” Blake said hastily, “That it’s time we left.”
Vila was not happy.
He had expected a visit to a Marie Page’s newly acquired property to be far more exciting than it actually was. And he was being most vocal about it to Cally.
“All right, I didn’t imagine it would be anything like Space City….”
“I had thought that you had learnt your lesson after your experience there.”
“Maybe so, but it was all meditating and quiet contemplation. Not what I was expecting at all, considering….”
“Considering what? Exactly what were you expecting, Vila?”
“Well, something just a bit more exciting than….”
Blake’s voice over the intercom interrupted Vila’s musings, “Bring us up, Cally.”
The Auron woman went to operate the teleport, “Anyway, Vila, it’s all conjecture now. So why don’t you get to the Flight Deck? Blake will want consider his next move.”
Vila shrugged his shoulders; suddenly those boring moments in that quiet, lush jungle of peace seemed a far better option.
“I still can’t get used to that,” Marie Page admitted as the Liberator crew vanished from view.
“It is quite remarkable,” Tragon agreed.
“Now, Mr Blaine, we have not been formally introduced, but I believe that you come with the highest credentials.”
“I’m afraid I wouldn’t know. Everything that I am is contained on this.” He held out a thin card.
Marie took it and held it in her hand. She knew that a carefully constructed identity had been created for this mysterious man who didn’t know who he was any longer. If it was anything like the one created for her, then there was considerable room for improvement.
“Tell me, do you know anything about computers?”
“As a matter of fact I do, I think.”
“Then we have a common cause. You and I are a blank canvas, so to speak. Once your injuries have been attended to, I could show you your new home and then together, we can begin to bring some colour to our bland backgrounds.”
“That sounds most interesting.”
“Mr Blaine, I’m beginning to like you already.”
“That feeling is mutual, Ms Page.”
Blake had hardly paused for breath, as he had swept out of the Teleport section and taken a still protesting Vila with him. Cally, bemused by the whole episode, had chosen to follow, if only to discover exactly what Blake had in mind next.
“It is a shame though,” Gan concurred, “We all need a proper rest.”
“Once we are out of this system and away from prying eyes, we can,” Jenna said, “But we will have to make sure the Liberator is fully functional before we can make a decision about our future. How long do you think that will take, Avon?”
“Why ask me?”
“Because you know better than any of us, how long it will take for the auto-repair systems to do their job.”
Gan made his excuses and left for the Flight deck and the still, no doubt, indignant Vila.
Avon slowly turned a teleport bracelet over in his hand and replaced it in the rack. Jenna noticed a fleeting moment of concern.
“Servalan tried to use me to get to Blake.”
“But she failed.”
“This time, but only because it took so long for the plan to come together. Blake had his doubts, at first, and it could have worked, but….”
“He’s known you too long, something she couldn’t have foreseen.”
“Something like that.” Avon turned to face her, “but it is possible that she could try and use Blake against us; against me.”
“But we are prepared now, aren’t we?”
“Avon,” Jenna began softly, “Will Tragon ever remember who he is?”
“All Orac could do was suppress any of those former memories, only Servalan has the ability to completely wipe and replace them; Blake being an example of what the Federation can do when it puts its mind to it.”
“Oh I expect he will remember in his dreams…”
“With you in his head that would be like a nightmare.”
“Perhaps. But the fact remains that we don’t know exactly what the Federation did to Blake, and that could be their trump card. She will bide her time; choose her moment…”
“What can we do, meanwhile?”
Avon thought for a moment, then looked directly into Jenna’s expectant eyes, “Survive.”
* * *
© 2015 LaraSue-Lectori Salutem