A Brief Revival of Saffron

By Arachne

Servalan looked down distastefully. Fine speckles of red dust had bled into the white satin of her shoes. More particles, sucked in no doubt by the ventilation system when docking, were sprinkled over the floor of the control deck. Now, with the vents fully open, the stale air of space flight had been replaced by a softer less chemical variant that smelt slightly of pine. Toeing a grain with a delicately raised foot, the Supreme Commander of the Terran Federation found a focus for her irritation.

"You," she pointed imperiously at the endlessly patient face of a nearby mutoid. "Get this place cleaned up."

All day she had been on edge, first giving then countermanding orders to her officers, voice getting softer and more precise as her temper frayed. Something was not right. But what? She had been over the plans again and again. Everything was in place. No flaws. All angles covered. She must be getting jumpy. These latest assassination attempts. And Travis was no help. His obsession with Blake was starting to override all other considerations. A completely different man from the self-possessed and supremely confident commander who had first attracted her. Already there were some who were starting to question her continued preference for him...

It was just possible that Vila could be right about the benefits of alcohol. Avon leant back on his chair, mind drifting and gaze focused into nothingness. Freed from the confines of the Liberator he was relaxed and slightly drunk.

As Blake had predicted, he'd tapped into Chard's central intelligence system with ease. Too easy really; he'd have liked more of a challenge. And Blake thought he'd need twenty-four hours! Given enough time even Gan could have managed it. Although whether Gan would have picked up on the economy's increasing reliance on Federation funding was open to question. That was a puzzle; Chard's mineral resources should be more than enough to keep it profitable. Administrative incompetence? That was the trouble with these caste-based planets inbreeding and nepotism everywhere, they were wildly inefficient. This one was ripe for revolution or else it was being set up for a takeover.

Avon gave a mental shrug. Politics were Blake's domain. From a purely personal standpoint it would be a pity if Chard were to become Federation controlled. While in the system he'd taken the opportunity to create several new identities for himself along with attendant bank accounts. Also an alias and a slush fund for Vila, albeit with a rather lower credit rating than his own. This latter by way of a thank you. It was Vila, with his eccentric and esoteric fund of knowledge, to whom he owed his choice of disguise and consequent freedom of movement:

"Dying would be a pleasure on Chard," lied Vila. "I plan to be killed there if it ever becomes evident that I shall have to die anywhere." He grinned. "Honestly! Chard assassins are famous. If you pose as one of them no one will bother you. Jenna'll kit you out and I'll find you a knife. The system's colour coded, see: black for a novice, blue for a journeyman and silver for a master. Go for silver, it places you in the top rank of death dealers and let me tell you they get some pretty classy contract killings."

"Snuff, Vila?" A partially raised eyebrow caused the thief to flush angrily.

"What is it with you? People try and be nice and you always have to think the worst." His companion apologized, somewhat insincerely, but Vila chose to take it at face value and consented to further explain the ritual of assassination.

"And the point is?" asked Avon at the end of the discourse.

Ta-dum! Vila pulled his answer like a rabbit from a hat and all but took a bow. "The point is assassins are held to be irresistible. Even you should be able to pull!" Avon chuckled silently. Someday he'd have to find out just how Vila and Jenna came by their knowledge.

Reverie was interrupted by the arrival of the bartender bearing a brimming glass. Suspicion was automatic. Avon eyed him coldly and put out a hand to prevent the glass being put down. "I didn't order this."

"No sir." The tone was obsequious and accompanied by a nervous bow as the man eyed the silver blade of the knife casually placed on the table in front of his customer. Death dealers were notoriously touchy and numerous tales circulated of those who failed to speak respectfully ending up in some dark alley smiling through their throat. This one had been meticulously polite, thanking him for his service and even bidding him to keep the change, but that somehow made him more frightening. Still with his eyes on the knife the tender made a wild gesture towards the bar. "He did."

The barman made a second attempt to put the glass down and this time Avon didn't stop him or hinder his retreat, he was looking elsewhere, in the direction indicated at a tall man dressed in the baggy trousers and shirt of a Chard trader. Avon's wary, slightly hostile glance, was caught and returned by a small nod of the head. He made a slight inclination to beckon his benefactor over but took no notice of the unasked for drink. The stranger responded to his summons crossing the room in a direct line. Very foolish, thought Avon. He laid his palm over the hilt of his knife and took a quick scan of the surroundings to see if he was being watched, noting with relief that although the bar was reasonably crowded nobody seemed to be eyeing him with undue attention. Evidently you kept yourself to yourself on Chard.

The stranger arrived at his table and sat down. Avon waited. His uninvited companion raised blue eyes and looked from him to the drink, eventually picking it up and taking a sip himself. Avon shrugged and for a few moments the two men looked at each other. Finally the stranger seemed to come to a decision. He held out a hand and spoke formally. "Greetings assassin. Are your hands yet pledged?"

Continued in Frobidden Star Two...

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Last updated on 19th of December 1997.