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The Price Of Justice

President Sarkoff of Lindor looked at the scene about him with the satisfaction of an artist. The setting was perfect. He had had much to say on the design of the Lindorian Presidential Residence when it had been built, some ten years ago. Now that he had been returned to power he had become aware of how more precisely it suited him than any of the previous incumbents. Tropical sunlight streamed into the arcaded court, fragmenting spectrally in both fountains and crystalline stonework, making a perfect backdrop for Sarkoff's own black-cloaked flamboyance. Some of his guests, though, looked ill at ease. Many were more used to armed and secret camps, hidden in wilderness or city slums. A small number were politicians in power, of course, but others were exiles ™ as he himself had been not so long ago ™ and still others hardly knew the meaning of such words as 'diplomacy' or 'politics'. They had only one thing in common: their hatred of the Terran Federation. Sarkoff hoped that it would be enough to see them through the next two days.

There were other pleasures to be drawn from the size and scope of the gathering; perhaps only he could have brought all these people together in total secrecy, particularly after the rumours of the recent LeGrand fiasco on Atlay had begun to circulate. A sizeable fraction of the anti-Federation leadership in this part of the galaxy was attending this conference, and Sarkoff was quite certain that the Terran Federation did not know it was taking place. Neither had these rebels, until today, for each had journeyed to Lindor under the impression that his or her meeting with Sarkoff would be a solitary one.

All the same, the gathering was dangerous, which was probably why Ellalat looked so nervous, despite Tyce's presence at his elbow, something he would normally have welcomed wholeheartedly. Lindor's young Chief Investigator was in charge of security during the conference and the uncertainty about who was going to arrive next ™ and how ™ was doing his nerves no good at all.

Sarkoff grinned to himself, hoping and expecting that Ellalat would be even more surprised before the day was over. Then the grin widened even further as an odd, undulating whine filled the courtyard. He caught Tyce's startled glance and winked at her. She smiled and winked back. Everyone else was looking round wildly and Ellalat had a hand on his gun.

Halos of white outlined three figures shimmering like ghosts in the rainbows. When the halos vanished the figures had solidified into a big, powerful man with very dark curling hair and an authoritative manner; a slightly shorter, more lightly made man with brown hair, darker eyes, and an arrogant expression; and a slender, beautiful woman with a cascade of chestnut curls about a gentle face.

The level of astonishment in the courtyard soared right off the scale. Then a slight woman with a heart-shaped face flung herself towards the big man at the centre of the trio.


"Hello, Avalon," he responded, laughing and hugging her.

"It's so good to see you... and you, Cally," she went on, kissing the other woman's cheek. Then, turning to the second man, she hugged him too. "Even you, grouch."

"My dear Blake," Sarkoff's voice soared over the babble as the crowd parted before him, "I have warned you before about upstaging me with these dramatic entrances." But his smile was warm and he gripped Blake's extended hand tightly. "Welcome to Lindor."

Tyce was not far behind him, bestowing an especially warm smile on Blake. "We're so glad you've not forgotten us."

"How could anyone forget you, Tyce ™ or your father?" Blake replied gallantly. "But could you tell your friend that he doesn't need his gun."

Sarkoff looked very sharply at Ellalat. "Put away your gun and tell your men to do the same."

"You know these people, sir?" Ellalat asked, still not holstering his weapon.

"We all know them," said Tyce, not entirely accurately, as she moved closer to Blake.

Ellalat glowered but did as he was ordered.

Sarkoff, meanwhile, was waving an elegant hand at the distinguished-looking, bearded man of about forty standard years who had appeared at his side. "Blake, this, is Rey Wallen, Lindor's Chief Justice, which also makes him titular head of Planetary Security ™ and my right hand. Rey ™ Roj Blake, Kerr Avon and Cally: old friends."

Wallen gave a sharp bow that was little more than a nod. "My pleasure."

Sarkoff grinned. "Rey cultivates taciturnity. Politically, it makes a good contrast with me, wouldn't you say? And the gentleman with the itchy gun hand is Chief Investigator Ellalat. He is in charge of security here, which is why your spectacular arrival upset him so much."

"Did you know these people were coming here?" Ellalat demanded angrily.

"He did and I did, but otherwise not even Tyce knew. In fact, you've been like a child with a secret about it, Sarkoff," Rey Wallen explained good humouredly.

"And why not?" Sarkoff challenged. "While we just talk, Blake acts. Making an exception of yourself, my dear," he added, bowing deeply to Avalon. "I did not know that you were acquainted with Blake."

"He rescued me from the Federation."

"Indeed? Then we have something in common. We must exchange rescue stories later, but now, my friends, I believe that there are people waiting to be introduced."

Avon's annoyance was building to danger level. It was late in the evening and he was tired of listening to irrational people mouthing stupid platitudes and arguing over plainly disastrous plans. Despite his objections, they seemed set on throwing themselves into the Federation's jaws and, if by some miracle the monster choked instead of swallowing them, they were going to celebrate its death by setting up a system to replace it that would be even more monstrously ineffective and open to corruption.

He wished he was back on Liberator. While he hadn't wanted to come to Lindor, Jenna and Vila had. Both had been annoyed when Blake had decided to bring Cally and himself, though for vastly different reasons.

Well, he didn't like being here, either. He didn't trust the security arrangements, despite Sarkoff's protestations. True, Liberator was orbiting with the detector shield up and with the battle computers on full alert status, all sensors aligned to detect a possible Federation attack, but that did not mean that such an attack would not materialise. On a more personal level, he missed the weight of his gun at his side. You would have thought that Atlay would have taught Blake the danger of spectacular gestures of faith. Apparently not. Their guns had remained on board Liberator. None of it seemed worth the risk.

The only satisfactory aspect of the evening was that Blake was also becoming more and more irritated by the discussion, particularly by the intransigence of some of the delegates. Avon was reluctantly impressed by his patience.

Sarkoff, on the other hand, was enjoying himself. Avon had to admit that he was adept at manufacturing a compromise though he was positive this produced the worst of 'solutions'. Unfortunately, nothing any delegate had proposed seemed any better than Sarkoff's suggestions.

It appeared that Cally was also enjoying herself. She was sitting next to Leeharn, the Auronar ambassador to Lindor, another spectacular hawk among their planet's doves. Leeharn had been appointed some ten years ago to form an alliance with Sarkoff at a time when his government's present isolationist policies had been less stringent. Here he remained while Auron continued its inward retreat. By the time of Sarkoff's return to Lindor, even a mutual defence pact had become impossible. Leeharn had retained his position, but the constraints put on his freedom of action made sure that he could do nothing to affect Auronar policy. Avon suspected that he and Cally were relieving the boredom by telepathically plotting the overthrow of the Auronar government.

He tuned back into the discussion. The meeting was now involved in deciding who would be co-opted onto the governing council of the new Federation when it was ™ hopefully ™ formed. Blake, Avalon and Sarkoff were trying to turn the conversation back to practicalities, but not succeeding.

Avon gave a silent groan and ceased to listen. Instead, he occupied his mind with a technical modification he was planning to the battle computer programs.

It was only at the fourth repetition of his name that he realised that Blake was speaking to him.


Blake's eyes were glinting dangerously. "We would be grateful if you would honour us with your attention for a few moments and give us a rundown on the consequences for the Federation if we manage to locate and destroy the Central Control computer complex at Star One."

Avon was irritated. "Why?"

The glint was speedily becoming a glare. Blake's patience had been strained too far already that evening to have much give left for Avon. "We are trying to co-ordinate our reaction™"

"Nonsense!" Avon snapped. "The chaos when ™ if ™ Star One is destroyed will not affect some worlds for months, if at all, while on others the effort to survive will take the whole population's total effort for the next ten years. You know the consequences of the destruction of Central Control as well as I do, Blake. Where is your 'moral conscience' when millions will die? Your so-called ethical code™"

"Don't talk to me about ethical codes, Avon," Blake interrupted. "Your own is subject to change without notice."

"I have never claimed to have a code of ethics. I do, however, lay claim to some intelligence and I do not appreciate being forced to waste it here."

"Come now, Avon," Sarkoff said easily, "even if you do not agree with our political aims, you know that the galaxy will be a safer place for you, personally, if we succeed."

"I doubt it. All governments end up taking more and more power to themselves. None ever gives it away. Let us be honest. You all want power. Perhaps most of you believe that the galaxy would be a better place for everyone if you were running it ™ I know Blake does ™ but I am equally certain that our present masters believe the same thing. What it comes down to is that it would be better for you and your followers if you were in power but I doubt the rabble would notice any difference ™ save that there would be fewer of them."

There were many startled noises now, particularly from those at the conference table who were meeting Avon for the first time.

Sarkoff asked gently, "Then why are you here, Avon?"

"Because Blake asked me to come. As what mad course he decides on next has some bearing on my life expectancy, I agreed."

"Yet you needn't stay with him at all," Tyce pointed out.

"He has something I want."

Blake winced. He was certain that Avon's present plan was to remain aboard Liberator until he could take the ship for himself, but he did not enjoy the reminder. "This is getting away from the point," he said.

"There is no point," Avon snapped back. "Even if we do finally find and destroy Star One, your chances of defeating the Federation are so low as to be non-existent. And if the miracle happens and your luck doesn't run out, I'll wager you'll soon have a perfect understanding of Servalan, because you'll be repeating her actions ™ and for the same reasons!"

Blake rose menacingly to his feet. "Avon..."

"Don't be naive, Blake. You're just as corruptible as anyone else, but you are too deluded, too puffed-up with pride in your own messiah-hood to admit it™"

Blake slammed a fist down on the table-top in interruption. "Listen," he snarled. "You look at a universe warped by your own twisted vision. Not everyone is as venal and self-seeking as you are, Avon. All you're capable of is destruction. You never let the constructive side of existence touch you, do you? You daren't even recognise it, because if you did you'd feel inferior. I don't know how we've survived for so long, because everyone else you've touched has been destroyed."

Chalk white, Avon rose to face him.

Blake ignored the danger signs and swept on. "Even your friendship, your loyalty, your love, are destructive, because they're totally selfish. That's why people betray you: because you expect them to betray you. You accuse me of playing God but you tell me what it's like to be the centre of a universe where nothing matters except your own ego. Tell me, Avon. You're the only person I've ever met who can do it."

How Avon retained his control at that moment he was never sure. Blind, boiling rage sang in his mind, yet his face remained impassive. He heard his own voice speaking calmly, "The difference between us, Blake, is that I know what I am. I know what I've done. If that knowledge makes me inhuman, I don't wish to be considered human." Giving Blake no time to reply, he turned on his heel and stalked out of the room.

The silence was solid.

Blake slumped down in his chair with his elbows on the table and pushed his hands through his hair. Dear God, how bloody stupid could he be?

I'm tired, he thought. Avon's tired. But why did I have to make that oblique reference to Anna Grant? The look in his eyes... I was lucky not to be attacked, though perhaps that would have released the tension.

Cally's telepathic voice: // Blake, you cannot leave it at that. We need Avon. You need him.//

Blake looked up quickly at her, smiled fleetingly, then climbed to his feet again. "President Sarkoff, I think that this meeting has gone on too long. We're all tired, and we'll be less likely to go round in circles after a night's rest. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some personal business ™ an apology to make." He bowed slightly to Sarkoff and his way out.

A hubbub arose behind him.

"Lost!" Leeharn exclaimed, rising with Cally. "What was that all about?"

"You could call it a long standing philosophical difference," Cally replied.

"It sounded rather more personal than that."

"What can be more personal than the code by which each of us governs his life?" Cally retorted.

"A good point," Sarkoff agreed. "All the same, I have heard Avon and Blake fight before ™ but never like that."

"They are tired. Avon was being deliberately provocative. It will be all right. Blake can handle it."

As it happened, Blake was far from sure of his ability to handle the situation, even when he found Avon. Not that he was having a great deal of success at that first step. He had tried calling Liberator, but Avon had not contacted the ship. All he could do now was to keep searching through the rooms of the Residence.

After a time, he found himself in what appeared to be a semi-private section of the building. One door led to a tape-library, the next an office, and the next a sitting room. All were empty. He withdrew and moved on.

The next door opened into a large room filled with an astonishing collection of objects. There were coins and medals and everyday tools, a few paintings, a sculpture or two, and fragments of textiles. On the wall opposite Blake was a rack holding projectile-firing guns. He had seen two of them before; indeed, he'd had them pointed at him in anger. Sarkoff collected antiques, in particular those of twentieth century Earth. This must be the room he was using to house his new collection. More importantly, though, Avon was here.

He was standing staring down at his hands, which were resting on what appeared to be the nose cone of a primitive rocket. He did not move as Blake approached, though he must have heard the sound of the door opening and closing.

"I'm sorry," Blake said. "I'm tired and I was angry about the way things had been going but that was no reason to take it out on you. I don't expect you to forgive what I said ™ it was unforgivable and untrue. But I am sorry."

He saw Avon's shoulders rise and fall as he took a deep breath, so he knew he had heard, though he did not turn, not even when he spoke: "You came remarkably close to having your head separated from your shoulders."

"I would have deserved it. If you still want to try, I won't fight back."

Avon was not sure how to deal with Blake in this mood of repentance. "What do you want me to do? Say I'm sorry too?" he asked sarcastically.


"Good. I didn't intend to."

"I know."

Avon's curiosity was beginning to get the better of his remaining anger. "No excuses? No rationalisation that I provoked you?"

"Oh, you did. Quite deliberately. But I should have been able to deal with that without lies and spite."

Avon shook his head a little. "Lies? I thought it was all true. That's what made us both so angry: that it was all true."

"No. I don't think so. I think we are over-tired and over-stressed."

With some trepidation, Blake put his hand on Avon's shoulder and turned him to face him. There was no expression on the other man's face, but then he had not expected any. "I know about your loyalty. It's why I owe you my life a dozen times over. You did not deserve what I said to you. Your accusations hurt so I hit back in a way I knew would hurt you too. I was angry. I wanted a reaction. It always seems such a waste. You don't have to be the way you are... and I don't think you're happy."

Avon was struck by the seriousness in Blake's voice and the gentleness in his eyes. Their effect on him bothered him. "Being chased by the Federation? Bullied by you? How can you expect me to be happy?" he challenged.

"I don't think those are the reasons. I suspect that if you had all the money and freedom you wanted you would still find yourself lacking something. Perhaps you did find it once. I hope you will again."

Avon tensed.

"Yes, I know. You don't want to talk to me about Anna Grant... though I wish you would talk to someone." Blake laughed suddenly and dropped his hand.

"You find something amusing about this?"

"I've just realised why I was so angry. It wasn't altogether what you said. Just... something I want, that's out of my reach."

Avon allowed his expression to relax. "That covers a lot of ground. Well, I suppose we have to live with each other. I accept your apology."

"Thank you." Blake's relief was obvious.

Honesty forced Avon to add, "And I did provoke you."

"Whether you ask for it or not, you're forgiven. Let's forget what was said. Avon?"

"All right."

"Only... Avon... don't let the past ruin your life. Please." Blake held his breath. He had deliberately backed down, coming as close to giving in to Avon as he ever could, and he had won, only to let those impulsive words slip out when they could so easily destroy the delicate truce that was so important to him.

Avon, however, did not take offence. He leaned back against the nose cone, folded his arms, and said, "Too many people dwell in the past but I am not one of them. You, on the other hand, are. Past events triggered this vendetta of yours™"

"I'm looking to the future, not the past," Blake interrupted quietly. "A future for all the peoples of the Known Worlds™" He broke off suddenly as Avon grabbed hold of him, bundling him down behind the rocket.

"Wha™?" A hand over his mouth silenced Blake's protest. Then it was no longer needed as he became aware of something on the other side of the room. A dark creature was drifting like smoke through the air towards a large abstract sculpture.

By his side, he heard Avon's breath hiss.

The creature settled on the top of the sculpture. Just over a metre tall, it was bipedal but not humanoid. It had two sets of arms, one muscular and heavily clawed, the other stiff-jointed but with delicate hands. Cape-like gliding membranes were half unfolded over its back. Its skin looked hard and shiny ™ insect-like ™ and it was midnight black in colour, unrelieved except for the bright blue eyes, almost human in the non-human face.

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Last updated on 23rd of March 1999.